This article throws light upon the seven main functions of language. The functions are: 1. Expressive and Communicative Functions 2. Interpretative Functions 3. Control function 4. The Functions of Remembering and Thinking 5. The Discovery of One’s Name 6. Social Functions of Language 7. Creative Functions.
Function # 1. Expressive and Communicative Functions:
The most basic function of language as we can guess, is that of the expressive function, an attempt to express a sudden change of state, fear, delight, pain or confusion. Whatever it is, such an expression is not a deliberate, conscious expression, but a spontaneous, immediate response not directed towards any other object.
Incidentally, in many cases this also serves as a communication to other members of the group or species, particularly in situations of danger. Most probably, these functions are automatic instinctual functions, and found in lower organisms also. However, at the human level, the communicative role assumes more crucial importance
Function # 2. Interpretative Functions:
It may be seen that when a particular occurrence or expression serves as a stimulus to others it also serves a function of becoming aware of interpreting a particular situation. Thus, the cry of one animal in the face of danger is interpreted by other members of the species. The interpretative function is very obvious at the human level.
The interpretative function serves to restore a state of cognitive equilibrium. While the stimulus itself creates a condition of uncertainty or novelty, the interpretation serves to clarify the situation and restore the equilibrium. Such an interpretation helps to place the information in an appropriate position or slot in one’s cognitive world.
Thus, when an offspring gets separated from the mother and suddenly finds her again the sound that may be made is different from the one that would have been made if a strange animal is seen. The sounds on the two occasions, may be phonetically similar, but there is a difference in the meanings of the two sounds meaning in a very elementary sense.
One may question whether one can attribute qualities like meaning, cognition, etc. to animals. But one may also ask why not? Human bigotry particularly, that of the social scientists has prevented them from being objective and honest. Thus, the second major function of the language is to help the organism to interpret and organise cognitive experiences and position them in one’s cognitive world.
Function # 3. Control Function:
When one talks of the function of control, there emerges a social dimension apart from the individual dimension. Gradually, as associations get established between certain states of existence and a stimulus on the one hand and certain sounds, there results a reproducibility of a reaction. Thus, the child cries when he is hungry or suffering from pain. This cry in turn makes the mother, or even the animal mother to rush and help. Here is the beginning of control.
The cry brings the mother’s attention and hope, and in later years the attention of those who are dear and close and those who are in a position to support. This is the first experience of mastering the environment and ability to control. Here it may be seen that at simple levels, this control function may not be deliberate and conscious, but as one grows and the environment becomes more organised, the control function of language becomes more and more central.
All of us feel comfortable to talk to a person if we know his name. Whenever we meet a familiar face, we feel comfortable if we can remember his name. The importance of words, slogans, and ‘clarion calls’ in controlling the people and mob is too well-known to need any extensive discussion.
Function # 4. The Functions of Remembering and Thinking:
Imagine our being able to think and remember without the use of words. It is almost impossible to recall or remember or think without the use of words and therefore, language. It is language, which helps us to encode experiences, store them and retrieve and decode. It is language, which helps us to translate experiences into thought and engage in processes of different types.
Function # 5. The Discovery of One’s Name:
One of the important milestones in the development of the child is the discovery that he or she has a name and, this is the beginning of the sense of self- identity which leads to feelings like me, mine, others, not me, etc. The discovery of one’s name plays a very crucial role in the overall psychological development of the individual.
It is the beginning of self-identity, and an attempt to look at oneself as an object. It is this which essentially makes for a difference between human organism and the non-human organism and between a very young child and an adult and mentally disturbed adult.
This issue of formation of self-concept and self-identity has been examined in greater detail elsewhere but the important point to remember is the very critical role played by language in the development of the self and overall psychological development.
Function # 6. Social Functions of Language:
In addition to these individual functions, language performs a very important social function. While promoting a sense of personal identity language also serves to develop a sense of social identity, a sense of belongingness to a particular group, marking out different degrees of social proximity and distance.
All of us belong to social groups speaking the same language. Similarly, the national anthem which is nothing but a set of words creates and maintains a sense of social identity. However, sometimes, this sense of social identity if it is very narrow, can result in social conflicts and confrontations between different groups.
Function # 7. Creative Functions:
Language plays a very crucial role in imaginative and creative activity. Is it possible to think of writing a novel or poetry without language? Language, then not only helps us to control and regulate our cognitions but also enables us to break free and engage in creative imagination. Here again, paradoxically, language also contributes to the emergence of very ‘creative’ delusions and belief systems in the mentally ill.
On the whole, one can see the very critical and crucial role played ‘by language in our life. It is perhaps, impossible to think of any place or situation in life where one can function without the help of language. Apart from the common functions of expression and communication, the psychological and social functions played by language are very crucial and are becoming more and more important in today’s world.
This discussion of the functions of languages is rather brief, and has been attempted only to highlight the major functions. Perhaps, one can highlight many more functions of language. No wonder, freedom of speech is regarded as the most fundamental right.