Halliday’s Functions of Language in the Child Language Acquisition Debate (by Nick Christodoulou)

8 June 2009

Several attempts have been made to catalogue the different functions of language, and to chart child language development in terms of the increasing range of these functions to be found in the growing child’s repertoire. Michael Halliday’s taxonomy is documented below:- Instrumental: Language used to fulfil a need on the part of the speaker. Directly concerned with obtaining food, drink and comfort.

– Regulatory: Language used to influence the behaviour of others. Concerned with persuading / commanding / requesting other people to do things you want.

– Interactional: Language used to develop social relationships and ease the process of interaction. Concerned with the phatic dimension of talk.

– Personal: Language used to express the personal preferences and identity of the speaker. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Here I am!’ function – announcing oneself to the world.

– Representational: Language used to exchange information. Concerned with relaying or requesting information.

– Heuristic: Language used to learn and explore the environment. Child uses language to learn; this may be questions and answers, or the kind of running commentary that frequently accompanies children’s play.

– Imaginative: Language used to explore the imagination. May also accompany play as children create imaginary worlds, or may arise from storytelling.

Should you want further reading on language acquisition, these websites are very helpful and explain all the relevant hypotheses and theories:




(By Nicholas Christodoulou)


  1. hi. the definitions here are very clear. i read them in Brown’s book but it was very difficult for me to undrestand.


    from maryam
  2. oh.,,, what a very specific definition…. thanks. it helps me a lot.

    from yvonne taguiling
  3. this is fantastic work,brilliant please keepit up

  4. Hi,realy this article help me to much.thanks alot.

    from Asiya
  5. which one is not Halliday`s perspective to define social context?
    field of discourse, tenor of discourse, mode of discourse or function of discourse?

    from hamideh
  6. precise and concise, thanks sir

    from tarek
  7. good but short

    from badirul islam
  8. These are great and easy to understand definitions of Halliday’s Language Functions; however, you left out Instrumental which is a focus on getting wants and needs met.

    from CH
  9. Apologies about that and thanks for this!!

    from francisgilbert
  10. Helped me a lot.

    from ROHAN
  11. I like and hlghli appreciated

    from ROHAN
  12. Thanks a lot,but u missed the instrumental function.

    from Seedi Adam
  13. Thanks!! Was very clear. 🙂

    from Gus
  14. well, very nice and helpful work, but it could be much better if you give examples for each function.

  15. Yes, you are probably right.

    from francisgilbert
  16. Can anyone help please? What the functions of language is in the young child?
    I am writing my exams on child development and this is one of the questions that ‘I need assistance with.

    Kind regards
    Grady Du Toit

    from Grady Du Toit
  17. is “How are you?” a heuristic function?

    from Mustafa
  18. This is helpful. Keep it up!

    from veronica kwenda
  19. It is nice, the definition here is clear. but i need more info..

    from Eduardo Quisay
  20. Yes, it could be if it was a genuine inquiry about finding out what someone felt, rather than a form of politeness.

    from francisgilbert

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