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THE REFERENTIAL FUNCTION OF MYTH1
INTRODUCTION
Function is an answer to two questions: “Why?”, and especially, “What
for?” In a world that is characterised by an indifferent – or even antag-
onistic – attitude to myth, these questions seem futile. When applied
to myth, however, we will see that not only are they fully current, but
they also help us to better understand our contemporary society.
The concept of function, initially part of the analytic-arithmetic field
of mathematics, has colonised all scientific fields: biology, anthropology,
logic, and so on. Basically, function articulates two sets or groups of
interrelated elements (X and Y), where the Y-elements (the outputs
or values of the function) are a result of the operation or action of the
X-elements (the inputs or arguments of the function).2
This term and
its use have also deeply infiltrated linguistics, to the point where the
followers of Saussure define the study of a language as an investigation
of the functions carried out by its elements and mechanisms.3
1 This article was translated from the Spanish by Dr Marta Guirao, Universidad Complutense
de Madrid.
2 See Gottlob Frege, “¿Qué es una función?”. In: Ensayos de semántica y filosofía de la lógica.
trans. by Luis M. Valdés Villanueva. Madrid: Editorial Tecnos, 1998, pp. 160-170 and
Julián Velarde Lombraña, “Función”. In: Compendio de epistemología, edited by Jacobo
Muñoz and Julián Velarde. Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 2000, pp. 279-280.
3 Vladimir Propp, a groundbreaker in the study of the form in literary products, understands
function as “a character’s action, as per its significance for the development of the plot”.
Morfología del cuento, trans. by Lourdes Ortiz. Madrid: Editorial Fundamentos, 2006,
p. 33. Following Russian Formalists and Greimas, structuralism understands function
as “a content unit: ‘what is meant’ by an utterance, that is what makes it a functional
unit”; “la fonction est […] une unité de contenu: c’est ‘ce que veut dire’ un énoncé qui le constitue
en unité fonctionnelle”, Roland Barthes, “Introduction à l’analyse structurale des récits”.
In: Œuvres complètes, edited by Éric Marty. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2002, vol. II, p. 837.
Unless otherwise indicated, all translations into English are our own.

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  • 3. THE REFERENTIAL FUNCTION OF MYTH1 INTRODUCTION Function is an answer to two questions: “Why?”, and especially, “What for?” In a world that is characterised by an indifferent – or even antag- onistic – attitude to myth, these questions seem futile. When applied to myth, however, we will see that not only are they fully current, but they also help us to better understand our contemporary society. The concept of function, initially part of the analytic-arithmetic field of mathematics, has colonised all scientific fields: biology, anthropology, logic, and so on. Basically, function articulates two sets or groups of interrelated elements (X and Y), where the Y-elements (the outputs or values of the function) are a result of the operation or action of the X-elements (the inputs or arguments of the function).2 This term and its use have also deeply infiltrated linguistics, to the point where the followers of Saussure define the study of a language as an investigation of the functions carried out by its elements and mechanisms.3 1 This article was translated from the Spanish by Dr Marta Guirao, Universidad Complutense de Madrid. 2 See Gottlob Frege, “¿Qué es una función?”. In: Ensayos de semántica y filosofía de la lógica. trans. by Luis M. Valdés Villanueva. Madrid: Editorial Tecnos, 1998, pp. 160-170 and Julián Velarde Lombraña, “Función”. In: Compendio de epistemología, edited by Jacobo Muñoz and Julián Velarde. Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 2000, pp. 279-280. 3 Vladimir Propp, a groundbreaker in the study of the form in literary products, understands function as “a character’s action, as per its significance for the development of the plot”. Morfología del cuento, trans. by Lourdes Ortiz. Madrid: Editorial Fundamentos, 2006, p. 33. Following Russian Formalists and Greimas, structuralism understands function as “a content unit: ‘what is meant’ by an utterance, that is what makes it a functional unit”; “la fonction est […] une unité de contenu: c’est ‘ce que veut dire’ un énoncé qui le constitue en unité fonctionnelle”, Roland Barthes, “Introduction à l’analyse structurale des récits”. In: Œuvres complètes, edited by Éric Marty. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2002, vol. II, p. 837. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations into English are our own.