Communication Functions

We explain to you what the functions of communication and the functions of language are. Also, what are the elements of communication.

Two birds communicate with each other.Two birds communicate with each other.
Communication is a key process for life, both for humans and animals.

What are the functions of communication?

Communicative functions or functions of communication are the tasks that can be given to the communicative act, whether verbal or non-verbal., within a given context. They should not be confused with the functions of language.

Communication is a key process for life, both for humans and animals, and it can occur at different levels. Human beings communicate verbally through words, and non-verbally through gestures and postures. Animals like birds, for example, communicate through their song, colors and attitudes, and ants through a complex chemical communication system. Communication is inherent to life and is what allows the joint existence of individuals.whether in colonies, packs or societies.

In this sense, the roles of communication are usually many, but they can be summarized in three main functions:

  • affective function. Communication allows links to be established between living beings, which is often a way of establishing more or less lasting links between individuals. In this way, they can express their emotions, ask for help or be accepted in the group, which translates into benefits and survival. This function is vital for the formation of societies.
    For example, when a child cries, it triggers a set of emotional reactions in his mother that lead her to satisfy his immediate needs: food, shelter, attention, among others.
  • Regulatory function. Communication allows us to establish limits and behavioral guidelines for others, something vital to establish hierarchies, define territories, coordinate hunting strategies or build a society with laws. Education, negotiation and convincing are ways to influence the behavior of others through communication.
    For example, when a dog growls at another dog who gets too close, it is sending a warning message that can save both of them from a fight, since it constitutes a threat of physical harm.
  • Informational function. Communication allows the direct experience of the world to be transmitted from one individual to another, either to preserve the information obtained or to undertake joint actions. Informing others about something that has happened can save their lives or your own life, and is a fundamental adaptation mechanism for communities in the face of changes in reality.
    For example, when an ant finds food on its way, it immediately transmits the discovery to the rest of the workers, who follow its trail and together can take it.
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Through these three functions, living beings continually bond with others, whether or not they are of the same species. Communication is essential to all forms of life, even in the case of plants and microorganisms.

It may help you: Interpersonal communication

Language functions

A police officer communicates with drivers through signs.A police officer communicates with drivers through signs.
Language allows us to influence the behavior of others.

The functions of language refer to the different purposes that verbal language can fulfill within society, that is, the different uses that human beings can give to the word.

According to the classification of the Russian linguist Roman Jakobson (1896-1982), these functions are six:

  • Referential or informative function. Language allows us to transmit our own experience or a mental relationship to third parties, that is, to transmit specific information. Whether in order to facilitate learning for others or to preserve knowledge over time. This occurs, for example, when an adult explains to a child how to differentiate a dog from a wolf.
  • Appellative or conative function. Language allows us to influence the behavior of others, through requests or orders, either directly and frontally, or in a more subtle and hidden way. This occurs, for example, when one person asks another for help to climb a mountain.
  • Expressive or emotive function. Language allows the individual to express their inner state, that is, to express emotions and thoughts. This happens, for example, when someone feels a sharp pain in the chest and complains, so that others know that something is wrong and can help.
  • metalinguistic function. Language allows us to clarify and correct its own functioning. This happens, for example, when we consult a dictionary to define a word, or when we translate a term that someone does not know into their language.
  • phatic function. Language allows you to verify that a communication channel is free and appropriate to initiate a verbal exchange. This happens, for example, when we answer the phone or the intercom and say “Hello”, “Hello” or “Say”, expressions that have no other function than to inform the interlocutor that they can now start communication.
  • poetic or aesthetic function. Language allows the construction of statements whose sole purpose is beauty, sound or play, and which normally correspond to the arts and poetry. This occurs, for example, when an author writes a poem, a story or a novel.
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Comunication elements

In the communicative process, whether through language or not, different actors and elements intervene, each of which plays a specific role. These elements are:

  • Transmitter. It is the individual who initiates the process. His task is to encode and disseminate the message. For example: a person who decides to tell something to the person accompanying him.
  • Receiver. It is the individual who receives and decodes the message, thus obtaining the information that the sender intends to share. Depending on the communication model, you can assume the role of sender and transmit a response, or not. For example: the person who listens to what the first person has to say.
  • Code. It is the representation system that both sender and receiver use to transmit the message. If sender and receiver do not master the same code, understanding becomes impossible. For example: the language in which the first person speaks to the second.
  • Channel. It is the physical medium or series of mechanisms that allow the sender to transmit the message to the receiver. The effective transmission of the message will depend, to a large extent, on the clarity and suitability of the channel. For example: the sound waves of the sender’s voice, propagated through the air between the two people.
  • Message. It is the information that is transmitted from the sender to the receiver, that is, what you want to communicate. For example: the anecdote that the sender wants to share with the receiver.

More in: Elements of communication

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  • “Communicative functions” at the University of Barcelona (Spain).
  • “Functions of communication” by Cristina Velásquez Reyes at the Autonomous University of the State of Hidalgo (Mexico).
  • “Communication: elements and functions (theoretical aspects)” in the Junta de Galicia (Spain).
  • “Functions of language” by Isabel Navarro in CONAMAT.