Semantic barriers in communication characteristics in detail

Semantic barriers in communication

The semantic communication barriers are broadly obstacles that distort the intent of a message, hindering or preventing their effective understanding. Usually, these occur when, in a communicative exchange, the sender and the receiver handle different meanings for the same sign, word or expression. Semantic barriers in communication characteristics

The causes of this phenomenon are related to various linguistic processes and cultural differences. For example, there are words that are pronounced the same way (homophones) and that can cause some kind of semantic barriers in communication. Such is the case of the words bello (beautiful) and vello (body hair).

With regard to cultural differences, even when it is the same language, there may be differences regarding the use of different signs, terms, phrases or expressions.

Spanish, to name one case, is the official language of 21 countries, each with its dialect differences. Even within each nation there are regional variants.

For example, Mexican Spanish has more than 120 million users throughout the country. Its variants are defined by social-cultural practices and by geographical area.

Among them are that of the western north, that of the peninsular north, that of the lowlands and the central one. It is not surprising that in many cases there are semantic barriers in communication.


The main characteristic of semantic barriers in communication is that they are the product of differences in the handling of the linguistic code between the participants of a communicative exchange. These differences result in a misinterpretation of the message that is being communicated.

Generally, communication takes place mainly through words, whether spoken or written. However, the words are polysemic; that is, they are capable of communicating a variety of meanings. Thus, if the receiver of the message does not assign the same meaning to a word as the sender, there will be communication failures.

In these cases, context plays a crucial role in determining what meaning should be assigned to a particular word. However, due to different social, economic, cultural and educational backgrounds, people even interpret the context differently.

On the other hand, linguistic codes, like society , are constantly evolving. Each temporal or geographical variation introduces a possibility of the appearance of semantic barriers in communication. Semantic barriers in communication characteristics

In addition, another characteristic of this type of barrier is that it occurs more frequently in the field of verbal language, and can occur between people of different nationality, different age group or, even, different gender.


Use of colloquial language

The word colloquialism comes from the Latin colloquium, which means “conference” or “conversation.” In linguistics, colloquialism refers to the use of expressions typical of informal or everyday language. These are generally geographical in nature, as a colloquial expression often belongs to a regional or local dialect.

In this way, native speakers of a language within the same geographical area understand and use colloquialisms without realizing it, while non-native speakers may find colloquial expressions difficult to understand. This is because many colloquialisms are not literal uses of words, but idiomatic or metaphorical uses.

For example, in Argentina and Chile the colloquial expression “swells balls” is frequently used. It is used as a qualifying adjective to describe a person who is constantly annoying others.

Use of technicalities

In these cases, the semantic barriers in communication are presented by the use of a specific terminology of a professional area or trade. The main difference between technical language and everyday language is the use of jargon: words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand.

Thus, if someone speaks of the “midrash in the Talmud Bavli”, the only ones who are likely to understand are the Jews who know a little about the interpretation of the sacred texts in Hebrew.

Different names for the same object

It is common to find the case of the same object that have different names in several countries, even when they share the same language. This is the case, for example, of the Persea americana . In Spanish, this fruit is called avocado, avocado, avocado, ahuaca or pagua, depending on the geographical area. Semantic barriers in communication characteristics

However, the phenomenon is not exclusive to the Spanish language. Examples include the British and American variants of English. The words flat-apartment, lorry-truck, and biscuit-cookie illustrate some of these differences.

Significant age differences

Languages ​​are constantly evolving. The semantic barriers in communication arise when the parts of the communicative process belong to ostensibly distant generations.

For this reason, among many other cases, the original version of one of the Spanish literary gems, Don Quixote , is quite difficult to understand. The following excerpt is proof of this:

… “the rest of them concluded the dress of veil, hairy tights for the festivities with their slippers of the same, the days in between they honored themselves with their finest fleece” (Miguel de Cervantes, The ingenious hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha , 1615 ).

Different levels of education or training

This type of semantic barriers in communication occurs frequently in the technical area. In these cases, professionals from the same area but with different levels of education or training handle the knowledge and terminology differently.

In this way, communication failures can occur even if the interlocutors belong to the same workplace. Among other cases, we can mention the barriers that can arise between a civil engineer and a bricklayer. Chances are they don’t share exactly the same terminology.

Use of words with multiple meanings (polysemy)

In these cases, confusion occurs when these words are used without accompanying them with the semantic context necessary to acquire the desired meaning.

For example, the words point, line, and band may have different meanings depending on the context in which they are used. Semantic barriers in communication characteristics

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