Semantic barriers in communication characteristics and examples

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.

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.

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.

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.

Personal, physical and semantic barriers to effective communication

Communication is the exchange of information between individuals based on a common system of signals and behaviors. There are many types of communication barriers that prevent the message from being transmitted to the recipient, which slows down the effective exchange of ideas or thoughts and can cause frustration. Barriers to communication can be personal, physical, semantic and cultural.

personal barriers

Personal communication barriers are based on a person’s beliefs and perceptions. If a person has a negative worldview, for example, then all communication that takes place will be filtered accordingly. If a boss tells an employee that he or she should be careful with spell checking before handing over a memo, the employee with a negative personal point of view may interpret the comment as negative and become angry or afraid of losing their job. Prejudice is another type of personal barrier. For example, if a person is prejudiced against all doctors, he will not receive positive feedback from a doctor and may ignore his advice. Social class, education and gender are other types of personal barriers.

physical barriers

Physical barriers include noise that is independent of the individuals who are communicating. This creates distraction. Examples of physical barriers to communication include road construction, loud music, texting during conversation, awkward tables, and uncomfortable meeting places. Physical barriers also affect written communication, for example in the case of a stained or faded letter.


Semantic barriers arise when there is disagreement about the semantic unit of a text. In other words being used, often caused because individuals are from different cultures, which prevents the parties involved from determining a common meaning for the words. This most often occurs when the people involved speak different languages. Other examples of semantic barriers are the use of jargon specific to a professional field or colloquial semantic unit of a text. In other words and expressions specific to a region. For example, a doctor explaining a diagnosis to a patient will convey the message less effectively if he uses medical community was welcomed with affection by its members. To distinguish himself from the others, the neophyte wore white clothing. In Christian religious terminology exclusively.


Physiological barriers are caused by bodily dysfunctions. This can include hearing impairment, visual impairment, and speech disorders. For a person who is unable to hear, see or speak well or who is totally unable to do so, communication becomes much more difficult. Communicating with someone who has a physiological barrier requires clear and direct messages, as someone with vision loss cannot perceive non-verbal signals and a person with hearing loss cannot hear the rhythm and tone of your voice when expressing. emotion. Physiological barriers apply to personal, physical and semantic barriers. Challenges faced by those with physiological barriers and those communicating with someone with physiological barriers can be personal (e.g. prejudice against people with disabilities), physical (e.g.

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