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What is language? Basic concepts. What is language? With a partner, try to come up with a definition of what language is!

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Presentation on theme: "What is language? Basic concepts. What is language? With a partner, try to come up with a definition of what language is!"— Presentation transcript:

1 What is language? Basic concepts

2 What is language? With a partner, try to come up with a definition of what language is!

3 Some definitions of Language Sapir: “a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of voluntarily produced symbols.” Bloch & Trager: “a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group cooperates.” Hall: “the institution whereby humans communicate and interact with each other by means of habitually used oral-auditory arbitrary symbols.” Chomsky: “a set (finite or infinite) of sentences, each finite in length and constructed out of a finite set of elements.”

4 Some definitions of Language The commonly accepted definition: “Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication.” I like this one: A system that uses some physical sign (sound, gesture, mark) to express meaning.

5 Language vs communication Language is not identical with communication There are many other communicative tools such as – Turn-taking – Intonation – Gesture (body language) – Eye gaze control – Touch – Displays: external objects, including jewelry, tattoos, clothing, cars

6 Two-Way Communication Process message feedback Sender Receiver channel

7 Different channels of using communication Body language Spoken language Written language Computer language Sign language Language of music Language of love Are these really languages?

8 Where does language come from? Old Theories: 1. Bow-Wow Theory: Speech arose through imitation of environmental sounds, such an animal calls. Evidence: Use of onomatopoeic words like “hiss”, “knock knock”, “cuckoo”, “wuff” etc.

9 Where does language come from? Old Theories: 2. Pooh-Pooh Theory: Speech arose through people making instinctive cries, such as those caused by pain or other emotions. Evidence: Universal use of sounds as interjections.

10 Where does language come from? Old Theories: 3. Ding-Dong Theory: Speech arose because people reacted to stimuli in the world around them, spontaneously producing sounds (“oral gestures”) in response to them. Eg: mama or some similar-sounding word referring to mother; sound of [m] could result from approximation of lips while nursing.

11 Where does language come from? 4. Yo-he-ho Theory: Hypothesizes that when people work together, their physical efforts promote communal rhythmic grunts, leading to chants, leading to language. Evidence: Universal use of prosodic features in language, esp. rhythm (like stress or accent).

12 Newer Theories 1. Speech-Based Theory Evolution led to restructuring of vocal tract Big change: descent of the larynx (larynx much higher in other animals), which produces a larger throat cavity Larger throat cavity useful in making a wide variety of vowel sounds Note: Some studies have found that mammalian larynx placement is much lower during vocalizations (“dynamic descent of the larynx”), yet non-human mammals still can’t produce the variety of sounds that humans can. Some animals have immense vocal range (cf. birds, esp. parrots), but still cannot speak

13 Newer Theories 2. Intelligence-Based Theory Increased brain size led to increased ability for symbolic thought Symbolic thought led to symbolic communication Symbolic communication endows humans with decided survival advantage (cooperation, planning, etc.)

14 Newer Theories 3. Protolanguage theory The first linguistic systems were extremely rudimentary, gradually developed greater complexity Protolanguage: Basically limited to nouns (“object-names”) and verbs (“action-names”); supported by some simple ordering requirements. Essentially no grammar.

15 Newer Theories 4. The Cognitive Theory The ability to understand the world well enough to figure out ways of manipulating it to outsmart other plants and animals. Several things evolved at the same time to support this way of life. a) Cause-and-effect intelligence: E.g. How do sticks break, how do rocks roll, how do things fly through the air? b) Social intelligence: How do I coordinate my behavior with other people so that we can bring about effects that one person acting alone could never have done? c) Language: If I learn something, I don't get the benefit of it alone, but I can share it with my friends and relatives, I can exchange it for other kinds of commodities, I can negotiate deals, I can gossip to make sure that I don't get exploited.

16 What knowledge do you need to know about language? Words –morphology Word order-syntax Meaning- semantics Interpretation of situations –pragmatics How much of the above do you need to know in order to be able to learn a language?

17 17 What do linguists do? They don’t necessarily “learn languages” – Many linguists can only speak their native language. They are often interested in the structure of languages. They might – specialize in one language, or a group of languages – compare different languages – study features shared by all languages Many linguists study speech sounds, and grammar

18 18 Overview of Linguistics Phonetics Phonology Sounds of language Linguistics Grammar MorphologySyntax Meaning Semantics Pragmatics

19 Linguistic Competence vs. Linguistic Performance

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21 Linguistic competence What we know when we ‘know’ a language. This knowledge is largely unconscious. – Peter and Sally are going to the cinema. Knowledge does not automatically guarantee performance...

22 Linguistic Performance Performance is your real world linguistic output. Performance may accurately reflect competence, but it also may include speech errors due to slips of the tongue or nervousness.

23 Linguistic Knowledge vs. Linguistic Performance There’s a distinction between – What you know about “correct” and “incorrect” language – Your ability to always produce “correct” sentences.

24 Language competence Linguistic competence develops through language use. Proficiency: development of language competence through language use. Basic language use skills: – Speaking, listening, reading and writing


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