Thinking and Language

By: Clare Slattery

The Six Functions of Language

Language is an intricate, complex subject of study, with many different purposes. A linguist named Roman Jakobson was able to separate the purpose of language into six distinct uses. Jakobson calls these uses the "functions" of language. The referential function involves using language to state a fact or pass on an informational piece of knowledge. The emotive function involves using language to literally share emotions to the environment a person is in, while the conative function involves using language to give commands. The phatic function is a form of simple communication with another person, such as telling a person "hello," or asking how he/she is feeling. The metalingual function is for ensuring that you are communicating with another person clearly and checking their understanding. Finally, the poetic function is a way of beautifying language through descriptive language.


Now that I have learned the functions that language can be classified into, I have been able to recognize the purpose of my speech. When I address a person, I can identify whether I am using language in a phatic or conative function. I can also recognize whether or not what I am saying is useful. I have a tendency to talk too much; by knowing these functions I can "think before I speak" and know whether what I am saying is important, or necessary, and whether or not it is best to just keep my mouth shut.

The Sapir-Whorf Theory

The Sapir-Whorf Theory, founded by Benjamin Lee Whorf and Edward Sapir, is an incredibly influential linguistic theory. This theory suggests that a culture's language is not just a form of communication for them, but helps define what the values and beliefs of that culture. The theory goes so far as to say that language has the capability to determine the reality of the world for a culture, or how they believe the world works. Supporting evidence for this theory is the conclusion that the quantity and quality of vocabulary terms a culture uses to define a specific object or concept determines its superiority in their culture; if a culture has several words to describe love and few words for annoyance or dislike, it can be surmised that that culture values loving, peaceful relationships. So, the way in which a culture expresses themselves through language correlates with the way they live their life in relation to others.


After learning the Sapir-Whorf Theory, I have looked more closely at differences between languages, most specifically between my native English and Spanish, the second language I am learning. I have noticed that Spanish speakers put much more emphasis on actions done to themselves, or ways of expressing oneself. In my interpretation I see this as a sign of valuing the beliefs and actions a person takes, and recognizing the importance of every being's actions. As I continue learning Spanish, I will continue to make comparisons and conclusions on the language which will help me better understand and appreciate the culture.

Personality and Stress

A study done by Meyer Friedman and R.H. Rosenman questioned whether or not there was a connection between personality type and stress levels. They tested this hypothesis by forming a subject group and classifying each member as having either a Type A personality (multitasking, overachieving) or Type B (relaxed, less hurried). Over the years, it was found that many subjects with Type A personalities developed coronary heart disease, a common side effect of too much stress, and that far fewer Type B personalities had any case of this problem. Friedman and Rosenman concluded that personality is closely linked to the amount of a stress a person may feel due to the way they are naturally geared towards working and thinking.This study is very pertinent to me, because I myself am a prime example of a Type A personality. I am extremely concerned about excelling in all areas, and do not settle for anything less than perfection. As you can imagine, this causes stress because I have to work very hard to reach the level of achievement that I want, and if I do not reach it I get very down on myself. I can lessen this by practicing techniques to help reduce stress. I should also adjust my mindset to be less pessimistic and more reasonable about my levels of ability and what really constitutes "success."