This graphic was used in a presentation I gave at the New York Society for General Semantics late in 1974.
If I ever find the rest of the presentation, I may get around to putting it up here.

The "normal" mode of communicating is to (1) assume that one is using terms consistent with "standard" (dictionary) definitions within the universe of discourse and (2) that the listener has a high probability of understanding the transmitted formulation in terms of these standard definitions. However, each person has his or her own idiolect, and the selection of standard terms for encoding one's meaning is likely to be biased towards the more abstract in the interest of efficiency. When one's idiolect is based on experience lacking in the listener, equivalent experiences must be provided in some way.  When too abstract a level is picked, or one is using terms in a less standard manner, the conversation then needs a cycle of repetitive feedback to bring the formulations back down to an "appropriate" level of abstraction where either understanding and either agreement or disagreement is achieved or one of the parties decides to terminate the process without achieving understanding.

When it really counts, meaning is almost never communicated according to the CONDUIT metaphor, that is, where one person transmits a fixed, clear proposition to another by means of expressions in a common language, where both parties have all the relevant knowledge, assumptions, values, etc. When the chips are down, meaning is negotiated: you slowly figure out what you have in common, what it is safe to talk about, how you can communicate unshared experience or create a shared vision.  With enough flexibility in bending your world view and with luck and skill and charity, you may achieve some mutual understanding. (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, University of Chicago Press, 2003, pp. 231-2.)


Annotated bibliography of general semantics papers
General Semantics and Related Topics

This page was updated by Ralph Kenyon on 2009/11/16 at 00:27 and has been accessed 7985 times at 50 hits per month.