I mentioned in a previous post that the department of linguistics at the University of Oregon, where I study, is a “bastion of functional linguistics”. So, what is functional linguistics?
Those who call themselves “Functional Linguists” differ on many aspects of linguistic theory, but the one central principle they all share is the answer to the question “What constitutes a satisfactory explanation for the observable facts about language?”Functional explanations are based on communicative function. Languages around the world are in some ways very similar and in other ways radically different because they have been shaped by differing social, and historical processes, but for the one universal purpose of communication based on human cognition. This is in contrast to a formalist explanation that seeks to explain observable (surface) facts about language in terms of a deeper (underlying) level of language. Continue reading