“Language is system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication. It is a system, since linguistic elements are arranged systematically, rather than randomly. Arbitrary, in the sense that there is usually no intrinsic connection between a work (like “book”) and the object it refers to. This explains and is explained by the fact that different languages have different “books”: “book” in English, “livre” in French, “shu” in Chinese. It is symbolic, because words are associated with objects, actions, ideas etc. by nothing but convention. Namely, people use the sounds or vocal forms to symbolize what they wish to refer to. It is vocal, because sound or speech is the primary medium for all human languages. Writing systems came much later than the spoken forms. The fact that small children learn and can only learn to speak (and listen) before they write (and read) also indicates that language is primarily vocal, rather than written. The term “human” in the definition is meant to specify that language is human specific.
2 features of language?
“Design features” here refer to the defining properties of human language that tell the difference between human language and any system of animal communication. They are arbitrariness, duality, productivity, displacement, cultural transmission and interchangeability
3 . arbitrariness?
By “arbitrariness”, we mean there is no logical connection between meanings and sounds. A dog might be a pig if only the first person or group of persons had used it for a pig. Language is therefore largely arbitrary. But language is not absolutely seem to be some sound-meaning association, if we think of echo words, like “bang”, “crash”, “roar”, which are motivated in a certain sense. Secondly, some compounds (words compounded to be one word) are not entirely arbitrary either. “Type” and “write” are opaque or unmotivated words, while “type-writer” is less so, or more transparent or motivated than the words that make it. So we can say “arbitrariness” is a matter of degree.
Linguists refer “duality” (of structure) to the fact that in all languages so far investigated, one finds two levels of structure or patterning. At the first, higher level, language is analyzed in terms of combinations of meaningful units (such as morphemes, words etc.); at the second, lower level, it is seen as a sequence of segments which lack any meaning in themselves, but which combine to form units of meaning. According to Hu Zhanglin et al., language is a system of two sets of structures, one of sounds and the other of meaning. This is important for the workings of language. A small number of semantic units (words), and these units of meaning can be arranged and rearranged into an infinite number of sentences (note that we have dictionaries of words, but no dictionary of sentences!). Duality makes it possible for a person to talk about anything within his knowledge. No animal communication system enjoys this duality.
Productivity refers to the ability to the ability to construct and understand an indefinitely large number of sentences in one’s native language, including those that has never heard before, but that are appropriate to the speaking situation. No one has ever said or heard “A red-eyed elephant is dancing on the small hotel bed with an African gibbon”, but he can say it when necessary, and he can understand it in right register. Different from artistic creativity, though, productivity never goes outside the language, thus also called “rule-bound creativity” (by N.Chomsky).
“Displacement”, as one of the design features of the human language, refers to the fact that one can talk about things that are not present, as easily as he does things present. In other words, one can refer to real and unreal things, things of the past, of the present, of the future. Language itself can be talked about too. When a man, for example, is crying to a woman, about something, it might be something that had occurred, or something that is occurring, or something that is to occur. When a dog is barking, however, you can decide it is barking for something or at someone that exists now and there. It couldn’t be bow-wowing sorrowfully for a bone to be lost. The bee’s system, nonetheless, has a small share of “displacement”, but it is an unspeakable tiny share.
7. What is cultural transmission?
This means that language is not biologically transmitted from generation to generation, but that the details of the linguistic system must be learned anew by each speaker. It is true that the capacity for language in human beings (N. Chomsky called it “language acquisition device”, or LAD) has a genetic basis, but the particular language a person learns to speak is a cultural one other than a genetic one like the dog’s barking system. If a human being is brought up in isolation he cannot acquire language. The Wolf Child reared by the pack of wolves turned out to speak the wolf’s roaring “tongue” when he was saved. He learned thereafter, with no small difficulty, the ABC of a certain human language.
8 What functions does language have?
Language has at least seven functions: phatic, directive, Informative, interrogative, expressive, evocative and performative. According to Wang Gang (1988,p.11), language has three main functions: a tool of communication, a tool whereby people learn about the world, and a tool by which people learn about the world, and a tool by which people create art . M .A. K. Halliday, representative of the London school, recognizes three “Macro-Functions”: ideational, interpersonal and textual.
“Linguistics” is the scientific study of language. It studies not just one language of any one society, but the language of all human beings. A linguist, though, does not have to know and use a large number of languages, but to investigate how each language is constructed. He is also concerned with how a language varies from dialect to dialect, from class to class, how it changes from century to century, how children acquire their mother tongue, and perhaps how a person learns or should learn a foreign language. In short, linguistics studies the general principles whereupon all human languages are constructed and operate as systems of communication in their societies or communities.
10 branches of linguistics?
The study of language as a whole is often called general linguistics. But a linguist sometimes is able to deal with only one aspect of language at a time, thus the arise of various branches: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, applied linguistics, psycholinguistics etc.
11. What are synchronic and diachronic studies?
The description of a language at some point of time (as if it stopped developing) is a synchrony study (synchrony). The description of a language as it changes through time is a diachronic study (diachronic). An essay entitled “On the Use of THE”, for example, may be synchronic, if the author does not recall the past of THE, and it may also be diachronic if he claims to cover a large range or period of time wherein THE has undergone tremendous alteration.
12 What are the differences between the descriptive and the prescriptive approaches?
A linguistic study is “descriptive” if it only describes and analyses the facts of language, and “prescriptive” if it tries to lay down rules for “correct” language behavior. Linguistic studies before this century were largely prescriptive because many early grammars were largely prescriptive because many early grammars were based on “high” (literary or religious) written records. Modern linguistics is mostly descriptive, however. It (the latter) believes that whatever occurs in natural speech (hesitation, incomplete utterance, misunderstanding, etc.) should be described in the analysis, and not be marked as incorrect, abnormal, corrupt, or lousy. These, with changes in vocabulary and structures, need to be explained also.
13 What is the difference between langue and parole?
F. de Saussure refers “langue” to the abstract linguistic system shared by all the members of a speech community and refers “parole” to the actual or actualized language, or the realization of langue. Langue is abstract, parole specific to the speaking situation; langue not actually spoken by an individual, parole always a naturally occurring event; langue relatively stable and systematic, parole is a mass of confused facts, thus not suitable for systematic investigation. What a linguist ought to do, according to Saussure, is to abstract langue from instances of parole, i.e. to discover the regularities governing all instances of parole and make than the subject of linguistics. The langue-parole distinction is of great importance, which casts great influence on later linguists.
14 What is the difference between competence and performance?
According to N. Chomsky, “competence” is the ideal language user’s knowledge of the rules of his language, and “performance” is the actual realization of this knowledge in utterances. The former enables a speaker to produce and understand an indefinite number of sentences and to recognize grammatical mistakes and ambiguities. A speaker’s competence is stable while his performance is often influenced by psychological and social factors. So a speaker’s performance does not always match or equal his supposed competence. Chomsky believes that linguists ought to study competence, rather than performance. In other words, they should discover what an ideal speaker knows of his native language. Chomsky’s competence-performance distinction is not exactly the same as, though similar to, F. de Saussure’s langue-parole distinction. Langue is a social product, and a set of conventions for a community, while competence is deemed as a property of the mind of each individual. Sussure looks at language more from a sociological or sociolinguistic point of view than N. Chomsky since the latter deals with his issues psychologically or psycholinguistically.
“Phonetics” is the science which studies the characteristics of human sound-making, especially those sounds used in speech, and provides methods for their description, classification and transcription, speech sounds may be studied in different ways, thus by three different branches of phonetics. (1) Articulatory phonetics; the branch of phonetics that examines the way in which a speech sound is produced to discover which vocal organs are involved and how they coordinate in the process. (2) Auditory phonetics, the branch of phonetic research from the hearer’s point of view, looking into the impression which a speech sound makes on the hearer as mediated by the ear, the auditory nerve and the brain. (3) Acoustic phonetics: the study of the physical properties of speech sounds, as transmitted between mouth and ear. Most phoneticians, however, are interested in articulatory phonetics.
16 place of articulation?
It refers to the place in the mouth where, for example, the obstruction occurs, resulting in the utterance of a consonant. Whatever sound is pronounced, at least some vocal organs will get involved, e.g. lips, hard palate etc., so a consonant may be one of the following (1) bilabial: [p, b, m]; (2) ]; (4) alveolar:[t, d, l, n, s, z]; (5)T, Plabiodental: [f, v]; (3) dental:[ retroflex; (6) palato-alveolar:[ ]; (7) palatal:[j]; (8) velar[ k, g]; (9) uvular; (10) glottal:[h]. Some sounds involve the simultaneous use of two places of articulation. For example, the English [w] has both an approximation of the two lips and that two lips and that of the tongue and the soft palate, and may be termed “labial-velar”.
18 manner of articulation?
The “manner of articulation” literally means the way a sound is articulated. At a given place of articulation, the airstream may be obstructed in various ways, resulting in various manners of articulation, are the following: (1) plosive:[p, b, t, d, k, g]; (2) nasal:[m, n,]; (3) trill; (4) tap or flap; (5) lateral:[l]; (6) fricative:[f, v, s, z]; (7) approximant:[w, j]; (8) affricate:[ ].
The IPA, abbreviation of “International Phonetic Alphabet”, is a compromise system making use of symbols of all sources, including diacritics indicating length, stress and intonation, indicating phonetic variation. Ever since it was developed in 1888, IPA has undergone a number of revisions.
“Phonology” is the study of sound systems- the invention of distinctive speech sounds that occur in a language and the patterns wherein they fall. Minimal pair, phonemes, allophones, free variation, complementary distribution, etc., are all to be investigated by a phonologist. Phonetics is the branch of linguistics studying the characteristics of speech sounds and provides methods for their description, classification and transcription. A phonetist is mainly interested in the physical properties of the speech sounds, whereas a phonologist studies what he believes are meaningful sounds related with their semantic features, morphological features, and the way they are conceived and printed in the depth of the mind phonological knowledge permits a speaker to produce sounds which from meaningful utterances, to recognize a foreign “accent”, to make up new words, to add the appropriate phonetic segments to from plurals and past tenses, to know what is and what is not a sound in one’s language.
21 Phone phoneme allophone
A “phone” is a phonetic unit or segment. The speech sounds we hear and produce during linguistic communication are all phones. When we hear the following words pronounced: [pit], [tip], [spit], etc., the similar phones we have heard are [p] for one thing, and three different [p]s, readily making possible the “narrow transcription or diacritics”. Phones may and may not distinguish meaning. A “phoneme” is a phonological unit; it is a unit that is of distinctive value. As an abstract unit, a phoneme is not any particular sound, but rather it is represented or realized by a certain phone in a certain phonetic context. For example, the phoneme[p] is represented differently in [pit], [tip] and [spit]. The phones representing a phoneme are called its “allophones”, i.e., the different (i.e., phones) but do not make one word so phonetically different as to create a new word or a new meaning thereof. So the different [p] s in the above words are the allophones of the same phoneme [p]. How a phoneme is represented by a phone, or which allophone is to be used, is determined by the phonetic context in which it occurs. But the choice of an allophone is not random. In most cases it is rule-governed; these rules are to be found out by a phonologist.
22 minimal pairs
When two different phonetic forms are identical in every way except for one sound segment which occurs in the same place in the string, the two forms (i. e., word) are supposed to form a “minimal pair”, e.g., “pill” and “bill”, “pill” and “till”, “till” and “dill”, “till” and “kill”, etc. All these words together constitute a minimal set. They are identical in form except for the initial consonants. There are many minimal pairs in English, which makes it relatively easy to know what are English phonemes. It is of great importance to find the minimal pairs when a phonologist is dealing with the sound system of an unknown language.
23 assimilation rule& deletion rule
The “assimilation rule” assimilates one segment to another by “copying” a feature of a sequential phoneme, thus making the two phones more similar. This rule accounts for the raring pronunciation of the nasal [n] that occurs within a word. The rule is that within a word the nasal consonant[n] assumes the same place of articulation as the following consonant. The negative prefix “in-“ serves as a good example. It may be pronounced as [in], [i] or [im] when occurring in different phonetic contexts: e. g., indiscrete-[ ] (alveolar) inconceivable-[ ](velar) input-[‘imput] (bilabial)
The “deletion rule” tells us when a sound is to be deleted although is orthographically represented. While the letter “g” is mute in “sign”, “design” and “paradigm”, it is pronounced in their corresponding derivatives: “signature”, “designation” and “paradigmatic”. The rule then can be stated as: delete a [g] when it occurs before a final nasal consonant. This accounts for some of the seeming irregularities of the English spelling.
“Morphology” is the branch of grammar that studies the internal structure of words, and the rules by which words are formed. It is generally divided into two fields: inflectional morphology and lexical/derivational morphology.
“Inflection” is the manifestation of grammatical relationships through the addition of inflectional affixes, such as number, person, finiteness, aspect, and case, which does not change the grammatical class of the items to which they are attached.
26 morpheme & allomorph
The “morpheme” is the smallest unit in terms of relationship between expression and content, a unit which cannot be divided without destroying or drastically altering the meaning, whether it is lexical or grammatical. The word “boxes”, for example, has two morphemes: “box” and “-es”, neither of which permits further division or analysis if we don’t wish to sacrifice meaning. Therefore a morpheme is considered the minimal unit of meaning. Allomorphs, like allophones vs. phones, are the alternate shapes (and thus phonetic forms) of the same morphemes. Some morphemes, though, have no more than one invariable form in all contexts, such as “dog”, “cat”, etc. The variants of the plurality “-s” make the allomorphs thereof in the following examples: map-maps, mouse-mice, sheep-sheep etc.
27 free morpheme& bound morpheme
A “free morpheme” is a morpheme that constitutes a word by itself, such as ‘bed”, “tree”, etc. A “bound morpheme” is one that appears with at least another morpheme, such as “-s” in “beds”, “-al” in “national” and so on. All monomorphemic words are free morphemes. Those polymorphemic words are either compounds (combination of two or more free morphemes) or derivatives (word derived from free morphemes).
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