Forms of Language Oral and Written: Comparison & Functions

Forms of Language Oral and Written: Their Comparison & Functions

Written language became artificial human memory, and served to convey information when oral means could not be utilized – words traveled over the seas, countries, cultures, even time. Forms of language oral and written exist side by side to this day, being equally important for human communication.

Functions of Language – Three C’s

Language performs many different functions (scientists distinguish up to 25 of them), however, primary language function is to serve as a communication tool.

The Primary function of language is the communicative function – using it to communicate certain information among people. Oral and written communication allows one individual - a speaker - to express their thoughts, and the other - a perceiver - to understand them, that is, to somehow react, take note, and accordingly change their behavior or their mental attitudes.

There is also cognitive function. Word derives from Latin – “cognitio” stands for “knowledge, perception.” Cognitive function means that language is an instrument of consciousness – it reflects results of a person's mental activity. It is also largely involved in the perception process and learning about the world. It helps people learn via verbal communication, allowing interaction with written sources – books, articles, etc.

Cumulative function involves languages’ ability to help with accumulation and preservation of knowledge.

People take note of their surroundings, but experience of a single person is limited. A language lives much longer than a person, sometimes even longer than entire nations. Written word vs spoken word both help to effectively accumulate knowledge.

Function and Form

Of course, there are many other language functions that should not be overlooked, such as:

  • Nominative function (“nomine” means “name” in Latin) – is used to name objects, processes, events, etc.;
  • Interpretive function – helps to reveal meaning behind all existing things;
  • Phatic function – allows people to establish relationships between themselves and maintain them. If we compare spoken word vs written word, the former is more effective in building relations between individuals;
  • Directive function – the ability to impact someone using language, for example, give orders, directions verbally or via written words;
  • Social (interactive) function – ability to accommodate social communication;
  • Expressive function – people rely on words in expressing their emotions, sharing feelings, describing mood, convening psychological or physical state, etc.
  • Esthetical (artistic) function – people can create literary art pieces that can take many forms, such as poems, novels, short stories, etc.
  • Spiritual (religious) function – is often popular during spiritual practices for chanting and proclamation;
  • Ethnocultural function – serves as a means of cultural unification for a group of people that share it.

Oral and Written Language

One of modern linguistics founders, Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) believed that written and spoken word represent two different sign systems – the second exists solely for the purpose of representing the first.

Oral language is primary and written is secondary. Oral speech can exist without corresponding written form, but it can’t be the other way around. In fact, the vast majority of languages ​​in the world only recently acquired a written form. It is curious, that many languages in the world still exist in their oral form – out of 7,117 living languages 3,135 are likely unwritten.

Speech as Form of Linguistic Communication

Oral speech is a form of language that is expressed in pronounced and audible utterances. This oral language definition means that for communication, words are both spoken and heard. Speech usually has a situational nature. Therefore it is less detailed than written. Often, with such communication, fewer words are required to understand each other than in written communication.

When dissecting oral language, one can discover that it consists of several components:

  • Phonology – it defines how sounds are organized, how they are grouped to form words.
  • Morphology – teaches about the inner structure of words and how they are formed and changed in order to convey a different meaning.
  • Grammar (syntax) – provides a number of rules, which help to understand the relationship between words; how they should be combined together to make sentences.
  • Vocabulary & semantics – vocabulary is a set of words that a person uses in speech (expressive vocabulary) and is able to understand (receptive vocabulary), while semantics studies word meaning.
  • Discourse – shows how tongue is used in communication, in a social situation as a means of conveying certain meanings.
  • Pragmatics – considers meaning behind words in specific circumstances, how it can change depending on context of interaction. It helps understand the exact meaning of the words in a specific social situation.

What is Written Language?

Forming a written language definition is tricky. It can be described as a representation of spoken or gestural language by means of a writing system. No natural language is only written. Written form changes more slowly than the corresponding oral one. Putting it in writing helps with its preservation, but often does not reflect the current state of oral form. Written form exists in order to consolidate as well as transmit information. Written speech is presented, for example, in books, personal or business letters, official documents, etc.

Writing is often contextual & indirect. That means that all necessary information is contained only in a text itself. Writing is usually addressed to an unknown reader. In this case, one cannot count on supplementing content with details that are usually understandable without words during direct personal contact.

Differences Between Oral and Written Language

The following chart will help you with a better understanding of spoken and written language and their distinction:




Graphical (conveyed with symbols)

     Oral (conveyed with sounds)



Very detailed

     Requires less detail

Uses punctuation, text structuring

     Uses intonation, gestures, mimics

Must meet requirements of spelling, syntax, style

     Doesn’t have these limitations

More thought through

     Largely spontaneous

Only one party has to be present – the reader

     Both parties of communication must be present

Exist in the moment and after its creation

     Exists only in the moment of creation (when spoken)

Monological by nature

     Dialogical by nature

Structure is complex – long sentences, lists, charts are often used, avoids repetition

     Simplistic structure - uses simple sentences; no additional structural components; uses repetition

Often uses personal pronouns (I, we, they)

      Personal pronouns are usually avoided


      Informal – uses slang words, local terms, ect.


You may ask, what is the relationship between oral and written language? They are but different ways to achieve the same goal of communication.

Similarities Between Oral and Written Forms

Despite their plentiful differences, oral and written languages are also very similar:

  • In their core lies a common purpose – to enable interaction between people, convey the meaning of words and transfer information, ensuring understanding between individuals.
  • Both oral and written word is susceptible to change over time, they both grow and evolve.
  • Both are delivered using some structure to ensure consistency along with communication fluidity.

Communication faces many challenges, especially in modern times. To better understand one another, people often require translation services, especially with isolated languages like Korean. To help you out we put together a list of best Korean translation services.

Power Behind Language

Both were known for moving people and living an imprint on humanity. There are many famous speeches that are remembered to this day because they had such a tremendous impact – for example, the speech “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr. that expresses hope in a fight against racism.

Written words can be powerful because they can convey certain messages indefinitely through time – as to this day, we can learn from the Bible, ancient scrolls, etc. It is not the written and spoken word that has an impact – it is the idea behind the word that does.

You would not be able to read this article if it wasn’t for the language existence. Since the beginning of times, humans have used words to describe the world around them, their lives, hopes, ideas. We should all take a minute to be thankful for humanities’ creative mind, dedication to seeking out and preserving knowledge for the benefit of all mankind!