On Functions of language
Clsaa:08 English Education No:2008124104 Name:古婷婷
Language is system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human
communication. Language have many specific functions in our daily life，such as to
chat，to think，to buy and sell, to read and write，to keep good relations and so on. In
the first part of this paper, I will give a brief introduction about M .A. K. Halliday and talk about the three Function Grammars by Halliday .in the second part, I talk about the seven functions in children‟s model of language by Halliday. In the third
part, I listed three more functions of language which are summarized by other functional linguists .
M .A. K. Halliday，representative of the London school, believes that
language is the product of social activities and holds that language is what it is because it has to serve certain functions. M.A.K. Halliday has sought to create an approach to linguistics that treats language as foundational for the building of human experience. His insights and publications form an approach called systemic-functional linguistics. A key concept in Halliday's approach is the "context of situation" which obtains "through a systematic relationship between the social environment on the one hand, and the functional organization of language on the other" (Halliday, 1985:11).
Halliday recognizes language serves three major functions:：the ideational
function，the interpersonal function，and the textual function (Halliday.1973：98).
1. The ideational function refers to the use of language to express content，to
communicate factual, propositional information (factual ideas and knowledge).In other words，it is the use of language as „a means of knowing‟ (Halliday.1978：121).
When we use language to identify things, to think, or to record information, we use language as a symbolic code to represent the world around us. Playing this function, language serves as a medium that links a person with the world. Everything in mind exists through language. The ideational function is, then, the function language plays
in human cognition, in our conceptualization of the world. It is this function of language, in a sense, that brings the world into our mind.
2. The interactional or interpersonal function is the function that language serves in establishing social relations and personal attitudes or the use of language as „a means of doing‟ (Halliday. 1978:：121) (language in the doing and social mode). In addition
to using language to conceptualize the world, we use it as a medium to get along in a community. We use it to identify ourselves and others, to soothe or anger someone, to argue with or to convince others, to thank or to apologize to somebody, and more importantly, to get things done together with others or by others. This function of language binds individuals together. With this function language is able to glue all members of a speech community.
3. The textual function „fills the requirement that language should be operationally relevant – that it should have a texture, in real contexts of situation, that distinguishes a living message from a mere entry in a grammar or a dictionary‟(Halliday.1973: 42). In other words，the textual function is the use of language in the „relevant‟ or „linking‟ mode. In using language, we organize messages in a logical way so that they fit in with the other messages and with the wider context in which we are talking or writing. When we speak or write we usually don't confine ourselves to single phrases or sentences; we string them together to form a text. There are expressions that refer backwards and forwards, or substitute for others, or link phrases or sentences. They play the role of bringing units of language into unity.
What‟s more , Halliday proposes seven functions in children‟s model of
language.He said that language has at least seven functions: phatic, directive, Informative, interrogative, expressive, evocative and performative.
1.The “phatic function” refers to language being used for setting up a certain atmosphere or maintaining social contacts(rather than for exchanging information or ideas). Greetings， farewells，and comments on the weather in English and on
clothing in Chinese all serve this function。Much of the phatic language (e.g. “How
are you?” “Fine, thanks.”) is insincere if taken literally，but it is important. If you
don't say “Hello” to a friend you meet，or if you don‟t answer his “Hi”，you ruin your
2.The “directive function” means that language may be used to get the hearer to do something. Most imperative sentences perform this function，e. g.，“Tell me the result
when you finish. ” Other syntactic structures or sentences of other sorts can，
according to J.Austin and J.Searle‟s “indrect speech act theory”(胡壮麟.2002：
271-278) at least, serve the purpose of direction too，e.g， “If I were you，I would
have blushed to the bottom of my ears，
3.Language serves an “informational function” when used to tell something, characterized by the use of declarative sentences. Informative statements are often labelled as true (truth) or false(falsehood). According to P.Grice‟s “Cooperative Principle”(胡壮麟.1989：282-283), one ought not to violate the “Maxim of Quality”, when he is informing at all.
4.When language is used to obtain information，it serves an “interrogative function”.
This includes all questions that expect replies，statements，imperatives etc.，
according to the “indirect speech act theory”, may have this function as well， e.g.，
“I‟d like to know you better.” This may bring forth a lot of personal information. Note
that rhetorical questions make an exception, since they demand no answer， at least
not the reader‟s/listener‟s answer.
5.The “expressive function” is the use of language to reveal something about the feelings or attitudes of the speaker. Subconscious emotional ejaculations are good examples，like “Good heavens!” “My God!” Sentences like “I‟m sorry about the delay” can serve as good examples too, though in a subtle way. While language is used for the informative function to pass judgement on the truth or falsehood of statements，language used for the expressive function evaluates，appraises or asserts
the speaker‟s own attitudes.
6.The “evocative function” is the use of language to create certain feelings in the hearer. Its aim is，for example, to amuse, startle，antagonize，soothe，worry or please.
Jokes (not practical jokes，though) are supposed to amuse or entertain the listener；
advertising to urge customers to purchase certain commodities; propaganda to
influence public opinion. Obviously，the expressive and the evocative functions often
go together，i.e.，you may express，for example，your personal feelings about a
political issue but end up by evoking the same feeling in, or imposing it on, your listener. That‟s also the case with the other way round.
7. Performative means people speak to “do things” or perform actions. On certain occasions the utterance itself as an action is more important than what words or sounds constitute the uttered sentence. When asked if a third Yangtze bridge ought to be built in Wuhan, the mayor may say “OK”, which means more than speech, and more than an average social individual may do for the construction. The judge‟s imprisonment sentence, the president‟s war or independence declaration, etc., are performatives as well.(胡壮麟.1989：271-278)
Besides, three functions are generally noted：there is perhaps nothing more
subtle than language is，and nothing has as many different uses. without a doubt，
identifying just these three basic functions is an oversimplification，but an awareness
of these functions is a good introduction to the complexity of language.
1. Informative language function ：essentially，the communication of
information .The informative function affirms or denies propositions，as in science.
This function is used to describe the world or reason about it (whether a state of affairs is true or false).These sentences have a truth value；hence，they are important
2. Expressive language function：reports feelings or attitudes of the writer (or
speaker)，or of the subject，or evokes feelings in the reader (or listener).Poetry is one of the best examples，but much of，perhaps most of，ordinary language discourse is the
expression of emotions，feelings or attitudes. Two main aspects are generally noted ：
(1) to evoke certain feelings and (2) to express feelings. Expressive discourse, is best regarded as neither true or false. E.g.， Shakespeare's King Lear's lament， "Ripeness
is all !" Even so，the nature of "fictional statements" is an interesting area of inquiry. 3. Directive language function：language used for the purpose of causing (or
preventing) overt actions. The directive function is most commonly found in
commands and requests. Directive language is not normally considered true or false (although a logic of commands have been developed).(王东波.2003：17；
Shortly speaking, language has its special functions which are significant and influential. We should learn the functions of language so that we could use language in a better way.