5) Properties of Human Language
Comparing human language with other means of communication such as drawing or traffic signs on one hand and with animals’ languages on the other; we may distinguish some important properties which are worth discussing.
●Means of communication:
The most important function of every language is communication, that is; languages are mainly used to convey messages. But linguists believe that the type of communication with human natural languages is more complicated than other systems.
●Means of thinking:
Linguists believe that people use their language to think.
●Means of expressing feelings:
Language might be used to express feelings and emotions.
●Means of aesthetic creation:
This is the artistic function of language. People use language in poetry and other kinds of literary works.
●Means of sending information:
Information signals are being sent to listeners while speaking. When we listen to somebody, we understand whether the speaker is male or female, old or young, happy or sad, sick or well and … we may also find out where the speaker is from and even his / her social class.
►Duality or double articulation:
While analyzing human language, we may recognize two abstract levels. At one level, language is analyzed into combination of meaningful units – such as words and sentences - ; at the other level, it is analyzed as a sequence of phonological elements which lacks meaning such as /p/, /t/, /k/ …
Human language signs are mostly arbitrary. That is, people decided to use a particular language sign to refer to a particular entity and there is no relationship between the signifier and the signified. (See Saussure’s signification)
Human language may be used to refer to past or future. It is also possible to talk about places different from the immediate place of the speaker.
Language users are able to produce and understand an infinite set of sentences with the help of finite set of rules and almost finite number of words and morphemes.
That is, language users know limited number of rules. They apply their lexicon to these rules. The result is unlimited number of sentences.
►Cultural transmission :
Human language is passed on from one generation to the next. Human babies talk with the language they hear. A Chinese newly – born baby speaks English if he / she grows up with English parents.
These six properties of human language do not exist in animals’ language or in other means of communication such as drawings.
Now take part in the following discussion:
1. Name 6 properties specified to human Language.
2. Define Language Functions/Duality/ …
6) What is linguistics?
Linguistics is the scientific study of human natural language. Linguists may study Language in two broad ways:
1. Studying language as the faculty of speech which is species – specific and
2. Studying all languages including the linguist’s mother tongue.
Linguistics has an impact on fields like education, anthropology, sociology, language teaching, psychology, philosophy, computer science, neuroscience and artificial intelligence.
Conveying message, the most important function of language, is done with the help of “Sentences”. So a sentence might be considered as a unit of study. The structure of sentences and phrases are analyzed in a branch of linguistics, “Syntax”.
We are all able to recognize some smaller units in a sentence. These units are words. There are different definitions for the word “word”! But for each, you can easily find some counterexamples. It is said that “a word is a unit of sounds which conveys a single idea with a pause at the end.”
“No waiting zone” in English and /astin sær xod/ in Farsi are two counterexamples for the following definition. If they are considered to be one word each, why do they have three pauses? And if they are three words, why do they convey only one single idea? As far as the writer of these lines knows there is no acceptable definition for the word “word” in the tradition.
Linguists found a way out. They changed the unit under analysis from word to “morpheme”. Morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning or grammatical function.
“worker” consists of two morphemes: “ work ” + “ – er ”, and
“ shopkeepers ” consists of four : “ shop ” + “ keep ”+ “ –er ” + “ –s ”.
The branch of linguistics which studies “morphemes” is called “morphology ” .
Morphemes are made of some smaller units. These units are “phonemes ”. Phonemes of a language are meaning distinctive sounds of that particular language. For instance “rat”and “bat” are distinguished from each other just because the initial sound of the first is /r/ and the one of the second is /b/. We know that their meaning is different. So /b/ is a phoneme of English language, because it is a meaning distinctive sound in that language. The branch of linguistics which studies “phonemes” is called “phonology”.
There is another branch of linguistics which studies the meaning of words, phrases and sentences. This branch is called “semantics”.
Studying speaker’s intended meaning is discussed under another branch which is called “pragmatics”. Although some linguists believe that pragmatic studies should be done under semantics.
1. Define ”Linguistics”.
2. Describe the main 4 branches of Linguistics in brief.
3. Define Syntax/Morphology/ …