Colin Cherry

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Colin Cherry (19141979) was a British cognitive scientist whose main contributions were in focused auditory attention, specifically regarding the cocktail party problem.

On Human Communication (1957)

  • The dictionary definition of communication [...] includes the communication of goods and supplies. Certainly the transport of coal, oil, food, and people by the railways, or parcels by the Post Office, or of raw materials from mine to factory, forms an essential social function; without such transport our society would collapse. But transport of goods is not communication in the sense we are adopting here, and does not raise the same subtle and difficult questions. What "goods" do we exchange when we send messages to one another? (p. 9)
    • WHAT IS IT THAT WE COMMUNICATE? (the section title)
    • "... symbols do not carry meaning as trucks carry coal. Their function is to select from alternatives within a given context." (paraphrased by Ernst Gombrich in his Inaugural Lecture at University College London in February 1957, and quoted in memory of Colin Cherry. [1]
    • Reddy, Michael J. (1979). "The conduit metaphor: A case of frame conflict in our language about language," in: Andrew Ortony ed., Metaphor and Thought, Cambridge University Press. (See: Metalanguage)
    • The 'transmission' view of communication, as criticized in favor of the 'ritual' view by James Carey (1985) in: Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (Boston: Unwin-Hyman).
  • The suggestion that words are symbols for things, actions, qualities, relationships, et cetera, is naive, a gross simplification. Words are slippery customers. The full meaning of a word does not appear until it is placed in its context, and the context may serve an extremely subtle function -- as with puns, or double entendre. And even then the "meaning" will depend upon the listener, upon the speaker, upon their entire experience of language, upon their knowledge of one another, and upon the whole situation. Words do not "mean things" in a one-to-one relation like a code. Words, too, are empirical signs, not copies or models of anything; truly, onomatopoeia and gestures frequently seem to possess resemblance, but this resemblance does not bear too close examination. A cockerel may seem to say cook-a-doodle-do to an Englishman, but a German thinks it says kikeriki, and a Japanese kokke-kekko. Each can paint only with the phonetic sound of his own language. (p. 10-11)
  • All that we have to do is to pick them out of the dictionary and string them in the right order.... (p.68)
  • Language performs an essentially social function; it helps us to get along together, to communicate and achieve a great measure of concerted action. Words are signs which have significance by convention, and those people who do not adopt the conventions simply fail to communicate. They do not "get along" and a social force arises which encourages them to achieve the correct associations. (p.69)
    • The first section title of CHAPTER SIX On the Logic of communication (Syntactics, Semantics, and Pragmatics)
  • [...] we can strip off all grammatical clues to sentence structure, all affixes and prepositions, and yet still achieve communication. Thus restricted to nouns, simple "stories" can be told in word chains: Woman, street, crowd, traffic, noise, haste, thief, bag, loss, scream, police.... Again, the reader's past experience of his language is sufficient to restore the missing elements, sufficiently accurately for the purpose. But of course, not only does the reader have experience of sentence structure, enabling him to supply the missing syntactical elements, but also he has experience of typical contexts in which the various words are used; many words bear an aura about with them. It might be more difficult to tell a tale about a policeman who robbed a woman, for instance, with so little redundancy! (p.122)

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