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3. El proceso de comunicacin. Funciones del lenguaje.

La lengua en uso. La negociacin del significado

1. Introduction
2. Defining concepts: language and communication
3. The communication process
4. Language functions
5. Language in use
6. Negotiation of meaning
7. Conclusion
8. Bibliography

1. Introduction.
There is more to communication than just one person speaking and another one listening.
Human communication processes are quite complex. We differentiate verbal and non-verbal,
oral and written, formal and informal, and intentional and unintentional communication. In
addition, there is human and animal communication, and nowadays we may also refer to
human-computer communication.
In this unit we will define language and communication, look at language in use and the
negotiation of meaning.

2. Defining concepts: language and communication

2.1. Language
The concept of language has been approached by many linguists, but the most outstanding
definition comes from Halliday (1973) who defines it as an instrument of social interaction with
a clear communicative purpose. Language is a formal symbol system that has structural
qualities, including morphology, semantics and syntax.
Language can be (a) oral/speech, (b) sign language, or (c) written language. An individual
learns the rules of a particular language to understand the meaning of another person's needs,

feelings, and ideas. The development of this knowledge is referred to as receptive language. An
individual learns to use the rules of his or her particular language to express wants, needs,
feelings, and ideas. The development of these skills is referred to as expressive language.
At this point, it is relevant to establish a distinction between human language and other systems
of communication, such as animal communication systems. Among the design features of
human language in opposition to other systems we may mention:
- an auditory-vocal channel which only humans are endowed with,
- interchangeability of messages, which is the possibility for individuals to reproduce messages
to say anything in any context
- productivity, as there is an infinite number of possible messages to be expressed, including the
possibility to express invented things or lies,
- displacement since we may talk about events remote in space or time, in contrast to other
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,
- arbitrariness by which words and their meaning have no a priori connection,
- traditional transmission, since language is transmitted from one generation to the next by a
process of teaching and learning.

2.2. Communication
Communication is a process of transmitting and receiving verbal or non-verbal messages that
produces a response (Murphy and Hildebrandt 1991). It is a fundamental social skill. Unlike
language, which is symbolic and rule based, communication is social, constantly changing and
requires flexibility. An effective communicator is constantly thinking about the multiple
contextual, social and emotional aspects of the situation and making ongoing adjustments in
response to the behaviour of others. The development of communication begins in infancy with
a simple smile. Communication can be expressed verbally (by means of spoken, signed, voiceoutput communication device, or written language) or nonverbally (by using pictures, gestures,
emotion, and other behaviours). The social conventions of communication are learned and
refined throughout development.

3. The communication process

Communication is traditionally understood as the exchange and negotiation of information
between at least two individuals through the use of verbal and nonverbal symbols, oral and
written, and production and comprehension processes (Halliday 1973). From this definition we
may conclude that the main features of the communication process are as follows. First, it is a
form of social interaction, and therefore it is normally acquired and used in such an interaction.
Secondly, it always has a purpose, that is, to communicate. Thirdly, it involves a high degree of
unpredictability and creativity, and therefore, a successful and authentic communication should
involve a reduction of uncertainty on behalf of the participants. Finally, the communication
process involves both verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures or body language.
The communication process involves certain elements and the use of linguistic symbols that
mean something to those who take part in the process. These symbols are spoken words in oral
communication and alphabetical units in written communication. Jakobson (1960) states that all
acts of communication, be they written or oral, are based on six constituent elements:
Any particular act of communication takes place in a situational context, and it involves a
sender or addresser and a receiver or addressee. It further involves a message which the sender
transmits and which the receiver interprets. The message is formulated in a particular code, and
for the whole thing to work, sender and receiver must be connected by a channel through which
the message is sent. In acoustic communication it consists of air, in written communication of
paper or other writing materials.
Each of these six factors has a different function of language.

4. Language functions
According to Jakobson, every utterance has at least one function. He puts forward 6 different

Emotive or expressive function: direct expression of the speakers attitude towards the
message; it is focused on the addresser. I.e. the interjections, such as: Bah!, Oh!, Yuck!

Conative: represented by imperatives and vocatives; it is focused on the addressee. I.e.

Go away!

Referential: the use of language to refer to things; it is considered as an objective way of

speaking; focused on the message and the context. I.e. Water boils at 100 degrees.

Phatic: to establish, continue or finish the conversation, check the channel working and
attract the attention of the interlocutors; it focuses on the contact and it is featured by
formulae such as Hello, How do you do? Can you hear me?

Metalingual: in order to check whether the speaker and the receiver are using the same
code. It is focused on the code as the means of communication. I.e. Do you
understand? What do you mean by krill?

Poetic: this function includes more than poetry. It is focused on the very message; the
code is considered as an end itself (repetition of sounds, intonation patterns, etc.). I.e. It
was a beautiful warm day; the air was like velvet; the sea air was invigorating.

5. Language in use
According to Rivers (1981), historically speaking, language teaching has been based on three
main views of language, thus, language as a tool, language as a product and language as a
communication process. The former, and the one we are dealing with in this section is language
as a tool, which deals with the ways we can use language to convey our intentions and personal
meaning. This level highlights the ways language is used to operate upon the environment by
means of things, people our ourselves, in order to express nuances and subtleties of meaning;
the second, language as a product, turns language into an object of study; and the latter one,
language as a process, is linked to our next section named Negotiation of Meaning to be dealt
with afterwards.
When dealing with language as a tool, we refer to the different ways in which we can use
language according to, first, our intentions and personal meaning, and secondly, the
circumstances in which the act of communication takes place. From the 1980s on, there was an
increasing emphasis on language functions. The term use was to be defined within the
framework of a foreign-language situation for students to use their knowledge and ability in
genuine communication. In an act of communication, we are influenced by environmental
factors as well as by our own intentions, and therefore, the speakers will select, according to the
circumstances, a set of linguistic means in order to express their own purposes.
At this point we have to mention that there is a difference between language usage and language
use. Language usage involves general and specific rules of the language code to understand and
to be understood, including phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics. Language use,
however, concentrates on how to use sentences appropriately and it points to the importance of
being brief, true, relevant and clear and the so-called cooperative principles. Using the correct
meaning and form for each speech event is known as register; these two aspects fall under the

category of coherence, whereas cohesion basically refers to the way we use the different
grammatical structures.
The role of the teacher is to impart the knowledge of how to use language and to make sure that
students have regular practise in the output and input section. In the past, language teaching was
focused on learning the rules, with very little chance to practise those rules in a communicative
situation. Today, the Communicative Approach is widely accepted as the best way to learn how
to speak and understand a foreign language.

6. Negotiation of meaning
Problems of communication affect us all in many aspects of day-to-day living, and can cause
serious trouble. It is incredibly easy to be unintentionally misunderstood, or to speak
ambiguously, or vaguely. In the words of Crystal (1985), to initiate communication is one thing
whereas to make it successful is another. An excellent example of difficult communication is in
the doctor-patient relationship, where most patients find it very difficult to get the right words to
describe their symptoms whereas for doctors, the problem is to formulate a diagnosis in words
which the patient will understand. They may use a term which has negative associations for the
patient and could cause unfortunate side-effects. Within this interaction, there is a need and a
wish for a mutual understanding.
When communicating, speakers often experience considerable difficulty when their resources in
their foreign or native language are limited. This effort to overcome communicative difficulties
in order to secure a mutual understanding is known as the negotiation of meaning. This is a
major feature of conversations involving second language acquisition, as strategies and tactics
are involved in this process on the part of the native speaker and the learner.
Negotiation of meaning is defined as a series of activities conducted by addressor and addressee
to understand and make themselves understood by their interlocutors. In this case, when native
speaker (NS) and non-native speakers (NNSs) are involved in an interaction, both work together
to solve any misunderstanding or non-understanding that occurs or potential to occur checking
each other's comprehension check, requesting for clarification and confirmation and by
repairing and adjustments (Pica, 1988).

7. Conclusion
I would like to conclude this unit by stressing the fact that language can be used in a wide
variety of communicative functions. The role of the teacher is to ensure that the input the

students receive is matched by the output, and that they are encouraged to take responsibility for
their own studies. However, factors such as age, social context, cultural factors, etc. are related
to the degree of learners initiation of interaction and therefore his chances of acquiring the L2
and becoming competent in it. The teacher must be aware of these variables and prepare the
classes according to his judgment of his students need, which should include not only the
learning of a language, but also the acquisition of communicative ability.

8. Bibliography
For the elaboration of this topic we have consulted the following bibliography:

Crystal, Halliday, Saussure, Quirk, Greenbaum, Baugh and Cable.