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  1. Principles of Information Systems Session 03 Language and Communication

  2. Language and Communication Chapter 2

  3. Overview Learning objectives • Introduction • Types of language • How does language begin? • The symbolic aspects of language • Language and communication • Language and cultures • Language and thought • Summary

  4. Learning objectives • Explain how language shapes our description of the world, and how different cultures use language to view the world differently • Distinguish between natural and artificial languages • Explain how language acts as a mediator between symbols and understandings • Define semiotics, and describe the four semiotic levels in informatics • Define linguistics, and explain why it is significant for informatics 4

  5. Introduction • Types of language • How does language begin? • The symbolic aspects of language • Language and communication • Language and cultures • Language and thought • Summary Introduction • The activities of naming and symbolising we met in the last chapter lead to the formation of different types of language, that is, ways of talking about things • Different cultures name and shape their views of the world differently, and organise and express their knowledge in specific language forms • The concepts of language, culture and communication are essential to an understanding of informatics. 5

  6. Introduction • Types of language • How does language begin? • The symbolic aspects of language • Language and communication • Language and cultures • Language and thought • Summary Types of language • As well as everyday natural language : • Musical languages • Scientific languages • Computer languages • Sign languages, • Pictorial languages • Specialised jargon • Codes of many different sorts • Artificial languages such as Esperanto • Private languages between people who are very close • Languages used by apes or other animals • Abstract representations in the minds of babies before they learn their community’s language … 6

  7. Types of language • Some languages are better for expressing certain types of ideas than others, and each language has its own community of users who understand what the references and meanings are. • Informatics also has its own ways of describing things 7

  8. Why so many? • Some possible answers: • No language by itself is fully adequate for every purpose • Different languages serve different purposes • Languages are specialised for particular functions • Languages allow groups to identify and differentiate from others • Languages admit ways of describing the world that others don’t 8

  9. Natural language • Natural language is the type spoken or written in everyday life by a community. • Mandarin, Hindi, Urdu, Spanish, English… • Nations and regions may have their own languages, or their own dialect versions of a major language 9

  10. Natural language • Natural language gives a basis for more specialised subsets: • Dialects, where a community adopts specific words or different accents and pronunciation of the base language • Idiolects, where a person has an individual pattern or usage of words. When immediate associates learn an idiolect and use it, it becomes an ecolect, and may catch on more widely. • Jargon,where a community practicing in a shared area of interest, such as mathematics, develop specialised words or meanings for common words. 10

  11. What are these? Foos yer doos? Aye pickin! point Percy at the porcelain He birdied the sixteenth which made up for his bogie on the second and finished two over par (if you aren’t familiar with the examples – research them!) 11

  12. Artificial languages • Informatics often deals with artificiallanguages • These are developed for particular purposes, in specialised communities • Maths, music, information technology • In informatics there are “languages” for communicating the results of a business analysis, for instructing computers or web browsers to do something, for describing data resources and many other specialised applications. • Like natural languages, artificial languages require their users to share an understanding of the conventional signs and what they mean in some specific world 12

  13. Recap • There are many types of languages, both natural and artificial. • Each language has its own community of users who understand the references and meanings 13

  14. Introduction • Types of language • How does language begin? • The symbolic aspects of language • Language and communication • Language and cultures • Language and thought • Summary How does language begin? • There is an ongoing debate on the origins of language. Here is one common sense story. • We are born into a community who already speak a common language. Through imitation, trial and error we learn its vocabulary, rules and application, and we learn the associations between sounds and its written form. This is natural language, and gives a background basis in community understanding. • In this story language is learned by individuals, but essentially it was in place socially before any individual learned it. We have been thrown into a world, and its language is “found in nature”. 14

  15. How does language begin? • Another common sense story is like the process of introducing any new idea into a community where it did not exist before. • At a very simple level an individual may assign a word or sign to name or signify a perceived object or a conceived idea. • That word may be defined or consistently used by the individual, and by others in time becoming accepted by the immediate community, forming part of its language. • And the culture of that community will give it meaning in relation to the other words and ideas of that culture. In time the word may disappear through disuse, or change or extend its meaning. 15

  16. How does language begin? • Three main processes apply: • Symbolisation (the explicit representation of perceptions) • Communication (the social sharing of information via language) • Culture (the worldviews and belief systems that sustain meaning) • Each of these areas has been researched mainly within psychology, sociology, linguistics, cultural studies and in specialized areas of informatics. 16

  17. Recap There is debate on the origins of language. An individual may ‘name’ a new item or concept, which is then adopted more widely and given meaning by the community 17

  18. Introduction • Types of language • How does language begin? • The symbolic aspects of language • Language and communication • Language and cultures • Language and thought • Summary The symbolic aspects of language • All languages are systems of signs and symbols, used to represent and communicate the idea of something: • Language mediates between symbolisation and culturally understood meanings 18

  19. Signs and symbols • This fundamental concept underpins any system of expressed meaning, whether in words, numbers, computer “primitives”, pictures or other symbolisations. • The study of language’s fundamental elements, or signs, is known as semiotics. • Semiotics provides a powerful set of theoretical concepts applicable in informatics • de Saussure, Pierce, Dewey 19

  20. step Word or signifier Hey look, a squirrel! Concept or signified The sign combines the signifier and the signified 20

  21. Sign, signifier, signified Sign – fundamental element of language, combining the signifier (or word) and the signified (or concept) Signifier – a component of a sign, meaning the word that is used to refer to a concept. squirrel Signified – component of a sign, meaning the concept that is referred to 21

  22. water eau voda wasser air These words are all arbitrary symbolic associations, which their communities somehow agreed and standardised upon 22

  23. Semiotic levels in informatics • Syntactic • Concerns the form of symbols • Semantic • concerns the meaning of symbols • Pragmatic • concerns the usage of symbols • Social • concerns the understanding of the meaning of symbols 23

  24. Syntactic ‘John kissed Mary’ = ‘Mary was kissed by John’ Semantic ‘John kissed Mary’≠ ‘Mary kissed John’ Social John kissed Mary…because she needed to know he loved her Pragmatic John kissed Mary…to stop her crying 24

  25. Semiotics and informatics • These four levels span from the basic forms at the most primitive level, to the understanding at the highest social level • This is relevant for informatics practice: • At the primitive (form) end are hard skills • Formulation and specification; mathematical or formal in nature. • At the understanding end are soft skills • Interpretation, felt meaning, political diplomacy in the face of ambiguity, and people skills generally in ensuring intended meanings are understood. 25

  26. Recap All languages are systems of signs and symbols, used to represent and communicate the idea of something. The study of language’s fundamental elements, or signs, is known as semiotics. 26

  27. Linguistics • Language is not just the words or symbols themselves: • the way they are put together structurally affects how they are interpreted. • Syntax and rules of grammar are important in handling messages in language, and in shaping the interpretation of meaning. 27

  28. Australia exports sheep to Iraq… view OnlyAustralia exports sheep to Iraq. - No other countries do Australia onlyexports sheep to Iraq. - It doesn’t import them Australia exports onlysheep to Iraq. - It doesn’t export anything else Australia exports sheep onlyto Iraq. - It doesn’t export sheep anywhere else 28

  29. Linguistics • Linguistics is the field concerned with various formal aspects of language and its use • Computational linguistics, where computers process language, is an important field within informatics. 29

  30. Syntax and semantics • Syntax and rules of grammar are important in handling messages in language, and in shaping the interpretation of meaning • However a word for word equivalence is not enough: some classic machine translations are: • ‘out of sight, out of mind’ = ‘blind idiot’ • ‘hydraulic ram’ = ‘water goat’ • Extra, linguistic knowledge is needed - semantic knowledge about the meaning of the words and their use in context. • This semantic knowledge is often grounded in a social understanding, common to a culture or a community. 30

  31. Interpreting a message • But it is not just the literal words themselves, the ways they are used, the ways they are arranged and the grammar structures used all implicitly form the content of a message. • The rules of interpretation, as much as the words themselves, shape the meaning of a sentence or other message. 31

  32. “The baby cried. The mommy picked it up.” • Whose mommy? • Why did she pick the baby up? • What makes you think this? 32

  33. Social and cultural context in interpretation • We probably assumed it was the baby’s mother, and she picked up the baby to soothe it • However, there is nothing in the data that says this. • Socially understood categories, norms and rules are built into the way people hear things that are said. • “The words that we hear enter our minds already conditioned by our social and cultural environment.” (Devlin) • Speakers who understand the social categories and rules that hearers understand and apply, can communicate their intentions more effectively by designing messages to be so interpreted. 33 Example from Sacks, discussed by Devlin

  34. Linguistics and informatics • There are many applications in informatics where ideas have to be recorded so they can be communicated over distance and time, and still be understood. • Linguistics is also highly relevant in the formal areas of informatics such as designing for communication with machines and other intelligent agents. • All computer languages have to have a syntax and semantics, allowing them to recognise instructions and produce understandable output. • Active research fields such as computational linguistics, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence extend the “fundamental concepts of communication, knowledge, data, interaction and information”. 34

  35. quack quack! Phonetics coin coin! • The phonetic aspects of a language may also reflect unique cultural properties, or adaptations to an environment. • The sound of a language, as well as its vocabulary, conveys information, and thus possible clues to environmental context. • Different speaking styles of humans in city and country regions – slow versus rapid • This information may be lost in simple translations, or in changing media from spoken to written. Háp Háp! 35

  36. Recap • Linguistics is the field concerned with various formal aspects of language and its use. • Syntax, semantics, social and cultural environment are all relevant in interpreting the meaning of a message 36

  37. Inclusion and exclusion through language • A fundamental property of language and community is that they work together to define inclusion and exclusion. • Anyone who learns the language (which includes norms, standards, practices) can participate in a community, but without that they are alien, excommunicated, other. • A boundary between those who are allowed to communicate or not is the purpose of many languages, particularly “secret” codes and languages, e.g. • Polari, a form of gay slang used mainly within the British theatre community. • Nushu, a secret writing of Chinese women 37

  38. Codes and ciphers • Codes and ciphers are similar in that both try to keep a message secret by representing it in an obscure form. • Codes use correspondences at the language or meaning level, whilst ciphers work at the lower levels of symbolisation. • Codes and ciphers can be combined, and can be extremely sophisticated • Codes are very widespread in informatics, and are particularly relevant in information security. 38

  39. Codes • Codes are artificial languages, often encoding a natural language message that is usually intended for translation or decoding back into the message intended by the sender • Codes are designed to be understood by those in the know, and to exclude others from understanding their message. • In a circus tent the phrase “Hey Rube” might have been predefined as a code for the message that “a fire has broken out”. This alerts the circus workers, without causing the general public alarm. 39

  40. Ciphers • A cipher maps the elements of a message to other elements, e.g. abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz pqrstuvwxyzabcdefghijklm no • The bottom row (pqr…) is the key • Given an enciphered string and the key, it is straightforward to reconstruct the original message. • It can be made more complicated, e.g. stringing words together by dropping the spaces avoids clues due to word length 40

  41. pqr stu vwx yza bcd efg hij klm no abc def ghi jkl mno pqr stu vwx yz step iwtrpi thecat 41

  42. Try this one yourself – what is the key? ibmwnt ? halvms 42

  43. abc def ghi jkl mno pqr stu vwx yz zab cde fgh ijk lmn opq rst uvw xy ibmwnt halvms 43

  44. Recap Codes, ciphers and secret languages are designed to be understood by those in the know, and exclude others. Ciphers are correspondences between sets of language symbols at the level of individual elements. Codes involve correspondence between sets of language symbols at the level of meaning 44

  45. Introduction • Types of language • How does language begin? • The symbolic aspects of language • Language and communication • Language and cultures • Language and thought • Summary Language and communication • Communication is “a symbolic process in which people create shared meanings” • We have already seen some of the symbolic aspects of communication, which have properties of their own but also usually represent some intended meaning. • The process aspects of communication refer to how these symbols are packaged, transferred, distorted, socialised, and related to systems of meaning or belief. • Language plays a central role in human communication. 45

  46. Communication – human and electronic • In many areas of informatics, communication is both in electronic form and in various human forms, so a working knowledge of each type is useful. • Human communication is more concerned with the intention, getting the meaning across. • Electronic communication is more concerned with the accuracy, and getting the information across. It is not directly concerned with the meaning. 46

  47. Shannon and Weaver’s information theory • Shannon and Weaver’s model of communication was one of the earliest works on information theory • It is concerned that the information that is received is the same as that which is sent • The model of treats data messages as meaningless: the content is irrelevant • Shannon and Weaver’s model underpins many technical applications, but as a model of human communication it is limited 47

  48. Shannon and Weaver’s information theory 48

  49. Levels of human communication • Communication in informatics is generally concerned with human and organisational communications. • As an instrument of human communication, electronic communication takes place in human activity contexts. • The major levels of human communication are • interpersonal • cultural • intercultural 49

  50. Levels of human communication • The forms of human communication may be • Spoken or non-verbal • Written • Pictorial and diagrammatic • And formal or informal in tone, depending on the audience, and what message is being intended. • So being able to disentangle the information from the form is crucial, and not always easy • Humans do this automatically in everyday language • But a computer can’t – so we must be conscious of it when modelling information 50