Meaning of Language Functions

The language functions point the message to one or more elements of the communication circuit. Any discursive, linguistic (oral or written) or extra-linguistic production (painting, music, photography, advertising, cinema, theater, etc.) has functions of language.

The emphasis on an element of the communication circuit determines the language function that corresponds to it:

Each of the six elements of communication determines a language function. Rarely are messages found where there is only one; most of the time what happens is a hierarchy of functions in which one or the other predominates.

context →
emitter referential → emotional
receiver → conative
channel → factual
message → poetic
code → metalinguistics

According to ELECTRONICSENCYCLOPEDIA, the classification of language functions depends on the relationships established between them and the elements of the communication circuit. Schematically, we have:

Referential or denotative function

Certainly the most common and most used in daily life, the referential or informational function , also called denotative or cognitive, privileges the context . It highlights the subject, the object, the facts, the judgments .

It is the language of communication. It makes reference to a context, that is, information without any involvement of those who produce it or those who receive it. There is no concern for style; their intention is only to inform.

It is the language of school essays, mainly of dissertations, non-fictional narrations and objective descriptions. It also features scientific, journalistic and commercial correspondence. Example:

Every Brazilian has the right to retirement. But not everyone has equal rights. One and a half million civil servants, retired by special regimes, consume more resources than the fifteen million retired workers by the INSS. While the average INSS pensioner benefit is 2.1 minimum wages, in the special schemes there are people who earn more than 100 minimum wages.
(National Privatization Program)

Emotive or expressive function

When there is an emphasis on the emitter (1st person) and the direct expression of their emotions and attitudes , we have the emotional function , also called expressive or psychic exteriorization. It is linguistically represented by interjections, adjectives, punctuation marks (such as exclamations, ellipsis) and verbal aggression (insults, bad words), which represent the subjective mark of the speaker. Example:

Oh? how beautiful are you, the woman you spend
Who sate and beg me
inside the nights, inside the days?
(Vinicius de Moraes)

Note that in “Louis, you yourself are an ass!”, The phrase loses its informative (as Luis is not a person transformed into animal) and emphasizes the emotional, for it reveals the emotional state of the sender ..
Popular Love songs , soap operas and any artistic expression that shows the emotional state of the broadcaster also belong to the emotional function. Examples:

And then it makes me jealous of these people …
(Chico Buarque)

There’s no use trying to
forget Me
For a long time in your life
I will live
(Roberto Carlos & Erasmo Carlos)

Conative or appeal function

The conative function is one that seeks to mobilize the attention of the recipient, producing an appeal or an order . It can be volitional, thus revealing a will (“Please, I would like you to withdraw.”), Or imperative, which is the fundamental characteristic of advertising. It finds in its vocative and imperative its most authentic grammatical expression. Examples:

Antônio, come here!
Buy one and take three.
Drink Coke.
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Phatic function

Whether the emphasis is on the channel, to check your reception or to maintain the connection between the speakers, we have the factual function. In ritualized formulas of communication, factual resources are common. Examples:

Good Morning!
Hey, how’s it going?
Oh yes!
Huin… um…
Hello, who’s this?
Huh, what?

Note the factual features that, although characteristic of oral language, gain expressiveness in music:

Hello, Hello Martian
This is Earth speaking.
(Rita Lee & Roberto de Carvalho)

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
blah, blah, blah, blah
Ti, Ti, Ti, Ti, Ti,
Ti, Ti, Ti, Ti
It’s all very good, good!
Everything is fine, well!
(Evandro Mesquita)

Note the fact that the excessive use of factual resources denotes a lack of vocabulary , since it deprives the message of semantic load, maintaining only the communication, without translating information. Example:

– Did you like Machado’s tales?
– Only mine. It cost.

Metalinguistic function

The metalinguistic function aims at the translation of the code or the elaboration of the discourse , be it linguistic (writing or orality), or extralinguistic (music, cinema, painting, gesture etc. – called complex codes).

Thus, it is the message that speaks of his own discursive production. A book converted into a film presents a process of metalanguage, a painting that shows the artist himself executing the canvas, a poem that speaks of the act of writing, a short story or novel that discusses his own language, etc. they are also metalinguistic. The dictionary is metalinguistic par excellence. Examples:

– That’s how it was always done. Literature is literature, Seu Paulo. We argue, fight, deal with business naturally, but getting words in ink is another thing. If I were to write as I speak, no one would read me.
(Graciliano Ramos)

Fighting with words is the most vain fight. While we fight as soon as the morning breaks.
(Carlos Drummond de Andrade)

The word is the man himself, We are made of words. They are the only reality or, at least, the only testimony of our reality.
(Octávio Paz)

“Advertise your product: advertising is the weapon of the business.” In this example, we have the metalinguistic function (the advertisement speaks of the act of advertising), the conative (the attractive expression of the verb to advertise in the imperative) and the poetic (in the renewal of a cliché, giving it a special effect).

Poetic function

When the message turns to its structuring process , to its own constituents, in order to produce an aesthetic effect, through deviations from the norm or innovative combinations of language, we have the poetic function, which can occur in a prose text or in verse, or still in photography, in music, in theater, in cinema, in painting, in short, in any discursive modality that presents a special way of elaborating the code, of working the word. Examples:

That there is no way to think or believe
To imagine dreaming or feeling
Not a tear of madness
That you dare to put the human soul face to face
With what once seen and felt
changed me, like the universe the sun
Failed suddenly, without duration
At the end ..
(Fernando Pessoa)

Note, however, that deviant discourse needs a context to produce aesthetic sensation, as in the poem below, whose nonsense is highly poetic in the context of Alice in Wonderland :

Well then you killed the Jaguadarte!
Come into my arms, my man!
Oh shaky day! Bravooh! Bravarte!
He was laughing jubilee.

It was shine. The lesmolisas touvas
rolled and turfed in the gramilvos.
The pintalouvas were mimsical
And the momirratos gave grilvos.
(Lewis Carrol, translated by Augusto de Campos.)

Language Functions