Jakobson's functions of language

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Roman Jakobson defined six functions of language (or communication functions), according to which an effective act of verbal communication can be described.[1] Each of the functions has an associated factor. For this work, Jakobson was influenced by Karl Bühler's Organon-Model, to which he added the poetic, phatic and metalingual functions.

The six factors of an effective verbal communication. To each one corresponds a communication function (not displayed in this picture).[2]

The six functions of language[edit]

1. The Referential Function 
corresponds to the factor of Context and describes a situation, object or mental state. The descriptive statements of the referential function can consist of both definite descriptions and deictic words, e.g. "The autumn leaves have all fallen now."
2. The Poetic Function 
focuses on "the message for its own sake"[3] (the code itself, and how it is used) and is the operative function in poetry as well as slogans.
3. The Emotive (alternatively called "Expressive" or "Affective") Function 
relates to the Addresser (sender) and is best exemplified by interjections and other sound changes that do not alter the denotative meaning of an utterance but do add information about the Addresser's (speaker's) internal state, e.g. "Wow, what a view!"
4. The Conative Function 
engages the Addressee (receiver) directly and is best illustrated by vocatives and imperatives, e.g. "Tom! Come inside and eat!"
5. The Phatic Function 
is language for the sake of interaction and is therefore associated with the Contact/Channel factor. The Phatic Function can be observed in greetings and casual discussions of the weather, particularly with strangers. It also provides the keys to open, maintain, verify or close the communication channel: "Hello?", "Ok?", "Hummm", "Bye"...
6. The Metalingual (alternatively called "Metalinguistic" or "Reflexive") Function 
is the use of language (what Jakobson calls "Code") to discuss or describe itself.


  1. ^ Waugh, Linda (1980), "The Poetic Function in the Theory of Roman Jakobson", Poetics Today
  2. ^ Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music, p. 241. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
  3. ^ Duranti 1997

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