Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

The Conative Function of Language and Media Semiotics

Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

The Conative Function of Language and Media Semiotics

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Within the Roman Jakobson's linguistic model of communication, the conative function is defined in terms of the effects of the message on the behavior of the addressee. The studies of the effects of mass communication made obvious, since the beginning, the fact that the addressee is a passive element without force to avoid the influence of the addresser. But later models come to show that public is not amorphous and undifferentiated, and, moreover, it is active in receiving the message transmitted by the addresser. The semiotic view on communication leads to the change of emphasis within the models of communication, from the transmission of the message to the exchange of meanings. Media semiotics, focused on the study of meanings transmitted by the media, is emerged exactly through the interpretation of the conative function within the organicist paradigm.

Keywords: effects of mass communication, models of communication, myth, connotation, meaning


The importance of the receiver in the process of communication was not appreciated at the beginning of the first theories of communication. The mechanistic models, that emphasize the transmission of the message, hold the addressee is passive and easy to influence it. The theories that studied the effects of mass communication thought the influences on the behavior of receiver must be seen through the stimulus-response model, in which every message always has an effect on public. Roman Jakobson's linguistic model of communication distinguishes among the functions of language the conative one, focused on the addressee and defined in terms of the effects of the message on the behavior of the addressee. The passage, in the sciences of communication, to models that no longer look the receiver only as passive element, and then, to semiotic models that shift the focus on the receiver, in addition to the study of the effects of mass communication from the perspective of the meanings produced by the addresser and understood by the addressee led to the emergence of media semiotics.

1. Roman Jakobson's Conative Function

In 1960, in a text entitled Closing statements: Linguistics and poetics, Roman Jakobson expressed his theory of communication. Analyzing the elements of a verbal communication, he identifies six functions of language, each of them being focused on the one or the other of the elements. Each speech act requires the presence of six elements: the addresser, one who sends a message, the addressee, one who receives that message, the context referred to the message, also called the referent, the code that offers the rules for structuring the message, which is common to the two partners of communication, the contact that concerns a connection made by a physical and psychological channel between them. Jakobson shows schematically the elements of the communication process as in following figure:1

Each of these factors led to the different functions of language. These functions are not present separately in the verbal communication, but they coexist in any communicative process, predominantly one or the other. The six functions are: 1) the emotive function, focused on the addresser; 2) the conative function, focused on the addressee; 3) the referential function, focused on the context (referent); 4) the poetic function, focused on message; 5) the phatic function, focused on the contact; 6) the metalingual function, focused on the code. Thus, the above scheme of elements of communication is rewritten by Jakobson as one of functions:2

The conative function was anticipated, as Jakobson says, by the Organon model of language al lui Karl Bühler,3 outlined for the first time in 1934, in Sprachtheorie. Considering language as a necessary instrument (organon) for communication between people over things, Bühler describes the instrumental feature of the linguistic sign by a set of its three functions, called expression (symptom), appeal (sygnal) and representation (symbol). …

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