1)    What is language?

In this brief Survey, by Language we mean human natural Language which is the most important means of communication in a society. 


2) The history of language study

The oldest record of language study is a grammar written by Panini   (4th century BC) who was an Indian grammarian. He made his research having a descriptive view on language study which is still a reliable source to refer to while studying Sanskrit.


The Greeks are also pioneers in this field. Plato (345 BC) studied language having a Psychological view. He believed that there is a logical relationship between entities and their names. Later studies proved him wrong. Plato recognized “noun” and “proposition” in a sentence.

Aristotle, on the other hand, said there is an arbitrary conventional signification between the signifier and the signified and there is no logical reason behind this choice. (For more on signification go to Saussure’s signification). Aristotle also added “Particle” to noun and proposition which Plato had already introduced. Later, his followers expanded his classification to nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, articles and pronouns. Introducing this kind of classification led to “Traditional Grammars”.


Comparative studies started around middle ages (about 1000 AD to 1500 AD). Christians wished to translate their holly book to other languages. That was why Christian priests started comparative study of languages.


From 16th to 19th centuries grammars of different languages, psychological discussion about the nature of language and comparative study of Indo – European languages were the main interests of language scholars.


 In the 19th century study of current languages and dialects became more popular among those who were studying languages. These scientists were called neo – grammarians.


In the 20th century Ferdinand de Saussure started new investigation in this field. Saussure and his students introduced linguistics with its new beliefs and claims. His views can be summarized as follows:

●“Historical linguistics” and “Descriptive linguistics” are two different ways of studying languages. A language may be described in a certain time (Synchronic Study) e.g. studying current temporary English, or the historical changes of a language may be under investigation during time (Diachronic Study) e.g. comparing Modern English with Old English. Although Saussure differentiated between Synchronic and Diachronic studies, he believed that none of them can be done without taking the other into consideration. That is, they should be done together.


●Each language has two aspects .One is a communicative system which is subjective and abstract. The system is shared among all speakers of that particular language and is called “Language”. The other aspect is objective. Whenever speakers use their abstract system to speak or write, some part of this system is activated. This is called Speech”. Speech is different from a speaker to another while they may share same Language.


●Saussure said that we have a Sound Image which is called “Signifier, and a Meaning Image which is called “Signified”. The link between these two is called “Language Sign”. Signifier, Signified and Language Sign are all abstract and subjective. He also said that the relationship between signifier and signified is arbitrary and conventional. That is, some people decided to choose those signs.


●Saussure said language is a “System” and not just simply a list of words and expressions. Elements of this system are in contact with each other according to some rules and regulations. Each language has its own regulations. That is why languages are different. The term “Structure” is used for Saussure’s system these days and because of the importance of this term, Saussure and his followers are called “Structuralists”.


●Words deliver their real, complete meaning in sentences while being accompanied by some other words. This is called “Syntagmatic relationship, the relation between words in a sentence. For instance in the statemant: “Saussure is a famous structuralist.” the words “saussure”, “is”, “a”, “famous” and “structuralist” are on syntagmatic axis and have syntagmatic relationship.

Saussure is a famous structuralist.

On the other hand, each element in a sentence might be replaced with some other words. The words which are allowed to be replaced with each other have “Paradigmatic relationshipand they are considered to be on a paradigmatic axis. Example:

“Saussure    is    a       famous        structuralist.”

        l                            l                     l

 “Chomsky   is    a       clever            linguist.”

 At the end of this part, you are supposed to take part in the following discussion:

1. Provide a definition for Language.

2. Compare the Language studies done by Panini, Plato, and Aristotle.

3. Describe the Language studies from 16 to 19 centuries.

4. Discuss Ferdinand de Sauaure’s beliefs and views. 

According to Saussure:    

5. Define Historical and Descriptive Linguistics.

6. Define Language and Speech.

7. Discuss the belief: “Language is a system”.

8. Define Syntagmatic and Paradigmatic axes.

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