The functions of silence

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The roles of eloquent silence in each of the six functions of language in Roman Jakobson's communicative model (1960) are considered. First, pause, being outside language, is differentiated from (eloquent) silence, a means chosen by the speaker for significant verbal communication alongside speech; it is not the listener's silence nor the silencing of the speaker. Linguistic and non-linguistic contributions to the study of eloquent silence are then briefly reviewed. Next, the roles of eloquent silence in Jakobson's model are analyzed. (Eloquent) silence, as a linguistic sign, conveys information in the referential function (zero-sign and passive constructions); it is an iconic affective way of expressing emotions (e.g., emptiness, intimacy) in the emotive function. In respect of the conative function, (eloquent) silence performs direct and indirect speech acts. Caesura, metaphors and ellipses are just a few examples of poetic silence. Silence is a means of maintaining contact and alliance in the phatic function. The various roles of silence in the metalinguistic function range from its being a discourse marker to reflecting the 'right to silence'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1909-1938
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2008


  • Discourse analysis
  • Eloquent silence
  • Functions of language
  • Jakobson
  • Language and speech
  • Psychoanalysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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