What is language
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What is Language?. When we study human language, we are approaching what some might call the “human essence” the distinctive qualities of mind that are, so far as we know, unique to man. (Noam Chomsky, Language and Mind). What is language? (cont.).

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What is Language?

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What is language

What is Language?

When we study human language, we are approaching what some might call the “human essence” the distinctive qualities of mind that are, so far as we know, unique to man. (Noam Chomsky, Language and Mind)

What is language cont

What is language? (cont.)

  • Language distinguishes human from animals. E.g. to some people of Africa, a newborn child is a kintu, a “thing,” not yet a muntu, a “person”.

  • What does it mean to know a language?

    --speak and be understood in the


    ---this ability requires profound knowledge

    that speakers are not aware of.

Language cont

Language (cont.)

  • E.g; Five year olds can function quite proficiently.

  • E.g. I went to school yesterday (past tense)

  • E.g. My son Ahmad Shafiq who was born in England and who now lives in San Francisco is an active rock climber.

    (two relative clauses)

Knowledge of the sound system

Knowledge of the sound system

  • Knowing sounds and (signs) in the language

  • Substituting your own native sounds to the foreign language, e.g zis and zat (French)

  • Not only the inventory of sounds but the sequence of sounds in the words, e.g ngantuk,nyamuk (Malay); eschool, estop (Spanish), Nekrumah or Enkrumah (Ghanian)

Knowledge of words

Knowledge of words

  • Know the sound units that are related to specific meanings.

  • If you do not know the language, the relationship between the speech sounds and the meanings are arbitrary.

  • E.g. house (E), jia (C), rumah (M), casa (S), bait (A), maison (F),dom (R).

Knowledge of words cont

Knowledge of words (cont.)

  • Arbitrary relationship between form (sounds) and meaning (concept) is also true in sign language. E.g. CSL and ASL.

  • Onomatopoeic words such as buzz and murmur imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.

    turkey sound in Turkey (glu-glu)

The creativity of linguistic knowledge

The creativity of Linguistic Knowledge

  • Knowledge of a language enables you to combine words to form phrases, and phrases to form sentences.

  • Noam Chomsky refers to it as creative aspect of language use.

  • All human languages permit their speakers to form indefinitely long sentences; creativity is a universal property of human language

Knowledge of sentences and nonsentences

Knowledge of Sentences and Nonsentences

  • An inventory of vocabulary is finite, the rules are finite, but the creation of sentences using these vocabulary and rules are infinite.

  • Give examples from class.

  • Knowing the words and the rules for forming sentences

What is language1

What is language?

  • So when one knows a language, one knows all of the sounds, words and the rules of the combination.

Linguistic knowledge and performance

Linguistic Knowledge and Performance

  • There’s a big difference between having the knowledge necessary to produce sentences of a language, and applying this knowledge

  • Knowledge is linguistic competence

  • Use of this knowledge in actual speech production and comprehension is linguistic performance.

Linguistic knowledge and performance1

Linguistic knowledge and performance

  • Linguistic knowledge is not conscious knowledge.

  • The linguistic system-the sounds, structures, meanings, words, and rules for putting them all together– is learned subconsciously with no awareness that rules are being learned.

What is grammar

What is Grammar?

  • The grammar of a language consists of:

    -- sounds and sound patterns

    --- basic units of meaning such as words

    --- rules to combine all of these to form

    sentences with the desired meaning.

    To understand the nature of language is to understand the internalized, unconscious set of rules that is part of every grammar of every language

Descriptive grammars

Descriptive Grammars

  • Linguists describe a language by describing the grammar that exists in the minds of its speakers.

  • Shared knowledge—common parts of the grammar—makes it possible to communicate through language.

  • It does not tell you how you should speak;

    it describes your basic linguistic knowledge.

Prescriptive grammars

Prescriptive Grammars

  • Linguists in the past such as the Greek Alexandrians in the first century or the Arabic scholars at Basra in the 8th century and English grammarians of the 18th and 19th centuries held the view of language change is corruption and there are a certain “correct” forms that all educated people should use in writing and speaking.

Language universals

Language Universals

  • Phonology– the sound system

  • Morphology– the word formation

  • Syntax—the rules of sentence formation

  • Semantics—the system of meanings

  • Pragmatics– the rules of the appropriate use of the language.

  • Those laws representing the universal properties of all languages constitute universal grammar.

The development of grammar

The development of grammar

  • Linguistic theory—describing adult speaker’s knowledge of language but also how normal children acquire the language.

  • Noam Chomsky proposes that human beings are born with an innate “blueprint” for language also referred as UG—biological endowment.

Sign languages evidence for language universals

Sign Languages: Evidence for Language Universals

  • Deaf communities—proof that humans are born with the ability to acquire language.

  • Sign language is human language without the sounds.

  • It is a visual-gestural system that uses hand, body, and facial gestures as the forms to represent words.

Animal languages

Animal “Languages”

  • “No matter how eloquently a dog may bark, he cannot tell you that his parents were poor but honest.” (Bertrand Russell)

  • “Talking” parrots

  • The Birds and the Bees (Spider’s courtship contain invariant gestures)

  • Birdcalls and bird songs (European robin, rival robins paid attention to high and low pitched notes)

  • Animals’ use of language to communicate is limited and invariant.

Animal languages1

Animal languages

  • Italian honey bee dancing behavior is set to show distance;

    --round (indicate locations near the hive)

    -- sickle (20-60 feet from the hive)

    ---tail-wagging ( distance more than 60 feet)

What we know about language

What we know about language

  • Spoken language date back at least 1600 B.C.E in Mesopotamia.

  • Language exists where there are humans.

  • There are no “primitive” languages. All languages are equally complex and capable to do their functions.

What we know about language1

What we know about language

  • 3. All languages change through time.

  • 4. the relationships between the sounds and meanings of spoken languages and between gestures and meanings of sign languages are for the most part arbitrary.

  • All human languages use a finite set of discrete sounds or gestures that are combined to form meaningful elements or words, which themselves are combined to form infinite set of possible sentences.

What we know about language2

What we know about language

  • 6. All grammars contain rules of a similar kind for the formation of words and sentences.

  • 7. All languages contain discrete sound segments--vowels and consonants.

  • 8. All languages have similar grammatical categories.

  • 9. Universal semantic properties such as “male” or “female” or “animate” or “human”

What we know about languages

What we know about languages

  • 11. Infinite set of sentences

  • 12. Any normal child anywhere in the world can acquire language that is exposed to them.

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