Formal Properties of Language: Form of the Message
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Formal Properties of Language: Form of the Message . The components of language:. the sounds of language the structure of language and the meanings of language. Talk is achieved through the interdependent components of sounds, words, sentences, and meanings.

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The components of language l.jpg
The components of language:

  • the sounds of language

  • the structure of language

  • and the meanings of language

Talk is achieved through the interdependent components of sounds, words, sentences, and meanings.

Phonology the sounds of language l.jpg
PhonologyThe Sounds of Language


The comparative analysis of sounds to differentiate meaning.


Description of the raw sounds of language

"perro"  (dog)

"pero" (but)

Phone= raw sound

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  • the study of the articulation of sounds that occur in a language

  • describes how sounds are produced or articulated bymanipulation of vocal apparatus.

  • Sounds vary according to:

    • the positions of speech organs

    • the points of articulation

    • the control of the air flow

    • the manner of articulation.

The Vocal Apparatus

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Voiced and voiceless

  • If the vocal chords are close together when air passes through they vibrate to produce voiced sounds

  • all vowels in English and some consonants (b, d, and g, for example) are voiced.

  • Voiceless sounds (also called unvoiced sounds) are made when the vocal cords are not vibrating (consonants p, t, and k, for example, are voiceless).

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Minimal pairs:

  • pairs of words whose pronunciation differs at only one segment, such as sheep and ship or lice and rice.

  • it is the existence of minimal pairs which enables linguists to build up the phoneme inventory for a language or dialect

  • cheer versus jeer which differ only in voicing.

“You should have heard them ?eering at the end of the game.”

  • you would have to perceive the voicing in order to know exactly what was meant.

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Oral or Nasal

  • In oral sounds most air is expelled via the oral cavity (mouth).

  • Typically the velum (soft palate) is raised at the back of the mouth to block the passage of air into the nasal cavity.

  • In nasal sounds the velum is lowered, to allow airflow through the nasal cavity.

  • M and N and Ng (eng (ŋ)) are nasal consonants

  • All languages have some nasal consonants (except around Puget sound and on Bougainville Island)

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Place of articulation

Where the sound is formed (articulated) in the mouth

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Manner of Articulation

  • The degree of interference or modification of the airstream as it passes through the oral cavity

  • Consonants

  • Stops

    • consonants produced by complete blocking of the airflow through the oral cavity.

  • Fricatives

    • consonants formed by impeding the flow of air somewhere in the vocal apparatus so that a friction-sound is produced.

    • Because the flow of breath is heard in producing fricatives, fricatives are also called spirants.

    • Fricatives may be voiced or voiceless

  • Liquids

    • little obstruction of airstream results in modification but no turbulence (e.g. l and r)

  • Affricatives

    • complete closure followed by narrow opening for air to go through e.g. chin gin

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  • Glides(semivowels)

    • little obstruction,

    • intermediate between consonants and vowels

  • Dipthongs (or glide vowels)

    • involve movement of the sound from one position to another.

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(Bi-)Labial consonants are produced by creating a closure with both lips. English lacks bilabial fricatives, but these are found in Japanese ('Fuji'), and in Spanish ('deber').

Labiodental consonants are produced by raising the lower lip to the upper teeth. English has only fricative labiodentals, and no stops.

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In English, the interdental consonants are also all fricatives. th

English alveolar consonants are formed by raising the tip of the tongue to the alveolar ridge, lies right behind the teeth. There are both fricatives and stops.

Very few palatals in English, just two affricates and the glide [j].

Spanish has a palatal nasal, as found in the word for 'year', 'ano'..

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English has few velar consonants. No fricatives, for example. But these are sometimes pronounced in words borrowed into English from languages which do have velar fricatives, e.g. from German, 'Bach'.

No uvular consonants in English but they are found in many languages. E.g. both French and some varieties of German have a uvular 'r' sound. Uvular stops are also common in many languages.

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phonetic notation

  • International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

  • a system of phonetic notation based on the Latin alphabet

  • devised by the International Phonetic Association as a standardized representation of the sounds of spoken language

  • The general principle of the IPA is to provide one symbol for each distinctive sound

  • Applicable to all languages

  • No language uses all the possible sounds

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  • Vowels are produced by relative openness of the vocal tract

  • Differences in vowel quality are produced by movement of the tongue and rounding or unrounding of the lips

  • This changes the resonance in the oral cavity

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Vowel sounds

There are three key questions to consider when describing vowel articulation.

How close is the tongue to the roof of the mouth?

Where is the narrowest constriction in the oral cavity?

What is the position of the lips?

Phonetic vowel sounds

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  • a phoneme is the smallest structural unit that distinguishes meaning

  • contrasts signal differences in meanings of words

  • Phonemics is the analysis of how sounds (phonemes) differentiate meanings of words

  • An example of a phoneme is the /t/ sound in the words tip, stand, water, and cat. (In transcription, phonemes are placed between slashes, as here.)

  • For example, in English /b/: pit versus bit

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  • French also has a "t" sound that is similar to the English phone, but is actually produced by placing the tongue on the teeth rather than the hard palate.

  • It is represented by a different character in the International Phonetic Alphabet.

  • The difference between the "t's" in the two languages can be heard in the production of the words: bait and bete

"bait" (English)

"bête" (French: stupid)

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  • The French dental "t" derives from a wider practice preferring the teeth to the alveolar ridge as a point of articulation.

  • Thus the "l" sound, which is articulated on the hard palate in English, is produced in French by placing the tongue on the upper teeth, is audible in the difference between bell and belle

"belle" (French: beautiful)

bell" (English)

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  • In English the difference between "d" and "th" is phonemic as evident in the minimal pairs "den" vs. "then."

  • In Spanish these two sounds are allophones of one phoneme usually represented as d in the written language

  • They appear in complementary rather than contrastive positions.

  • The true "d" always occurs at the beginning of a word as in the word:

  • "donut" (doughnut)

  • The "th" fricative form occurs between two vowels as in: bebida (drink)

  • Observe the two different pronunciations of the d sound in the following sentence:

  • "De me una bebida helada y un donut". (Give me a cold drink and a doughnut)

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  • In Canadian English, the phoneme /t/ has five different pronunciations.

  • This means that /t/ has 5 allophones.

  • Each pronunciation depends on the phonetic context in which /t/ occurs.

  • the allophones and their contexts appear in the words top, stop, little, kitten, and hunter.

  • The differences in the pronunciation of each of these /t/'s are subtle to native ears; you may not discern them right away.

  • But they may be substantial for speakers of other languages.

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  • In English and many other languages, the liquids /l/ and /r/ are two separate phonemes (minimal pair 'life', 'rife')

  • In Korean these two liquids are allophones of the same phoneme,

  • the general rule is that [ɾ] comes before a vowel, and [l] does not (e.g. Seoul, Korea).

  • A native speaker will tell you that the [l] in Seoul and the [ɾ] in Korean are in fact the same sound.

  • The particular sounds which are phonemic in a language can change over time.

  • At one time, [f] and [v] were allophones in English, but these later changed into separate phonemes.

  • This is one of the main factors of historical change of languages

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Prosodic features /r/ are two separate phonemes (minimal pair 'life', 'rife')

  • those aspects of speech which go beyond phonemes and deal with the auditory qualities of sound.

  • The collective term used to describe variations in pitch, intonation, (define) stress, loudness, tempo, rhythm and length

  • In spoken communication, we use and interpret these features without really thinking about them.

  • There are various conventional ways of representing them in writing, although the nuances are often hard to convey on paper.

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Stress /r/ are two separate phonemes (minimal pair 'life', 'rife')

"Do the dance organizers need people such that those people decorate the dance location?" - Do they need people to DECORATE?


"Do the dance organizers need people such that the organizers decorate those people?". - Do they need PEOPLE to decorate?

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  • stress or accent refers to the degree of emphasis placed on the syllables of words in multisyllabic words; stress is not evenly distributed on all the syllables

  • can serve to alter the meaning or function

  • In English the difference in stress signals the difference between a noun and a verb

  • Nouns are stressed on the first syllable and verbs on the second

    • present

    • object

    • construct

    • implant

"record" (stressed-unstressed) and "record" (unstressed-stressed).

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Tempo the syllables of words in multisyllabic words; stress is not evenly distributed on all the syllables

  • The pace of speech is called.

  • Fast speech can convey urgency, whereas slower speech can be used for emphasis.

  • Varying the tempo is ofetn used for effect in public speaking, often accompanying changes in loudness.

  • When reading stories to children, we can vary the tempo and loudness to reinforce the meaning of the words.

    • Then carefully,Tenderly,Gently he creptUp the trunk to the nest where the little egg slept.  Dr Seuss: Horton Hatches the Egg

  • Juncture refers to the length of pauses between two syllables and distinguishes the term "greenhouse," with a short pause, from "green house," with a long one.

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Pitch the syllables of words in multisyllabic words; stress is not evenly distributed on all the syllables

  • Pitch = frequency of sound

  • The perceived pitch of a sound is just the ear's response to frequency

  • sounds can be ordered on a scale from low to high.

  • changes in the relative tension of the vocal chords in the production of syllables results in variation in pitch

  • Pitch generally occurs with vowels

  • Pitch is a feature of all languages on units of clauses and or sentences

Statement: “This is living!" 

Question: "This is living?"

  • The second sentence is distinguished from the first by the placement of a rising tone on the last syllable.

  • In English declarative sentences and questions are characterized by contrastive pitch elements – and are this phonemic

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Tone the syllables of words in multisyllabic words; stress is not evenly distributed on all the syllables

  • Tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish words or grammatical meaning —to inflect words.

  • To inflect a word (inflection) is to modify or mark it to reflect grammatical information, such as gender, tense, number, case, or person.

  • All languages use pitch to express emotional and other paralinguistic information, and to convey emphasis, contrast, and intonation

  • Over ½ the world’s languages use pitch as phonemes, analogously to consonants and vowels, to distinguish the meaning of words .

  • Most Asian languages such as Chinese and Thai, African languages such as Yoruba, Zulu, and Luganda and Native language such as Sarcee and Navaho use pitch in this way

  • Called tonal languages

  • Most Indo-European languages are not tonal.

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Mandarin Chinese

Meaning primarily determined by tone


High= Mother



Chinese tones

Thai tones

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Tone syllables carry their own tone

  • The tonal patterns of African languages form the basis for an interesting non-verbal form of communication known as drum language.

  • This communication medium is based on two drums one of which has a low and the other a high tone.

  • Messages are produced by drumming a sequence of lows and highs that matches the spoken syllable patterns.

  • The following drum message in Twi is transmitted by Radio Ghana to introduce its evening news broadcast:

  • Ghana mo tie (Ghana listen: high-low-high-high-high)

  • Drum signals were used to communicate with people beyond the range of the human voice in Africa before the electronic age.

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Grammar syllables carry their own tone

the rules governing the use of a language



Rules about how words are to be arranged to make a meaningful sentence

Rules about how words are to be constructed to create meaning

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  • Morphology: The Structure of Words syllables carry their own tone

  • how phonemes are combined by language into larger units

  • Words are composed of units of sound and meaning called morphemes

  • A morpheme is the smallest linguistic unit that has meaning.

  • In spoken language, morphemes are composed of phonemes

  • A morpheme is free if it can stand alone e.g. Cat, sing, good, happy. (also called roots or stems)

  • Free morphemes refer to or name objects, events, ideas, etc.

  • Bound morphemes are attached to a free morpheme and cannot stand alone.

  • A word may thus contain more than one morpheme

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  • They express grammatical or relational meanings, such as number, tense, person, gender, or case

  • Qasirrsarrvigssarsingitluinarpug

    “someone did not find a completely suitable resting place”

    Cat-s the animal and the plural



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    • Allomorphs are morphemes that have the same meaning but a different sound

    • e.g. English plural suffix (-s) has three allomorphs

      • /iz/ following sibilants (s,z,sh,zh,ch,j) class classes

      • /-s/ following voiceless consonants cat, cats

      • /-z/ following voiced consonants and vowels tub, tubs, bee, bees

    • Irregularities between form and meaning in construction of words do occur

    • E.g. plurals formed by vowel changes in the stem

      • Mouse/mice foot/feet, woman/women

    • Children’s desire for rule consistency often leads to mistakes – sheepsEat, ate, eated

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    Morphological Typologies and more complex sequences

    • Classification of languages according to how they structure words out of morphemes

    • Isolating languages: few morphemes, simple method: prefix and suffix (English, Chinese)

    • Agglutinating languages: words containing many morphemes,highly regular rules (Turkish, Blackfoot)

    • Synthetic or polysynthetic: Words containing many morphemes, very complex rules (Mohawk, Greek, Russian, Inuktitut)

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    • Grammatical Concepts and more complex sequences

    • Morphemes express lexical (word) or grammatical meaning

    • Grammatical meaning includes concepts applying to nouns, verbs, modifiers and so on.

    • Some common concepts of nouns are case, number and gender

    • Case refers to grammatical relationships between nouns e.g. subject or object

    • Some languages, called inflecting mark cases with affixes

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    Latin Cases and more complex sequences

    Nominative: used when the noun is the subject of the sentence or phrase

    Vocative: used when the noun is used in a direct address

    Accusative: used when the noun is the direct object of the sentence/phrase,

    Genitive: used when the noun is the possessor of an object

    Dative: used when the noun is the indirect object of the sentence

    Ablative: used when the noun demonstrates separation or movement from a source, cause, agent, or instrument

    English : household

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    • Grammatical meanings and more complex sequences

    • Different languages may express different grammatical concepts in different ways

    • number

      • some languages do not indicate singular/non-singular differences but rely on context or separate enumerators.

      • some languages have one two and plural

      • Inuktitut igloo (a house), igluk (two houses), iglut (three or more houses)

  • definite and indefinite a/the - some languages do not mark

  • Gender (a separate marked class) (Romance Languages)

  • shape and texture e.g. Navajo

  • Tense - time of an event’s occurrence – I visited the zoo

  • aspect – manner in which an event occurs – I am visiting the zoo

  • mode – likelihood of an events occurrence or speakers attitude toward an occurrence – I could visit the zoo

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    Syntax: and more complex sequences The Structure of Sentences

    • rules that determine how words should be combined in sentences and phrases to make sense to speakers of a language

    • In English (and Chinese) word order is critical for meaning (you, are, and there)

      • There you are,

      • You are there,

      • Are you there?

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    • Every language has rules of syntax that describe order of words

    • Most languages organize the three basic units of subject, object and verb in one of three patterns.

      • Verb –Subject-Object

      • Subject-Verb-Object

      • Subject-Object-Verb

    • Syntactic patterns are often used to express case relations between words.

    • English signals case by word order

      • The dog chased the cat

      • The cat chased the dog.

    • Russian, an inflecting language, uses affixes to mark case so words can come in any order

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    Deep Structure and Surface Structure words

    • Because subjects precede objects in most languages this pattern probably reflects human cognition

    • Chomsky introduced the distinction between surface structures – the surface appearance of sentences as they appear in actual speech and deep structure, the underlying order of words as they are generated by basic phrase structure rules

    • Deep structure is transformed into surface structure by transformations of the deep structure to result in actual speech

    • Transformation grammar provides insights that enable linguists to decipher he origin of ambiguity in sentences

    Noam Chomsky

    “Flying planes can be dangerous.”

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    • Semantics: The Analysis of Meaning words

    • The role of language is to express the speaker’s meaning.

    • Meaning is encoded in morphemes that have meaning (semantic content)

    • The morphemes are then combined with others to produce further meaning (words)

    • Words are combined with other words to create even more meaning (syntax)

    • But understanding syntax is not enough

    • ‘colorless green ideas sleep furiously” – although grammatically correct is meaningless

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    • But they also have cultural meanings, reflecting attitudes, values, or shared symbols (e.g. apple pie)

    • Semantic Analysis is thus complex because meaning includes many kinds of input

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    please pass the salt/gimme the salt. persons, objects, events

    • The words used and their order can vary depending on the context e.g. Formal or informal.

    • Or the relationship between the people interacting (e.g. Dr Jones/sweetheart)

    • Or on cultural meanings

    • Can also indicate attitudes of the speakers (affective meaning) e.g. John told me about his accomplishments/ John boasted about his accomplishments)

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    What is a cow?

    COW: count, potent, animate, feminine, nonhuman

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    • semantic features may be expressed by various linguistic means

    • some languages mark features of animate/inanimate mass/count/ definite/indefinite etc.

    • In English animate and inanimate nouns are distinguished by their ability to occur as subjects of certain verbs

      • e.g. only animate nouns can be subjects of breathe, eat or sleep

      • count nouns can be counted things like water cannot

      • definite and indefinite are signalled by the or a

    • Verbs can be actions, processes, or states

    • Only certain nouns can accompany certain verbs

      • action: Jane ran not the wood ran

      • process: the wood dried

      • action/process: Jane dried the wood

      • state: the wood is dry

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    Non-Verbal Communication means

    • Kinesics: gesture, facial expressions, eye contact and body posture

    • Proxemics: includes uses of touch and definitions of personal space

    • Proxemics and kinesics are important components of participant’s messages.

    • There are universal and culturally specific behaviour patterns

    • Non-verbal actions that look the same in different systems may have different meanings because the meanings are culturally constructed and assigned

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    • according to culturally prescribed codes we use eye movement and contact to manage conversations and to regulate interactions

    • we follow rigid rules governing personal touch

    • We use our bodies and gestures, in relation to others to fine tune our speech.

    • We must internalize all this in order to became and remain fully functioning and socially appropriate members of any culture.

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    • Some gestures can express a specific meaning, often substituting for spoken words.

    • e.g. head nods to signal assent, or shrugging the shoulders to convey uncertainty.

    • Some are culturally specific and can lead to cultural misunderstandings – nodding in Bulgaria and Sri Lanka means disagreement

    • Gestures and words can give opposite meanings and create confusion

    What is he saying?

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    • Patterns of non-verbal behaviour often signal differences in status

    • Gestures, eye movements, smiles and other facial expressions, touching and defining personal space are used in displays of status

    • In many cultures, a constellation of non-verbal behaviours appears to be consistent with high status or power.

    • Dominant people tend to use broad gestures, look or even stare at others, maintain serious unsmiling faces, and inhabit wide areas of personal space

    • Subordinates tend to use restricted small gestures avert their eyes when looked at, smile frequently and allow their space to be encroached on even to the point of being touched

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    Gestures can be used as general markers of politeness in status

    • In Japan, people greet each other by bowing.

    • When bowing to someone of higher social status, a deeper, longer bow indicates respect.

    • A small head nod is casual and informal.

    • It is also common to bow to express thanks, to apologize, to make a request or to ask someone a favour.

    • Shaking hands is uncommon among the Japanese

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    • gender differences in status

    • men tend to use dominant acts while women use acts marking subordination

    • Men touch women more than women touch men

    • Men initiate eye contact more than women

    • Women return smiles of men more than men return smiles of women

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    • The Meaning of Silence in status

    • Silence transmits many kinds of culturally dependent meaning

    • Conveys meaning partly from the situational and interactional; contexts of its use.

    • silence does not simply exist bit is actively created by participants

    • ceremonial silence – e.g. Where participants have established roles and behave in predictable ways – church, classroom, theatre, courtroom

    • Participants restricted to brief formulaic responses

    • Difference in status reflected in use of silence

    • People of higher status tend to talk more whereas those of lower status are expected to be silent or less talkative

    • “Children should be seen and not heard”

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    Functions of Silence in status

    • one function of speech is to avoid silence – e.g. small talk

      • In N. Am. Silence is embarrassing.

      • InArabic countries, word games are played and thoughts repeated to avoid silence.

    • silence often given negative interpretation – feelings of hostility, disdain, disinterest or anger – the silent treatment

    • other times seen as mark of contemplative thought respect for others or desire to avoid conflict

      • A Japanese proverb says "Those who know do not speak - those who speak do not know";

    • context also determines when silence used – when with unknown people

    • silence can mark the solemnity of funerals

    • a means of social control -ostracism

    • because greetings are signals of sociability, silence is a show of hostility– not on speaking terms

    silent treatment

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    Terms in status





    tonal language





    Free morpheme

    Bound morpheme






    Morphological Typologies

    Isolating languages

    Agglutinating languages

    Synthetic or polysynthetic languages


    Deep Structure and Surface Structure








    Minimal pairs:



    Oral sounds

    Nasal sounds

    Place of articulation

    Manner of Articulation


    Prosodic features