Tag Archives: Metaphrase



“A good understanding prevents a misunderstanding”

I am not sure who coined that phrase but it is one I personally quote often. Those displaying mastery of communication through oratory, delivery, and word prose still face a formidable challenge: the understanding of their hearers. Despite the message’s content or its medium, its entire essence can be misinterpreted simply passing through the recipient’s filters. Effective communicators attempt to avoid misinterpretation through basic fundamentals of message delivery. They do not simply create a message then suppose it will be understood exactly as intended to be. Nothing can be assumed. Whether the medium is in audible, pictorial/video, or written format some of the basics are: be clear, be concise, and be consistent. When following guidelines such as these, the message can pass through the recipient’s filters with greater ease.

What are these filters I am referring to? They are a construct of personality traits and dispositions that a person develops in life. These are cultivated by influence of culture, upbringing, education, and role models. Once these filters are in place, it becomes nearly impossible for someone to receive and interpret information apart from them. Even the most objective of people will concede they often defer to predisposition. These filters are an advantage to some and a misfortune to others. Those whose upbringing was healthy and functional were afforded an opportunity to view things from that perspective. Those who were subject to pitiful role models or were raised in a dysfunctional culture learned another perspective. Regardless, the manner in which a message is interpreted and thus responded to is still a choice.

We all have experienced hearing a song play in the background somewhere then recognize later it was retained in our memory. While we may have not been listening to the song we still heard it and our subconscious tucked it away. The melody is there, the tempo is there, but what about all of the lyrics? That is one way people misinterpret the information they receive – they heard it but they did not listen to it. The information was incomplete therefore subject to misinterpretation.

There are basically 2 principal methods for translating information, texts, or a particular science. One is metaphrase and the other is paraphrase; the first aims for literal translation while the latter focuses on “an intended sense”. Terminology regarding language translation method of archaic texts has been divided up as “functional equivalency” versus “literal equivalency”. Again, the first seeks to convey what the text means in essence. The second takes the text and drops it into a receptor language with the intent of literal presentation. Of these examples, which do you think is at risk for misinterpretation? The method of metaphrase or paraphrase? A translation that is functional or literal?

It is estimated that people speak at a rate of 125 words per minute. It is also said that we spend 80% of our day communicating and 45% listening.  When you couple these figures with research stating 24 hours after hearing something, we typically remember only 50% a dilemma arises in the work place! If we take these figures and place them in a 3 ½ hour training session metric, this is what we might have:

  • 210 Minute Training Session
  • If one person did all the talking, they could say as many as 26,250 words
  • If the people trained listened at 25% efficiency, they would hear 6,562 words
  • By the next day they might only remember 3,281 words

The training attendees would do well to take notes and the speaker should choose their words carefully! But what about the filters I’ve already written about, how might they factor in? Logically those could be represented in the 25% listening efficiency, but what an exponential increase of chance for misinterpretation. The sum of the matter is that we should listen and not merely hear. That we should insist on the metaphrased and literal rather than things implied. And finally we cannot undo what led to the construction of our own filters. But we can ensure they are working for us and not against us. Prejudices, narrow mindedness, and reductionist thinking are the result of restrictive filters. They keep people from evolving mentally. Our minds have the ability to comprehend an average of 300 words per minute; more than double that which is spoken. I could throw other facts and figures out there but you get the point. We cannot allow a biased approach to information undo it’s essence through misinterpretation.

“What I hear I forget, what I see I remember, what I do I understand.”

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés