Language Functions

What are the functions of language?

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

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

1. Appellative or conative function

The appellative or conative function occurs when the sender issues a message for which he expects a response, action or reaction from his 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 example:

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

You may also be interested in Appellate function.

2. Referential, representative or informative function

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

For example:

  • The phone doesn’t work.
  • It rains again.
  • Fire is the product of combustion.
You may be interested:  Meaning of Ebony

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 example:

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

Delve deeper by viewing Expressive or emotional function.

4. Poetic or aesthetic function

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

For example:

  • A popular saying: “He who shares and distributes keeps the best part”.
  • A hyperbole: “The man was tall and so skinny that he always seemed in profile” (Mario Vargas Llosa, The War of the End of the World).
  • A story: “The hot February morning in which Beatriz Viterbo died, after an imperious agony that was not reduced for a single moment to sentimentality or fear, I noticed that the iron billboards in the Plaza Constitución had renewed I don’t 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).

Understand 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.

You may be interested:  13 Examples of Descriptive Text

For example:

  • I hear you, yes.
  • Of course.
  • In agreement.
  • Bye.

6. Metalinguistic function

The metalinguistic function is the one 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 talk about language itself. This can happen when they explain grammar or the meaning of a word to us.

For example:

  • 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 “you can’t”?

You may be interested in seeing:

  • metalinguistic function.
  • Communication process.