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The Conative Function of the Language Both in everyday life and in the field of the linguistic sciences, the term of l inguistic communication is used to refer to a double-faced reality: communicatin g about something and communicating to somebody . In the first case, the languag e is said to develop the referential function; in the latter case, its function is the conative one. According to the same linguist and philosopher of language mentioned ear lier, Roman Jakobson, this latter function has as its object of focus the interl ocutor / recipient of the message; it is more explicitly described in terms of t he locutor s concern about the interlocutor, of his formulating of the message in such a way as to make the latter react either verbally, by answering a question, psychologically, by changing his own convictions or feelings, or materially, by adopting a certain behaviour or attitude as a result of the locutor s request. In most cases the message bears the formal mark of the locutor s expecting the in terlocutor to react, or if not marked this expectation is one of the possible me anings that the structure of the sentence may employ. The transfer of information between the locutor and the interlocutor entails a t ransformation of the latter. Sometimes this transformation is at the level of hi s knowledge of the world, both in terms of quantity and quality, other times it is a transformation of his attitude, or actions, or feelings and emotions, etc. This last aspect is the reason why the conative function of the language is said to have a pragmatic side and is approached in this section in close relationsh ip with J. L. Austin and J. R. Searle s pragmatic theory of speech acts. These two linguists consider that each sentence uttered is designed to serve a s pecific pragmatic function: to inform, to warn, to order, to promise, to questio n about a fact, to thank, to apologise, to congratulate, etc. The function it se rves is critical to communication as any locutor expects his interlocutors to re cognise this function and to act accordingly. There are situations in which the function of an utterance is misunderstood due to external factors, such as nois e or the distance in space between the two participants in the discussion, or to other factors of which one could be the clash between the speakers linguistic, p aralinguistic, ideological and cultural competences. Psychological factors such as shyness, fear, absent-mindedness, etc. may affect negatively the reception o f the function of the message, even if everything else about the sentence has be en taken in perfectly (its informational content, for instance). According to the same linguists every time speakers utter a sentence, they are at tempting to accomplish something with the words , that is to say they are performin g a speech act , called by J. L. Austin an illocutionary act. There are direct illocutionary acts and indirect illocutionary acts. In the direct ones the performative verb or the verb that can be used performati vely is explicitly provided: 1). I ask you to tell me who that woman was. 2). I order you to shut up. 3). I promise I ll never do that again. Some other performative verbs are: advise, affirm, announce, apologise, bet, com mand, congratulate, pronounce, request, recommend, sentence, state, suggest, tha nk, urge, warn, etc. These are also called verbs of declaration or verba dicendi . Sometimes, even though it is not explicit, the performative verb can be easily i nferred from the underlying semantics of the shortened construction that frequen tly contains a verb in the imperative or the conditional mood: 4). 5). 6). 7). 8). ion) Shut up! (order) I ll never do that again. (promise) You should go there and see what is all about. (advice) Pass the salt, please. (request) This book is very interesting. You should read it, too. (recommendat

9). Well done! (congratulation; if the tone is ironic - criticism) 10). Who was that man? (request for information, asking) In English, commands / orders and suggestions may also be formulated in the 1st person plural: 11). Let s / Let us go on with the game. (suggestion) All these direct illocutionary acts, as illustrated above, are easy to understan d by the interlocutor and more often than not he has no difficulty in grasping w hat their function is. But there are also indirect illocutionary acts whose formulation makes it someti mes difficult for the interlocutor to understand how they should react, and ther efore he may fail to comply with the function of these acts. In such cases inton ation is of no help. For example, when the sentence It s hot in here is used to ge t someone to open the window (i.e. its function is request for service), if the interlocutor replies No, it isn t, this may show that he either misunderstood the function of the message, taking the sentence for a declarative with referential function with which he disagrees, or that he refuses to open the door, in both c ases the speech act as intended by the locutor proves to be a failure in terms o f the expected result. Nevetheless, indirect illocutionary acts are very resourc eful as far as the psychological backgrounds of the two participants in the disc ussion are concerned. Some verbal exchanges between two speakers are constrained by cultural factors o r social conventions. Among these there can be mentioned: greeting, introducing people, taking leave, thanking, etc. These speech acts follow specific structura l patterns that are generally known by everybody living in a certain cultural ar ea. These patterns can be considered clichd conversational frameworks. When such a pattern is broken, as in the following examples, the result is usually humorou s, if not offending, due to the puzzlement of those who initiate or to those who are witnesses to such exchanges. The reasons why the pattern is not observed ma y be complex: either the addressee does not know the linguistic customs of the p lace, or he does not consider the social requirement to comply with the rules of linguistic behaviour in such situations. In the next fragment the two speaking characters belong to two different worlds, therefore there is a clash between their codes of verbal behaviour: 12). [ ] at last the Caterpillar [ ] addressed her [ ]: Who are you? This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation [ ] I think you ought to tell me who you are, first. Why? said the Caterpillar. Here was another puzzling question; [ ] Alice could not think of any good reason What is puzzling to Alice in this dialogue is the unexpected way in whic h the Caterpillar approaches her. The conversational pattern she is used to in s uch a situation in the real world to which she belongs is that of saying Hallo!, then introducing oneself, to which the interlocutor does the same, at the end o f which both say How do you do? or Nice to meet you. This socio-linguistic patte rn is totally foreign to The Caterpillar, who lives in Wonderland, therefore has a totally different perspective upon life and a queer linguistic behaviour. As Alice did not know anything about that in advance, she interprets the situation and her interlocutor using the instruments she is familiar with; judgmental at f irst about the Caterpillar s good manners, she ends up by getting puzzled at his a pparent lack of consideration. This is the primary meaning of this fragment. What lies below this surfa ce is Lewis Carroll s destroying such socio-linguistic convention rendered by the conversational pattern mentioned above and inviting the careful reader to ponder upon its hidden cultural explanations and upon the ensuing psychological effect s that a speaker s attempt of not observing it may have. This is not to say that t

he author is moralistic. He only illustrates how some questions, such as Who are you? And Why?, which are largely used in everyday conversations, become out-ofplace when it comes to verbal exchanges of set patterns. It is common knowledge and commonly consented upon in the English speaking cultu re that when people meet for the first time they are supposed to talk about some topic before they get better acquainted with each other. The most common topic that has a cultural characteristic in such respect is weather. Being a neutral s ubject, it is considered the best one for an ice-breaker in a conversation. In any other context, the main function of such an exchange would be the referentia l one. But in this situation its function is conative: the speakers take and giv e each other the time to reduce the distance and to get over the emotional barri ers that such a social interaction involves without keeping silent. Such an exchange is illustrated in the fragment below; only it has humorous effe cts due to the discrepancy between the common informal language required by such small talks and the highly formal register actually used by the main character, Liza. Freddy s reaction to Liza s words is only natural: 13). Mrs. Higgins [at last, conversationally] Will it rain, do you think? Liza: The shallow depression in the west of these islands is likely to mo ve slowly in an easterly direction. There are no indications of any great change in the barometrical situation. Freddy: Ha! ha! how awfully funny! What is striking in this dialogue is Liza s inappropriate pretentiousness and artificiality of formulation which sounds very funny to Freddy. The remarkab le length of her answer, the structural complexity and the undeniable clarity of ideas in the two sentences she utters are characteristic of a meteorologist s sci entific speech, therefore totally inappropriate when it comes to a common person engaged in an everyday verbal exchange, such as the five-o clock tea talk here. Fre ddy behaves as any other person would under such circumstances in real life. And this is what G. B. Shaw points out: small talk should stick to a simple, natura l pattern and wording in order to sound natural and to function as what it is me ant to. To the reader of this play, however, the humorous effect achieved by thi s fragment also resides in the way in which the contradiction between appearance and reality is given shape. Eliza seems to be a lady, but she is actually a flo rist belonging to a low social class. This contradiction is misinterpreted by th e participants in this conversation: what is appearance is taken for reality, an d the other way round. This is one of the typically Shavian inversions that empl oyed here and in some other places of this play as well. The next example illustrates a verbal exchange in which the speaking character u ses an indirect question, apparently referential in function, which is interpret ed as an indirect request for a service even if it could have been a request for an answer: 14). . Considering this fragment in the light established by the previous globa l context of the play, Eliza s reaction to Higgins s words is the most natural one: she is a submissive servant, always trying not to offend her master. Later in th e play it becomes clear that Higgins s intention was to get an answer and not a se rvice to his indirect question. This linguistic exchange proves to have been a s ample of unsuccessful communication when he criticises Eliza s humble attitude tow ards him: 15). You were a fool: I think a woman fetching a man s slippers is a disgusting sig ht: did I ever fetch your slippers? [ ] No use slaving for me and saying you want to be cared for. Higgins: I wonder where the devil my slippers are! [ ] Eliza returns with a pair of large down-at-heel slippers

In the extended fragment below the writer points out the importance of the psych ological and ontological extra-linguistic contexts for the smooth functioning of an illocutionary act. The fragment renders the discussion between Mr. Farraday and his butler, Stevens, an employee of impeccable social and linguistic behavio ur, as well as the latter s psychological struggle to live up to his employer s alle ged expectations. Stevens is also the 1st person narrator in the novel: 16). It is quite possible, then, that my employer fully expects me to respond to his bantering in a like manner, and considers my failure to de so a form of negl igence. This is, as I say, a matter which has given me much concern. But I must say this business of bantering is not a duty I feel I can ever discharge with en thusiasm. [ ] I did though on one occasion not long ago, pluck up the courage to attem pt the required sort of reply. I was serving Mr. Farraday morning coffee in the breakfast room when he said to me: I suppose it wasn t you making that crowing noise this morning, Ste vens? My employer was referring, I realized, to a pair of gypsies gathering unwanted i ron who passed by earlier making their customary calls. As it happened, I had th e same morning been giving thought to the dilemma of whether or not I was expect ed to reciprocate my employer s bantering, and had been seriously worried at how h e might be viewing my repeated failure to respond to such openings. I therefore set about thinking of some witty reply [ ] I said: More like swallows than crows, I would have said, sir. From the migratory aspect . And I followed this with a suitably modest smile to indicate without ambiguity t hat I had made a witticism [ ]. I beg your pardon, Stevens? Only then did it occur to me that, of course, my witticism would not be easily appreciated by someone who was not aware that it was gypsies who had passed by. The author of the novel from which the excerpt above was taken proves to be a fine observer of the intricate psychological processes that a cooperative interlocutor - Stevens in this case - may go through when he is in the position to understand the actual meaning of an ambiguous message, and implicitly its fun ction. Non-verbal psychological factors such as the locutor s intentions, expectat ions, knowledge of the referent are difficult to infer from the informational co ntent of the message alone, especially when there is a difference in the social status and cultural backgrounds of the participants in the discussion. To these factors there must be added the participants willingness to cooperate, without wh ich any verbal exchange would be a failure. What is interesting in the fragment above is the author s suggesting another psych ological factor that might affect the successful reception of the informational content and function of a message: Stevens s certainty that he knows what is going on in his employer s mind, which in the end proves to have been only unfounded su ppositions. A natural way of avoiding such false suppositions is to ask for, or to be given, explanations about how certain words, ideas, even illocutionary fun ctions of the message are to be interpreted in order for verbal communication to be successful. This is the topic of analysis in the next section.