The Four Basic Linguistic Functions Analysed


Today, I am just uploading this for your perusal. I will start commenting on it and explaining it and drawing conclusions from it during the week, and hopefully what I will have to say will be quite useful for language learners. For today however I just wanted to let you take a look at the picture and you are welcome to give your initial thoughts in the comments.

There is actually so much that I could have to say from this simple diagram that I don’t worry that discussion before I have started to show what it is all about could “steal my thunder”. On the contrary it would be interesting to see what interpretations people would place on the diagram as it stands.

About David J. James

56 year old UK origin Chartered Accountant and business consultant who loves languages, literature, history, religion, politics, internet, vlogging and blogging and lively written or spoken discussion, plays backgammon and a few other board games. Walks and listens to Audible for hours a day usually, and avoids use of the car. Conservative Christian, married to an angel with advanced Multiple Sclerosis. We have three kids, two of them autistic, and we live in Warsaw, Poland. On the board of the main British-Polish charity Fundacja Sue Ryder in Poland, and involved in the Vocational Autistic School of "Nie Z Tej Bajki" in Warsaw. Member of Gideons International. Serves on two committees of the Chamber of Auditors in Poland, and on several Boards and Supervisory Boards. Has own consultancy called delivering business governance and audit/valuation solutions as well as mentoring. Author of the GoldList Method for systematic optimal use of the long-term memory in learning.

Posted on 09/03/2013, in GoldList Method, Languages and Linguistics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Mike Ellwood

    How about “Thinking”?

    It’s true you need to think while doing all the other things, but you can be thinking (in the target language, if you wish), while doing none of those other things, ergo it is a separate skill or function (I would argue).


    • That’s a great point, but thinking is actually a mechanism, I would say, by which those four functions work. And even if you consider thought as the inner voice it still becomes a bit like speaking. Maybe thinking or the act of thought could be represented by the black diamond in the middle. Sapir-Whorff’s hypothesis talks about language being the tool of thought and thought being not possible without language, but I would say that only when the learner of a second language achieves fluency of speech can he demonstrate that he actually thinks in a language.

      On that note, dreaming can be another. I have had dreams where I am looking at kanji and remembering how to pronounce them, but this is simply subconscious processing of material learned during waking time. Very earlier on in my study of Russian I said a sentence in Russian in a dream, but this doesn’t really amount to the level of thinking in a language that I would now be doing in something like Polish, discussing some accounting issue without recourse to English unless I need to recall a fact I learned by reading the book in English or having undergone training in English.

      In summary in a sense thought underpins all the four functions but really thinking in the language only comes to the fore in the case of speaking, where to an extent you are forced to think in the language – you don’t have time to translate it from English.

      But each activity you do apart from dreaming effectively shows up a combination of one or more of the Four Functions via which the thinking is manifested.

      Are you able to agree with that?


  2. ah…just spotted mis-spelling…. controling should read “controlling”


    • In my experience, interferences from being other than monolingual can indeed affect my use of English, including spelling. If I’m not paying explicit attention to my spelling, _negotiate_ might come out _negociate_, for instance, or I might use a phonetically equivalent word such as _their_ for _there_ even though I have known the difference perfectly well for most of my life. I even find the effects to reach into idiomatic expression, vocabulary, and grammar, as well: “To _speak_ [language x]” might be expressed as “to _have_ [language x]”; “take your time and think it over” might come out “think it over with calm”; or I might have trouble deciding at the moment of utterance whether it’s “consist _of_” or “consist _in_”. Many parallel sorts of interferences can similarly arise in the areas of word order, morphology, and semantics (why do we say _injustice_ but _unjust_, for example?).

      Of course, I would argue that this is all part of the process of better first-language awareness brought about by becoming versant in another language (as mentioned by our leader at ), and I’d also argue that the benefits pay back a thousand fold on the extra efforts incurred. As far as the specific challenges noted above, a bit of time, space, and reflection to think it through outside the conversation always sorts out the most natural, probable spelling/expression for a native speaker of my circumstances (that I say not “of my circumstance”!!!!) and prepares me to continue speaking it correctly, but with newfound intentionality, in the future.


  3. One for the pot.
    I Can see that the learner would find it very difficult to increase his/her speaking speed beyond their current maximum (constrained as it is by grammatical knowledge , vocabulary store, and even physical ability to produce the correct sounds) but they could speak more slowly than they need to thus controling the pace of delivery. But am I misreading the diagram ?


  4. I always enjoy a cleverly drawn diagram! My impression of this one is that writing and listening skills come from reading practice, and speaking comes from those. But that’s only one sentence, so I look forward to seeing what you’ll do with this.


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