What are language functions?

We explain what are the functions of language, what are the elements it has and some of its characteristics.

  1. What are language functions?

The functions of language are understood as the different tasks with which the human being uses language , that is, the communicative purposes with which he uses that cognitive and abstract tool. This has been the subject of study of Linguistics and Communication Sciences for decades, and different theorists have attributed classifications and orders, highlighting those of Karl Bühler and, above all, those that Roman Jackobson developed from them.

The different functions of language, then, emphasize each one in the basic elements of communication that have been identified, and which are:

  • Issuer . The one who produces the message and starts the process of its transmission.
  • Receiver . Who receives and decodes the message, understanding it. End point of the process.
  • Channel . Physical medium through which the message is sent, whether sound waves , printed paper, etc.
  • Message . That psychic content that you want to share through language, be it an order, an emotion, a description, etc.
  • Code . The coding or “language” used to convey that message, be it a spoken language, morse code, etc.

The language functions are six, as Jackobson established, and through them you can realize the limits and capabilities of human language, as well as the purposes or objectives with which we can use it on any occasion.

  1. Referential function

Also called informative function , it refers to the use of language to indicate some aspect of the external universe of the issuer , that is, of reality itself. Therefore, it focuses on the message to be transmitted more than in the rest of the communicative elements: it is the “objective” function of language, which serves to indicate something concrete.

For example, when we describe what a common friend looked like yesterday, when we indicated the result of a mathematical operation or when we told the hour to a passerby. We are indicating, informing or referencing the reality around us.

  1. Emotional function

The emotional or expressive function of language has to do with the psychic or emotional reality of the sender , who logically focuses on. It often contains verbal forms in the first person, although not necessarily; In any case, it is based on transmitting to the receiver some element of mind or subjectivity of the sender.

For example, when we complain after receiving a blow, or when we lament with a friend after being abandoned by the couple, or when we tell someone how we feel or what we feel at that exact moment, either directly or through metaphors : “What a beautiful day!” or “I feel the kick.”

  1. Appellate Function

Language functions
When we tell someone which street to take we use the appellate function.

Also called conative, it is the one that focuses on the receiver, because it seeks to produce a desired reaction in it . It is the imperative function of language, which we use to get others to do what we want, whether we are asking them for a favor, ordering something or threatening if they do not.

For example, when we tell someone to open the door for us, when we tell someone what street to take to reach their destination, when we ask them to tell us the time or send someone to shut up.

  1. Metalinguistic function

This function allows the language to talk about itself, since it focuses on the communicative code , giving us the opportunity to clarify terms, ask the other if they understand us or correct the way we say things.

For example, when we correct someone’s grammar or spelling, or when we explain to a child the meaning of a word, even when we use language to learn a new language (code).

  1. Phasic function

The phatic or relational function serves only to verify that the communication channel, on which it focuses, is active and we can initiate the transmission of the message. It has no other purpose and is usually comprised of words devoid of another meaning and even meaning.

For example, in some countries, when you answer the phone, you say “Hello?”, “Hello?” or “Say”, words that have no real meaning in the message to be transmitted, simply serve to verify that there is someone on the other side of the device.

  1. Poetic function

The poetic or aesthetic function is perhaps the most complicated, since it also focuses on the message to be transmitted , but also on the code in which it is done, since it takes place when we seek to beautify, make more effective or more playful (playful) the message, as in the case of poetic rhymes , riddles, sayings and other language turns that are used to make communication more powerful and rich.

For example, when we recite a poem , or when we use a rhetorical figure to express ourselves (metaphors, hyperbole, etc.) or when we play puns.

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