October 5, 2014

Roman Jakobson's functions of language

Intrigued by the concept of phatic expressions: messages whose only purpose is to confirm the channel is working. The canonical example is when we walk by someone and say "what's up?" No information beyond mutual acknowledgement is communicated. There is a related, nuanced concept called backchannel that represents speaker/listener confirmation. When one person is monologuing, the listener is seldom completely silent. To confirm that the messages are being received (and understood), the listener will nod or punctuate with "yes" or "go on". It's almost impolite not to make such statements, and this ties back into the idea of the phatic as "social grooming".

Moving one level up from phatic, we can see how such statements fit in communication as a whole via Jakobson's functions of language. The framework for these functions are the elements of communication:

Roma jakobson theory.png
By Artist2426 - Own work, Public Domain, Link

Different functions of language will emphasize the different elements in the diagram above. Phatic emphasizes the channel. Here's the diagram amended with Jakobson's functions:

Daniel Chandler's Semiotics for Beginners has a good table mapping the element, function, and an example for each. Modified here:

Element Function Use Example
context referential imparting information It's raining.
sender expressive expressing feelings or attitudes It's bloody pissing down again!
receiver conative influencing behaviour Wait here till it stops raining!
channel phatic establishing or maintaining social relationships Nasty weather again, isn't it?
code metalingual referring to the nature of the interaction (e.g. genre) This is the weather forecast.
message poetic foregrounding textual features It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.
posted by sstrader at 10:36 AM in Language & Literature | permalink