Saturday, April 28, 2012


Eleanor came across the term phatic communication and asked for some explanation.

Communication may serve various purposes — intellectual, emotional, or social, for instance. Factual communication may be shallow at times, but it is meant to provide information. Evaluative communication is usually deeper; it conveys judgment or thoughtful opinion that goes beyond merely discussing the weather. Intimate communication involves the exchange of emotions.

Phatic communication is social in purpose. It is meant as an icebreaker, a way to establish social rapport. It is small talk and often employs clichés (How ya doin’?) but it is essential in interpersonal relationships. 

The term was established by cultural anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in 1923 ["The problem of meaning in primitive languages"in Ogden, C. & Richards, I., The Meaning of Meaning, Routledge, London.] He formed it from a Greek word meaning spoken.

As Malinowski explained it, “There can be no doubt that we have here a new type of linguistic use—phatic communion I am tempted to call it ‥.a type of speech in which ties of union are created by a mere exchange of words.”

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