Formal Versus Functional Language Theory

Formal Versus Functional Language Theory - Spencer Coffman

Understanding how a language works can be useful when learning a new language. When you can see the practicality of how a language is constructed and how it is used you may be better able to understand it. Here are two theories of how a language works. Understanding them will help you gain a better understanding of how you should go about learning a language. If you agree with one theory more than the other, then try to learn the language based on those principles. Combine that with different language learning methods in this article and different language learning strategies in this article and your language learning experience will be much more successful.

Formal language theory, or formal grammar, is a set of formal rules that dictate the structures in language. The structures are things like words, sentences, paragraphs, et cetera. This theory says that the structure of language as the starting point of any language and little attention is paid to semantics or pragmatics. These rules describe how to form valid structures from the language’s alphabet according to syntax and grammar is thought of as a language generator of sorts.

Functional language theory, or functional grammar, is an approach to the study of language that regards the functions of language to be the starting point. This theory conceives of language as a social interaction and seeks to explain why one linguistic form is more appropriate for a certain situation than another. The main principle is that structures are best analyzed and understood by the functions they carry out.

The Difference

The functional approach differs from the formal approach in that the formal approach seeks to define the different structures of language and the way they relate to each other a set of formal rules, whereas the functional approach defines the functions performed by language and then relates those functions to the structures that carry them out. In other words, the formal approach focuses on the little technical components that build a language and the functional approach focuses on what the components do as a whole.

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Thank you,
Spencer Coffman

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