Tema 2- Los elementos de la situación de comunicación. La lengua en uso. La negociación del significado.

Tema 2- Los elementos de la situación de comunicación. La lengua en uso. La negociación del significado.


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Since prehistoric times, human been have been able to communicate. Communication has existed in various forms since the first person appeared on Earth. But humans are not the only ones that can communicate. Animals developed their own method up to the point of building complex nests in case of insects or even organizing a long-distance migration in a V-shaped echelon. The main difference between human and animal communication is based on the channel, code, and context of the message to convey between the addresser and the addressee, which are the six main elements in communication drawn by the linguist Roman Jakobson. According to him, there are six main functions of language; emotive, conative, referential, phatic, metalinguistic, and poetic, each one associated with one of the communication elements. However, to properly understand the communication model it is necessary to mention other models that influenced him, such as Shannon’s, Moles’ and, overall, Bühler. Furthermore, Austin’s speech acts are essential to comprehend language in use, especially considering that the discourse is the result of the combination of what is talked in the utterance and the intended effect in speech. Finally, every single person faces problems in communication, as it depends on co-operation. For this reason, users have to negotiate meaning is some circumstances, especially in in oral communication. There are several strategies in communication that can be applied to make easier the process. Thus, the following dissertation provides with a general overview of the communication process and its main elements and functions and to explain the language in use and the negotiation of meaning with the aim of applying it to the ordinary classroom in secondary school so that students are aware of the difficulties they can face when they communicate and how to address them.


Communication can be defined as the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc, between at least two individuals. However, communication can be verbal or non-verbal, written or oral, formal or informal, and intentional or unintentional. Context, the choice of language forms and neo-verbal behavior are some factors that change the information in communication. So, communication involves the continuous evaluation and negotiation of meaning on the part of the participants.

At this point, it is necessary to distinguish between verbal and non- verbal communication. On the one hand, verbal communication is carried out by means of language, which can be understood as a systematic means of communicating by the use of sounds or conventional symbols. On the other hand, non- verbal communication includes gestures, facial expressions, and body positions.


To understand Jakobson’s model of communication it is necessary to understand other previous models first. Saussure (trans.1983) devised a circular communication model on the basis of two premises. The first claims that communication is linear as a message is conveyed from one person to the other. The second premise states that the participants in the communication process are both simultaneously active, as they do not only listen, but they may answer or at least show some reaction. Shannon (1949) based his communicative model on several elements, such as a sender, a receiver, a channel, a message shaped in the way of input and output, and finally, external factors such as noise. During the 1960s, another American linguist, Moles, added the code as a crucial element for sender and receiver to communicate successfully, highlighting social factors. The psychologist Karl Bühler distinguished three main functions of language: expressive, conative and representational. Finally, Halliday’s functional grammar model (1985) provides a description of how the structure of English relates to the variables of the social context and focuses more on the macro- functions of language. At this point, it could be said that Jakobson’s model was influenced by these scholars.

The Jakobson`s model of the functions of language (1960), further developed by Dell Hymes (1972) establishes six main elements for communication to occur; the addresser, who is the person who originates and encodes the message, the addressee, who is the person to whom the message is addressed and decodes it, the channel, which is the medium through which the message travels, the message form, being the particular grammatical and lexical choices in language, the topic, which is the information carried in the message, the code, which is the language or dialect used, and finally the setting the social and physical context. Moreover, in order for communication to be effective, the message has to be perceived and have the same meaning for the receiver than for the issuer.

Thus, the most complete explanation of the communication process involves these six elements. When the addresser puts his or her ideas or thoughts into words or other means sends them to the addressee. The code used must be common to both, so that the addresser comprehends it properly. Finally, the verbalization of the potential verbalization is determined by the characteristics of the channel employed and the context referred to (Jakobson 1960). Some other linguistics include feedback as the seventh element as is the process of ensuring that the receiver has received the message and understood in the same sense as sender meant it.


Jakobson (1960) proposed six functions or factors of language, each of them associated with one of elements of the communication process.

The emotive function focuses on the first person, and reflects the speaker’s attitude to the topic of his or her discourse. It resembles Bühler’s expressive function. The addresser’s own attitude towards the content of the message is emphasized by means of emphatic speech or interjections.

The conative function is directed towards the addressee, and it is centered on the second person. We may find in Literature where the most explicit instance is illustrated by two grammatical categories, the vocative and the imperative. This function is similar to Bühler’s appelative function.

The referential function refers to the context, and emphasizes that communication is always dealing with something contextual, what Bühler called representative. This function can be equated with the cognitive use of language, which highlights thein formational content of an utterance, and virtually eliminates the focus on the speaker or on the addressee.

The phatic function helps to establish contact between two speakers, and refers to the channel of communication.

The metalinguistic function deals with the verbal code itself, that is, on language speaking of itself, as an example of metalanguage. The aim is to clarify the manner in which the verbal code is used, for instance, when the code is misunderstood and needs correction or clarification through questions such as “Sorry, what did you say?”

The poetic function deals with the message as a signifier within a decorative or aesthetic function of language. This is achieved by means of rhetorical figures, pitch or loudness.


In dealing with language in it is necessary to understand the speech-act theory first, which was introduced in 1975 by J.L. Austin in “How to Do Things with Words” and further developed by American philosopher J.R. Searle. This theory takes importance at this point due to the fact that the combination of what is talked in the utterance and the intended effect in speech from what is termed discourse. Thus, Austin distinguishes between the locutionary acts, illocutionary acts and perlocutionary act. Locutionary meaning is the basic literal meaning of an utterance. The act of saying something that makes sense or what is actually said by a speaker. The Illocutionary act is the intended effect that an utterance has on the reader or hearer. It is the real, intended meaning. Finally, the perlocutionary act is the actual effect of the utterance has on the addressee. What the hearer does in response to the utterance

This way, the term discourse is defined as the stretches of language perceived to be meaningful, unified and purposive and is the result of the combination of the propositions and the illocutionary acts.

Communication depends on co-operation to function smoothly and this entails making certain assumptions. The addressee assumes the information to be informative and relevant. Moreover, meaning is not always explicitly stated but has to be inferred. People find out about the set of basic rules in communication throughout their experience of language use.


However, when discourse is unclear or ambiguous, participants have to negotiate what meaning they are conveying. From students to proficient users of the language, problems of communication affect us all in many aspects of day-to-day living. However, there are a series of strategies to address those problems and misunderstandings in conversation. Negotiation of meaning can be understood as a process that speakers go through to reach a clear understanding of each other. In 1972, Selinker coined the term communication strategy to refer to the set of communication strategies and tactics that are combined in order to negotiate meaning to achieve successful communicative purposes and which are part of the speaker’s communicative competence.

Thus, there are seven implicit rules that govern conversation. First, nomination consists of presenting a particular topic clearly, truthfully, and saying only what is relevant. Secondly, restriction is based on restricting the response of the other person involved in the Communication Situation. The Listener is forced to respond only within a set of categories that is made by the Speaker. Thirdly, turn-taking is recognizing the interaction turn of each participant in the conversation. Fourthly, topic control means keeping the interaction moving forward by asking questions and eliciting a response. Fitly, topic shifting happens when a new topic is introduced following the continuation of that topic. Sixthly, repair includes requesting clarification, it is overcoming communication breakdown to send more comprehensible messages. Finally, termination is using verbal and nonverbal signals to end the interaction.

As they may find difficulties at the time of putting into words the message to convey, learners of English as a second language can not only use language to facilitate the convention of message but also gestures or sings among other visual inputs. One of the most common strategies of communication used by students is circumlocution, when users describe or paraphrase the target object or action to express their intended meaning. Also, non-verbal strategies are based on the use of gesture and mime to augment or replace verbal communication. Moreover, they can even find any alternative to a problematic word employing the Semantic avoidance strategy or they can create an unknown word from previous knowledge in the language following the word coinage strategy. Additionally, the appeal for help strategy is based on asking an interlocutor for the correct word or other help. Finally, the most common strategy used not only by learners but also by many teachers in making themselves clear is the code- switching, which is the use of two or more linguistic varieties in the same conversation or interaction.


To sum up, figuring out about theories of linguistics such as Saussure, Shannon, Moles, Bühler or Halliday made us better comprehend not only the six elements involved in communication drawn by Jakobson but also the six functions of language. We also understood how important the Austin’s speech acts’ theory is in the explanation of language in use. Finally, Selinker and his communication strategies gave us some clues to be successful in conveying our message or to understand other’s messages, what can be used in classroom for the students to interiorize and eventually become into proficient users of the language.


AUSTIN. J. L. How to do things with words. Ed.

HALLIDAY, M.A.K. (1985) An Introduction to Functional Grammar. London: Edward Arnold.

HYMES, D. (1972) On Communicative competence. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

JAKOBSON, R. and M. HALLE (1956) Fundamentals of Language. Mouton.

JAKOBSON, Roman (1960): ‘Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics’. In Sebeok (Ed.), op.cit., pp. 350-77

SAUSSURE, F. (1916) Cours de linguistique générale (Course in General Linguistics, trans. Roy Harris, 1983). New York: Philosophical Library.

SSELINKER, Larry. 1972. “Interlanguage.” International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching 10(1–4):209–232.