Some students of journalism and mass communication fail to recognise the basic differences between “communication” and “mass communication”; they use the two terms interchangeably. This is a humble attempt to make all students of journalism and mass communication understand the fundamental differences between communication (C) and mass communication (MC). Later on, we shall dwell at length on “mass” in MC.

Communication is at the base of all social intercourse. It is the very basis of society. The word has been derived from the root, “communis,” which means sharing, commonality, etc. Another closely-related root is “communicare.” The idea of sharing is fundamental to the act of communication—whether it be sharing of meaning, or exchange of ideas and feelings. The act of sharing is fundamental to harmony in personal life, and hence fundamental to society’s harmonious existence and continuance.
The words “commune,” “communism,” and “community” are related to communication because of the ideas of sharing and exchange of ideas, feelings, and facilities for the common good.

We in India and Kerala cannot forget that “community” is used with a wrong meaning, as in Christian community, Latin community, Ezhava community, and Brahmin, Islamic or Nair communities, because in a democratic polity, community can only mean a group of people living in a given area, without appending any caste or religious colour to the community.

We in India and Kerala cannot forget that “community” is used with a wrong meaning, as in Christian community, Latin community, Ezhava community, and Brahmin, Islamic or Nair communities, because in a democratic polity, community can only mean a group of people living in a given area, without appending any caste or religious colour to the community. In fact, a community is just a group of men and women in a given area following a common set of rules and regulations, for the common good of society or group of human beings. This sense of civil society has not taken strong roots in our country. Well, that is another matter. Let us continue with our main task of understanding communication and mass communication.

The idea of sharing is so fundamental to society that members of that society will suffer much if they do not subscribe to the ideas of not only their own basic interests but the interests of the other members in the same society. All are living in a particular area under the same panchayat or municipal government. Sharing is fundamental to collective life in the larger society too because all of us live in the same geographic entity, subject to the same conditions of living bestowed on us by Nature. Isolation by chance, or in a deliberate and wilful manner is antithetical to communal living. Communication is a natural condition of life and those who avoid it are likely to create problems for themselves and for others. Without communication, there is no society.

How will we define communication? The dictionary definition is: “transmission,” “the act of exchanging thoughts, feelings, messages and the like through speech, writing, telephone, e-mail and other means.” One very important distinction between “communication” and “communications” should be noted by all students of communication. In singular form, it signifies the act of communicating whereas in plural form, “communications” stands for the media or the means of communication: a system or method of communication; or the various branches of the media. Mail, telephone, television, and radio are media of communication and they are indicated by the word “communications.” Communications can also signify messages. Sometimes a person succeeds in sharing her messages with more than one or a small group of persons, or sharing an idea with a group of fellow-beings.

Life moves on words, phrases, sentences, statements, and actions that result from ideas presented on a particular occasion or repeated several times. Occasionally, actions proceed involuntarily from activities in Nature. But all voluntary actions of human beings and involuntary actions of Nature get wide currency through communication. Media help in the circulation of information about events issues, and personalities.

Communication can clear misunderstandings and strengthen ties between human beings, groups, and even states and nations. It can help us in seeing all aspects of a problem or all sides of a personality. It can persuade us to appreciate all points of view so that we do not become obdurate or obstinate.

It is communication that distinguishes humans from animals. Animals too may communicate but we have not yet succeeded in unlocking the mysteries of their communication. We try to teach them our system of communication! But there is no doubt that animals express the basic instincts of fear, hunger, sex, and love.

Non-Verbal Communication

A child’s first cry means something important to its mother or relatives surrounding it at the time of its birth. It means: I EXIST. If the child fails to cry or make noises, we become anxious about its health. As the child grows, its cries on different occasions may indicate its special needs on each occasion. Little by little, the child learns to imitate the elders who spend time with it, and in a few months its cries or sounds acquire specific meanings, especially to its mother. Without words, that is, non-verbally, the child succeeds in communicating its needs. Grown-ups also communicate non-verbally; they also express themselves involuntarily in a non-verbal fashion.

Non-verbal communication is, in fact, the first form of communication: drawings and alphabets led to writing, but ideas were first expressed in sounds. Sounds acquired meanings.

Non-verbal communication (NVC) is, in fact, the first form of communication: drawings and alphabets led to writing, but ideas were first expressed in sounds. Sounds acquired meanings. Different sounds were produced by human beings to indicate their needs, fears, and instincts, and later on these sounds were standardised in particular cultures. When the art of writing developed, these expressions acquired more permanency in words and graphics. But they were accompanied by signs, gestures, and sounds.

NVC has other names like “body language” and “silent language.” Meanings are conveyed to listeners not only through words but also through signs, gestures, gesticulations, and drawings. However, body language in one culture may not mean the same thing in another culture. Therefore, body language or silent language, or even signs and symbols, are not always trustworthy. Words are essential to convey the full meaning and avoid misunderstanding.

Words have to be used with caution, and with awareness about the history of their evolution and contextual propriety. We should not say “hearty condolences” instead of “heartfelt condolences,” although both feelings proceed from the heart! Use “hearty congratulations” and “heartfelt condolences.” More about this on another occasion. Suffice it to say here that Communication is a complex subject and that we have to exercise the utmost caution when we communicate so that we use the right word in the right context, and pronounce it in a manner that is intelligible to the listener, reader, or viewer.

Dr John Vergis Vilanilam
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