languages code

Photo by Soner Eker on Unsplash

The Code, in Roman Jakobson’s Theory of Communication, is the framework of rules determining how we compose our message. It’s a necessary element providing meaning to the exchange, as long as there is a mutual understanding of the code in use. The easiest way to look at the code is to consider it in terms of language; for example, the code used in writing this post is English.

There are, however, many nuances to language: the word Revolution means two different things entirely in Astronomy and Political Science. The same word may require a very different interpretation according to the context, and our choice of words conveys additional information that is not necessarily included in the scope of our message.

Specific jargons are used by communities to express belonging, or adherence to given standards: scientific, medical or legal terminologies are examples of situations where the use of specific terms is dictated by the necessity to describe known concepts with precise clarity. While the words Wolf and Canis Lupus may indicate the same animal, the scientific term implies reference to an existing taxonomy; where the former term is evocative in its synthesis of the concept, the latter is descriptive in its analysis.

In order for the communication to sound genuine, the code must be consistent with the Addresser and considerate of the audience (the Receiver): we don’t write how we talk, and we don’t write a text message with the same language we would use in an essay, or a work email. Our choice in regards to the channel we use for communication has clear repercussions on the code.

We could choose to communicate with an image: it could be a still frame like a photograph, or in motion like a video. However, this code relies on sight and would be completely useless in a channel that doesn’t support images, like the radio: similarly, any spoken code will fail to achieve its purpose if the receiving end can’t hear what we are saying.

Occasionally, a skillful use of contrast between the code and the message can be used for comedic purposes: the Poo Pourri commercial in the video below is an example of marketing creativity where language (and the British accent of the actress) is used for a memorable (and quite hilarious) effect to elevate the conversation around and extremely mundane product.