Phatic communication is verbal or non-verbal communication that has a social function, such as to start a conversation, greet someone, or say goodbye, rather than an informative function. Learners sometimes find it difficult to recognise phatic communication. For example, a learner may interpret the American English phatic structure ‘What's up?' as a question that needs an answer.

Waving hello is non-verbal phatic communication and saying ‘How's it going?' is verbal.

In the classroom
To explore phatics, learners can analyse the verbal and non-verbal phatic communication from a video extract, and then prepare new dialogues with more examples.

Further links:


Submitted by Debris Rutkauskaite on Thu, 11/08/2012 - 19:35


Please notice, I have omitted the second word because it is faulty. The original term (from B.Malinowski, 1923) was 'phatic communion'. Later the object behind the word, which is trivial everyday conversation, various introductions, concluding words and remarks in real life situations and in all other modes of discourse, were referred to as the phatic use of language. Some authors used the idiomatic phrase 'small talk' for this kind of socialisation, while others called it talk, conversation, rapport, etc. The original term is about verbal sharing, that is why it is 'communion', not verbal transactions, which would be communication. It would be nice if the faulty term were not spread among the learners of English, especially that the term 'phatic communion' appeared in English, although the origin of the word 'phatic' is Greek and means talk, rumours.


Marija Liudvika Rutkauskaite 

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