TEMA 1 LA LENGUA COMO COMUNICACIÓN: LENGUAJE ORAL Y LENGUAJE ESCRITO
FACTORES QUE DEFINEN UNA SITUACIÓN COMUNICATIVA: EMISOR, RECEPTOR, FUNCIONALIDAD Y CONTEXTO:
The present essay aims to study language and its functions and more precisely to develop the notion of communication as one of these functions. For this purpose, I will divide the topic into three main sections. First, I will deal with the definition and main properties of language. In order to do so, I will address the following two questions: “what is language? And “what is language for?”. Then I will introduce the concept of communicative competence. Second, I will compare spoken and written language, dealing first with the historical attitudes, and then outstanding the main differences between writing and speech. Third, I will deal with the communication theory, its definition and the key factors that affect any communicative interaction.
Traditional Foreign Language Teaching concentrated in teaching items in isolation, and its main aim was to read texts. It could be said that people got to know about a language(learning) but could not use it in a real context(acquisition), since the central point was not on communication but on a piece of language. However, in the last decades the path towards a communicative-oriented approach has been a remarkably tendency in the context of teaching English as a foreign language.
To develop the first part of the topic, I will deal with the definition, main properties and functions of language. Language can be defined as an system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which the members of a society interacts in terms of their total culture. Let us go on distinguishing which are its main characteristics:
Communicative versus informative: we can use communicative signals (such as language itself) to intentionally communicate something, but we can also provide information unintentionally via informative signals.
Displacement: The users of language speak about things and events that are not present in the immediate environment.
Arbitrariness:There is no natural connection between a linguistic form and its meaning.
Productivity: The possible utterances in any human language is infinite.
Discreteness: The sounds of a language are meaningfully distinct
Cultural transmission: Language is passed on from one generation to the next.
Auditory-vocal channel: Human language is usually generated via the vocal organs and perceived via the ear.
Reciprocity: Any speaker of a language can also be a listener. A sender can also be a receiver.
Once the definition and the main properties of language have been considered, I will concentrate now on the second question What is language for?:
Referential: language is usually used to express ideas.
Expressive: language is also used to express both positive and negative feelings.
Connative: focus on the language addressee usually with imperative and vocative language forms.
Poetic: it refers at the language for its own sake. Rhetorical figures, pitch and loudness are specific aspects of this function
Phatic: it refers to the social function of language.
Metalingual: it refers to the use of language to talk about language itself.
Performative: it refers to the performative nature of these utterances that perform and act.
Now that I have presented language definition, its functions and its main characteristics I will be important to present the notion of communicative competence. Hymes stated that in order to learn a language, native speakers not only utter grammatically correct forms (as it was thought by Chomsky), he also knows when and where to use a sentence, and to whom. Now I am going to highlight the four main aspects of the communicative competence according to Hymes:
Systematic potential: a native speaker possesses a potential for creating language.
Appropiacy: a native speaker knows what language is appropriate in a given situation.
Occurrence: a native speaker know how often something is said in the language, and if it can actually be performed.
Feasibility: a native speaker know whether something is possible in the language, although there are grammatically correct language structures, there are not possible in the language.
“Moreover, Canale and Swain theory sees the communicative competence as consisting in a grammatical competence plus a sociolinguistic competence. Canale defines the communicative competence as the underlying systems of knowledge and skill required for communication. The four components of the communicative competence can be summarized as follows:
Grammatical competence: the production of a structured comprehensible utterance (including vocabulary, spelling, grammar and pronunciation).
Sociolinguistic competence involving the knowledge of the sociocultural rules and norms of language and of discourse.
Discourse competence shaping the language and communication purposefully in different text types, using cohesion and coherence.
Strategic competence increasing the effectiveness of communication and compensating the breakdowns in communication
The communicative competence in also present is our education system. The Organic Law of Education 2/2006 passed on the 3rd of May, highlights the importance of both oral and writing skills in the three cycles of Primary Education. More precisely the Royal Decree 1513/2006 passed on the 7th of December divides the contents into four sections or blocks 1) Listening, speaking and conversing 2) writing and reading 3) knowledge of the language 4) sociocultural knowledge and intercultural awareness. All these contents aim to help Primary students become communicative competent in the foreign language.” (Magister)
Now that the communicative nature of language has been argued, I will go on to develop the second part of this essay. For this purpose I will firstly deal with the historical attitudes towards spoken and written language. Then, I will attempt to establish the main differences between speech and writing.
With regard to the historical attitudes, written language was traditionally considered to be superior to spoken language for many centuries. This is due to the fact that written language was the medium of literature and literature was considered to be the standards of linguistic excellence. On the other hand spoken language was ignored, being the central point that it lacked of care and organization which assumed that speech could not be studied scientifically. Given that, the norms were based on written standards, the tradition rested in this supremacy of writing over speech.
Contrary to this point of view, a group of linguistics argued in favor of studying speech because it is the main medium of communication. Also, spoken language is the principal medium in which a speaker acquires his mother tongue, and writing is learnt and taught later. In view of this criterium, many linguistics came to think about written language as a tool of secondary importance.
Nowadays, there is no sense in this view of one type of language to be intrinsically better. The functions of writing and speech are said to complement each other.
Let us go on distinguishing the main differences of both spoken and written language:
The main distinction between writing and speech is clear: Speech uses the transmitting medium of “phonic substance”, typically air pressure movements produced by the vocal organs meanwhile writing uses the transmitting medium of “graphic substance”, typically marks on a surface made by a hand using and implement.
However, many other differences can be pointed out. I will analyze the relationship between speech and writing in terms of seven points of contrast:
Speech is time bound, dynamic, transient. It is part of an interaction in which both participants are usually present and the speakers has a particular addressee in mind. Writing is space bound, permanent, static. The writer is usually distant from the reader, and often does not know who the reader is going to be.
The spontaneity and speed of most speech promotes looser construction, rephrasing, repetition and comment clauses. Writing promotes careful organization with often intricate sentence structure.
Because participants are typically into face to face interaction in speech, they can rely on such extralinguistic clues as facial expressions and gestures to aid meaning. Lack of visual contact in written language means that participants can not rely on context to make their meaning clear.
Unique features of speech includes most of the prosody. Intonation, loudness, tempo, rhythm, provide highly efficient hints. Unique features of writing include, pages, lines capitalization, spatial organization and several aspects of punctuation.
Lengthy coordinate sentences are normally used in speech. Multiple instances of subordination in the same sentence, elaborately syntactic patterns, and the long sentences are typical in writing texts.
Speech is very suited to social or phatic functions. Writing is very suited to the recording of facts and the communication of ideas, and tasks to memory and learning.
In speech, there is an opportunity to rethink and utterance while in progress (starting again, adding a qualification). However, errors, once spoken, cannot be withdrawn. Errors in our writing can be eliminated without the reader ever knowing. Interruptions, if they have occurred while writing, are also invisible in the final product.
Despite these differences, there are many aspects in which the written and the spoken language have mutually interacted. Nowadays, their dependence has proved to be mutual.
Now that we have examined the differences between spoken and written language, we shall concentrate on the communication theory. Traditionally, communication, has been defined as the exchange of meanings between individuals through a common system of symbols. One of the most renown communication theories is the Information Model, develop by the mathematician Shannon. He invented a mathematical theory of communication that gave the first framework. His model consisted on five elements:
An information source, which produces a message
A sender, who encodes the message into signals
A channel, to which signals are adapted for transmission
A receiver, who decodes the message from the signal
A destination, where the message arrives
A sixth element, noise, was later added. When transmitting a message certain unwanted additions to the signal may occur which are not part of the message, and these are referred as entropy or noise.
Information source, sender, channel, receiver, destination and entropy are key factors that affect any communicative interaction. Now I will analyze the intended effects of our communicative interactions (or speech acts) and the environment in which they are exchange (context).
The Speech Act Theory was outlined by the philosopher Austin and it claims that many utterances are equivalent to actions. When someone says “I name this ship”, the utterance creates a new social or psychological reality. Speech Act Theory explains these utterances as having three parts or aspects: locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutinary acts.
Locutionary acts are simply the speech acts that have taken place.
Illocutionary acts are the real actions which are performed by the utterance, where saying means doing (as in betting, welcoming, or warning)
Perlocutionary acts are the effects of the utterance on the listener (who accepts the bet, is welcomed or warned).
Apart from this, there is a second key feature which may be taken into account: the context. The linguistic context is defined as “the parts of a piece of writing, speech, etc, that precede and follow a word or passage and contribute to its full meaning”. But this context may not be enough to fully understand a speech act, as it doesn´t make reference to the outside world; then a definition of the situation context may be added “the conditions and circumstances that are relevant to an event, fact, etc”
With regard to the context of situation, a number of linguistics have worked over and extended this concept. For instance, Halliday categorises the communicative situation in terms of three components for the analysis:
Field of discourse: refers to what is happening, the nature of the social action.
Tenor of discourse: refers to who is taking part, the nature of the participants.
Mode of discourse; is the function of the text in the event, including therefore both the channel taken by the language, and its genre or rhetorical mode, as didactic, narrative, persuasive and so on.
Halliard, M.A.K.: Spoken and Written Language. New York. Oxford University Press (1989, 2nd edition).
Richards J.C., Platt H, Platt, J: Longman Dictonary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Longman, London, 1992.
Halliwell, S: Teaching English in the Primary School. Longman, London, 1992.
Savignon, S: The communicative competence: Theory and Classroom Practice. New York, Mac Graw Hill, 1997
Hymes, D: On Communicative Compentence in Sociolinguistics. Penguin, London, 1972