The Functions of Language in Discourse with Examples

The Functions of Language in Discourse with Examples

Hello dear reader! Do you know that language has some definite function it performs in discourse? Let me share with you in this interesting post, The Functions of Language in Discourse with Examples. Humans are endowed with the innate ability to use language, which is the bedrock of all human endeavours.

What Language Entails 

Language, a global phenomenon, is a mark of identity and the means of transmission of cultural heritage. Its dynamism and fluidity are exemplified in politics, conflict resolution, education, governance, religion, and many other areas of human endeavour. Essentially, we can use language to do just about anything because it is pivotal to man’s existence and without it, the whole cosmos will grind to a halt.

Framework for Analysis

This post attempts a critical review of language; it examines the branch of language study known as Discourse Analysis and also explores various functions of language in discourse hence the title, The Functions of Language in Discourse with Examples

The framework for analysis is Roman Jakobson’s Communicative Functions of Language and I sourced the data I used for examples of language function from the legendary Ola Rotimi’s historical tragedy Ovonramwen Nogbaisi. As language is an instrument of a cultural expression and preservation, the choice of the text offers insight into how language is used in a socio-cultural setting as evident in the then Benin Empire and its fiefdoms in the pre-colonial/colonial era. My take on this post is that (the main gist) proper deployment of language is crucial to the success of human existence in any social order.

 Introduction to Language

 Language is a unique phenomenon that has been severally defined and described by well-seasoned scholars in different ways. Osisanwo (1999) sees language as: “Human vocal noise or the arbitrary graphic representation of this noise used systematically and conventionally by members of a speech community for the purpose of communication.” Other general definitions of language include:

  • A system for representing things, actions, ideas and states.
  • A system of meaning shared among people.
  • A set of grammatically correct utterances (words, sentences, etc.)
  • A set of utterances that could be understood by a linguistic community.

Language and Communication

Language and communication are two sides of a coin. They are intertwined though not mutual exclusive. There are other paralinguistic forms of communication which do not involve the use of the vocal symbols and their graphic representations neither are such exclusively restricted to human beings. Animals are not known with any specific form of language, but they certainly do have their own forms of communication. We can therefore extrapolate that every form of language is a means of communication, but not every form of communication is expressed in linguistic forms.

Review of Literature

There are some inherent features or properties that mark out language as a unique phenomenon. Language is essentially communicative in nature and as George Yule (1996:19) points out, there should be a clear distinction between communicative signals and those which may be inadvertently informative. He reasons that it is not necessarily until one speaks that one communicates. Certain signals unintentionally sent may inform others about us like our attitude, appearance, accent etc.

Core Features of Human Language and Communication

Yule further gives six core features which are potentially means of intentional communication and are uniquely part of human language and are less likely to be found in the communication systems of other creatures. They are:


This feature allows language users to talk about things and events not presents in the immediate environment.


 This refers to the fact that there is no natural connection between a linguistic form and its meaning. In other words, there is no iconic relationship between the signified and the signifier except sometimes in onomatopoeic words.


Productivity deals with the creativity and open-endedness in the use of language. It facilitates creation of novel words and utterances. Through this feature, we can manipulate to cope with new situations. In other words, we can term this feature Linguistic/Semantic Omnipotence, that is, with language; we can talk about whatever we want to talk about.

Cultural Transmission

Language is a major index of culture, and we can pass it from one generation to the other. Language is the veritable means of transmitting the cultural heritage of any speech community.


 All the sounds in a language are discrete. They are linguistically specific and meaningfully distinct wherever a pronunciation falls within the physically possible range of sounds.


This feature deals with distinct sound at one level and distinct meaning at another. When we combine specific sounds in another form, they produce yet another meaning e.g. ‘nib’ and ‘bin’. This feature enhances economy of words. (See Derivational Morphemes)

These features, highlighted above, would suffice for the purpose of this work. Language affords us the opportunity to carry out a list of different functions, of which the most the most well-known are those taken into consideration by the linguist, Roman Jakobson, which we will discuss later.

Language and Discourse: Scholars’ Definitions

The notion of ‘Discourse’ has been variously viewed by different scholars. Alo (2006:19) describes it as “the way texts are put together in terms of products and form, sequential relationships, inter-sentential structures and organisation. It is concerned with the way texts hang together in terms of cohesion and coherence.” Stubbs (1983:1) as cited by Alo (2006:19) defines discourse as:

The organisation of language above the sentence or above the clause, and therefore…larger linguistic units, such as conversational exchanges or written texts. It is also concerned with language in use in social contexts, and in particular with interaction or dialogue between speakers.

Fasold (1990:65) posits that “the study of discourse is the study of any aspect of language use.” In simple words, discourse analysis is “the study of language in use”. The discipline is based on the fact that language needs a context for its existence and it is impossible to understand the linguistic items, used in discourse, without a context. As Fairclough (1992:8) states: “Discourse constitutes the social. Three dimensions of the social are distinguished – knowledge, social relations, and social identity – and these correspond respectively to three major functions of language … Discourse is shaped by relations of power, and invested ideologies.”

First Use of the Term ‘Discourse’

Discourse, according to Harris (1951), who first used the term, is a sequence of the utterances. He observes that:

Stretches longer than one utterance are not usually considered in current descriptive linguistics. […] the linguist usually considers the interrelations of elements only within one utterance at a time. This yields a possible description of the material, since the interrelations of elements within each utterance (or utterance type) are worked out, and any longer discourse is describable as succession of utterances, i.e. a succession of elements having the stated interrelations.

Discourse analysis comprises a wide range of sub-disciplines, such as pragmatics, conversational analysis, speech act theory and ethnography of speaking. The discipline studies language used in the context, so its subject matter is language as a whole, either written or spoken, in terms of transcriptions, larger texts, audio or video recordings, which provides an opportunity to the analyst to work with language rather than a single sentence.

The Functions of Language in Discourse with Examples

Here we present all the functions of language as various scholars have proposed. We draw examples from Ola Rotimi’s historical tragedy: Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, for Roman Jakobson’s classification of language functions.

Language Functions

As proposed by different scholars, there are different classifications of the functions of language. Stubbs (1995:46) proposes the following functions of language: expressive/emotive, directive/conative/persuasive, poetic, contact, metalinguistic, referential, contextual/situational. Brown and Yule (1983) identify two functions of language. These are: Transactional and Interactional. Transactional function has to do with the expression of content while Interactional function deals with the expression of social relations and personal attitudes.

M. A. K. Halliday’s Classification of Language Functions

Ogunsiji (2001:77) opines that “human language is essentially functional in that language is used for various purposes in the society.” Adeyanju (2008:86-87) making reference to Halliday (1970) submits that the latter identifies three broad functional levels of language. These are the Ideational, Interpersonal and Textual functions. We shall examine each of these functional levels of language.

Ideational Function

According to Adeyanju (2008:86), citing Halliday (1970) the ideational function “implies that language serves as an instrument for the encoder (speaker, writer) to express and articulate his idea and experience internally.” Ideational function refers to the conceptualizing process involved in our mental activities. Through language, we are able to understand what happens around us. This is also known as the experiential function which deals with words and their relationship to the world. 

Interpersonal Function

This function, as described by Ogunsiji (2001:77) is used in establishing and sustaining social relations. Interpersonal function emphasizes that language is mainly a social phenomenon, but apart from enabling communication with other people it enables to project the speaker in the desired way and to represent the speaker. It is also an instrument of achieving social cohesion.

Textual Function

Adeyanju (2008:87) described this function as implying “the availability of an internal structure which makes it possible for the writer or speaker to construct texts that are not only coherent but also situationally appropriate.” Textual competence refers to our ability to create long utterances or pieces of writing which are both cohesive and coherent. Unlike animals people, by use of certain linguistic devices, are able to produce long sentences and text, and not only simple phrases. A good example is from the opening lines of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way−−in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Language Functions for Children in Early Years

Halliday (1973) as cited by Christodoulou (2009) identifies seven functions that language has for children in their early years. Children get motivated to acquire language because it serves certain purposes or functions for them. The first four functions help the child to satisfy physical, emotional and social needs. They are: instrumental, regulatory, interactional, and personal functions. The other three functions are heuristic, imaginative, and representational, and these ones help the child to come to terms with his or her environment. Let us examine them severally:

Instrumental Function

 We use this function of language to fulfil a need on the part of the speaker. In language acquisition process, a child uses this function to express his/her needs. This function is directly concerned with obtaining food, drink and comfort.

Regulatory Function

Language used to influence the behaviour of others. It deals with persuading, commanding, requesting other people to do things one wants. In other words it is used to tell others what to do.

Interactional Function

 Language is used to develop social relationships and ease the process of interaction. It is concerned with the phatic dimension of talk. Through this function, language is used to make contact with others and to form relationships.

Personal Function

In personal function, we use language to express the personal preferences and identity of the speaker. Language is used to express feelings, opinions and individual identity. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Here I am!’ function – announcing oneself to the world.

Representational Function

Language is used to exchange information. It deals with relaying, conveying facts or requesting information.

Heuristic Function    

Here, we use language to gain knowledge, learn and explore the environment. A child uses language to learn. This may be in the form of questions and answers, or the kind of running commentary that frequently accompanies children’s play.

Imaginative Function

In this case, we use language to explore the imagination. It also accompanies play as children create imaginary worlds. We employ this language function in storytelling and sharing jokes.

Roman Jakobson’s Functions of Language

We have examined other language functions as proposed by other scholars, Let us now focus on the ones Jakobson (1960) highlights. Most of these functions correlate with those of other scholars or are subsumed under them. He identifies the following communicative functions of language:

The Emotive Function

This function emphasises the addresser’s own attitudes towards the content of the message; that is, it looks at the emotion of the speaker towards the message content. Danesi (2004:106) describes this function thus: “The intent of the addresser in constructing a message is emotive in the sense that, no matter how literal the message might be, its mode of delivery invariably involves the latent presence of the addresser’s emotions, attitudes, social status, etc.” When a speaker does not speak to convey an item of information, but to express their feelings, the communication is more for the speaker more than for the people who may (or may not) hear him/her.

Examples of Emotive Function

  • Ovonramwen: [spoken weightily] Some birds. . . some birds dread water; ducks sleep in it! The same it is with men. Some men dread trouble. Others court trouble. p. 4
  • Ovonramwen: Brothers, ha! Rebels – all: Obazelu, Obaraye, Eribo, Osia – the whole rout: rebels! p. 4
  • Ovonramwen: Because the moon is dim, the eyes of little stars cast a carefree glitter. Obaduagbon, Esasoyen, and the rest of you . . . your stars have this day consumed themselves in the heat of their own unwisdom. This night, you all die. [To the prison warder.] I have spoken. p. 6
  • Obaruduagbon: Today is your day: tomorrow belongs to another! p. 6
  • Esasoyen: Indeed: the Whiteman who is stronger than you will soon come! p. 6
  • Iyase: Ikpema! Oba gha to o kpere! p. 6
  • Ovonramwen: “Let the land know this: Ovonramwen Nogbaisi is henceforth set to rule as king after the manner of his fathers before him. Some men there are who think that, by honour of years, or the power of position, or by too much love for trouble, they can dull the fullness of my glow and bring darkness on the empire! But they forget. . . They forget that no matter how long and stout the human neck, on top of it must always sit a head. Henceforth, a full moon’s, my glow – dominant, and unopen to rivalry throughout the empire. [Gravely] Let everyone now go back to his home and ponder on my words! p. 7

The Conative Function

This function has to do with the addressee. We can find a typical example of this in the ‘vocative’. The vocative deals with the grammatical case of somebody being addressed, that is, a grammatical case that indicates that the speaker directly addresses somebody or something. The message invariably has an effect on its receiver, known as “conative,” no matter what the message contents might be, because the way the addresser delivers it involves such subjective features as tone of voice, individual selection of words, and so on. Conative comes to play when one tries to make other people do something. This includes orders and prayers. Conative finds its purest grammatical expression in the vocative and imperative.

Examples of Conative Function

  • Iyase: May the Home-Leopard live long! p. 4
  • Other Chiefs: Pray Your Highness, forgive their rudeness. p. 5
  • Ovonramwen: Tell Edogun to take them [the Whitemen] round the city. I shall talk to them later. [To another messenger] You bring in the traders from Ijekiri. p. 8
  • Ijekiri Traders: We are still begging Your Highness to deal lightly with our people. p. 8
  • Ovonramwen: Go back to your chiefs – Chief Dore, Chief Idudu and the rest of them – tell them that it is the man with thorns in his foot who limps to meet the man with a pin for help. p. 8
  • Ovonramwen: Go you then and tell him: it was not to watch rascals sport with the Benin Empire, that Ovonramwen Nogbaisi became king over this sacred domain. [with quiet emphasis] I want those cursed swords seized! p. 9
  • Elders: May your reign be long, Your Greatness – And happy – And full of good rewards. The gods protect you. p. 12
  • Ovonramwen: …May the gods of our fathers grant you more wisdom to hold peace in Ishan. p. 12
  • Ovonramwen: Tell your Queen that Ovonramwen Nogbaisi says she must have another man. p. 17
  • Moor: Look in all the rooms! Mobilize fifty infantry men! p. 66
  • Roupell: Search the bushes! p. 66
  • Moor: I want Overami dead or alive! I want Overami here by four o’clock! [To Soldiers] Round them up! p. 66
  • Osodin: Ezomo, Ezomo – tell the story. p. 67

 The Referential Function

This has to do with context. The function here is dealing with something contextual, that is, contextual meaning. It is “Representative”. Meaning here will not be clear without an explicit understanding of the context of utterance. Referential function refers to any message that is constructed to convey information. It is the most obvious function of language as it is the case when words are used to indicate things or facts. Osisanwo (2003) enunciates this more: “The language user, in this function, ensures that the meaning of a word or expression is the physical object which the utterance stands for. It is denotative.”

Examples of Referential Function

  • Ifa Priest: Your Highness. . .the death I see here is not the death of one man. Bodies of men. . .fire. . .and blood – bodies floating. Fire, and ocean of blood – bodies floating in it! p. 15
  • Evbakhavbokun: Father, what shall we give him? It is not fight to send him away to Ife without a gift. p. 16
  • Messenger: Your Greatness, the Whitemen have come back and ask if they can see you now. p. 16
  • Gallwey: [Untying a parcel] Your Highness, our Queen asks us to extend her very best wishes to you; and she sends Your Highness these token presents, wishing you and the people of this noble empire peace and prosperity. [Proffers a framed portrait to Ovonramwen] Here, Your Highness, the photograph of our Queen. p. 18
  • Ovonramwen: You say that is your ruler? p. 18
  • Gallwey: She is, Your Majesty. p. 18
  • Ovonramwen: Hmm. The soft innocent face of a child who has just stopped crying. p. 18
  • Hutton: She is a beautiful woman, Your Majesty. p. 18
  • Ovonramwen: A full-bodied woman. Her husband must have plenty to fill the hands! p. 18
  • Gallwey: The Queen has no husband, Your Majesty. p. 18
  • Hutton: Her husband is dead, Your Majesty. p. 18
  • Ovonramwen: Then, let her take another husband from among her own people. A woman without a man is like rich farm-soil without the feel of roots. A beautiful woman without a man is a crab – over-protected by shells: selfish. p. 18

 The Phatic Function

This concerns the channel of communication or utterances that are employed to maintain contact or communication between two speakers. Phatic communication relates to language spoken in order to share feelings, create goodwill, or set a pleasant social mood and for all social purposes rather than to give information or ask questions. In other words, it establishes, acknowledges, or reinforces social relations; it is the communicative acts that fulfil an exclusively social function, acts that serve to confirm ‘ties of union,’ such as the more or less formal inquiry about one’s health, remarks about the weather, or comments about trivial matters. Examples include:

  • Elders: We thank your Greatness. p. 12
  • Ifa Priest: Oba Alaiyeluwa, Home-Leopard of Benin race… [Prostrates himself before Ovonramwen] I bring you greetings from my Owner, Alaiyeluwa Oni, Lord of Ife, the home of Oduduwa. Greetings. p. 13
  • Gallwey: We’ve come to say goodbye to his Majesty, and to thank him for everything he has done for us since we came here. p. 17
  • Hutton: We are indeed very grateful for your hospitality, Your Majesty. p. 17
  • Ovonramwen: That is nothing. p. 17
  • Phillips: All right, all right – thank you, we’ll see the Oba in two months’ time. p. 31

The Metalinguistic Function

This refers to any message that is designed to indicate the code used. For example, “The word noun is a noun.” Jakobson’s analysis suggests that verbal discourse goes well beyond the function of simple information transfer. It involves determining who says what to whom; where and when it is said; and how and why it is said; that is, it is motivated and shaped by the setting, the message contents, the participants, and the goals of each interlocutor. Discourse makes an emotional claim on everyone in the social situation. When language is used to speak about language, for example in a grammar or a dictionary, the metalingual function has been employed. Jakobson notes:

Metalanguage is not only a necessary scientific tool utilised by logicians and linguists. It comes into play in our everyday language. We practise metalanguage without realising the metalingual character of our operations. Whenever the addresser and/or addressee need to check up whether they use the same code, speech is focused on the code: it performs a METALINGUAL (i.e. glossing) function.

He submits: “Any process of language learning, in particular child acquisition of the mother tongue, makes wide use of such metalingual operations; and aphasia may often be defined as a loss of ability for metalingual operations.”

Examples of Metalinguistic Function

  • Ifa Priest: [Casts ‘opele’ beads] I-w-o-s-a! I-w-o-s-a! Hm! Who has ever seen blood in a locust! p. 14
  • Ovonramwen: What does it say? p. 14
  • Ifa Priest: Er…Greetings, my lord, greetings… p. 14
  • Ovonramwen: I insist you tell me! p. 14
  • Ifa Priest: Oba Alaiyeluwa, Lord of Benin. . .the shadows I see over your empire are heavy. Too heavy. Heavy and. . .and dark. p. 15
  • Uzazakpo: What does that mean? p. 15
  • Ologbosere: I’m not rejecting the charge, Your Greatness – it is just that why . . . I do not understand – p. 21
  • Ovonramwen: I remember the message. p. 52
  • Roupell: What was the message? p. 52
  • Ovonramwen: I said I was ready to stop hiding, and to come to Benin and surrender to you. p. 52
  • Igbedion: Plenty, plenty bottles. And inside one box there is small-small guns, sah. Like this . . . pp. 56-57
  • Moor: Plenty? p. 57
  • Igbedion: Plenty small, sah. p. 57
  • Ovonramwen: Uzazakpo! pp. 68
  • Uzazakpo: What is the matter? p. 68
  • Ovonramwen: It is. . .nothing. A fearful dream, Uzazakpo. Have I been in shelter a long while? p. 68
  • Uzazakpo: I think so. p. 68
  • Ovonramwen: What d’you mean – you think so? p. 68

Metalinguistic activity may be unconscious and this often produces neologisms.

The Poetic Function

When the speaker focuses on the message for its own sake, the poetic function is put to use. This function encompasses more than poetry. For example, euphony (pleasantness of sounds in speech and pronunciation) is an application of this function. This poetic function of language can be used when one says “Alexander the Great“, instead of “the great Alexander”, which essentially has the same meaning. Poetic function involves play with form like rhyme, repetition, alliteration, assonance, juxtaposition of paronyms (word derived from the same root as another word with phonetic similarity – “folly” and “fool”; “fish the fissure for Fisher”), spoonerisms (our queer dean for our dear queen). It also involves play with meaning: (You cannot feature in a future you cannot picture), unexpected juxtaposition of words that are quite unlike each other, artful exploitation of synonyms, all forms of ambiguity: (police were ordered to stop drinking at midnight), deliberate violations of meaning: (She womans her husband always), puns: (a rootless individual will become route-less and ultimately become ruthless), allusion, etc. Poetic function involves the ability to manipulate language in a creative way. Examples from our text which is rich in the use of proverbs, symbolism, parallelism, innuendoes etc. include:

  • Obaruduagbon: If a provoked houseboy cannot match his wicked strength with strength, he maims the master’s favourite goat! p. 5
  • Ologbosere: Our brothers, a man does not test the depth of a river with both feet together. p. 5

 More Examples of the Poetic Function  

  • Ovonramwen: Indeed, if like soap you try to make men clean, like soap you will dwindle in the act. p. 8 and you do not predict the temper of the chick still in the egg. p. 12
  • Ifa Priest: Ehnn. . .Excrement of the crocodile is white on the bank of the river. White, white will your hair become on your throne. The gods say let nothing hurt you. Because the earthworm tried to hurt you now it has no legs; and the crab that one time tried to bite you has now lost its head. What about the snake that tried to kill you? Today it crawls in the dust. pp. 13-14
  • Okavbiogbe: Now, if the Whiteman still determines to enter Benin, well . . . restless feet, they say, will one day walk into a snakes’ pit! p. 30
  • Okavbiogbe: Keep quiet then – the monkey’s diarrhoea is no concern of the baboon! p. 31
  • Ovonramwen: But because a fierce snake sleeps, does not mean it has lost the power to kill if rudely vexed! Let the Whiteman rudely prod us further, in spite of caution, then he will know that the way a cat walks is not the same way it catches a rat! p. 34
  • Ovonramwen: How was I certain that you were not going to find some cause to treat me like Jaja and Nana? If fire can consume the tortoise with the iron coat, why not the fowl with the feathered gown? p. 60

Mechanism of Communication

Jakobson (1960) opines that language must be investigated in all the variety of its functions. He noted that we could hardly find verbal messages that would fulfil only one function. The theory behind these functions establishes that saying something to someone involves the following mechanism:

  • An Addresser sends a Message to an Addressee.
  • The Message cannot be understood outside of a Context.
  • The Addresser and the Addressee need to understand the Code that explains the relationship between the Message and the Context.
  • A physical Contact must be established between them to convey the Message.

According to Jakobson (1960), “each of these six features (Addresser-Message-Context-Contact-Code-Addressee) determines a different function of language.” The table below show the correspondence between these features and the functions of language according to Jakobson (1960):

ADDRESSER – a speaker addresses a Message Emotive Function Conveying Emotions
ADDRESSEE – a hearer who may be absent or implicit Conative Function Conveying Commands
CONTEXT – referent or subject matter of the discourse, what it refers to Referential Function Conveying Information
CONTACT – channel or connection between the two parties Phatic Function Concerning Contact
CODE – fully or partly known to addresser and addressee Metalinguistic Function Conveying Code Analysis
MESSAGE – focus on the message for its own sake Poetic Function Conveying Play, Pleasure

Source: Yaguello, M. (1998) Language through the Looking Glass: Exploring Language and Linguistics.

Danesi’s Additional Functions of Language

Danesi (2004:107) adds two additional functions to Jakobson’s set of functions. They are: the mystical function and the economising function. Let us take a look at them:

The Mystical Function

The Mystical Function or the latent perception of the words used in communication relates to words as having primordial mystical power. He posits that this function is latent in all kinds of rituals and religious practices such as the Catholic Mass which is spoken, sermons, prep rallies, and other ceremonial gatherings which are anchored in speeches, either traditionally worded or specifically composed for the occasion. He observes:

The use of language in ritual is not to create new meanings, but to reinforce traditional ones and, thus, to ensure cultural cohesion. Societies are held together as a result of such verbal rituals. People typically love to hear the same speeches, songs, stories at specific times during the year (at Christmas, at Passover, etc.) in order to feel united with the other members of the culture. They are passed on from generation to generation with little or no modification.

Brown (1992:13) notes: “the fact that when we create words we use our breath, and for these people and these traditions breath is associated with the principle of life; breath is life itself. And so if a word is born from this sacred principle of breath, this lends an added sacred dimension to the spoken word.”

Mystical Powers of Language

Danesi (2004:108) opines: “Belief in the mystical powers of language is not limited to tribal cultures. It abounds even in modern technological cultures. “Speak of the devil,” we say in common parlance, and “he will appear.” When someone sneezes, uttering “bless you” is meant to ward off sickness.” Gill (1994:106) expresses this further:

By portraying experience in a particular way, words work their unconscious magic on humans, making them see, for example, products as necessary for success or creating distinctions between better or worse-be it body shape, hair style, or brand of blue jeans. Words create belief in religions, governments, and art forms; they create allegiances to football teams, politicians, movie stars, and certain brands of beer. Words are the windows of our own souls and to the world beyond our fingertips. Their essential persuasive efficacy works its magic on every person in every society.

Economizing Function

This claims that messages will be constructed and delivered in the most “economical” way possible, that is, with the least possible effort. Actually, “economization” is characteristic of all kinds of communication systems, not just language. It appears in various ways across cultures. For example, the more frequently a word or expression is used the more likely it will be replaced by a shorter equivalent. This is known as “Zipf’s Law” in the communication sciences, here are a few well-known examples of how it manifests itself in English:

Ad – advertisement, Photo – photograph, NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Laser – light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation

We can see the economizing function today in the use of so-called “instant message” (IM) acronyms. Unlike e-mails, we send IMs in real time, like a phone call, but with text rather than spoken words. To increase the speed at which we can input and receive messages, IM has developed a series of common acronyms that are now part of computer language. Here are a few of them:


Before CM call me
f2f face-to-face wan2 want to
h2cus hope to see you soon Ruok Are you OK?
IDK I don’t know 2moro Tomorrow
j4f just for fun gr8 Great
LOL laughing out loud g2g gotta go
143 I love you ASAP As soon as possible
9 Parent is watching CMIIW Correct me if I’m wrong
OMG Oh my God 2m2h Too much to handle
ROFL Rolling on the floor laughing TBC To be continued


This post has examined language, discourse and the various functions of language in discourse from the perspectives of Halliday and Jakobson. We conclude that without language, human endeavours would be impossible as language helps in holding together the fabric of the society especially in the aspect of human interaction and communication. Language is basically a functional phenomenon. It is the fabric with which discourse is woven and the discourse fabric that language weaves is contingent on the specific context that requires the fabric and this ultimately determines the function of the discourse. In other words, a strong relationship exists between language, which is the bedrock of discourse, and discourse, which is language in use. We use language in a particular context and it performs various functions in discourse as we have discussed in this post.


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