What Is the Semantic Barrier in Communication?

Vinamra Agrawal/CC-BY 2.0

Semantic barriers occur when the sender and receiver have different understandings of the message sent. For example, a person who uses the word “bimonthly” might mean twice per month while the person hearing it thinks it means every other month.

Semantic barriers are usually either denotative or connotative. In denotative barriers, sender and receiver disagree about the straight definition of a word or phrase, often without knowing it. The word “bimonthly” is an example.

A connotative barrier includes how a word is meant in a particular context. For example, someone might describe a game as “simple.” Generally, both sender and receiver agree on the straight definition of the word, but the sender of the message might mean the game was a little slow and boring where the receiver might think he means it was fun and easy.

Another example of a semantic barrier is technical language. Different industries tend to use different terms in different ways. Unless everyone working at a particular company knows what a particular term means, miscommunication often results due to the semantic barrier. After all, there are often many different people from different fields working in the same company, such as engineers, psychologists and biomedical scientists.