LANGUAGE AS COMUNICATION
This paper focuses on LANGUAGE AS COMMUNICATION. Through this unit language will be
analyzed in depth, both oral and written form. Notwithstanding, this will always be done bearing in
mind that language is a unique human feature.
We are language teacher, language itself is the object of our teaching, and so, its different elements and
nature will determine and influence our teaching. The concept of communication will therefore be
considered in the first place. Taking into consideration human language as a unique but not exclusive
way of communication, we will study others forms of communication.
This topic has been foreground on some of the most relevant scholars in the field, mainly David
Crystal, Encyclopaedia of the English Language (1987), or Hallyday’s spoken and written language
(1985). Hence, for a better understanding of the topic at stake we shall start analysing, at the first, the
COMMUNICATION PROCESS, with its definition, semiotics, models and factors. Then,
LANGUAGE AS HUMAN COMMUNICATION will be examined: definitions, origins, characteristics
and functions. Finally, SPOKEN and WRITTEN language will be highlighted.
The COMMUNICATION has been defined as the exchange of meanings between individuals through
a common system of symbols; e.g.: picture, letters, sounds, and noise. The concept of communication
is not simple nor there universal. We differentiate verbal and non-verbal, oral and written, formal and
informal, and intentional and unintentional. Nowadays, we may also refer to human-computer. The
theorist’s task is to answer clearly to the question: WHO SAYS WHAT TO WHOM WITH WHAT
EFFECT?. Language may be studied as port of a much wider domain of enquiry that is SEMIOTICS.
For concrete SEMIOTICS, we’ll say:
SEMIOTICS: IS THE STUDY OF HUMAN COMMUNICATION IN ALL ITS MODES.
We have five senses: oral, tactile, visual, taste and smell; but only need three to have communication,
these are: oral, visual and tactile.
Tactile: Includes touch; e.g.: shaking hands, and the distance of the body in order to communicate. It is
studied by Proxemics.
Visual: includes the use of facial expressions; e.g.: smile, winking…; and gestures and body postures
of different level of formality; e.g.: kneeling and bowing.
Aural-oral mode: It is the chief branch in the study of the communication in the form of speech.
Taking as basis these definitions we will be able to distinguish:
Verbal Communication: Speech and writing who have a highly sophisticated internal structure and
Non-verbal Communication: Tactile / Proxemics, Visual Kinesics, that involves a little creativity.
According to Harmer, the characteristics apply to every communicative situation is that a speaker /
writer wants to communicate, has a communicative purpose and select a language, and the listener /
reader, wants to listen or read to something, is interested in a communicative purpose and process a
variety of language.
In order to study the process of communication, several models have been offered:
SHANNON´S AND MOLES´LINEAR MODEL: It is a simple model. Initially source conceived
with five elements: an information source, a transmitter, a channel transmission a receiver and a
destination, all arranges in linear order. Shannon defined his theory as a mathematical model in which
doesn’t take human emotion and experiences into account. However, communication scholars applied
the theory to human interaction. The information source was provided a wider range of applicability.
The six constituents of the revised model remained as follows: a source, an encoder, a message, a
channel, a decoder and a receiver.
JACOBSON´S MODEL: It is a linguistic model. Jacobson is the one that will better relate that not
only to the communication process itself, but to the functions of language in relation to each one of the
elements that comprise the communication process. This model was introduced to explain how
language works as the code of communication. Jacobson states that all acts of communication be they
written or oral, are based on six elements constituents, being primarily associated with one of the six
functions language that he proposed, thus: referential, emotive, conative, contact or phatic, meta-
lingual and aesthetic or poetic.
In all these parts, the Communicative Competence takes place. Canal and Swain, defined it as
comprising five more sub competences: grammatical, sociolinguistic, discursive and strategic,
including under this the negotiation of meanings, but the rest of sub competences mustn’t be
underestimated, because all contribute to the achievement of our communicative goal.
Having analysed the communication, we shall next examine the language, which adds further
information about communication and contributes this topic thoroughly.
Halliday defines language as a instrument of social interaction with a clear communicative purpose,
and R.A. Hall, define the same as the institution whereby humans communicative and interact with
others by means of habitually used ora-auditory arbitrary symbols.
“The origins of language must not be found in the prosaic side of life, but, rather, in its poetic
side: speech did not emerge as a result of seriousness, but as a result of happy day”; Otto
We don’t really know when language merged as specific and distinctive human characteristic. We do
know that speech appeared long before the written form. Perhaps due to this lock of evidence, much
has been written on the origins of language. Its characteristics are: auditory-vocal channel: which only
humans are endowed with, interchange ability of message: which is only restricted in certain
ceremonial contexts such as church services, productivity: there is an infinitive message to be
expressed, displacement: since we may talk about events remote in space or time in contrast to others
animals that have no sense of the past and the future, duality: as sounds with no intrinsic meaning may
be combined in different ways to form elements with meaning, and finally, traditional transmission:
since language is transmitted from one generation to the next by a process of teaching and learning.
Regarding functions of language, Jacobson allocates a communicative function to each of the
components of the communicative process. They are as follows:
In the emotive function the speaker shows his psychological situation and emotions.
In the conative function the speaker tries to drive or attract the receiver’s attention.
We find a referential function when language is used to refer to reality, to transmit contents.
Contact or phatic: Its aim is to keep the channel open, to guarantee that the receiver is attentive.
Meta-linguistic: Its aim is to explain language, so the addresser informs or is informed about the code
used in the act of communication.
Aesthetic or poetic: The interest is focussed on the beauty of the message.
Thus, the referential function refers to the context, to what is being spoken of and what is being
referred to. The attitude of the addresser (or encoder) is related to the emotive or expressive function
through emphasis, intonation, loudness or pace.
Any particular act of communication takes place in a situational context. First of all, it is important to
bear in mind what we understand as communicative situation. According to Shannon lineal model of
communication, a communicative situation follows a lineal order, starting at the source of the
information and ending with its reception. Only if the message has a common meaning to both
addresser and addressee the communication will have been a success.
In order to have that success, the following factors must be taken into account:
The setting (or context) that surrounds the act of communication. This factor determines the formal
register as well as the exponents of function to be used.
The addresser (or sender) It is the person who transmits the message, making it understandable for the
The addressee (or receiver). It is the person or group of people to whom the message is addressed. The
relation between the addresser and the addressee has a remarkable influence in the characteristics of the
statements: the role they play in society, the linguistic varieties they know, how much they know each
other, the sex of both interlocutors.
The channel or the way through which the information is transmitted (the air, the telephone cable, or
The code or group of signs and rules that take their combinations used for the transmission of
messages. The most common one is that formed by signs and rules belonging to the language or
languages known by the speaker. However, other codes can be used in human communication, for
instance, the non-verbal communication.
The subject matter or content of the statements. Some subjects require complex vocabulary and restrict
a big amount of people not to take part in a conversation. It usually happens with disciplines connected
with technical-scientific studies.
The message form or genere. It refers to the formal aspect the speech shows. For example, you can
demonstrate your loving feeling by means of different concrete realizations, such as a letter, a song, or
even a proposal.
Noise or source interference. It refers to the disruption of the message during the communicative
process. The distortion of sound, the loss of voice of the addresser, the deafness of the addressee, and
even the distortion of writing during a travel can be good examples of that.
Obviously, these factors are interrelated so we must take all of them into account when considering the
communicative situation. However, there are many other considerations to bear in mind. If we go
deeper into the notion of understanding a message, it does not only depend on sharing the code both
addresser and addressee, but also on sharing a cultural background, the system of values, or a common
past. Logically not always theses aspects can be shared, and it will origin misunderstandings.
Next, we are going to see some cases in which we can notice the interrelation among the
On the one hand, from a sociolinguistic point of view it is interesting to analyse the phenomenon of the
language variety between speakers. For example, when a speaker changes his habitual variety of
speech, as it happens when an adult talks to small children whose knowledge of the language is still
deficient, reducing his talking speed. This process is called convergence.
On the other hand, we have the opposite phenomenon, known as divergence. It happens when the
speaker does not abandon the own variety, maybe because he thinks that his linguistic variety is an
identity mark of the group he belong to, maybe because of political recoveries (or connotations).
Another aspect we cannot forget is how functions influence in the communicative situation, and it is
what we will treat in the next point, according to the previous index.
Now, we are going to deal with the communicative functions and their respective exponents, starting
from the observation of a teacher’s methodology in the classroom.
About the organization of classroom activities, the teacher puts the following processes into practice:
Giving instructions to do the activities (“Open your books at page, 4, please”; “All together, now”;
“What about the other one?”…)
Distribution of the different elements presented in the classroom (“First of all, today, …”; “Are you
ready?”; “Ten minutes to go”; “The idea of this exercise is for you to do…”…)
Supervision of work atmosphere (“Listen to what she is saying, please”; “Please, be quite,
As far as interactions among students and teacher with questions and answers are concerned, the
following functions must be taken into account:
The carrying out of questions to students (“Where’s Joe?”; “What do you think about this
The students’ answers to questions (“Yes, that’s right”; “Almost, try again”…)
In relation to the explanation of the unit content, we find the following functions:
Using the second language to talk about itself or met language (“Can anybody correct this sentence?”;
“Fill in the blanks”…)
The supply of information on the teacher’s side (“This is a picture of a cottage”; “As I said earlier…”;
“It started in 1984”;
Affective expression must be also assessed:
Expressing in English emotions and other affective reactions such as surprise, enthusiasm (“That really
is very kind of you”…)
Using the expressions of greetings, gratitude, apology and others that are typical of other context
speech acts (“Have a nice weekend!”…)
But of course, in order to encourage children in the progressive usage of functional exponents, a
previous planning work on the teacher’s side is required.
Moreover, with the purpose of remembering the exponents of function to use in each case, students can
make posters or cards with enough examples of the different phases (used to start an activity, to
continue and to finish it) and maybe they can put them on the wall. In this way, the functional use of
structures will let the students enjoy their work autonomy and they will be able to keep the activity on
working without a constant help on the teacher’s side.
Among all the communication codes which are used by human beings music, kinesics, sign and
language, written and oral language is the most efficient transmission and reception of information.
Yet, written and oral languages are different processes, whereas we learn to write through a formal
instruction, speaking and listening come naturally along different stages of the child´s evolution.
Therefore, speech and writing are not alternative processes, but rather we must consider them
At the first, we are going to depth in ORAL COMMUNICATION, with its elements, rules and features,
then, WRITTEN COMMUNICATION will be analysed, and finally, we shall explained l the difference
From a psychological point of view, ORAL COMMUNICATION is a two process in which both
speaker (encoder) and hearer (decoder) must be present in the same situational context at a particular
time and place. We distinguished two types:
Prepared speech: The formal setting is organised as writing
Spontaneous speech: Speaker has not thought or memorised the message beforehand. It is the main
form oral communication and directly reflects real communication processes. The study of the oral
communication should be concentrate in spontaneous speech, where the negotiation of meaning
(previously signalled), plays an important role for the communication process.
Other features are: speed of speech, compressions of auxiliary sequence (gonna) …etc.
Now, we are going to depth into its elements, rules and features.
ITS ELEMENTS are:
Stress: To give special emphasis to a particular word or phrase
Rhythm: It is the relationship we make between accents and silences.
Intonation: It is the falling and rising of voice during speech.
Body Language: It is normally culturally related and is learnt the same way as verbal
behaviour is learnt. A person can without speaking, express sympathy and hostility.
Gestures: They are universal features, and we have to refer to that universality in order
to understand their importance when communicating. They are word complements and
even replace words.
ITS RULES ARE:
Rules of usage:
Phonology: We need to know the organisation, characteristics and patterns of sound to
Morphology: We need know the word formation rules and types of combinations of
bases and affixes.
Syntax: We need know how words are put together to form sentences and which are
Semantics: We need know how words can be combined to produce the meaning we
want or to understand the meaning expressed by others, even if it is nonliteral,
metaphorical or anomalous.
Rules of use:
Appropriateness: Knowledge of what type of language suits best in given situation.
Coherence: Ability to organise our messages in a logical and comprehensible way to
Cohesion: Capacity to organise and structure utterances to facility interpretation by
means of endophoras and exophoras.
ROUTINES AND FORMULAE:
There are sometimes when we choose how, when and why not to be creative with language to repeat
what is normally used in a given situation. Linguistic routines are fixed utterances which must be
considered as single units to understand their meaning. Understanding routines and formulae require
shared cultural knowledge because they are generally metaphorical in nature and must be interpreted at
a non-literal level.
There are types of oral discourse, prepared and spontaneous. The study of spontaneous speech that
usually occurs within conversations, has been the subject of study by many linguists as means of
getting a better understanding of what oral language really is.
In Grice´s view. We cooperate in a conversation in order to produce a rational and efficient exchange
of information. We apply four cooperative principles maxims:
.- Maxim of Quality: Our contributions have to be sincere.
.- Maxim of Quantity: We should make our contribution as briefly, orderly and I informative.
.- Maxim of relevance: An utterance has to be relevant with respect to the stage the
conversation has reached.
.- Maxim of manner: Which concerns the manner of expression.
Now, we are going to continue with WRITTEN COMMUNICATION. When we write, we use
graphic symbols which relate to the sounds we make when we speak. Since classical time, there have
been two contradictory approaches to speech and writing: firstly, the view that writing is the primary
and speech the secondary medium; secondly, the view that speech is primary and writing secondary
because speech is a prior to writing both historically and in terms of a child´s acquisition of language.
From a psychological point of view, writing is a solitary activity, the interlocutor is not present, and so
we are required to write on our own, without the help of the feedback and interaction.
Linguistic: A good writing system must be fixed flexible and adaptable at a time.
Syntactic: They are: makers and rhetorical organises for clauses relationships and
clarity, and the use of heavily pre-modified NPs, SVO ordering and use of passive
constructions and subordinate phrases.
Lexical: In order to compensate the absence of paralinguistic devices and feedback.
Graphological: To compensate for the absence of feedback and paralinguistic devices,
written texts need to be accurate.
Rhetorical: In writing logical relations are made more explicit by means of
exemplification, comparison, etc….
We cannot forget a main DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ORAL AND WRITTEN LANGUAGE, which is
the fact that oral language comes before written language in the language acquisition process.
Nevertheless, the written language status as a model of language is usually superior, and it explains the
criticisms to the new ways of speech. The problem could be that in the Anglo-Saxon culture the
normative academic position has never prospered, although the foundation of a language academy in
England had its supporters as Daniel Defoe (in the XVII century). However, this movement prospered
in Italy, France, Spain…
Notwithstanding this fact, there had been varieties both oral and written languages to imitate
considered better than the others. We are talking about the Standard English, also known as Received
Pronunciation, which is the English variety we usually find in the text books. In contrast, we have
other varieties of English, some of social kind (Sub-standard English) and others of regional kind
To conclude, I would like to emphasize that if we consider language as “a means of communication”, it
would be illogical not to create a real communication atmosphere in class. Moreover, what we should
try to achieve is that, outside school, at the street, in real life, each student could communicate
efficiently in the foreign language he has been learning through the years. For this reason, English
classroom must be managed by the learners as well as by the teacher, because we should not forget that
the main characters are them. Maybe the solution in to give students the resources they need, because if
resources are not given, opportunities are missed.
In order to compose the information needed I have gone through several books I considered interesting.
The main ones are:
Crystal, D: The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language. 1987
Halliday, M.A.K. Spoken and written language. Greelong. 1976
Halliday, M.A.K. Language as social semiotics. Arnold. London, 1978.
Steinberg, D.D. Psycholinguistics. Logman. London 1982.
Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago 1990.
Collins English Dictionary. Glasgow, 1992