Language is a source of communication with other members of society. It is the reflection of the culture to which it belongs. Salient characteristics of the culture can be inferred with the close study of its language. It is the source to transfer the various aspects of the ideology. “Every act of language whether it is written or spoken is a statement about the position of its author within the social structure in a given culture” (Tabouret, 1985). Many linguists and sociologists considering the significance of language in interpreting the cultural values have theorized the structure, functions, and purposes of language.
Knowledge of language structure, its function, and purposes enables us to understand communication. It makes easier for the listener to comprehend what’s going on in the speaker’s mind. Parpalea (2011) states that communication cannot be successful unless the utterance is accompanied by certain concepts of language function. For the success in communication skills, the clear idea of the language functions is essential (Brown, 2007). The number of functions varies from linguist to linguist regarding his studies and research but, I have restricted my studies to referential, ideational, and interpersonal functions of language.
Jakobson states six functions of language i.e. the referential, poetic, emotive, conative, metalingual, and phatic function. He explains that context is known as referent and interprets this function in two ways i.e. it relates to the thing “spoken of” or is associated with an element whose truth value is being affirmed. The second application of referential function is more important in which a statement is made that could be either true or false. The nature of our everyday language is dialogic as each person’s contributions are orientated towards other speakers (Bakhtin, 1986). Therefore in the referential function of language, some information is conveyed to the interlocutor.
Halliday stated that language is “meaning potential”. “It is creature and creator of human society” (Halliday, 2002). He enunciates three functional levels of language i.e. ideational, interpersonal, and textual function. The first one is ideational wherein the speaker expresses his ideas and experiences. This function is all about the conceptualizing process in our mental activities. It helps us to understand what’s going all around us. It is also known as the experiential function. The second function i.e. interpersonal is employed when we establish and maintain social relationships. Language is primarily a social phenomenon, so apart from facilitating in communication it helps in projecting the speaker in the desired way. The third function, textual function fuses the interpersonal and ideational function-based language to create text.
From the above discussion, we learn that the language is never purposeless; it is always carrying a purpose or function in it. The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930), however, gave a new direction to the language studies and argued that we must pay more attention to the social conditions which make certain language structures possible. While studying the dynamics of power via language he coined the terms, “cultural reproduction”, “habitus”, and “symbolic violence”. He states that language is not only a source of communication but also a tool to sustain the power structure. The structure of language is usually related to the social status of the speaker. The lingual habit ingrained in the members of society determines the preset action or reaction in a certain situation. Moreover, it decides who will speak, listen, Interrupt, enquire, or argue etc. language serves as one of the mechanisms used for the transmission of cultural values from one generation to the other. The “cultural reproduction” leads to the “social reproduction” i.e. whenever the existing cultural values are transferred to the new generation; the norms of society are handed down as well. The hidden agenda of the dominant class is transferred from generation to generation through language.
Socially people are trained to adopt particular linguistic habits and dispositions. These skills and dispositions are named “habitus” by Pierre Bourdieu. He states that people learn them through the process of imitation. Language practices are tamed in the very same way wherein the communication is not deliberately structured. Due to this attribute of language, it can be categorized as a form of “symbolic violence”. Through language, the norms and values of the dominant group are unconsciously imposed upon the subordinate group and without any physical violence. Slavoj Zizek (2008) also states that “symbolic violence is located in the signification of language itself. The ways we talk to one another sustain relations of domination”.
In short, the use of language for communication is not recent. When the linguists and sociologists realized its significance in terms of culture they analyzed it deeply and discovered that meanings are encoded into words. They identified that there is a certain function or purpose behind every utterance. There are always several choices for a speaker but he opts for one that suits his needs.