The Meaning of Function

Ogden, C. Kay and Ivor A. Richards 1946[1923]. The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism. Eighth edition. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.

By leaving out essential elements in the language situation we easily raise problems and difficulties which vanish when the whole transaction is considered in greater detail. Words, as every one knows, 'mean' nothing by themselves, although the belief that they did, as we shall see in the next chapter, was once equally universal. It is only when a thinker makes use of them that they stand for anything, or, in one sense, have 'meaning.' They are instruments. But besides this referential use which for all reflective, intellectual use of language shuld be paramount, words have other functions which may be grouped together as emotive. These can best be examined when the framework of the problem of strict statement and intellectual communication has been set up. The importance of the emotive aspects of language is not thereby minimized, and anyone chiefly concerned with popular or primitive speech might well be led to reverse this order of approach. (Ogden & Richards 1946[1923]: 9-10)
This is quite different from what I thought people mean when they say that words have no meaning in themselves. This seems to suggest that types have no "meaning", only tokens do. Viewing language as an instrument is at the core of Jakobson's work as well. The nature of "emotive" in this context is ambiguous for me.
The word 'thing' is unsuitable for the analysis here undertaken, because in popular usage it is restricted to material substances - a fact which has led philosophers to favour the terms 'entity,' 'ens' or 'object' as the general name for whatever is. It has seemed desirable, therefore, to introduce a technical term to stand for whatever we may be thinking of or referring to. 'Object,' though this is its original use, has had an unfortunate history. The word 'referent,' therefore, has been adopted, though its etymological form is open to question when considered in relation to other participial derivatives, such as agent or reagent. But even in Latin the present participle occasionally (e.g. vehens in equo) admitted of variation in use; and in English an analogy with substantives, such as 'reagent', 'extent,' and 'incident' may be urged. Thus the fact that 'referent' in what follows stands for a thing and not an active person, should cause no confusion. (Ogden & Richards 1946[1923]: 9; footnote 1)
Karl Bühler also used the term 'object', along with 'subject' in place where we use 'addresser' after Jakobson. Also, this: "To be operative the message requires CONTEXT referred to ("referent" in another, somewhat ambiguous nomenclature) [...]" (Jakobson 1985[1976c]: 113). It turns out that it was Ogden & Richard's nomenclature that Jakobson found to be ambiguous.
Between a thought and a symbol causal relations hold. When we speak, the symbolism we emplay is caused partly by the reference we are making and partly by social and psychological factors - the purpose for which we are making the reference, the proposed effect of our symbols on other persons, and our attitude. When we hear what is said, the symbols both cause us to perform an act of reference and to assume an attitude which will, according to circumstances, be more or less similar to the act and the attitude of the speaker. (Ogden & Richards 1946[1923]: 10-11)
In my own hodgepodge of a communication model (the one with nine sign-functions) distinguishes between the attitude of the speaker as three code functions and the attitude we as receivers will assume as three message functions.
It is often, indeed, impossible to decide, whether a particular use of symbols is primarily symbolic or emotive. This is especially the case with certain kinds of metaphor. When the Psalmist cries of his enemies, "They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders' poison is under their lips," it is hard to determine whether an elusive similarity between the reptile and the persons he is describing is enabling him metaphorically to state something about them, or whether the sole function of his utterance is not to express his abhorrence of them and to promote similar attitudes towards them in his hearers. Most terms of abuse and andearment raise this problem, which, as a rule, it is, fortunately, not important to settle. The distinction which is important is that between utterances in which the symbolic function is subordinated to the emotive act and those of which the reverse is true. In the first case, however precise and however elaborate the references communicated may be, they can be seen to be present in an essentially instrumental capacity, as means to emotive effects. In the second case, however strong the emotive effects, these can be seen to be by-products not essentially involved in the speech transaction. The peculiarity of scientific statement, that recent new development of linguistic activity, is its restriction to the symbolic function. (Ogden & Richards 1946[1923]: 124)
Ogden and Richards present the matter in a very Jakobsonian manner: one function is dominant and the other is subordinant. Since this was before other functions (like the poetic, metalingual, etc.) came to be, the rivalry between these functions makes sense.
In ordinary everyday speech each phrase has not one but a number of functions. We shall in our final chapter classify these under five headings; but here a twofold division is more convenient, the division between the symbolic use of words and the emotive use. The symbolic use of words is statement; the recording, the support, the organization and the communication of references. The emotive use of words is a more simple matter, it is the use of words to express or excite feelings and attitudes. It is probably more primitive. If we say "The hight of the Eiffel Tower is 900 feet" we are making a statement, we are using symbols in order to record or communicate a reference, and our symbol is true or false in a strict sense and is theoretically verifiable. But if we say "Hurrah!" or "Poetry is a spirit" or "Man is a worm," we may not be making statements, not even false statements; we are most probably using words merely to evake certain attitudes. (Ogden & Richards 1946[1923]: 149)
Cf. "It [the emotive function] tends to produce an impression of a certain emotion whether true or feigned" (Jakobson 1985[1976c]: 114).
Each of these contrasted functions has, it will be seen, two sides, that of the speaker and that of the listener. Under the symbolic function are included both the symbolization of reference and its communication to the listener, i.e., the causing in the listeener a similar reference. Under the emotive function are included both the expression of emotions, attitudes, moods, intentions, etc., in the speaker, and their communication, i.e., their evocation in the listener. As there is no convenient verb to cover both expression and evocation, we shall in what follows often use the term 'evoke' to cover both sides of the emotive function, there being no risk of misunderstanding. In many cases, moreover, emotive language is used by the speaker not because he already has an emotion which he desires to express, but solely because he is seeking a word which will evoke an emotion which he desires ho have; nor, of course, is it necessary for the speaker himself to experience the emotion which he attempts to evoke. (Ogden & Richards 1946[1923]: 149)
This confirms Bühler's thesis that the subject and the addressee have a relationship to the referent severally (independently). Jakobson of course neglects the twofold nature of the functions, as in his approach the addressee is not part of the speech situation so much as a part of speech (e.g. vocatives and who is addressed by name in the given message).
This subtle interweaving of the two functions [symbolic and emotive] is the main reason why recognition of their difference is not universal. The best test of whether our use of words is essentially symbolic or emotive is the question - "Is this true or false in the ordinary strict scientific sense?" If this question is relevant then the use is symbolic, if it is clearly irrelevant then we have an emotive utterance. (Ogden & Richards 1946[1923]: 150)
This is important, but sadly applies only to these two functions. Jakobson himself makes no claims about truth value for his other functions.
'To be understood' is here a contraction. It stands for: (a) to be referred to + (b) to be responded with + (c) to be felt towards referent + (d) to be felt towards speaker + (e) to be supposed that the speaker is referring to + (f) that the speaker is desiring, etc., etc.
These complexities are mentioned here to show how vague are most of the terms which are commonly thought satisfactory in this topic. Such a word as 'understand' is, unless specially treated, for too vague to serve except provisionally or at levels of discourse where a real understanding of the matter (in the reference sense) is not possible. The multiple functions of speech will be classified and discussed in the following chapter. There it will be seen that the expression of the speaker's intention is not of the five regular language functions. It should not be stressed unduly, and it should be remembered that as with other functions its importance varies immensely from person to person and from occasion to occasion. (Ogden & Richards 1946[1923]: 193)
I wish these complexities were easier to grasp. They are very different from Jakobson's functions. I wonder if these "speech functions" could even be contrasted to the latter's "language functions".
Thus, in speaking a sentence we are giving rise to, as in hearing it were confronted by, at least two sign-situations. One is interpreted from symbols to reference and so to referent; the other is interpreted from verbal signs to the attitude, mood, interest, purpose, desire, and so forth of the speaker, and thence to the situation, circumstances and conditions in which the utterance is made.
The first of these is a symbol situation as this has been described above, the second is merely a verbal sign-situation like the sign-situations involved in all ordinary perception, weather prediction, etc. Confusion between the two must be avoided, though they are often hard to distinguish. Thus we may interpret from a symbol to a reference and then take this reference as a sign of an attitude in the speaker, either the same or not the same as that to which we should interpret directly from his utterance as a verbal sign.
The ordering of verbal sign-functions is a large subject in which various branches may be distinguished. The following seem, together with strict symbolization, which it will be convenient to number as (i), to cover the main functions of language as a means of communication.
(ii) There are the situations which derive from attitudes, such as amity or hostility, of the speaker to his audience. In written language many of the most obvious signs for these attitudes are necessarily lost. Manner and tone of voice have to be replaced by the various devices, convenient formulae, exaggerations, under-statements, figures of speech, underlining, and the rest familiar in the technique of letter-writing. Word order is plainly of especial importance in this connection, but, as we shall see, no general literary device can be appropriated to any one of the functions of speech, it is sure to be borrowed on occasion by the others. Thus for this function almost any symbolic transformations can be brought in. For instance telescoped or highly summarized phraseology is often used, even where on referential grounds it is unsuitable, as a mark of courtesy or respect to the hearer, or to avoid the appearance of pedantry or condescension which an expanded statement might produce. A speaker will naturally address a large audience in terms different from those which he employs in familiar conversation; his attitude has changed.
(iii) In a similar fashion our attitude to our referent in part determines the symbols we use. Here again complicated cases occur in which it may be uncertain whether our attitude is itself stated, or merely indicated through verbal signs. Aesthetic judgments in particular present this difficulty, and often the speaker himself would be unable to decide which was taking place. Emphasis, redundance, and all forms of reinforcement can be, and are commonly, used for these reasons, though equally they are used for the sake of their effects upon the hearers (iv); or as rallying-points, rests or supports in case of difficulty of reference (v).
(iv) The structure of our symbols is often determined by our Intention, the effects which we endeavoul to promote by our utterance. If we desire a hearer to commit suicide we may, on occasion, make the same remarks to him whether our reason for desiring such action is benevolent interest in his career or a dislike of his personal characteristics. Thus the symbol modification due to the effect intended must not be confused with that due to the attitude assumed towards an interlocutor, although often, of course, they will coincide.
(v) Besides their truth, or falsity, references have a characer which may be called, from the accompanying feelings, Ease or Difficulty. Two references to the same referent may be true but differ widely in this ease, a fact which may be reflected in their symbols. The two symbols, "I seem to remember ascending Mount Everest," and "I went up Everest," may, on occasion, stand for no difference in reference and thus owe their dissimilarity solely to degrees of difficulty in recalling this uncommon experience. On the other hand this may, of course, be a real symbolic difference which does not merely indicate difference of difficulty but states it. This ease or difficulty should not be confused with certainty or doubt, or degree of belief or disbelief, which come most naturally under the heading (iii) of attitude to the referent. Each of these non-symbolic functions may employ words either in a symbolic capacity, to attain the required end through the references produced in the listener, or in a non-symbolic capacity when the end is gained through the direct effects of the words. (Ogden & Richards 1946[1923]: 223-224)
Wow. That's a lot to decode.


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