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Unit Two About Language

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  1. Unit Two About Language

  2. 2.1 Theories of the origin of L. • Communication constitutes one of the most fundamental needs of human beings, and is ultimately essential for their survival. • Since language is of so much primacy to human beings, people have always speculated upon where language came from; consequently we have with us today various theories and speculations.

  3. 2.1.1 Ancient Theories of Divine Origin • A) Biblical: The story of the Garden of Eden goes that ‘God created Adam and speech simultaneously’. • B) Egyptian: They considered themselves to have the oldest civilization and asserted that the original human language was Egyptian. • C) Greek: They speculated about everything in the universe. It was commonly held among the classic Greeks that at some ancient time there was a ‘legislator’ who gave the correct, natural name to everything.

  4. 2.1.2 Modern Theories of The Origin • A)Bow-wow theory • B) Pooh-pooh theory (Gottfried von Herder 1772) • C) Ding-dong theory (Müller in the 1800s) • D) Yo-he-ho theory (around the turn of the 2000s) • E) Ta-ta theory • F) Sing-song theory (Otto Jesperson) • G) Contact theory (G. Révész)

  5. 2.2 Definitions of Language • ‘What is language?’ at first sounds like a naïve and simple question. Yet to this extremely familiar, everyday phenomenon, it is difficult to give a satisfactory definition. We might have probably come up with an answer very much like:

  6. 2.2.1 Language is a means of communication. • A variety of ways could be named. • Tracing down to the root, we are left with only two: speaking and writing. • Of the two, speech is primary, spoken long before the dawn of recorded history. • Hundreds of groups of people have no writing system, and yet they have their own languages. • Therefore, this definition should be altered to the following:

  7. 2.2.2 Language is a vocal means of communication. • Still this definition is incomplete in that we don’t just make a lot of noises. Every-thing we utter is set forth in a meaningful order lest we fail to communicate. • Thus, in order to communicate, we must have a system. • AMnd our definition of language have to be amended to:

  8. 2.2.3 Language is a vocal system of communication. • The utterances we make must adhere to some preconceived order and arrangement. • These ideas are represented by ‘symbols’ which are embodied in sounds. • In order to react to the symbols or utter them, we must first learn them. • Then the definition can be further revised to read:

  9. 2.2.4 Language is a system of vocal symbols used for communication. • There is no connection between the sounds and the objects. • The speakers have all agreed arbitrarily upon the relationship of utterance and concept. • A typical example is ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ • Now, we might have to further alter the definition:

  10. 2.2.5 Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for communication. • Communication suggests the imparting of ideas. • But we do not merely listen passively to ideas all the time. • Rather, we often find ourselves called upon to lend a helping hand. • Thus we ready to add to our definition:

  11. 2.2.6 Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for communication or interaction. • Animals are able to communicate ideas and interact by means of an arbitrary vocal system. • What differs human beings from these animals is that humans are able to pass on a whole complex of ideas. • We have symbolic language and they seem to have a signaling system. • Thus, it is necessary to include another function in the definition:

  12. 2.2.7 Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for communication, intention, and cultural transmission. • To specify the users, as Leonard Bloomfield first named, the term ‘a speech community’ (Within certain communities successive utterances are alike or partly alike.) ought to be borrowed to make the definition complete:

  13. 2.2.8 A language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which the members of a speech community communicate, interact, and transmit their culture.

  14. 2.2.9 Some modern linguists’ definitions of L.: • a) Sapir (1921): Language is a purely human and non-instinctivee method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of voluntarily produced symbols. • b) Chomsky (1957): From now on I will consider language to be a set (finite or infinite) of sentences, each finite in length and construct out of a finite set of elements. • c) Hall (1968): (Language is) the institution whereby humans communicate and interact with each other by means of habitually used oral-auditory arbitrary symbols.

  15. 2.2.10 Generally accepted definition of language: • Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication.

  16. 2.2.11 Main Attributes of Language • Language has a system. • Language is vocal. • Language is arbitrary. • Language is a human activity. • Language is non-instinctive. • Language is social activity. • Language is related to culture. • Language changes.

  17. 2.3 Design Features • To show that language is human is to distinguish language from other systems of animal communication. • Differences and similarities between language and animal communication systems can be highlighted by comparing essential characteristics of the systems. • Hochett (1960) and Thorpe (1974), call these essential characteristics design features

  18. 1. Mode of communication 2. Rapid Fading 3. Interchangeability 4. Feedback 5. Specialization 6. Semanticity 7. Arbitrariness 8. Discreteness 9. Displacement 10. Productivity 11. Cultural transmission 12. Duality (of Patterning) 13. Prevarication 14. Reflexiveness 15. Learnability 2.3.1 Hochett’s Design Features

  19. 2.3.2 Arbitrariness • Language is arbitrary. Different sounds can be used to refer to the same object in different languages. • e.g. 桌子 (in Chinese) table (in English) 机 (つくぇ)(in Japanese) • Yet language is not entirely arbitrary; certain words are motivated. • e.g. onomatopoeic words: bang, crash, cackle • compound words: photocopy, classroom • The arbitrary nature is a sign of sophistication and it makes it possible for language to have an unlimited source of expressions.

  20. 2.3.3 Productivity-a • Language is productive or creative in that it makes possible the construction and interpretation of new signals by its users. • i) No constraints on topics: • ii) We constantly add to the language: object names, actions and novel combinations in sentences. • Being productive, language is productive at many levels: • Novel words created from sounds • Words for a variety of concepts • Sentences for novel ideas

  21. 2.3.3 Productivity-b • General principles of productivity: • i) A finite number of basic elements • Ii) “Rules” for combining them • Iii) The system can be described by rules, but there may not be that specific rule inside your head. • Productivity is unique to human language. Most animal communication systems appear to be highly restricted with respect to the number of different signals that their users can send and receive

  22. 2.3.4 Duality • Language is a system, which consists of two sets structures, or two levels. • i) The lower, or the basic level: a structure of sounds (speech sounds), meaningless by themselves; • ii) The higher level: grouping, or regrouping of speech sounds into units of meaning. • This duality of structure, or double articulationof language enables its users to talk about anything within their knowledge.

  23. 2.3.5 Displacement • Language can be used to refer to things which are present or not present, real or imagined matters in the past, present, or future, or in far-away places. • Some animals seem to possess abilities appropriating those of displacement, and yet they lack the freedom to apply this to new contexts. • Displacement is thus our ability to convey a meaning that transcends the immediately perceptible sphere of space and time, free from barriers caused by separation in time and place.

  24. 2.3.6 Cultural Transmission • Human capacity for language has a genetic basis. But the details of any language system are not genetically transmitted. • Language is passed on from generation to generation through teaching and learning, rather than by instinct. • In contrast, animal call systems are genetically transmitted, that is, animals are born with the capacity to produce the set of calls peculiar to their species.

  25. 2.4 Assignments: • a) What are the main features of human language which are to show that it is essentially different from animal communicational system? • b) What are the two major media of linguistic communication? Of the two, which is primary and why?