Language is the basis of human communication. It allows us to express what we feel, communicate our ideas and thoughts and relate to others. It is also a very valuable resource that allows us to discover the world around us, discover our history and shape our wishes and desires for the future. This complex system of symbols, both phonetic, written and verbal, shapes our inner world and allows us to be who we are.

However, although it is common for us to think of language as a vehicle between our inner and outer world, the truth is that we do not always use it in the same way. Every day we use words to express all kinds of ideas and emotions, but always with a particular meaning. This is what is known as language functions, a concept that the smallest of the house should know as they appropriate the language and learn to communicate with those around them. Teach your children to make mistakes without fear.

What are language functions?

The functions of language refer to the different objectives of communication, that is, the intention that the sender has when constructing a sentence. In other words, it is about the different purposes with which we use language in our day to day. In general, there is a function that prevails over the others every time we express ourselves, although in reality all the functions of language are interconnected, so that when we communicate the other functions are also present, even if they remain in a second. flat.

Why is it important for children to know the functions of language?

Beyond teaching children to speak and communicate with others from an early age, it is also important to teach them to use language with meaning and purpose. Words alone are just a concept, but when used with purpose they take on enormous power. Children should be aware of this, so they will learn to use the right words according to the context and without losing sight of what they want to express.

For this reason, it is important to teach them from an early age the different functions of language and explain when and how to use them. Obviously, it is not enough to teach them the theory, it is also necessary to give them examples and motivate them to practice in their daily lives until they are able to recognize the different functions of language and use them effectively.

What are the main functions of language?

There are different classifications of language functions. One of the best known is that of the Russian linguist, phonologist and literary theorist, Roman Jakobson, who redefined the previous theory of the linguist Karl Bühler on the existence of three functions of language, the symbolic or representative, the symptomatic or expressive and the signal or sign. name. For Roman Jakobson, this classification was insufficient, so he added three new functions to his theory.

1. Referential, representative or informative function

The referential function, also known as representative or informative, focuses on conveying the content of the message and the situation. Basically, it is used to transmit information objectively and directly. For example, to say “It’s five in the afternoon”, “More and more people are losing their jobs” or “Fruits are rich in vitamins”.

2. Expressive, emotional or symptomatic function

Also known as the emotional or symptomatic function, the expressive function focuses on the sender and is related to subjectivity. It takes center stage when language is used to express emotions, feelings, moods or desires. For example, it is the predominant function in sentences such as “I feel very good”, “I love you very much” or “I feel happier than yesterday”.

3. Appellative or conative function

It is understood by appellate or conative function of language when the issuer aims to modify or condition the behavior of the receiver. Hence, this type of message is focused on the receiver. In practice, it is usually related to orders or questions, so it is used above all in the imperative and interrogative moods. Some examples of this type of function are: “Take the notebook to Rosa and thank her”, “Finish reading and go to bed” or “Do you want to go take a shower now?”.

4. Poetic or aesthetic function

The poetic or aesthetic function focuses on the message. Unlike the rest of the functions, it is used to draw attention to the form in any use of language, but for an aesthetic purpose. Hence, it includes stylistic elements to highlight the beauty of the language. This function is quite common in literary texts, but it can also be used in everyday phrases such as proverbs. For example, the poetic function is used in phrases such as “Whoever gets up early, God helps him”, “Do good and don’t look at who” or “In the dark of the night the moon reigned”.

5. Phatic or relational function

The phatic or relational function focuses on the channel of communication between the sender and the receiver. Its objective is to start, continue, interrupt or end a conversation, as well as to check if there is any contact between the sender and the receiver. Its purpose is not to inform but to facilitate social contact to later focus on messages with content. Some examples of this function are the phrases “Hello, can you hear me well?”, “Hello, are you okay?” and “See you later, see you tomorrow!”

6. Metalinguistic function

This is a very peculiar function since it has the purpose of referring to the language itself. Hence, it focuses on the code of the language itself. It is usually used in definitions, declarations or clarifications of the language. It is distinguished in the written language by the use of quotation marks or italics, while in the oral language, it stands out for the use of a special intonation or a more intense accent. Some examples of the metalinguistic function of language are: “house is written with ce”, “María has five letters” or “Before pob, m is always used”.