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Functional linguistics is an approach to the study of
language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the ...

language
characterized by taking systematically into account the speaker's and the hearer's side, and the communicative needs of the speaker and of the given language community. Linguistic functionalism spawned in the 1920s to 1930s from
Ferdinand de Saussure Ferdinand de Saussure (; ; 26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a Swiss Swiss may refer to: * the adjectival form of Switzerland , french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_type = Fed ...

Ferdinand de Saussure
's systematic structuralist approach to language (1916). Functionalism sees functionality of language and its elements to be the key to understanding
linguistic Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo ...
processes and structures. Functional theories of language propose that since language is fundamentally a tool, it is reasonable to assume that its structures are best analyzed and understood with reference to the functions they carry out. These include the tasks of conveying
meaning Meaning most commonly refers to: * Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language * Meaning (philosophy), definition, elements, and types of meaning discussed in philosophy * Meaning (non-linguistic), a general ter ...
and contextual information. Functional theories of grammar belong to
structural A structure is an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a material object or system, or the object or system so organized. Material structures include man-made objects such as buildings and machines and natural objects such as ...
and
humanistic Humanism is a philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with physical or mental reality Reality is the ...

humanistic
linguistics, considering language as a rational human construction. They take into account the
context Context may refer to: * Context (language use) In semiotics, linguistics, sociology and anthropology, context refers to those objects or entities which surround a ''focal event'', in these disciplines typically a communication, communicative event ...
where linguistic elements are used and study the way they are instrumentally useful or functional in the given environment. This means that
pragmatics In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the m ...
is given an explanatory role, along with
semantics Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another ...
. The formal relations between linguistic elements are assumed to be functionally-motivated. Functionalism is sometimes contrasted with
formalism Formalism may refer to: * Form (disambiguation) * Formal (disambiguation) * Legal formalism, legal positivist view that the substantive justice of a law is a question for the legislature rather than the judiciary * Formalism (linguistics) * Scient ...
, but this does not exclude functional theories from creating grammatical descriptions that are ''generative'' in the sense of formulating rules that distinguish grammatical or well-formed elements from ungrammatical elements.
Simon Dik Simon Cornelis Dik (September 6, 1940 in Delden – March 1, 1995 in Holysloot) was a Netherlands, Dutch linguistics, linguist, most famous for developing the theory of Functional discourse grammar, functional grammar. He occupied the chair of ...
characterizes the functional approach as follows: Functional theories of grammar can be divided on the basis of geographical origin or base (though it simplifies many aspects): European functionalist theories include Functional (discourse) grammar and Systemic functional grammar (among others), while American functionalist theories include Role and reference grammar and West Coast functionalism. Since the 1970s, studies by American functional linguists in languages other than English from Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas (like Mandarin Chinese and Japanese), led to insights about the interaction of form and function, and the discovery of functional motivations for grammatical phenomena, which apply also to the English language.


History


1920s to 1970s: early developments

The establishment of functional linguistics follows from a shift from structural to functional explanation in 1920s
sociology Sociology is a social science Social science is the branch The branches and leaves of a tree. A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the scie ...
. Prague, at the crossroads of western European
structuralism In sociology Sociology is a social science Social science is the Branches of science, branch of science devoted to the study of society, societies and the Social relation, relationships among individuals within those societies. The t ...
and
Russian formalism #REDIRECT Russian formalism Russian formalism was a school of literary criticism in Russia from the 1910s to the 1930s. It includes the work of a number of highly influential Russian and Soviet scholars such as Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Tynianov, V ...
, became an important centre for functional linguistics. The shift was related to the organic analogy exploited by
Émile Durkheim David Émile Durkheim ( or ; 15 April 1858 – 15 November 1917) was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline of sociology and is commonly cited as one of the principal architects of modern social science ...

Émile Durkheim
and
Ferdinand de Saussure Ferdinand de Saussure (; ; 26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a Swiss Swiss may refer to: * the adjectival form of Switzerland , french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_type = Fed ...

Ferdinand de Saussure
. Saussure had argued in his ''Course in General Linguistics'' that the 'organism' of language should be studied anatomically, and not in respect with its environment, to avoid the false conclusions made by
August Schleicher August Schleicher (; 19 February 1821 – 6 December 1868) was a German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citizens of Germa ...

August Schleicher
and other social Darwinists. The post-Saussurean functionalist movement sought ways to account for the 'adaptation' of language to its environment while still remaining strictly anti-Darwinian. Russian émigrés
Roman Jakobson Roman Osipovich Jakobson (russian: Рома́н О́сипович Якобсо́н; October 11, 1896Kucera, Henry. 1983. "Roman Jakobson." ''Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America'' 59(4): 871–883. – July 18,
and
Nikolai Trubetzkoy Prince Nikolai Sergeyevich Trubetzkoy ( rus, Никола́й Серге́евич Трубецко́й, p=trʊbʲɪtsˈkoj; 16 April 1890 – 25 June 1938) was a Russian linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A la ...

Nikolai Trubetzkoy
disseminated insights of Russian grammarians in Prague, but also the
evolutionary theory Evolution is change in the Heredity, heritable Phenotypic trait, characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. These characteristics are the Gene expression, expressions of genes that are passed on from parent to offs ...
of
Lev Berg Lev Semyonovich Berg, also known as Leo S. Berg (russian: Лев Семёнович Берг; 14 March 1876 – 24 December 1950) was a leading Russian geographer, biologist and Ichthyology, ichthyologist who served as President of the Russian Ge ...
, arguing for
teleology Teleology (from and )Partridge, Eric. 1977''Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English'' London: Routledge, p. 4187. or finalityDubray, Charles. 2020 912 Year 912 ( CMXII) was a leap year starting on Wednesday (link will dis ...
of language change. As Berg's theory failed to gain popularity outside the
Soviet Union The Soviet Union,. officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. (USSR),. was a that spanned during its existence from 1922 to 1991. It was nominally a of multiple national ; in practice and were highly until its final years. The ...
, the organic aspect of functionalism was diminished, and Jakobson adopted a standard model of functional explanation from
Ernst Nagel Ernest Nagel (November 16, 1901 – September 20, 1985) was an American philosopher of science. Along with Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach, and Carl Hempel, he is sometimes seen as one of the major figures of the logical positivism, logical posi ...
's
philosophy of science Philosophy of science is a branch of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methodology, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern Demarcation problem, what qualifies as science, the reliability of s ...
. It is, then, the same mode of explanation as in biology and social sciences; but it became emphasised that the word 'adaptation' is not to be understood in linguistics in the same meaning as in biology. Work on functionalist linguistics by the Prague school resumed in the 1950s after a hiatus caused by World War II and Stalinism. In North America,
Joseph Greenberg Joseph Harold Greenberg (May 28, 1915 – May 7, 2001) was an American linguistics, linguist, known mainly for his work concerning linguistic typology and the genetic relationship (linguistics), genetic classification of languages. Life Early ...
published his 1963 seminal paper on language universals that not only revived the field of
linguistic typology Linguistic typology (or language typology) is a field of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses t ...
, but coined the approach of seeking functional explanations for typological patterns. Greenberg's approach has been highly influential for the movement of North American functionalism that formed from the early 1970s, which has since been characterized by a profound interest in typology. Greenberg's paper was influenced by the Prague School and in particular it was written in response to
Roman Jakobson Roman Osipovich Jakobson (russian: Рома́н О́сипович Якобсо́н; October 11, 1896Kucera, Henry. 1983. "Roman Jakobson." ''Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America'' 59(4): 871–883. – July 18,
's call for an 'implicational typology'. Newmeyer (2001)
The Prague School and North American Functionalist Approaches to Syntax
', in Journal of Linguistics , Mar., 2001, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Mar., 2001), pp. 101-126
While North American functionalism was initially influenced by the functionalism of the Prague school, such influence has been later discontinued.


1980s onward: name controversy

The term 'functionalism' or 'functional linguistics' became controversial in the 1980s with the rise of a new wave of
evolutionary linguistics Evolutionary linguistics or Darwinian linguistics is a sociobiology, sociobiological approach to the study of language. Evolutionary linguists consider linguistics as a subfield of evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology. The approach i ...
.
Johanna Nichols Johanna Nichols (born 1945, Iowa City, Iowa) is a Linguistics, linguist and professor emerita in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. She earned her PhD in Linguistics at the University of C ...
argued that the meaning of 'functionalism' had changed, and the terms formalism and functionalism, respectively, should be taken as referring to
generative grammar Generative grammar, or generativism , is a linguistic theory that regards linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying ...
, and the emergent linguistics of
Paul Hopper Paul J. Hopper is an American linguist of British birth. In 1973, he proposed the glottalic theoryThe glottalic theory is that Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the theorized common ancestor of the Indo-European language famil ...
and Sandra Thompson; and that the term structuralism should be reserved for frameworks derived from the Prague linguistic circle. William Croft (linguist), William Croft argued subsequently that it is a fact to be agreed by all linguists that form does not follow from function. He proposed autonomous linguistics, opposing the idea that language arises functionally from the need to express meaning:
"The notion of autonomy emerges from an undeniable fact of all languages, 'the curious lack of accord ... between form and function'"
Croft explains that, until the 1970s, functionalism related to semantics and pragmatics, or the 'Semiotics, semiotic function'. But around 1980s the notion of function changed from semiotics to "external function". Croft has also explained that he advocates a Neo-Darwinism, neo-Darwinian view of language change as based on natural selection. Croft proposes that 'structuralism' and 'formalism' should both be taken as referring to generative grammar; and 'functionalism' to Usage-based models of language, usage-based and cognitive linguistics; while neither André Martinet, Systemic functional linguistics nor Functional discourse grammar properly represents any of the three concepts. The situation was further complicated by the arrival of Evolutionary psychology, evolutionary psychological thinking in linguistics, with Steven Pinker, Ray Jackendoff and others hypothesising that the human language faculty, or universal grammar, could have developed through normal evolutionary processes, thus defending an adaptational explanation of the Origin of language, origin and evolution of the language faculty. This brought about a functionalism versus formalism debate, with Frederick Newmeyer arguing that the evolutionary psychological approach to linguistics should also be considered functionalist. The terms functionalism and functional linguistics nonetheless continue to be used by the Prague linguistic circle and its derivatives, including Société internationale de linguistique fonctionnelle, SILF, Copenhagen School (linguistics)#Danish functional school, Danish functional school, Systemic functional linguistics and Functional discourse grammar; and the American framework Role and reference grammar which sees itself as the midway between Formal linguistics, formal and functional linguistics.


Functional analysis

Since the earliest work of the Prague School, language was conceived as a ''functional system'', where term ''system'' references back to De Saussure structuralist approach. The term function seems to have been introduced by Vilém Mathesius, possibly influenced from works in sociology.Hladký, Josef (ed.) 2003.
Language and Function: To the memory of Jan Firbas
', pp.60-61
Functional analysis is the examination of how linguistic elements function on different layers of linguistic structure, and how the levels interact with each other. Functions exist on all levels of grammar, even in phonology, where the phoneme has the function of distinguishing between lexical material. * Syntactic functions: (e.g. Subject (grammar), Subject and Object (grammar), Object), defining different perspectives in the presentation of a linguistic expression. * Semantic functions: (Agent (linguistics), Agent, Patient (linguistics), Patient, Recipient (linguistics), Recipient, etc.), describing the role of participants in states of affairs or actions expressed. * Pragmatic functions: (Topic–comment, Theme and Rheme, Topic (linguistics), Topic and Focus (linguistics), Focus, Predicate (grammar), Predicate), defining the informational status of constituents, determined by the pragmatic context of the verbal interaction.


Functional explanation

In the functional mode of explanation, a linguistic structure is explained with an appeal to its function. Functional linguistics takes as its starting point the notion that communication is the primary purpose of language. Therefore, general phonological, morphosyntactic and semantic phenomena are thought of as being motivated by the needs of people to communicate successfully with each other. Thus, the perspective is taken that the organisation of language reflects its use value. Many prominent functionalist approaches, like Role and reference grammar and Functional discourse grammar, are also linguistic typology, typologically-oriented, that is they aim their analysis cross-linguistically, rather than only to a single language like English (as it's typical of formalist/generativism approaches).


Economy

The concept of economy is metaphorically transferred from a social or economical context to a linguistic level. It is considered as a regulating force in language maintenance. Controlling the impact of language change or internal and external conflicts of the system, the economy principle means that systemic coherence is maintained without increasing energy cost. This is why all human languages, no matter how different they are, have high functional value as based on a compromise between the competing motivations of speaker-easiness (simplicity or ''inertia'') versus hearer-easiness (clarity or ''energeia''). The principle of economy was elaborated by the French structural–functional linguist André Martinet. Martinet's concept is similar to George Kingsley Zipf, Zipf's principle of least effort; although the idea had been discussed by various linguists in the late 19th and early 20th century. The functionalist concept of economy is not to be confused with Minimalist program#Economy, economy in generative grammar.


Information structure

Some key adaptations of functional explanation are found in the study of information structure. Based on earlier linguists' work, Prague Linguistic Circle, Prague Circle linguists Vilém Mathesius, Jan Firbas and others elaborated the concept of theme–rheme relations (topic and comment) to study pragmatic concepts such as sentence focus, and givenness of information, to successfully explain word-order variation. The method has been used widely in linguistics to uncover word-order patterns in the languages of the world. Its importance, however, is limited to within-language variation, with no apparent explanation of cross-linguistic word order Linguistic universal, tendencies.


Functional principles

Several principles from pragmatics have been proposed as functional explanations of linguistic structures, often in a Typology (linguistics), typological perspective. *Theme first: languages prefer placing the theme before the rheme; and the subject typically carries the role of the theme; therefore, most languages have subject before object in their basic word order. *Animate first: similarly, since subjects are more likely to be Animacy, animate, they are more likely to precede the object. *Given before new: old information comes before new information. *First things first: more important or more urgent information comes before other information. *Lightness: light (short) constituents are ordered before heavy (long) constituents. *Uniformity: word order choices are generalised. For example, languages tend to have either prepositions or postpositions; and not both equally. *Functional load: elements within a linguistic sub-system are made distinct to avoid confusion.


Frameworks

There are several distinct grammatical frameworks that employ a functional approach. *The structuralist functionalism of the Prague school (linguistics), Prague school was the earliest functionalist framework developed in the 1920s. *André Martinet's Functional Syntax, with two major books, ''A functional view of language'' (1962) and ''Studies in Functional Syntax'' (1975). Martinet is one of the most famous French linguists and can be regarded as the father of French functionalism. Founded by Martinet and his colleagues, Société internationale de linguistique fonctionnelle, SILF (''Société internationale de linguistique fonctionnelle'') is an international organisation of functional linguistics which operates mainly in French. *Simon C. Dik, Simon Dik's Functional discourse grammar, Functional Grammar, originally developed in the 1970s and 80s, has been influential and inspired many other functional theories. It has been developed into Functional Discourse Grammar by the linguist Kees Hengeveld. *Michael Halliday's systemic functional grammar argues that the explanation of how language works "needed to be grounded in a functional analysis, since language had evolved in the process of carrying out certain critical functions as human beings interacted with their ... 'eco-social' environment". Halliday draws on the work of Karl Bühler, Bühler and Bronislaw Malinowski, Malinowski. The link between John Rupert Firth, Firthian linguistics and Alfred North Whitehead also deserves a mention. *Role and reference grammar, developed by Robert Van Valin employs functional analytical framework with a somewhat formal mode of description. In RRG, the description of a sentence in a particular language is formulated in terms of its semantic structure and communicative functions, as well as the grammatical procedures used to express these meanings. *Copenhagen school (linguistics)#Danish functional school, Danish functional grammar combines Ferdinand de Saussure, Saussurean/Louis Hjelmslev, Hjelmslevian
structuralism In sociology Sociology is a social science Social science is the Branches of science, branch of science devoted to the study of society, societies and the Social relation, relationships among individuals within those societies. The t ...
with a focus on
pragmatics In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the m ...
and discourse. *Interactional linguistics, based on Conversation Analysis, considers linguistic structures as related to the functions of e.g. action and turn-taking in interaction. *Construction grammar is a family of different theories some of which may be considered functional, such as Croft's Radical construction grammar.


See also

* Theory of language * Functional grammar (disambiguation) * Thematic relation * Morphosyntactic alignment * Linguistic typology


References


Further reading

* Van Valin Jr, R. D. (2003) ''Functional linguistics'', ch. 13 in
The handbook of linguistics
', pp. 319–336. {{DEFAULTSORT:Functional Theories Of Grammar Grammar frameworks Theories of language it:Grammatica funzionale