Layers of Communication and Implicature

Whatever we speak or write is communicating a message with a certain audience or social situation in mind (audience or social-bound communication). Your audience might often be or is often culturally different. So the question is: how to make meaning across cultures and disciplines? In order to communicate a message or make meaning we need a variety of resources. However, these resources are of different layers which vary in sequence:

The first layer is linguistic (literal or direct communication) achieved by using a variety of linguistic resources: phonetic, syntactic, and semantic. In fact language learning and teaching has often been based only on this layer. But language and communication is more than that. Viewing language linguistically provides the most important or the basic layer but it is ultimately a simplification.

The second layer is context (pragmatics or indirect communication) how to communicate and understand a message through implication (implicature). This is social or cultural bound easy to learn in the natural environment but difficult to achieve when living or learning in a different culture. In addition, there is the interference of foreign context.

The third layer is related to gender, age, level of education... which might even not be understood in L1 setting just take gender related communication problems. Sometimes women and men need an interpreter (see Deborah Tannen: You Just Don’t Understand).

The fourth layer is extra-linguistic such as non-verbal communication (body language). Even silence or no reaction or the absence of information is communication. If you keep silent (silent communication) and don't react (ignore) you impart a message which might even be more effective. Again it depends on culture. For example Western society has a predominantly verbal culture. We become uneasy and nervous once we stop talking. The pattern of silent communication in oriental languages might frighten the westerners. Some cultures like the French and the Japanese are highly contextual and business partners from other countries must be filled in before business can be properly discussed.
On the other hand North American and West European are cultures with low context.

Business is becoming more and more global with the help of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) and globalisation; advertising cannot afford to be restricted to certain cultures and social situations. After all the film industry and TV have also helped communicating messages across cultures. Perhaps non-verbal communication replaces a bit of linguistic or pragmatic competence.

Copyright © 2005 Jamshid Ibrahim. Permission to print on-line has been granted to