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A lecture at my university is titled "Communications In English for Engineers".

Somebody from my year stated that 'communications' (in plural) relate to telecommunication and generally engineering/science discipline, rather than process of communicating between two or more entities (people/devices/anything else).

However, my brief Google research have not confirmed this. Most dictionaries queried about 'communications' in plural show a page for this term, but description seems more like one for 'communication'.

Could you then please explain:

  1. What does 'communications' mean?
  2. Is this term interchangeable with 'communication'?
  3. Optionally: where does this difference (if there is one) come from?
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Why do you need a "fix" in respect of tags? I'll add grammatical-number (synonym plural) to your existing meaning, but you could have done that yourself - what "new" tag do you think is appropriate? – FumbleFingers Aug 7 '12 at 20:51
I thought that putting in 'communications' as a tag would be appropriate, but no doubt you know better, so nvm me. – Vrizz Aug 8 '12 at 15:46
There's a considerable spread of opinion regarding tags on ELU - so far as I know, about the only thing everyone agrees is that English and word are not useful tags. Personally, I think communication/s falls into the same "too general" category. In your case, it just happens to be the specific noun for which you're asking whether singular/plural inherently conveys radically different meanings, so the current three tags seem adequate to me. – FumbleFingers Aug 8 '12 at 15:58
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Communications means both those things.

I'd guess it means the human variety due to the "In English" since the same protocols and techniques are used in telecommunications in English as in French, Italian, Mandarin, Klingon, Sindarin, etc. (bar some matters around character encoding, and even these days Unicode means we can mostly used the same technology and otherwise we all use the same underlying technology).

Double check with the college. I've heard some amusing anecdotes about course titles that were taken to mean one thing, but actually meant another thing, when both were perfectly valid ways of understanding the English. You may not want part of your academic year to bring you nothing but an anecdote that is amusing to someone else.

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If the title was "Communications using TCP/IP", I'd take it to refer to electronic protocols. But "Communications in English" almost surely means it is about speaking and writing, not electronics or computer protocols. – Jay Aug 7 '12 at 20:40
@Jay. While I agree (and hence said so), I wouldn't recommend taking a course without checking. Beware the semester that amounts to nothing but an anecdote! – Jon Hanna Aug 7 '12 at 20:41
Hmmm, I've looked it up in better dictionaries than previously and now it clearly states the opposite to OP: American: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/american-english/… British: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/essential-british-english/… Assuming the author of the lecture title had verbal/written communication in mind, is the title still correct? – Vrizz Aug 8 '12 at 15:50
@JonHanna Sure, it never hurts to check. Even if you carefully parse the course title, there's no guarantee that whoever made up that name did the same. – Jay Aug 15 '12 at 14:19

Communications describes a series of exchanges or correspondences.

Communications carried on between authorities and the kidnapper for 3 weeks.

The two countries continued communications on the matter until it was clear negotiations were futile.

Communication may be the general act of communicating

What we have here is a lack of communication.

Communication is a lost art.

or one specific transmission of information.

This is the last communication I'm ever sending to you.

The first communication I received from him was in 1971.

Expanding on this last point, there are cases where context dictates that communications means multiple transmissions of information which are not necessarily part of a single series of exchanges.

The first communications I received from him were in 1971.

Although grammatically correct, IMO this usage is a bit clumsy.

(Apologies for not answering the OP's question directly.)

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