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Language and its Components

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1 Language and its Components
By: Amany Habib

2 General facts about languages:
All languages are equal from a linguistic point of view:        They all have sound and sound systems        They all have words and word meanings        They all have grammar Languages exist wherever humans exist. Every “normal” child is capable of acquiring any language to which he/she is exposed. All languages are dynamic. Linguistically speaking, no language is superior to another. Source: Why TESOL? Theories and Issues in teaching English as a Second Language for K-12 Teachers.

3 Components of Language
There are a number of components that are universal and there are some features that maybe unique to some languages.

4 Phonology The first component of language I would like to present is phonology. What exactly is phonology? Phonology is the study of sound (Greek). How many letters does the English language have? How many sounds does the language have? The answer is much more.

5 Phonology, cont. In modern English, we have 26 letters in our alphabet. We do not have 26 sounds that corresponds with these letters. We have in American English approximately 48 different sounds that can be created by these 26 letters. If we have more sounds than letters that means that at times some of these letters can have more than one sound, correct? Yes! Let’s explore this further. We have the letter “t” which gives us the sound /t/ as in table. We also have the letter “h” which gives us the sound /h/ as in hat. When we combine them, we get a couple of different sounds. Right?

6 Phonology, cont. Some people think that we only get one sound when we combine “t” and “h” but we actually get 2. Here are the examples: Sound out the word THREE. Repeat it a few times. Now sound out the word THERE. Repeat it and think about how the /th/ sound differs from the first example. Other examples: THIS and THIN. This sound is not common in all languages. Please click on the mike for sound.

7 Phonology, cont. C and H combined give us a new sound. Think of the words child, porch, chew, etc. This sound does not exist in all languages which is why many ELLs struggle with it. Exceptions: chic and chef. They are borrowed.

8 Phonology, cont. We have other examples that pose difficulty for some English Language Learners (ELLs). Consider the following minimal pairs which have similar “sounds”. Pit and Bit & Tap and Tab

9 Phonology, cont. The previous examples include the sounds created by “b” and “p”. These often confuse some non-native speakers of English but for a different reason. If the learners native language does not include one of the sounds found in English they will not produce the sound easily. In other words they will not differentiate between the above examples. This is why teachers are encouraged to pay close attention to areas where a learner might struggle with the production of sounds that maybe common in English but not in their native language.

10 Vowels… We also have five vowels in the English language but we have possible sounds that can be created using these five vowels. Examples: Heat – Hit & Beat – Bit Suit – Soot & Pour – Poor Here is a list of words that contain the most common sounds created by vowels in English: Heat, hit, pay, pet, hat, loot, foot, hut, the, father, hop, slow, soy, house, and light.

11 Phonology, cont. These varieties of sounds made by vowels create difficulties for ELLs because we do not have a clear pattern that can guide them with the pronunciation of English words. Do not forget that we also have confusing issues that relate to this inconsistency. We have two words that look almost alike with only one letter difference. Example: Pool and Poor. The “oo” in the middle produce different sounds in both of these words.

12 Language Variation….. Another important issue we should remember when it comes to the sound system of the English language is the language variation. This term is often used to refer to varieties of English which are numerous. For Example: We have American English which differs from British English and Australian English as well as Jamaican, Canadian, Bahamian , etc. We also have variations within the USA which include the ones found in the south, Boston, Brooklyn, Cajun Louisiana, etc. English varieties include differences in Pronunciation as well as the use of different vocabulary which will be discussed later.

13 Phonology and ELLs… Please remember that English Language Learners need more than just vocabulary and grammar to function successfully in their new language. They need to learn a number of things including the sounds of the English language particularly the ones with which they are not familiar. Pay close attention and develop the necessary activities that encourage the use and development of the sounds ELLs find difficult.

14 Phonology and ELLs… Finally: Remember that, depending on the students’ native language, these difficulties will vary from one learner to the other. Teachers are encouraged to try to know their students as individuals.

15 Morphology What is morphology? Morphology is the study of word formation. This component of language focuses on the internal structure of words.

16 Morphology, Cont. Morphemes are the smallest unit of linguistic meaning or function. For example: consider the words sheep and dog. Each one of these words is a single morpheme but I can put them together and create another word which is sheepdog. I can then say that this new word consists of 2 different morphemes. I can also take it to another level and pluralize it which gives us “sheepdogs”. Now this word contains 3 different morphemes because the “s” is considered a morpheme as well.

17 Morphology, cont. we can add {er} at the end of a verb to change its meaning. We, however, should be careful because a morpheme such as –er can serve two different purposes in English. When it is at the end of a verb, it creates a noun but when we place it at the end of an adjective it performs a different function.

18 Morphology, cont. Consider the changes in the following words:
Play – player nice – nicer The morpheme in these examples is the same in spelling but has a different meaning and function depending on the word to which it is attached.

19 Morphology, cont. Similar to this will be the –ly at the end of many adverbs such as beautifully, wonderfully, hardly, extremely, slowly, etc. Conversely, an –ly ending does not guarantee that the word is an adverb. The adjectives friendly, lonely, and lovely end in –ly but are not adverbs.

20 Morphology, cont. We can breakdown words and find not only their roots or stems but also other morphemes that help us form new words. The word disorganization is a good example. We can breakdown it into dis- organ-iz-ation.

21 Lexical and Grammatical Morphemes:
Lexical morphemes have meaning and can stand alone. Examples are man, girl, play, etc. Grammatical morphemes, conversely, are mostly used to specify a relationship between 2 lexical morphemes or modify one. Examples are at, and, the, etc.

22 Free and Bound Morphemes:
Free morphemes include lexical or grammatical morphemes and they can stand alone. Examples: nouns, verbs, etc. (lexical) or prepositions, conjunctions, and articles (grammatical). Bound morphemes include lexical or grammatical morphemes but they cannot stand alone. Examples: suffixes and prefixes (all affixes in English are bound morphemes). Fair is a free morpheme. Fair-ness includes a free morpheme and a bound morpheme which is - ness. Carelessness includes 1 free morpheme and 2 bound morphemes; -less and -ness.

23 Morphology, Cont. Many of these issues related to word- formation cause difficulties for ELLs. There are so many words to learn and then there are other affixes which change these words. Teachers try to provide helpful tips to ELLs as much as possible in the area of morphology. Examples: When you see or hear the prefix re- it most likely means to do again. When you see or hear the suffix –tion, etc…..

24 Morphology, Cont. Something to remember about morphology and ELLs:
Acquired earlier: - ing - s (plural) Helping Verb “to be” Acquired later: - ed (regular past tense) - s (Present tense – 3rd person singular) -‘s (possessive)

25 Semantics What is Semantics? This particular branch of language refers to meaning. What makes a speaker of English make sense of a sentence such as this – “I saw the science teacher in the lab.”?

26 Semantics, cont. When we say something like – All kings are males. A person who knows English will agree because he or she learned that the word king refers to a male who rules a country. If this same person hears the following sentence, he or she will tell us that it is wrong – All bulls are females. This person knows that bulls refer to males which makes this sentence wrong. How does this person reach this conclusion? Knowledge of meaning.

27 Semantics, cont. When one says: Nancy postponed her wedding. We understand that Nancy put off her wedding. We understand that to postpone means to put off. Many words in English have more than one meaning. This results in confusion for many ELLs. Ground is a good example. It could mean a solid surface, it is also used in the following examples: they covered a lot of ground in the meeting (dealt with a variety of topics), Stand one’s ground (be firm), On what ground do you… (cause or reason), parents sometimes ground their children, and finally it is the past tense of grind as in ground coffee.

28 Semantics, cont. Language can be ambiguous sometimes which affects meaning and comprehension. When someone says : I saw the French history professor. One can wonder if the professor teaches French history or if he is from France. Meaning is a big part of language. Speakers of any language and learners of any language need to get the semantics of that language in order to communicate with others successfully.

29 Semantics and ELLs. Remember that ELLs take time to acquire this part of language. Learners do not stay at the simplest form of the language for very long. At some point they move from subject, verb, object (SVO) to more complex sentences which require a good understanding of the language. When using complex sentences, teachers need to paraphrase or explain what they mean.

30 Pragmatics Another component of language is Pragmatics which has to do with language use and not language structure. This area of language focuses on how language can be affected by context. Most speakers of a language know what to say depending on the situation and the person to whom they are speaking. One might say, “Pass the salt” to a close or a familiar person or “Will you please pass the salt” to someone who is not.

31 Pragmatics, cont. Speakers of a language also modify their speech based on their knowledge of the listener. A person talking to an adult or a business associate might use a language that is different from what someone uses with his or her toddler. We normally simplify our language when speaking to young children. In general, a person would not tell a co-worker that he took the choo-choo train to work.

32 Pragmatics, cont. Pragmatics, like most components of language, takes time to fully acquire. It takes knowledge of the language, the culture, the people, etc. before one can perform well in this area of language. The reason this area of language can be difficult is that much of what we utter can be implied and/or indirect. We do not always speak in full sentences and organized thoughts. This results in choppy sentences and phrases that confuse ELLs.

33 Pragmatics and ELLs… Teachers need to encourage social interaction between ELLs and native speakers of English. When students have a good source (input) of the new language, they learn more about what is acceptable and what is not. This component of language takes years to acquire.

34 Syntax Syntax is most related to grammar. It has to do with sentences and their structure. The English language has a certain word order we have to follow if we want to create useful language. The basic sentence in English consists of subject, verb, and object (SVO) as is represented in this simple sentence: I eat breakfast. This sentence is grammatically correct because the words are presented in the right order.

35 Syntax, cont. I could add to the previous sentence and make it more complex – Every morning, I eat breakfast at 7 o’clock and then I go to school. Again, the sentence follows an acceptable word order in the English language. If I said: Breakfast I eat. The listener will immediately realize that the sentence does not follow the correct word order. Compare these examples: The boy ate a sandwich vs. A sandwich ate the boy. One sentence is correct because it follows the right word order but although the second one followed the right word order it did not make sense because it was not semantically correct.

36 Syntax, cont. This is a reminder that one needs to acquire all of these language components in order to perform successfully in a new language. They overlap to a great extent but they are essential to both social as well as academic success of the learner. Again, this component of language is difficult because the basic sentence structure becomes a part of a complex sentence which has to be formed correctly in order to make sense.

37 Syntax, cont. In English we have nouns, verbs, adjective, and adverbs. We also have articles (determiners, the, a, an), prepositions (in, on, up, near, at, …), conjunctions (and, but, or, etc.), and pronouns . Then we have phrasal categories which include noun phrases (the smart girl…), verb phrases, and prepositional phrases (… in the park). Often times, a sentence will include many of these different parts of speech. (Example: The teacher taught a new lesson on Monday.)

38 Syntax and ELLs… A sentence can be complex in English which results in confusion if ELLs are still in the beginning stages of language acquisition. The confusion could also be caused by ambiguity of sentences created by native speakers of English which could have more than one meaning. Simplify sentences whenever possible. Teachers can use complex sentences but they are encouraged to follow them with simplified language particularly when they relate to key topics.

39 Syntax, cont. Also keep in mind that many languages follow different sentence structures. In English we have SVO but some other languages follow Verb Subject Object (VSO) and so on. This means that teachers need to be aware of this time it will take a learner to adapt to following a new word order in the new language. Be prepared to work with these learners until they get used to the new sentence structure in English. Learners should not be punished but should be given opportunity to practice.

40 Final Thoughts… Languages have different components and successful communication in a new language depends on learning as much as possible about each component in order to produce language at the social level as well as academically . We want our ELLs to be able to meet their social needs which is an important goal the TESOL organization made a priority. They need to be able to communicate their needs, feelings, thoughts, etc. They also need to be trained to use language academically which means that teachers need to introduce academic language as early as possible.

41 Final Thoughts… Introduce ELLs to all four language modes (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) as quickly as possible but also keep in mind that learning a new language is neither easy nor fast. It is a complex process that takes many years.

42 References: Denham, k. & Lobeck, A Linguistics for Everyone – An Introduction. Boston, MA. Cengage Learning Brown, S. & Attardo, S Understanding Language Structure, Interaction, and Variation. 2nd Ed. Ann Arbor, MI. University of Michigan Press. Parker, F. & Riley, K Linguistics for Non-Linguists . 5th Ed. Boston, MA. Pearson/Allen and Bacon. Fromkin, V., Rodman, R. & Hyams, N An Introduction to Language . 8th Ed. Boston, MA. Thompson.

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