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Unit 1

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a. Definition and properties
b. Functions

a. Definition
b. Differences

a. Functionality


Unit 1

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The present essay aims to study language, and more precisely to develop the notion of
language as communication. For this purpose, the topic will be divided into three main
sections. First, I will deal with the definition of language and properties. Secondly, the oral and
written language will be presented; and additionally, the main characteristics and differences
between writing and speech will be pointed out. Thirdly, the factors that define a
communicative situation will be dealt with. In this light, the Roles of the Sender and the
Receiver in a Communicative Act will be presented and its functionality and context. Finally, I
will compile the main conclusions and the bibliography used to develop this topic.
To develop the first part of the topic, the definition and the main properties will be dealt with.
The world language has prompted innumerable definitions. Some focus on the general concept
of language, while other focus on the specific notion of language.
Communication is understood as the exchange and negotiation of information between at
least two individuals through the use of verbal and non-verbal symbols, oral and written/visual
modes, and production/comprehension processes.
Written and spoken language is the most useful of all the language codes employed by humans
as a means of transmitting thoughts, feelings, experiences and opinions.
It is difficult to make a precise and comprehensive statement about the formal functional
universal properties of language. In this light, some linguists have tried to identify the essential
properties attempt to differentiate human language from all other form of signaling system:
a) Communicative versus informative: informative signals are those that are given
intentionally; whereas communicative signals respond to some intended effects from
human beings.
b) Displacement: human language users can refer to the past and future time, and to
other locations.
c) Arbitrariness: there is no natural connection between the linguistic form and its
d) Productivity: it is a feature of all languages that novel utterances are continually being
e) Cultural transmission: the process whereby language is passed on from one
generation to the next.
f) Discreteness: the sounds used in language are meaningfully distinct.
g) Other properties:
a. Vocal-auditory channel: human linguistic communication is typically generated
via the vocal organs and perceived via the ear.
b. Reciprocity: any speaker/sender of a linguistic signal can also be a
c. Specialization: linguistic signals do not normally serve any other type of
purpose, such as breathing of feeding.
d. Rapid fading: linguistic signals are produce and disappear quickly.
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Once the definition of language and some properties have been presented, it may be
appropriate here to develop the concept of communicative competence. Such concept was
firstly introduced by Chomsky (1957) who defined language as “a set of sentences, each finite
in length and constructed out of a finite set of sentences”. Nevertheless, Hymes argued that
Chomsky had missed out the rules of use. When a native speaker speaks, he does not only
utter grammatically correct forms, he also knows where and when to use these sentences to
whom. Thus, Hymes replaced Chomsky’s notion of competences with his own concept of
communicative competence and distinguished the following four aspects:
a) Systematic potential: a native speaker possesses a system that has a potential for
creating language.
b) Appropriacy: a native speaker possesses a system that has a potential for creating
c) Occurrence: a native speaker knows how often something is said in the language and
act accordingly.
d) Feasibility: a native speaker knows whether something is possible in the language.
According to Canale and Swain’s whom use the term “communicative competence” to refer to
the relationship and interaction between grammatical competence, or knowledge of the rules
of grammar, and sociolinguistic competence, or knowledge of the rules of language use. The
components of communicative competence can be summarized as follow:
a) Grammatical competence: this is the correct use of grammatical structures,
vocabulary and pronunciation.
b) Sociolinguistic competence: the appropriate use of language, taking into account the
place, the people you are addressing, social conventions, etc.
c) Discourse competence: the coherent combination of grammatical forms.
d) Strategic competence: this includes verbal and non-verbal strategies to communicate
more effectively.
e) Socio-cultural competence: examines how a native speaker would react in a given
linguistic situation. It is the ability to know the social and cultural context in which the
language is used.
The concept of communicative competence is also present in our education system. The
Organic Law of Education (LOE) 2/2006 passed on the 3
May, highlights the importance of
developing both oral and written skills in the three different cycles of Primary Education. More
precisely, the R.D. 68/2007, 29
May divides the contents into three different sections or
a) Communicative skills and uses of the language.
b) Reflections upon the language and reflections upon the acquisition of the foreign
c) Cultural aspects and cultural awareness and inter-culturally.
All these contents aim to help Primary students become communicative competent in the
foreign language.
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Now, I will move on to the following part of the topic. Firstly the main features of ORAL AND
WRITEN LANGUAGE will be explained and finally, an attempt to establish the main differences
between speech and writing will be made.
Let us start by defining the most obvious aspect of language: speech. Speech is the universal
material of human language. Human language was transmitted and developed entirely as
spoken means of communication. The description and classification of speech sound is the
main aim of phonetics. The main characteristics of oral language are: It has more expressive
possibilities; the use of gestures and body language; simple constructions; pause, repetitions
or rephrasing and errors.
However writing is a transcription of the sounds of speech and it uses graphics. The main
characteristics of written language are: the precision, clarity, unique graphic features and it is
Once having considered the main features of spoken and written language, I will go on citing
some differences between oral and written language.
- The first and obvious contrast between both depends on their physical form: speech uses
phonic substance whilst writing’s support is graphic.
- A second way to study oral and written differences is regarding the communicative situation
in both cases:
- In written interaction the interlocutors are not simultaneously present, so they miss
an important part of the context.
- Also in the case of written, the absence of the interlocutors makes immediate
feedback difficult.
- On the other hand speech is immediate and dynamic and written is static and
We can also notice some structural differences between oral and written language. First of all,
writing has a more formal style:
- Less redundancy than speech.
- Fillers used in oral language (so, then, you know…) are not used in written texts.
- Grammatical structures are more varied and elaborated in written texts.
- Also vocabulary is richer and more selected in writing.
In the English language there is a great difference between the oral and written form, which
usually leads students to having problems when writing.

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Communication is a complex and dynamic phenomenon and depends on several factors: the
participants, the context and the type of activity. We are going to see the factors that take
part in the communication process:
- The Code: the message will only be understood if the sender and the receiver share the
same language, that is to say, the same code.
- Sender or information source: the person who wants to send a message.
- Receiver: the person who receives/gets the message and interprets it.
- Message: the contents of the information sent to the receiver or destination.
- Channel of transmission: the means through which the message travels (speech or
- Context: we can distinguish between the situational and the linguistic context.
The situation context refers to the conditions and circumstances that are relevant to
an event, fact, etc. / The situational context refers to the place and the moment in
which the communicative act is developed.
- Purpose: it is the intention of the message.
- Topic: it is the matter about which the interaction develops.
- Register: it refers to a defined style of language with more or less formality in the use of
As we mentioned before language is a complex human activity which allows two basic
functions: communication and representation. It constitutes an essential instrument to build
up our representation of the world.
On the other hand, we can communicate for many different purposes, Jacobson distinguished
6 main functions of languages:
1) Conative: when the speaker tries to attract the receivers’ attention. The main purpose
is to affect the receivers’ behavior. (excuse me!)
2) Expressive/emotive: when the speaker shows his/her psychological situation and
emotions. (Oh, my god!; Wow!)
3) Referential: when language is used to refer to reality, to transmit contents.
4) Phatic: is that of keeping the channel open, guaranteeing that the receiver is attentive.
5) Metalinguistic: it is the function in which language is used to refer to language itself. (I
don’t understand).
6) Poetic: when the speaker highlights the form of the message. The main purpose is the
beauty of the message.
It is important to highlight that the different functions never occur independently. Different
ones at the same time can appear in a message.
To conclude, as we have seen, communication is a wide ranging and complicated
affair. The various factors that define a communicative situation must all be explored if the
student has as much exposure as possible to the roles of sender and receiver. Doing so at an
early point in the child’s education process will help that child to expand upon his knowledge
at subsequent points in his schooling.
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In order to develop this topic, the following bibliography, webgraphy and legal regulations has
been used:
- Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton.
- Tobin, Y. (1990). Semiotics and linguistics. London: Longman.
- Tobin, Y (1994). Phonology as Human Behavior: Theoretical Implication and Clinical
Applications. Durhamm, NC: Duke University Press.
- Decree 68/2007, 29
May, 2007 (D.O.C.M. # 116, 1
June, 2007)