Functions of Language by Roman Jakobson

According to Roman Jakobson, we can divide the functions of language into six factors which are required for communication: (1) context, (2) addresser (3) addressee, (4) contact, (5) common code, (6) message. Most of the resources we browse usually give us the complicated and complex discussions on these functions; it is not the case in this post. We will delve into discussing these functions in a simplest, most brief, and most comprehensive manner.

A message is sent by the addresser (a sender, or enunciator) to the addressee ( a receiver,  or enunciatee). The message can not be understood outside of a context. A “Code” should be common fully or at least partially to the addresser and addressee. A contact which is physical channel and psychological connection between addresser and addressee is necessary for both of them to enter and stay in communication.

Functions of Language by Roman Jakobson

Each of these six factors has a different function of language. The diversity in these functions is a result of a different hierarchical order of functions. Shortly , these six functions of verbal communication can be analyzed as follows:

Referential Function

It is denotative, cognitive function which is oriented toward the ‘context’. To show things or facts, the referential function is the most obvious function of language: for example: “The earth is round.”, “Water boils at 100 degrees.”

Emotive Function

It is also known as “expressive function”. This function focuses on the ‘addresser’. This function comes out when we want to express our emotions although we don’t speak to give an information. In this function,  we communicate for ourselves more than other people who hear us or not.  For example: the interjections, which are words or phrases used to express sudden surprise, pleasure or annoyance such as: “Bah!” , “Oh!” , “Yuck!” “Ouch!”, and etc. They are not components but the equivalent of sentences. Moreover, as Roman Jakobson’s example in “Linguistics and Poetics”, only from the changes in the sound shape of the same two words ( like “this evening” ), we can make a list of forty or more emotional situations by diversifying its expressive tint.

Conative Function

The conative function is an orientation toward ‘addressee’. This function finds its purest grammatical expression in evocative and imperative sentences, and it helps us to make people do something and it includes orders and prayers. For example: “Drink!” or “Go Away”.

Phatic Function

The phatic function which sets for  ‘contactestablishes, prolongs or discontinues the communication. We use this function to know whether the channel works or whether the contact is still there. Our purpose in this function is first to maintain contact with the person we are talking to. For example: “Hello!” “Are you listening?” “Do you hear me?”.

It is also the first verbal function which is acquired by infants before they are able to send or receive informative communication.

Metalingual Function

Code’ performs the “ metalingual function” which is used whenever the addresser and the addressee need to check whether they use the same code and when the language is used to speak about language. For example: “What do you mean by ‘krill’?”, “ What is plucked?”. In the process of language learning, the acquisition of mother tongue includes wide use of metalingual actions; for example, aphasia may be described as a loss of capability for metalingual actions.

Poetic Function

The poetic function which is orientation toward “message” and “the focus on the message for its own sake”. This function includes more than poetry; linguistics cannot limit itself just to the field of poetry. When we say “John and Margery” instead of “Margery and John” or when we say  “horrible Harry” instead of “ terrible Harry , dreadful Harry” which have same meaning, we use the poetic function of language.