Social Purpose & Function in VCE English Language – LearnMate

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Difference Between Social Purpose and Function in VCE English Language!

In this article, I will aim to demystify both ‘social purpose’ and ‘function’ in VCE English Language, with both terms causing some confusion amongst English Language students. Some teachers have been saying that they’re the same thing, while others say they’re completing different.

When I was in Year 12 in 2012, I was always told by my teacher that these terms could be used interchangeably, however, due to the study design being updated or 2016-2020, I believe the authors of the textbook are wishing to create a distinction between these two terms, though I can’t be certain with this fact.

So, while doing an investigation online I found that there was little info on Google to create a clear distinction between the two, so I decided to ask Kate Burridge (the best person to ask for this sort of stuff!). I sent her an email and got a very quick reply (thank you Kate!!) and this was her reply. It seems that Kate Burridge creates a distinction between the two terms, however, has noted that YOU WILL GENERALLY NOT BE PENALISED IF YOU DON’T CREATE A DISTINCTION IN THE EXAM. This is important to note, however, check with your teacher if he/she will penalise you because you don’t distinguish between these two terms.

Hello Dmitri!

Interesting — I’ve just had another question on exactly this from someone else! And it’s a good question.

In the textbook, you’ll find that ‘function’ doesn’t appear in our glossary or index —  we’ve not used it as a ‘term of art’ (other than its specific use to mean ‘grammatical’, as in “function word”). 

So the function is used quite generally (akin to everyday usage). The way we’ve defined ‘social purpose’ in the book is much like ‘social function’: “Refers to the use language is put within a particular social setting (for example formal versus informal)”. So this definition is akin to a specific sociolinguistic situation — (in)formality, intimacy etc. 

But because there are so many different uses of these labels out there, especially in my own discipline of linguistics, I thought I’d better check with Debbie De Laps — I wanted to make sure I had the distinction as it is understood in the study guide.  This was her response:

[So – function is a broad description, usually without supporting evidence, such as “to persuade”, “to inform”, while social purpose would be, for example, “providing information to readers about how dictionary editors make decisions about what to include in the dictionary” (thinking about Sue Butler’s open letter about extending the definition of ‘misogyny’) and would include linguistic examples from the text to illustrate.

Mind you, in practice the distinction between function and social purpose is pretty murky and mostly it’s not marked down if the terms are used interchangeably. What is NOT rewarded is if student dispenses with the discussion of purpose/function with a simple label like “to persuade”].

It seems to me you have understood it this way too. 

But the difference between the terms is indeed murky, as Debbie describes! (I was pleased to see that students wouldn’t be marked down if they use the terms similarly).

Hope this helps!

Best wishes


THANK YOU KATE BURRIDGE! Very much appreciated. 

From what I have gathered from Kate’s response, the ‘function’ is the simplistic purpose of the text – ‘to inform’, ‘to persuade’, ‘to entertain’, while the ‘social purpose’ is a much more in-depth elaboration of that function. As Debbie De Laps stated, the function is a broad description, usually without supporting evidence, such as “to persuade”, “to inform”, while the social purpose would be, for example, “providing information to readers about how dictionary editors make decisions about what to include in the dictionary”.

Kate has also stated that you MUST not just say the text’s function is to ‘inform’, without saying about what. You may provide a reason for that function; to persuade readers to purchase a new Holden car etc.

I sincerely hope that helps with your SACs and the exam too! If you have any questions, feel free to let me know 🙂

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Social Purpose & Function in VCE English Language – LearnMate

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