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Language and Linguistics. This section of the course is about language ... the vehicle for holding and transmitting culture We will cover the origins of human language; the structure of language; historical linguistics; sociolinguistics; and the history of writing. Language origins .

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language and linguistics
Language and Linguistics
  • This section of the course is about language ... the vehicle for holding and transmitting culture
  • We will cover the origins of human language; the structure of language; historical linguistics; sociolinguistics; and the history of writing.
language origins
Language origins
  • Evidence for the evolution of language comes from anatomy – comparative anatomy of modern humans and chimps and comparative anatomy of hominids through time – and from primate sign language, experiments in tool making, and comparative linguistics.
  • The capacity for language, like the capacity for culture, was part of biological evolution.
the capacity for language evolved
The capacity for language evolved
  • We do not know much about the details of language evolution but we do know that the capacity for language, like the capacity for culture, was part of biological evolution.
  • There have not been any hominids on Earth except for H. sapiens for 40,000 years.
    • That is probably how long it has been since the currently observable human capacity for language has been part of our repertoire.
on being primitive
On being primitive
  • There are technologically primitive societies on Earth – hunters and gatherers who never took part in the Neolithic revolution, much less the preindustrial state revolution or the industrial revolution or the post-industrial revolution now underway.
  • But there are no primitive people on Earth.
  • Humans have equal capacity for acquiring language.
  • All human languages ever known can transmit any culture, even the most technologically complex.
language and biology
Language and biology
  • The evolution of language and the development of the human hand and the ability to make tools are probably all related.
  • The voice box and neurological complexity have all evolved.
  • We know from endocranial casts that the area of the brain devoted to speech began developing as early as H. habilis.
speech and handedness
Speech and handedness
  • The speech area of the brain is adjacent to the area devoted to the control of the human hand.
  • Oldowan tool makers were mostly right handed.
  • Chimps can make stone tools – they don’t do that in the wild – but when they do in experiments in captivity, they do not show any preference for right- or left handedness(Stanley Ambrose, Science 2001).
  • William Haviland points out that handedness is associated with lateralization of the brain, as is language.
hypoglossal canal
Hypoglossal canal
  • By half a million years ago, in H. erectus, we see a major increase in the size of the hypoglossal canal – which could accommodate larger nerves for controlling the tongue.
  • By the time we get to Neanderthals, the hypoglossal canal is the same size as it is in fully modern humans (though this is controversial).
hyoid bone and language
Hyoid bone and language
  • U-shaped bone at the base of the tongue that supports the tongue muscles.
  • In Neanderthals, the hyoid shows that the larynx was as developed as that in modern humans.
  • And the thorax had expanded to the same size as that of modern humans: breath control required for continual speech.
washoe and other chimps
Washoe and other chimps
  • Experiments with chimps and other apes show they are capable of much more than we thought, in terms of language.
  • Chimps do not have the physical apparatus for human speech, but Beatrice and Allan Gardner taught Washoe, a female chimp, 160 signs in Ameslan.
generalizing signs
Generalizing signs
  • Washoe moved beyond the signs and generalized them – and combined them.
  • She learned “open” for one door, and then used it to ask for other doors to be opened
  • She asked for refrigerators to be opened and pointed to open drawers and briefcases.
washoe and lucy generalize
Washoe and Lucy generalize
  • Washoe and Lucy (trained by Roger Fouts) generalized the sign for feces to mean dirty.
  • Lucy used the term as an expletive when she got mad at Fouts for not giving her something.
  • Lucy invented “cry hurt food” for radishes, “water bird” for swans, “candy fruit” for watermelons.
    • Chimps and other great apes achieve the linguistic capacity of a 2–3 year old human.
comparative linguistics and language origins
Comparative linguistics and language origins
  • Brent Berlin and Paul Kay studied 110 languages and found seven stages in the development of color terms.
  • All languages have at least two terms, white and black, or color and lack of color.
  • When languages acquire a third term, it is always red.
  • When languages acquire a fourth term, it is either green or yellow.
berlin and kay s study
Berlin and Kay’s study
  • At 5 terms, we get green or yellow, depending on which entered at stage IV.
  • At 6 terms, blue enters, and at 7 terms, brown enters.
  • At the final stage of 8 or more terms, purple, pink, orange, gray or combinations of these terms enter the lexicon.
    • Moreover, color lexicons become more complex as societies become more complex.
brown and witkowski s study
Brown and Witkowski’s study
  • Replicated Berlin and Kay’s work on color using names for organisms.
  • At stage I of lexical complexity for organisms, there is a word for plant.
  • Next, languages distinguish trees from all other plants.
  • Then grerb enters the lexicon – grass and/or herb.
from bush to wug
From bush to wug
  • Then bush enters, and then grass, and the vine.
  • In the animal kingdom, the simplest lexicons distinguish animals from plants.
  • Then fish enter the lexicon, and then:
    • Bird
    • Snake
    • wug (worm and bug)
    • Mammal
complexity of the lexicon
Complexity of the lexicon
  • But complexity of the lexicon for organisms is very plastic, as comparisons between urban and primitive peoples shows.
  • People in small-scale societies can name from 400-800 plants.
  • In urban areas, this is just 40-80.
    • And they recognize even fewer, as John Gatewood showed in his research on loose talk.
pidgins and creoles
Pidgins and creoles
  • Recent studies of Pidgins and creoles also shed light on the evolution of language.
  • Pidgin languages are always second languages.
  • They develop when speakers of different languages try to communicate, often for purposes of trade.
  • The lexicon usually comes from one language, and the grammar from the other.
hawaiian creole
Hawaiian Creole
  • Creole languages develop from pidgins, but as people develop native capacity in a pidgin, the structure changes.
  • Hawaii is a good case. In the late 19th century, Filipinos, Puerto-Ricans, Anglo-Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and American Blacks all came to work on the plantations there.
bickerton s study
Bickerton’s study
  • Derek Bickerton studied Hawaiian Creole in 1975 when it was a fully developed language.
  • Compared the structural properties of Hawaiian Creole to other creoles.
  • Found similarity in the use of particles for modifying verb roots to produce tense, and similarities in the use of singular, plural and neutral number markers.
Bickerton suggests that the similarities across creoles are because of a genetic substrate in humans.
  • This substrate produces basic structural properties in languages at the early stage of development.
  • Noam Chomsky referred to this as the biological basis of the capacity for language acquisition.
language complexity and evolution
Language complexity and evolution
  • Others now studying child languages across the world to test whether this is true.
  • If it is, then the theory would be that the more child-like a language, the easier it is to learn – and the more like early language it must be.
  • But languages are getting simpler –English and modern German from early German, Spanish, Italian and French from Latin.
  • So the whole picture is not yet clear.
children s language acquisition
Children’s language acquisition
  • 12 - 13 months name objects
  • 18 – 20 months one-word sentences
  • 18 – 24 months two-word sentences
structure of language
Structure of language
  • We shift now to the structure of language. There are two main approaches:
    • Immediate constituents approach – Leonard Bloomfield
    • Transformational grammar approach – Noam Chomsky
ic grammar
IC grammar
  • Collect native utterances and build up the grammar by discovering the parts.
  • This is still used in learning languages and in understanding how any language works.
  • The person most responsible for the IC approach was Leonard Bloomfield, a founder of structural linguistics just after WW I.
chomsky s observation
Chomsky’s observation
  • The IC approach doesn’t account for the fact that humans can learn languages or for the fact that languages are generative
  • From a finite number of rules operating on a finite number of words, we can encode and decode an infinite number of well-formed sentences.
transformational generative grammar
Transformational-generative grammar
  • TG grammar makes it possible to understand language play.
  • It makes understandable the fact that sentences can have many meanings – because they are similar surface representations of different roots.
    • Flying planes can be dangerous.
    • I don’t like John’s cooking.
four parts of grammar
Four parts of grammar
  • Phonology
  • Morphology
  • Syntax
  • Semantics
    • The phonological rules are acquired first, and are the most difficult rules to acquire in a second language after childhood.
      • We’ll see this in the Kissinger effect later.
writing is not the same as language
Writing is not the same as language
  • Language is an ideal concept, like race, and only exists in the surface representations.
  • Speech and writing are different surface representations of language, and writing is not a better representation than speech.
  • Writing is associated with the development of trade in the context of the state, but not all states develop writing.
  • Present at Uruk, in SW Iran, around 5500ya. The system began with many symbols and became reduced over a period of 400 years.
  • Writing invented independently at least twice in the world.
It may have been invented three times in the Old World: In the Indus Valley, in the Middle East, and in China
  • May have been an example of stimulus diffusion from the Middle East to the other Old World centers of ancient civilization.
  • Writing was invented independently in the New World.
english phonology
English phonology
  • English has 46 phonemes and many allophones.
  • We discover the phonemes of a language by looking for short, minimal pairs, like pig/big in English to isolate distinctive features.
  • Here we see that voicing is the distinctive feature because p and b are both bilabial stops, but only one is voiced.
  • In English, we have stops, fricatives, affricates, nasals, and liquids.
phonemes and allophones
Phonemes and allophones
  • A phoneme is a set of similar sounds which native speakers of a language think of as being alike.
  • Allophones are the members of the set, like English, [p] and [ph], in poke and spoke, tough and stuff.
  • Recall the concept of an allele – an alternative expression of a gene.
the vocal apparatus
The vocal apparatus
  • We make these various sounds by regulating our breath and parts of our vocal apparatus.
  • The apparatus is capable of making all sounds in all languages, but each language has a subset of the possible sounds.


voiceless stops
Voiceless stops
  • Stops, or plosives, are made by forming the mouth and tongue in a particular way and forcing the air to stop temporarily on the way out of the mouth during speech.
  • The letters p, t, and k represent the three common voiceless stops in English.
  • The p sound is a bilabial stop
  • The t sound is an apico-dental stop
  • The k sound is a velar stop

voiced stops
Voiced stops
  • Each voiceless stop has its voiced counterpart in English, so we have
    • p, t, k
    • b, d, g
  • Note the meaningful differences between the words ten and den, pig and big, cut and gut, curl and girl.
  • The difference is the single, distinctive feature of voicing.
more on allophones
More on allophones
  • The t sound has several allophones in English.
  • Word initial, before a vowel, the t sound is heavily aspirated.
  • Put your hand up to your mouth and say “torrid tango.”
Say “itty bitty” – the t in the middle of each word has no aspiration. Word medially and intervocalically, the t sound is unaspirated.
  • Native speakers of English find it hard to make a word-initial, prevocalic, unaspirated t – like the t in “patter.”
  • Native speakers of Spanish use this sound incorrectly in English, especially when its and word initial and prevocalic.
    • Spanish simply has no aspirated t.
But English speakers use the t sound incorrectly in Spanish – English has no word-initial, prevocalic unaspirated stops.
  • taco and thaco
  • But note that Taco Bell is English, not Spanish, so Thaco Bell is incorrect.
  • The word “saturate” has an affricate in it for many dialects of American English.
  • An affricate is a combination of a stop and a fricative, a /t/ and a /sh/, in this case.
  • One of the allophones of /t/ is /ch/ – when followed by the glide sound /y/ and the vowel sound /u/ – as in satch-yur-ate.
  • Some people say “matoor,” dropping the glide before the /u/, and thus converting the phoneme /t/ to its prevocalic aspirated allophone.
dialect allophones
Dialect allophones
  • British dialects of English don’t have the ch allophone for t at all.
  • They say matyoor, separating the glide and the u vowel and adopting the prevocalic aspirated allophone for t.
english phonology46
English phonology
  • The phonology of the grammar comprises the rules for the sounds of the language – which sounds can be made, and how the sounds can occur in various positions in words.
  • We have 46 phonemes in American English, including 11 vowels in most dialects of American English.
  • Sleek hawk – high-front to low-back vowels

















the ten vowels of english
The ten vowels of English

I see o sew

v sit U put

e set u ooze

æ cat b sofa

a hot

] saw

  • Many Americans have nine, rather than ten vowels.
  • cot and caught
  • marry, merry, Mary
  • There are only six squiggles to represent the ten vowels, plus four diphthongs:

say toy cow my

ei oi ao ai

the kissinger effect
The Kissinger effect
  • Why take you through these details of phonology?
    • To show you how much you have to learn in order to become a native speaker of a language.
  • No one has a better vocabulary or a better command of the syntax and the semantics of English than Henry Kissinger does.
  • But Kissinger came to the U.S. when he was 15 years old, by which time, his phonology was locked into German.
  • Morphology comprises the rules of the grammar for constructing meaningful chunks of sounds.
  • A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in a language.
  • Bound and unbound morphemes.
  • -un is a bound morpheme with many allomorphs
    • illegal immaterial inactive ignoble
    • il im in ig
past tense and plural nouns in english
Past tense and plural nouns in English
  • Plural s z Əz
  • part parts bag bags rose roses
  • Past t d Əd
  • slip slipped bag bagged want wanted
  • What rules govern these transformations?
  • Language and gender
  • The use of honorifics and hedging in speech
  • Some language, like Japanese, have quite strong rules about how men and women should speak.
gendered speech in japanese
Gendered speech in Japanese

yamada ga musuko to syokuzi o tanosinda

yamada      son      dinner      enjoyed

yamada-san ga musuko-san to o-syokuzi o tanosim-are-ta

yamada-HON      son-HON      HON-dinner    enjoyed-HON

Both sentences mean "Yamada enjoyed dinner with his son."

Bonvillain, Nancy. 2000. Language, culture, and communication: the meaning of messages. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ : Prentice Hall, 2000.

gendered registers
Gendered registers
  • Women in the U.S. use question mode for declarative statements as part of a softening, or hedging speech register.
  • Men also use softening modes, but in different situations.
  • It remains to be seen whether the amount of softening differs between men and women.
sociolinguistics dialects
Sociolinguistics – dialects
  • Social status marked by language
  • Labov’s study of the r in “fourth floor” at Klein’s (20%), Macy’s (51%) and Sak’s Fifth Avenue (62%)
  • Code switching and dialects
  • Ebonics is a dialect of English
sapir whorf hypothesis language and thought
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: language and thought
  • We know that we can say things in one language that we can’t in another.
  • But we also know that translation is possible.
  • Edward Sapir and his student, Benjamin Lee Whorf, hypothesized that we think the way we think because of our language.
verbs and thought
Verbs and thought
  • For example, there are two verbs for “to be” in Spanish, depending on whether a phenomenon is transitory or permanent.
  • There are two verb forms in Turkish, depending on whether one knows the action or knows about the action.
  • Verbs in Navajo are marked for the shape of the object spoken about.
  • SVO (English), SOV (Japanese), VSO (Welsh).
is the s w hypothesis correct
Is the S/W hypothesis correct?
  • Spanish and German require that the speaker categorize everyone as familiar or not. What does all this do to our everyday thinking?
  • Sapir said that “Human beings...are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society” (1929).
  • This is the strong form of linguistic determinism, which is not accepted.
the weak form of linguistic relativity
The weak form of linguistic relativity
  • Variations in language structure do structure thought, but we do not know how much.
  • In Israel, the U.S., and Finland, children incorporate gender roles at different ages. The languages of these countries have correspondingly different levels of gender labeling.
historical linguistics
Historical linguistics
  • Lexicostatistics and glottochronology: based on the idea that the core vocabulary of languages is changes at a constant rate – about 14% per 1000 years.
  • Morris Swadesh showed that this was more-or-less the case for many written languages.
  • The claim is that, with caution, we can use this to examine the evolution of nonwritten languages.
  • Based on the systematic comparison of cognates across languages to determine the times since two languages separated from a common ancestor.
reconstructing preliterate languages
Reconstructing preliterate languages
  • We use these principles to reconstruct languages that do not have writing

Fox Cree Menomeni Ojibwa

pematesiwa pematesiw pematesew pimatisi

niyawi niyaw neyaw niyaw

posiwa posiw posew pisi

he lives

my body

he embarks

1066 and all that
1066 and all that
  • beef cattle
  • pork pig
  • mutton sheep
  • venison deer
  • chicken chicken
  • dine, cogitate, endeavor, acquire, read, thing, build, want, sad, big
  • defecate, copulate, urinate, expectorate
  • garbage and target
when did we get these words
When did we get these words?
  • village
  • garage
  • collage
indo european language sub families
Indo-European language sub-families
  • Indo-Iranian
  • Italic
  • Germanic
  • Celtic
  • Baltic
  • Slavic
  • Albanian
  • Greek language
  • Armenian language
  • Thracian
  • Dacian
  • Phrygian
  • Anatolian
  • Tocharian
  • German, Frisian, Dutch, Afrikaans, English, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish
  • German: Bavarian, Swabian, Alsatian, Cimbrian, Rimella, Reinfrankisch, Pennsylvania, Luxembourgeois, Swiss German, Yiddish
  • Portuguese, Galician, Spanish, Ladino, Asturian, Aragonese, Catalan, Valencian, French, Wallon, Jerais, Poitevain, Piccard, Occitan, Lengadocian, Gascon, Auvergnat, Limosin, Franco-Provencal, Rumantsch, Sursilvan, Fiulian, Ladin, Italian (and all its variants), Rumanian, Sardinian


Spoken as a first language by


Mandarin Chinese
























Source: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language



Note, however, that 150m people speak Russian as a second language.
  • French and English are spoken as second languages by 50-75m people each.
  • Malay-Indonesian, French, Urdu, Punjabi, Korean, Telegu, Tamil, Marathi, Italian, Cantonese round out the top 20 and are spoken by at least 25m each.
the vanishing languages
The vanishing languages
  • 5% of the world’s languages are spoken by 95% of the world’s people
  • 95% of the world’s languages are spoken by 5% of the world’s people
a few facts about vanishing languages
A few facts about vanishing languages
  • Of 220 Indian languages still spoken in Mexico, 17 are nearing extinction.
  • Of the 168 American Indian languages listed for the United States, 71 are extinct or soon will be.
  • Breton probably had 1.4m speakers in 1900. It is now down to perhaps 400k speakers.
the case of navaho
The case of Navaho
  • Navajo was down to fewer than 5000 speakers in the 19th century. It made a dramatic comeback and had over 100,000 speakers in the 1970s.
  • Now, it too, may be headed for extinction, even though it is said to have over 150k speakers.
what s the problem
What’s the problem?
  • One could argue that language die-off is just part of natural evolution.
  • The language of Cesar is not spoken today, and the language is Jesus is spoken by a few hundred speakers.
  • Nothing catastrophic seems to have happened . . . Why worry now?
language diversity and survival
Language diversity and survival
  • Language diversity did not cause the evolutionary success of Homo sapiens.
  • Some fraction of human knowledge however, is stored in the languages remaining today.
  • Whatever that fraction is, can we afford to lose it?
the language disappearance experiment
The language disappearance experiment
  • I wouldn’t be so worried about the mass extinction of languages if I had 20 or 30 planets on which to conduct this experiment.
  • We do not know if it’s enough to rescue knowledge rather than languages.
what s being done
What’s being done?
  • Anthropologists and linguists who are concerned about language preservation are helping to preserve and to vitalize languages.