8 julio, 2024

Poetic function of language: what it is, characteristics, examples

What is the poetic function of language?

The poetic function of language It is the one that is characterized by using the literary language, focused on the way in which a message is transmitted. With this function we can provide beauty or, rather, aesthetic value to our words. The difference between beauty and aesthetics is important, we will soon see why.

Let’s give an example. If, to get someone’s attention, I say: «It’s a rainy morning», the chances are that my interlocutor confirms my observation and complements it with one of his own.

On the other hand, if I say: «The sky cries inconsolably under its gray cloak», most likely I will not receive any response.

And not only because of the strangeness that my interlocutor will experience, but also because, even if he has no knowledge of linguistics, he will intuitively understand that whoever speaks like this is not really interested in communicating his observation, but in drawing attention to the very way in which he speaks.

What is the poetic function for?

It is an autotelic function

The objective of the poetic function is to underline or highlight the very way in which the message is presented. Said in the language of linguists, it is an autotelic function.

This strange word, of Greek origin, can be divided into two parts: carwhich means about itself, and thelos, means purpose or objective. This means that the poetic function is one in which the purpose of the message (understood as form, not as content) is the message itself.

All literary texts (novel, story, drama, poetry, essay), but especially those that belong to poetry, are built taking into account the poetic function.

Conveys beauty and aesthetic value

Now, this does not always translate into a language that is distinguished by its beauty. Some verses by the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado say:

last night when i was sleeping

I dreamed, blessed illusion!

that a fountain flowed

inside my heart.

When reading them, we are undoubtedly moved by their beauty and sincere and deep sentiment. But what do we feel when reading this fragment of a press article by the Spanish writer Pérez Reverte?

Well nothing. That Sunday arrives, and the night before I moored next to Tío Nico and in front of Pasión after walking in there for three or four days… without reading a newspaper, or listening to the radio, or seeing Father Apeles on TV or seeing TV itself, that is, total Martian. And I land on Sunday, as I say…, and I tear off the cabin and also hose down the deck. And then I give it to myself, I carry dirt and salt even on my DNI, and I shave my face, where, by the way, I have more and more gray hair in my beard.

Although it is not beautiful, it is funny; it captures us, makes us smile, entertains us. Because? Are the ideas you propose in your article very interesting and convincing? No, it’s because of the way he talks to us, the way he writes.

This text by Pérez Reverte is also marked by its poetic function, and for this reason, like Machado’s poem, it has aesthetic value. However, unlike the verses of the Sevillian bard, it has little beauty.

language functions

Through language we can express our thoughts, emotions and opinions; we can try to convince our friends that our opinions are the most correct and that we are right. We can also, through a conventional greeting, capture the attention of a person we are interested in.

If we read a badly worded sentence, we can explain in grammatical terms what the error consists of and what is the correct form, because the language is used even to talk about the language itself.

Many things can be done through language. And each of these things that we can do is called a function. Precisely the poetic function is one of the six functions of language.

Characteristics of the poetic function of language

1. It provides beauty and/or aesthetic value to the language.

2. It is autotelic, that is, the message finds its purpose in itself, in its own formal structure, and not in the communicative effectiveness.

3. From the communicative point of view, the poetic function is inefficient, since it produces messages that can be reasonably interpreted in several different ways.

4. Although its name makes explicit mention of poetry, the truth is that the poetic function can also appear in press articles (Larra, Azorín), in literary essays (such as those by Unamuno, Picón Salas, Fernando Savater, etc. ), in novels (Gabriel Miró, Herman Hesse), in stage comedies (all the theater of the Golden Age) and in songs (such as Henrich Heine’s poems set to music by Schubert or Bob Dylan’s lyrics).

5. Make abundant use of literary or rhetorical figures, such as metaphor.

Importance of the poetic function of language

The poetic function of language is the foundation on which the vast edifice of universal literature is built. Without it, there would be no poetry, nor legends and myths, nor stories, nor novels. Nor would we enjoy stage dramas or comedies.

Furthermore, there would be no sayings, riddles, puns, songs or street compliments. The matter would even affect the economy, since it would not be possible to invent advertising slogans either.

Without the poetic function of language, humanity would definitely lose one of its most valuable spiritual assets.

Examples of the poetic function of language

1) A city and a balcony

Let’s enter the cathedral; Brand new, white, just done. In a corner, next to the chapel where the Virgin of Quinta Angustia is venerated, is the small door of the bell tower. Let’s go up to the tower; From the top you can see the entire city and the countryside. We have a wonderful, magical spyglass: with it we will discover even the smallest details.


2) Ithaca

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca

It asks for the path to be long,

full of adventures, full of experiences.

Do not fear the Laestrygonians or the Cyclops

nor the angry Poseidon,

such beings you will never find on your way,

if your thinking is high, if you select

it is the emotion that touches your spirit and your body.

Neither the Laestrygonians nor the Cyclops

nor will you find the wild Poseidon,

if you don’t carry them inside your soul,

if your soul does not set them up before you.

Konstantino Kavafis

3) Haiku

purple lily,

I look at you and it grows in me

This poem.

Matsuo Basho

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