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Language Use


Bloom and Lahey (1978) divide language into three separate but overlapping components:

The overlap of these in the centre of the diagram below represents knowledge of language and a successful integration of content, form and use to understand and transmit messages.

Language, content, form and use

The Integration of Content, Form and Use

Here we summarize what is meant by USE.


Use is typically thought of as having two aspects (Lahey, 1988):


Function refers to the reasons why people communicate. These are the goals of language. Of course, the number of reasons seems almost limitless. Some examples include:

  • transmitting ideas
  • sharing information
  • passing messages
  • telling stories to make someone laugh
  • calming down an anxious person
  • expressing love
  • declaring an allegiance
  • teaching a skill
  • asking questions
  • threatening someone
  • expressing emotion
  • persuading


Context refers to how people both understand and choose from among alternative linguistic forms in order to reach the same (or different) goals (Harris, 2008). For example, if I want someone to close a door – perhaps because there is a draught and I am getting cold – I could say any of the following:

  • Shut the door!
  • Would you mind shutting the door, please?
  • Are you going to shut the door?
  • Were you born in a field?
  • Oh, it’s chilly in here.

Now, each may serve the purpose of getting the door closed but they clearly carry different interactional meanings. How they are responded to may be influenced by such things as the social status of the participants, the degree of intimacy between them, shared knowledge, and so on.

In linguistic terms, Bloom and Lahey’s notion of use appears to be directly related to the field of pragmatics (Harris, 2008:37).


Bloom, L. and Lahey, M. (1978) Language Development and Language Disorders New York: Wiley.

Harris, J. (2008) Development of Early Communication Unit 3, Language in Development Module, DE course Speech and Language Difficulties, School of Education, The University of Birmingham, UK.

Lahey, M. (1988) ‘What is language?’ In Language Disorders and Language Development London: Collier Macmillan.