Language functions

What are the functions of language?

The main function of human language is to communicate. Human communication, however, operates in different ways depending on the type of message that we want to transmit or the type of communication that we seek to maintain with one or more interlocutors.

Within the field of Linguistics, Roman Jakobson has distinguished six uses in language, which he classifies according to the function they fulfill in the communicative act:

1. Appellate or conative function

The appellate or conative function occurs when the sender issues a message from which he expects a response, action or reaction from the receiver. It can be a question or an order. We can recognize it in our daily lives, as well as in advertising or political propaganda.

For instance:

  • Vote green.
  • Did you make the food?
  • Tell me.

You may also be interested Appellate function.

2. Referential, representative or informative function

It is one where the sender elaborates messages related to his environment or objects external to the communicative act. It is the type of function characteristic of informational contexts, or scientific or informative discourses, focused on transmitting knowledge.

For instance:

  • The phone is not working.
  • It rains again.
  • Fire is the product of combustion.

You can also see Referential function.

3. Emotional, expressive or symptomatic function

The emotional, expressive or symptomatic function is focused on transmitting the feelings, emotions, moods or desires of the interlocutor.

For instance:

  • How good I feel today!
  • I love you.
  • I'm very disappointed.

Dig deeper by viewing Expressive or Emotional Function.

4. Poetic or aesthetic function

Language in its poetic function is used for aesthetic purposes, that is, with special attention to taking care of the form itself and using rhetorical figures. It is the type of function characteristic of literary texts. A poem, novel, or tongue twister are good examples.

For instance:

  • A popular saying: "He who leaves and distributes gets the best part."
  • Hyperbole: "The man was tall and so skinny that he always seemed in profile" (Mario Vargas Llosa, The war at the end of the world).
  • A story: "The burning February morning in which Beatriz Viterbo died, after an imperious agony that did not reduce a single moment to sentimentality or fear, I noticed that the iron billboards of the Plaza Constitución had renewed I do not know what notice of blond cigarettes, the fact hurt me, because I understood that the incessant and vast universe was already moving away from her and that this change was the first of an infinite series "(Jorge Luis Borges, El Aleph).

Learn more about this topic in Poetic Function.

5. Phatic or contact function

The phatic function, also called contact, is the one that is focused on validating the communication channel between two interlocutors. This function is used to start, maintain or end a conversation.

For instance:

  • I hear you, yes.
  • Of course.
  • Agree.
  • Bye.

6. Metalinguistic function

The metalinguistic function is what we use to refer to the language itself. In other words, it is the function of language that is activated when we use language to speak of language itself. This can happen when they explain grammar or the meaning of a word to us.

For instance:

  • The word 'function' is a feminine noun.
  • This is a prayer.
  • "I see" is the first person singular form of the verb "to see."
  • "Philosophy" means "love of knowledge".
  • What do you mean by saying "you can't"?

You may be interested in seeing Metalinguistic function.

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