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Role of Language in Semantics and Society

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 4488 words Published: 20th Sep 2021

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Language plays a very important role in human lives. It is a social phenomenon. One of the main goals of language is to communicate with people and to understand them. When someone speaks, he intends a specific purpose. He wants to convey a message through that language. A person uses his language to many different purposes for example, to express his feelings, to ask for help and to apologize.

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In fact, we use language in many different ways, some of these are, the informational, the expressive, the directive, the phatic, the aesthetic. We use language and that language is a part of society. Actually, any language varies according to , the nature of the society, what kind of people, and their attitudes. People use language according to their situation. The social background of any person can play an important role in the kind of language he has.

I am going to discuss these functions and take some examples of each one. I will explain the relationship between language and social organization.


Since we are discussing semantic and society. It is important to give a quick look on meaning. In fact, creating a theory of meaning is still the goal of many scientists . In order to have a theory of meaning, we have to rely on scientific grounds. There are two arguments that tried to explain meaning by scientific means.

The contextualism approach to meaning led by the British linguist Firth. The contextualists said that in order to study meaning scientifically, we have to focus on the context and situation. If a word is studied in relation to context, this eliminates other interpretations of the meaning of the word . Contextualists and behaviorists agree on many points. Bloomfield explained his opinion on contextualism by the famous example of Jack and Jill. Jack reacted to the response of Jill when he saw her face. Then, he climbed the tree and got the apple. So, the main focus for the contextualists was that should not be studied in isolation. Words should observable situation.

The mentalists approach to meaning led by Chomsky was the opposite view to the contextualists approach. The mentalist’s main focus was on the mind. They focus on concepts which are abstract, in contrast to the contextualists who refused to believe in such abstract entities. The mentalists approach was to find ways to control intuition. To bake intuition objective was their goal.

Language and the society :

There is a strong relationship between language and society. I mean, that the language of any society is influenced by the society. For example, In Riyadh, when they mention the word family, it means the wife. So, it is clear that we mean the social context into which the language being communicate between individuals.

Language has many connotations reflecting language, the norms of society, which is spoken by the traditions and culture.

In fact, any community affects in linguistic phenomena at different levels. phonetics, Semantics, morphology and structure all are affected by the community.

It is impossible to imagine a society without a language. Also, it is impossible to imagine the existence of language outside the community. We cannot deny the fact that the language is of a very important function, can be summarized in two things:

The first one is an individual: to help the individual of achieving his needs his in society. The second is a social sincere: is to create a situation appropriate for the composition of society and social life. It was here that the individual depends on the language to fulfill his needs.

Any language has a strong effect in the life of the individual. It represents the means of communication with others. And through that connection with others, he or she achieve his things and get their wishes. It is also the best means of expressing his hopes and the pain and emotions.

Language is very important factor of communication among society. Using language has some functions. We need to use language to fulfill our needs. It is a crucial part in our life. If a person uses his language, he chooses words that matches his needs.

People use some functions to say a sentence, to ask, to reply, to greet and etc. In fact, forms are important part of our discussion because they are related to functions. A person who says, What is your name? he is showing a form of a question. Let us take another example, I want to play football, functions as a statement.

Five functions of language:

Actually, Geoffery Leech( 1974 ). Mentioned that language has five functions. They are:

1 - Informational

2 - Expressive

3 - Directive

4 - phatic

5 - Aesthetic

I am going to discuss every function. “Informational function which every one tends to assume is most important” Geoffery Leech( 1974 ). In fact, this function concentrates on the message. It is used to give new information. It depends on truth and value. Let us look at this example, the car is big, the bus is crowded.

” language can have an expressive function: that is, it can be used to express its originator’s feelings and attitudes – swear words and exclamations are the most obvious instance of this”. Geoffery Leech( 1974 ). The speaker or writer of this function tries to express his feelings. He or she reflexes his or her impression. This function could give a clear image for the personality of the speaker or writer. The best example of this kind is Poetry and literature . In fact, this function evoke certain feelings and express feelings. Examples of this kind are, I am very happy or I spent a wonderful vacation. We can see from the previous examples that they reflex the feelings of the speaker or the writer.

“The third function of language is the directive function whereby we aim to influence the behavior or attitudes of others. The most straightforward instances of the directive function are commands and requests. This function of social control places emphasis on the receiver’s end, rather than the originator’s end of the message: but it resembles the expressive function in giving less importance, on the whole, to conceptual meaning than to other types of meaning, particularly affective and connotative meaning” Geoffery Leech( 1974 ).

Examples of this kind are, I want a cup of tea or close the door. It is clear hear that, we use the language in a direct way. We ask someone to do something. Some times we can use a sentence to express two functions. For example, I am thirsty. The previous example could be used to show the condition of the speaker or writer or to express the feeling. In a way that a person asks someone to give him water.

The fourth function is the aesthetic function, which is ” the use of language for the sake of the linguistic artifact itself, and for no purpose. This aesthetic function can have at least as much to do with conceptual as with affective meaning” Geoffery Leech( 1974 ).

” The function associated with the message-the vehicle-is the poetic or aesthetic function: the sign taken as an end in itself. All art understood as art is taken to embody this function, and any object valued for its beauty rather than for its ideological value or usefulness-whether a gorgeous car, an elegant teapot, or some acreage of untouched real estate-takes on this function”. Jakobson, R. (1933).

According to Leech, the fifth function is the phatic function. ” the function of keeping communication lines open, and keeping social relationships in good repair ( in Britain culture, talking about the weather is a well-known example of this)”. Geoffery Leech( 1974 ). We can say about this function that it is used for normal talks. An example of this, when two people meet each other accidently in a place. They start talking about something unimportant for the sake of communication like, how are you? How is your children? And so on. We can say that it is a kind of daily talking. It is not meaning but is good.

Language functions according to H. Douglas Brown

Actually, many authors have classified functions of language. We are going to take the functions of language from the point of H. Douglas Brown .

H. Douglas Brown has classified function of language into seven types. “This classification is not much different from that of Leech. The functional approach to describing language is one that has its roots in the traditions of British linguists J,R Firth, who reviewed language as interactive and interpersonal, away of behaving and making others behave” Berns, ( 1984).

These functions according to H. Douglas Brown are :

” The instrumental function serves to manipulate the environment, to cause certain events to happen. Sentences like, This court finds you guilty, on your mark, get set, go! Or don’t touch the stove, have an instrumental function: they are communicative acts that have specific perlocutionary force : they bring about a particular condition” H. Douglas Brown.(2007).

As we see, the previous examples are direct. They are commands as in, go! Or statements as in, the court finds you guilty. It also used for children when they ask for something like, want milk or bring water.

The second function is the regulatory function of language. This kind is used to express approval or disapproval. An example of this kind is, come here.

The third function is the representational function which is ” the use of language to make statements, convey facts and knowledge, explain or report – that is, to represent reality as one sees it”. H. Douglas Brown.(2007). Example of this kind are, My car is new or I want to go to France.

The fourth function is the interactional function of language. This kind ” serves to ensure social maintenance. ( phatic communication), Malinowski’s term referring to the communicative contact between and among human beings that simply allows them to establish social contact and keep channels of communication open is part of interactional function of language” H. Douglas Brown.(2007). In fact, this kind a person who is well-known with social talk like, slang and jokes. We can use this to make relationship with other people. For example, I love you or you are a nice person.

The fifth function is the personal function. This function ” allows a speaker to express feelings, emotions and personality. A person individuality is usually characterized by his or her use of the personal function of communication”. H. Douglas Brown.(2007).

The sixth function is the heuristic function. ” involves language used to acquire knowledge , to learn about the environment. Heuristic functions are often conveyed in the form of question that will lead to answers. Children typically make good use of the heuristic function in their incessant”. Douglas Brown.(2007). It is a nice way that it used to recall information. It answers all question that a person has in the mind. This function helps to acquire knowledge. An example of this is, What the capital of Saudi Arabia?.

The seventh function is the imaginative function which ” serves to create imaginary systems or ideas. Telling fairy tales, joking or writing a novel are all uses of the imaginative function”. Douglas Brown.(2007).

When we look at the two classification, we find that these two classification not much difference. On the other, they are similar. For example, the interactional function of language tries to make relationship with other people and to build relationships. We can say it is the (Elevator talk). It is the same as phatic function. This term is used for unimportant matters.

Language has many functions that convey different messages. Actually, many authors have discuss this issue and there were some differences among them particularly in terms of number. I discuss two classifications concerning this issue and they were different. Leech mentioned five functions and Douglas Brown mentioned seven functions. There is, Roman Jackson who mentioned six functions of language. “Jackson’s lists includes six functions, the referential, function is that the most generally is acknowledged as important, though it has perhaps less significance than we generally grant it. It refers to the fact that we need to pass one new information to others. The emotive function refers to the fact that we can convey information about the emotional state of the speaker at the same time as giving other information to the listener”. Roman Jakson,(1960). It is clear here that it is the expressive function but here, it is labeled under the emotional state. ” the poetic function describes as focus on the message itself. This function does not give much importance to the new information” Roman Jakson,(1960). This function is called stylistic function. I have to clarify here that poetic function is not concerned with the ability to write poems. It is used to do something with creativity. It uses jokes and metaphors . In short, I can say it is dealing with word-play.

” The phatic function is taken from Broislowski, and stresses the maintenance of the relationship between the speaker and the hearer”. Roman Jakson,(1960).

In the phatic function, the massage is not important.” The multilingual function refers to the ability to talk about talk, to refer to the code rather than just use it”. Roman Jakson,(1960).

Up to now, I have discussed language functions from point of three scientists. Every one of them discuss this issue and give different classification.

Functional approach to language teaching:

Functional approach to language teaching concentrates on meaning function.

“Functional approach has the following three characteristic features:

1) It is based on systemic theory: Systemic theory is a theory of meaning as choice. It means starting with the most general features and proceeding step by step so as to become even more specific.

2) It is functional in three distincts: First, it is concerned with the way language is organized to fulfill communicative functions. Second, it aims to account for three basic kinds of meaning, the ideational, the interpersonal and the textual. Third, each element in a language is explained by reference to its function in the total linguistic system.

3) It is discourse approach. It aims to provide two levels of discourse analysis: the first is the understanding f the text. The second is the evaluation of the text.” Halliday,( 1985). Functional approach may be found in the following forms. It could be found in, introducing other people, apologizing , asking and giving information.

Functional approach to language teaching is used in educational environments. It helps to present specific purposes for a speaker to achieve his goals. An example, is a context of a classroom in a school requires a special functions.

The effect of place and time on language:

In fact, the regional areas or places may have a clear effect on the language. For example, the language of the desert in Saudi Arabia is different from the language of the population of other region. The language of the population of the desert is loud and using rough words. Because the nature of the place. They live in an open area so they need to raise their voices.

Time as well place has its own effect on the language. Language from generation to generation leaves its impact on the sounds of the language and vocabulary, systems and their structures.

Other language functions:

There are other functions for language. Ceremonial function, this function is used much in religious purposes. It is used to advise people or to ask them not to do some things. An example of this is, when the preacher stands up on Friday and speak to people. He uses particular words that helps to convey his message. For example, oh people, As Muslims, we have to help each other. Good people do so.

There are also , “educational function of language and the technical and scientific function of language for communication”. H.H. Stern(1983). Actually using language for educational purposes are very common. It is used in the field of teaching and learning. There are some special terms that make this function clear.

Conceptual meaning :

Conceptual meaning is the original meaning. “Conceptual meaning refers to the logical sense of the utterance and is recognizable as a basic component of grammatical competence. It is alternatively described as the cognitive or the denotative meaning (denotation)” Lyons, (1981). Conceptual meaning is stable and invariable. It is not affected by any circumstances. It represented as a group of distinctive features. “Conceptual meaning is predominant in the informational use of language”. Geoffery Leech( 1974 ). Conceptual meaning gives much importance to the relationship between words and their meaning. For example, ” boy” refers to a male adult human being. So ” mail adult human being” is the conceptual meaning of “woman”. Conceptual meaning depends on the logic. It goes to the basic things.

Emotions and Affective Meaning :

It is important to know that each person have a different affective meaning for a word. Affective meaning show the personal feelings of the speaker. affective meaning is used ” to cover the attitudinal emotional factors which can be expressed in anitem of vocabulary”. (Ruth Grain and Stuart Redman, 1986).

Individual experiences for people have their effect on producing words. The affective meaning deals with the state of the individuals and reflects their attitudes.


Let us explain what do we mean by this term. Euphemism refers to the indirect meaning. It deals with changing the expression to a pleasant one. Some euphemisms are used to cause some amusement. Others are used to make confusion. So they are a group of words that are used instead of other words to relax the listener.

When a person uses euphemism, he drop the direct meaning. When I say something and I mean something different. He do without the literal meaning. Many people use euphemism to show the good part of the intended issue. They use it to hide not good ideas. An example of this is to use ( passed away ) instead of saying ( died ) . It works here as a kind of politeness. It is much better than saying (died). In fact, euphemism is words that are used to soften the way of our communication. Euphemism is used in all languages. It is a universal feature.

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Sometimes, it is difficult to tell the truth. It is better to use euphemism because it convey the idea in a polite way. It sometimes a means of amusement. Euphemism is also a way of not giving clear ideas. It misleads the listener. I can say the euphemism is a kind of words that keep the feelings of the listener.

“It’s not necessarily bad to use euphemisms, not in the way of being immoral or committing a crime. But they are ways to help people avoid their real feelings about something. Some euphemisms are definitely culturally reinforced. When someone needs to urinate or defecate, he says, “I am going to a restroom.” But it’s not a place to go to rest. It’s a place to go and eliminate waste products from our bodies.”( Jonathan Brower). Sometimes, euphemism is difficult to understand especially for non native speaker of English. Let us look at the following examples,

When someone says, (Sami is between jobs) for me a non native speaker might be somehow difficult to know the meaning. He might think that, Sami has more than job. Actually, this is my opinion. It is not easy to know that this sentence means ( unemployed person).

Let us have another example, (tired and emotional) : “I heard on the news that Ronaldo was tired and emotional during the interview.” For me to hear this in the first time, I thought it Ronaldo was sick for the first word and fall in love for emotional. I interpreted this according to my culture and experience. Also, A person might be tired because he love. But the fact that the meaning is completely different from what I have thought. The previous sentence means that, Ronaldo is drunk.

For some reasons, some people would use euphemism to mislead the listener. He might speak about something in the mind and means something else.


It is a kind of shorthand. It is kind of using some terms which are not clear for most people. Users of jargon may use some common words in a different way to make the meaning unclear.

Sometimes, jargon is a way of conveying the ideas quickly. On the other hand, jargon could cause some problems when there are misunderstanding. In other words, when the listener misunderstand the speaker.

In general, I can say jargon is useful and useless. Robert Sylwester says, “jargon is a simple technical term that a group uses among themselves to quickly communicate a complex concept. Thus, jargon is useful to those who understand the complexity behind the term, but it’s generally confusing to those without that background knowledge. At its worst, unnecessarily vague jargon confuses everyone, and pretentious jargon disparagingly suggests to common folks that a simple concept that they clearly understand is really much more complex than they think. College texts and computer manuals are notorious for the amount of jargon they contain.”

Here are some examples related to computer abbreviations:

BRB: Be right back

Gr8: Great

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions

Lol: Laugh out Loud

CYA: See you around

RAM: Random Access Memory

BRB: Be right back

Gr8: Great

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions

Lol: Laugh out Loud

CYA: See you around

RAM: Random Access Memory

GB: Gigabyte

Some examples related to general terms:

UFO: Unidentified Flying Object

Poker face: A blank expression

Let us have a look at the following example, ( plug and play). To me, when I looked at this phrase, I thought it that when I buy a television and I want to turn it on. I just plug it ( connect it ) to the electricity power then it will work. This term is completely different when it is related to business. It refers to that thing that must work entirely with not much thinking involved.

Grice’s Theory:

It is important to mention that, in order to understand an utterance is to go beyond the literal meaning interpretation. It is also to go beyond proposition analysis. This implies the existence of unity of what is said and what is implicated. The theory of conversational implicature by Grice is a theory that provides an account of the possibility to give a meaning that extend beyond the literal expressions that are uttered by the conventional sense. Through this theory, it will be available to catch the attention of the speaker and catch the figure of speech within the literary work. It will be also possible to improve the communicative skill.

Grice has distinguished between the sentence meaning and the speaker’s meaning. He looked into the differences between the literal meaning that is contextually dependent and the conversational implicature that is contextually determined. For instance, the statement of this expression “He is a fine friend”, may convey that fact that the speaker is communicating ironically as the speaker intends that “He is not a good friend”. To find out such details, it is something dependent on the particular context in which this statement is uttered.

Therefore, in order to understand a message is to understand the meanings of the words that are uttered in the message and the grammatical relations between such meanings. This notion usually needs a particular degree of implicitness in the

communication. This is what Grice has offered through the introduction of his principle that is called the Co-operative Principle (CP). Through this principle, it is to be aware of the entire communicative intentions as well as the conversational implicature. This is the mechanism to recognize meaning.

The conversational implicature theory and its implications will be explored in the following line with reference to its capability in distinguishing meaning.

Grice’s Theory of Conversational Implicature

Grice (1975;42) has made a distinction between the meaning of the words, what the speaker literally reports when coming up with them, and what the speaker intends to mean by conveying such words. This is the notion that usually goes beyond what is said. For instance, when someone is asked to lunch and he replies that he has a one o’clock class that he is not prepared for; by this, he has conveyed that he will not be coming to lunch, although hasn’t literally said so. He wants the second party to understand that by giving a reason for not accepting to have lunch (the need to prepare the class) he intends to inform that he is not coming to lunch due to that reason. The study of such conversational implicatures is the main focus of Grice’s theory.


We can say that, there are different functions for language. They are similar. The most important of these functions are, communicating with others and conveying information. Language is a means of communication and understanding each other. Consequently, the more vocabulary you have, the more your relationships with others. Language reflects the culture of the society. Language supplies people with experiences. Language is the mirror that reflects the personality of the individual. It shows the various features and characteristics and the strengths and weaknesses that affect others. It is a real means for a person to express his ideas and thoughts.

In fact, forms are very important in forming the functions of language. A question has its special form as in, where are you from?. A statement has its own special form as in, He eats apples. Sometimes, forms do not reflect their functions. For example, I cannot find my keys, spoke for a person who is late for work. It is clear hear that it is a request. It means, could you helping me to find my keys.

Age, sex and social situation play a strong role in forming language. Languages may change for many reasons like, geographical region and social levels.


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