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The Semantic Barriers In Peoples Communication English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3476 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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INTRODUCTION: The word semantics has its origin in Greek and is taken from the word semantikos, which means showing signs or symptomatic. The first part ‘sema’ of the word semantikos means sign. Semantics is the study of meaning that is conveyed in a language. Semantics refers to specific meanings of a word, especially in academic circles. Semantic barriers, therefore, are the misunderstandings that occur by people trying to communicate an idea, but simultaneously having completely different meanings in mind for the words.

Semantic barriers come from differences in language, education, and culture. Obviously if the sender is speaking in English and the receiver doesn’t understand English, there’s a problem. But even if the sender and receiver speak English, they may not speak the same dialect. The words they use may not mean the same thing.

If we order a soda in Washington, DC, for example, we’ll get a soft drink. If we order a soda in Detroit, we’ll get a drink made of soda water and flavored syrup with ice cream floating in it. If one is from the United States and he is speaking to a Scot from Glasgow, the American may have a hard time simply understanding his pronunciation. And his accent may be incomprehensible to the person from Scot. The receiver may use complicated words or phrases that the sender doesn’t understand, such as “to ratiocinate” instead of “to reason,” or “I am extremely appreciative of your efforts in my behalf” instead of “Thank you.” Or the sender and the receiver may have cultural differences that make it difficult for them to understand each other even if they speak the same language:

A Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim all worship one God, but they think about God in different ways. In some cultures, the use of titles before names is extremely important as a sign of respect, while greeting someone we’ve just met using his or her first name (as many Americans do) would be considered quite rude.

Most of us take for granted that all our messages are well conveyed. But in practice, all messages are not successfully channeled or received. Various obstacles, blockades, difficulties, stoppages or constrictions, known as barriers to communication, disfigure the message and make communication ineffective. These communication barriers cause confusion and conflict between persons living in the same society, working on the same job and even persons living in different parts of the world who even do not know one another.

A large number of managerial problems are the result of unproductive or defective communication. Substantial fruits can be gained if communication barriers are dampened or minimized.

A communication is a two-way process, distance between the sender and the receiver of the message is an important barrier to communication. Noise and environmental factors also block communication.

Personal factors like difference in judgment, social values, inferiority complex, bias attitude, time pressure, communication inability, etc. broaden the psychological distance between the sender and the receiver.

Semantic is the science of meaning. The same words and symbols have different meanings to different people. Difficulties in communication take place when the sender and the receiver of the message make use of words or symbols in different senses. The meaning intended by the sender may be dissimilar from the meaning followed by the receiver. People understand the message in terms of their own behavior and experience.

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Most of the difficulties in communication arise because the same word or symbol means different things to different individuals according to one’s culture. Let’s take the example of Shiny Abraham. A funny and pity thing happened to Shiny Abraham at the 1986 Asian Games at Seoul. Despite coming first by a very wide margin in the 800 m. Race, she was disqualified and lost her gold medal for having crossed the track at the place where she should not have gone. According to her she mistook the symbol, i.e., the colour of the flag. Whereas in our country the red flag indicates danger, in South Korea white flag is used for the same purpose. Misinterpreting the white flag which had been put up at that point, she crossed the track at the wrong place and suffered a setback. Words, which are in reality symbols representing a thing, an action or a feeling, can have several meanings.

As explained earlier, words which represent concrete things, e.g., car or house, tend to be understood in the same way, while abstract words like merit, effectiveness or responsibility, tend to be interpreted by different persons in different ways. Difficulty in understanding may arise even in the case of ordinary words which have different contextual meanings. Lately such difficulties are being experienced increasingly by people working in international development field. One such problem arose in interpreting the meaning of the word ‘steps’. In a training program of health workers, relating to the family health in Jamaica when a question “What are some of the steps that a mother should take to make sure that her baby keeps healthy?” was asked, it was found that there was no response to it. The trainees who were accustomed to only one meaning of the word- ‘steps’ based on their experience, could not just make any sense of the question.

UNFAMILIARITY WITH WORDS: Semantic difficulty may arise because of unfamiliarity with words. For example, because of a word of some foreign language of which the receiver has no knowledge. A technical word may not create such a problem – it may be beyond the ability of the receiver to understand it. In order to make it effective, a communication must be put into words which are appropriate to the environment and mental framework of the receiver. This ensures the communication to be grasped properly and implemented effectively.

A very interesting example of a communication made effective by the use of words appropriate to the environment in which they were used is provided by the following incident that took place in one of the agricultural states of the USA. A proposal for raising the salaries of the faculty members of an agricultural college was under discussion. The farmers’ bloc was totally against giving the raise to the college teachers – they could not see why they should pay those college teachers $5000 a year just for talking 12 to 15 hours a week. Faculty representatives made no headway in their negotiations until one of them who had some farming experience, got an inspiration.”Gentlemen”, he told the members of the administrative body, “a college teacher is a little like a bull. It’s not the amount of time he spends. It’s the importance of what he does!”

BODY LANGUAGE BEING INCONSISTENT: Semantic barrier may further be created by body language being inconsistent with the verbal communication. A manager who praises the honesty and sincerity of his or her subordinate in a sarcastic tone creates doubts in the minds of the subordinate as to the course of action he or she should adopt in a given situation in future. The same kind of barrier is created by a divergence between the verbal language and the action language of the superiors.

When action and language are used jointly the actions often have more powerful influence on other’s actions than words do. A management may, for example, profess its belief in being guided solely by the merit of employees while making promotions. Yet if employees observe that in actual practice promotions are made on considerations other than merit, the management’s professed policy is bound to be affected by a semantic barrier – it is not likely to communicate anything, only the actions will communicate and what they communicate will be contrary to what had been said in so many words.

CHOICE OF AMBIGUOUS WORDS TO CONVEY A MESSAGE: Semantic problems arise due to the choice of words used to convey a message. A particular word may have totally different meaning in different languages. We say “Dhanyavad” which means in Hindi ‘Thank you,’ but the same word in Guajarati means ‘congratulations’. Differences in background and experience account for differences in the meanings assigned to particular words. Every language has its own structure and style. Semantic problems arise when efforts are made to ‘transfer’ the ‘essence’ or ‘feel’ of a thought from one language to another. Funny situations arise due to this effort. At times the meaning is distorted to such an extent that there remains no trace of the original. During President Jimmy Carter’s visit to Poland, a sentence in his speech, ‘I have deep affection for the Polish people,’ was somehow translated into Polish as, ‘I lust after the Polish people.’ In another instance, when a leading shoe company put up this slogan on the billboards, ‘we will only sell you the right shoe’ a group of naughty teenagers asked the manager, where could they go for the left shoe.

PROBLEMS ARISING FROM REGIONAL ACCENTS: In a multi lingual nation like India, many of us speak more than one language. However, most of the times the influence of the mother-tongue is quite prominent and the accent with which we speak the other languages creates interesting (and sometimes serious) barriers to communication. The problem of regional accents is not only restricted to Indian languages. We, the people of India, treat ourselves as the very rightful inheritors of the English language. It is difficult to say whether it is love, pride or prejudice, but we have so much English in our native languages that a serious look is necessary at the way we pronounce English. The Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages situated at Hyderabad has done this work and found a long list of English word-pairs the pronunciation of which are rather freely exchanged for each other, notwithstanding the mess in the meanings it makes. Ship and sheep, read and rid, each and itch, beat and bit, seen and sin, eat and it, cheat and chit, leave and live…. Seem endless. The scholars at the institution have come to the conclusion that there seem to be three sets of pronunciations viz. i) Received Pronunciation of England (RPE) ii) The Anglo-Indian Pronunciation(AIP) iii) The General Indian English(GIE) or the Modified Indian English.

It seems that there is a general consensus among scholars and teachers of English in the country that RP is and an unsuitable model in the Indian context because it (a) it carries certain colonial vestiges; (b) pedagogically it is unrealistic to aim at an inaccessible model; and (c) English is taught and learnt in India for a different set of purpose and norms from those in Britain.

PHYSICAL NOISE: sometimes the semantic problems arise because the channel is blocked by noise. Physical noise lies in the environment. It acts as a barrier between the communicators and blocks the message from reaching the receiver. When we are trying to listen what our teacher is saying but the class is noisy; we cannot hear. We cannot hear what our friend is saying because the sound of the television in the drawing-room is too loud. We cannot read or see what is written on the chalkboard because it is reflective. All these examples represent physical noise.

PHYSIOLOGICAL BARRIERS: Sometimes physiological impairment in the two communicators poses serious hindrance in the sending as well as receiving the message. If the sender has some problem and cannot speak clearly, there will be difficulty in understanding his message. If the message sent is clear but the receiver is aurally handicapped, the message may not be received. It is difficult to read very bad handwriting. Poor mimeographs lead to difficulty in reading the copies.

FILTERING BY THE SOURCE: Filtering refers t sender manipulating information so that it will be seen more favorably by the receiver. When a manager tells his boss what his boss wants to hear, he is filtering information. The personal interests and perceptions of the source, thus, resulting in filtering the information. The source presents such infavourable reaction.

SELECTIVE PERCEPTION: Messages are often distorted by the receivers. As in case of filtering the sender sends what he thinks will suit him, so does the receiver receives what suits him. Thus, the receivers see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear based on their needs, motivations, experiences, background and other personal characteristics. Receivers also project their interests and expectations in communications while decoding a message. The teacher who expects that boys with athletic bodies would not like mathematics actually sees them that way. It may not be true. We don’t see reality; rather, we interpret what we see and call it reality.

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CIMMUNIUCATION OVERLOAD: In the present age of information, we are receiving information continuously, from various sources. We receive so much information that many times it becomes impossible to absorb all the information and respond to it. As a result many people tend to “screen out” a number of messages and fail to decode properly. In such cases, communication is either distorted or incomplete.

OUR SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY: As a group we have certain norms. These norms may not have logical base yet they are so deep-rooted that it is difficult to overcome them. This ‘preconceived and unchangeable societal input’ prevents the receiver from receiving the message. “Girls are supposed to behave like this,” “It is always going to be like this,” are examples of this kind. Social noise blocks our communication completely. This may happen due to the fear of social criticism. Another reason is our own group loyalty. Any action by our own group is seen favourably whereas the same by the opposite group is criticized by us.


i) Sound: Equipment or environmental noise restricts clear communication. Unless the sender and the receiver is able to concentrate on the messages being sent to each other, it collides communication making the semantic unclear.

ii) Ourselves: Focusing on ourselves, rather than the other person can lead to confusion and conflict. Some of the key-factors that cause this are defensiveness (we feel someone is attacking us), superiority (we feel we know more that the other), and ego (we feel we are the center of the activity).

iii) Perception: If we, as a listener, feel the person is talking too fast, not fluently, does not articulate clearly, etc., we may dismiss the person. Also our preconceived attitudes affect our ability to listen. We listen uncritically to persons of high status and dismiss those of low status.

iV) Messages: Communication Distractions happen when we focus on the facts rather than the idea. Our educational institutions reinforce this with tests and questions. Semantic distractions occur when a word is used differently than we prefer. For example, the word developer instead of development may cause us to focus on the word and not the message.

V) Surroundings: Bright lights, an attractive person, unusual sights, or any other stimulus provides distraction and causes semantic barriers.

Vi) Personal Pressure: People do not see things the same way when under stress. What we see and believe at a given moment is influenced by our psychological frames of references – our beliefs, values, knowledge, experiences, and goals. Hence forth, semantic barriers are likely to happen.

When effective communication is at work, what the receiver decodes is what the sender sends. A breakdown in the communication process may occur if the intended message was not encoded or decoded properly. Comments may be taken the wrong way, a compliment may be taken as an insult, or a joke might be interpreted as a put-down. There may also be barriers in the transfer process; these barriers may include: Noise, Multiple communications, Fatigue, stress, Distractions, Incomplete message, Ambiguous wording, Lack of credibility, Lack of rapport, Think in personal terms, Boring etc.

Misunderstandings stem primarily from four barriers to effective communication:

1. Lack of common experience – the transfer of words from the instructor to the student are often misunderstood or not interpreted correctly. A communicator’s words cannot communicate the desired meaning to another person unless the listener or reader has had some experience with the objects or concepts to which these words refer. Many words in the English language mean different things to different people.

2. Confusion between the symbol and the symbolized object – Results when a word is confused with what it is meant to represent.

3. Overuse of abstractions – over dependence of words that are of a general nature rather than specific.

4. Interference – Includes physiological, environmental, and psychological interference.


SYNTACTICAL PROBLEMS: Syntactical problems are caused by how a sentence is structured. Many people commit structural mistakes in sentence construction while learning a second language. It is mainly because they tend to apply the grammar of their first language to the new language they are learning. Syntactical problem may create good humour but at times may give rise to serious problems. Ex: “Throw mamma from the train a kiss.” “A nurse maid is wanted for a baby about 20 years old.”

COMMUNICATION SHOULD BE COMPLETE: While formulating the message it should be seen that the message should be complete in itself and should cover all the aspects of the purpose. Merely telling somebody ‘you are good’ is not a complete message as it is vague. It should be at least ‘you are a good friend.’

COMMUNICATION SHOULD BE POSITIVE: communications should be toned with courtesy, with positiveness. People generally tend to ignore negativeness. We are not ready to hear ‘It cannot be done until you furnish all the information.’ Instead, it is easier to hear and accept “It will be done as soon as you furnish all the information.” Instead of “Don’t talk while going to the art room” it is easier to communicate “Go quietly to the art room.”

COMMUNICATION SHOULD BE TO EXPRESS AND NOT TO IMPRESS: Too much artistic language may show your art of using that language but it may not express your “heart.” Good communication is supposed to build a bridge between two hearts. Hence simple, straightforward, “receivers” language is the key. Teachers who consider themselves learned and use complicated vocabularies and sentences cause more barriers.

CHOICE OF WRONG WORDS: It might sound unbelievable but sometimes just a few words can mean the difference between life and death. Language, beyond any doubt, is one of the most important vehicles of communication and we must choose our words very carefully. In larger organization people join from various backgrounds and have varying linguistic patterns. The effort is not to hurt anybody’s feelings but the effort to choose correct phrases can create some humorous situations


To make effective communication, First, you must be outgoing, and be confident and honest, then next find a topic that both of you are interested. But, don’t forget to be a quiet listener instead talking all the time. “A barrier to communication is something that keeps meanings from meeting. Meaning barriers exist between all people, making communication much more difficult than most people seem to realize. It is false to assume that if one can talk he can communicate. Because so much of our education misleads people into thinking that communication is easier than it is, they become discouraged and give up when they run into difficulty. Because they do not understand the nature of the problem, they do not know what to do. The wonder is not that communicating is as difficult as it is, but that it occurs as much as it does.”


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