What is Functionalism?

Functionalism is an approach to linguistics which contends that language is the way it is not because of our genetic code and a hypothetical language module in the brain, but because it adapts to the functions it is used in. Functionalists also tend to think language is determined by the general cognitive faculty, rather than a specific language faculty. Thus, factors like topicality, tracking referents in discourse, iconicity and so forth are adduced as explanatory parameters in accounting for language. In a formalist approach to language, language is held to be a completely autonomous system, and external motivations are not considered kosher. This is a methodological disagreement between the two camps, with far-reaching implications for what linguists should be doing in their research.
Created and Maintained by: Nick Nicholas, opoudjis [AT] optusnet . com . au
Last revision: 1999-3-30