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WHAT IS LINGUISTICS ? LECTURE ONE. WHAT IS LANGUAGE ? WHAT IS LINGUISTICS ?

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Presentation on theme: "WHAT IS LINGUISTICS ? LECTURE ONE. WHAT IS LANGUAGE ? WHAT IS LINGUISTICS ?"— Presentation transcript:

1 WHAT IS LINGUISTICS ? LECTURE ONE

2 WHAT IS LANGUAGE ? WHAT IS LINGUISTICS ?

3 LANGUAGE Language provides the means for us to take our place in society, to express our wants and convey information, to learn about the people and world around us In short, it enables us to live effectively, to develop our capabilities, and to satisfy our curiosity about our surroundings

4 EARLIER CONCERNS FOR LANGUAGE AND ITS USE Panini - language is a system made up of classes and subclasses - grammars and dictionaries are largely concerned with indicating the interrelationships between the elements of languages interpreted as systems the Hebrews recognized that language holds societies together - tower of Babel western culture long maintained its unity through use of Latin as its learned language

5 EARLIER CONCERNS FOR LANGUAGE AND ITS USE (contd) causes of speech defects or aphasia want to ‘penetrate’ into the secret of the human spirit and learning something of its nature and laws uses and effects of language

6 What is the trait which most decisively distinguishes human beings from all other creatures on the planet? Love ? Warfare ? Art and Music ? Technology ?

7 Human Language human language is arguably the single most remarkable characteristic that sets our species apart our development of everything from music to warfare could never have come about in the absence of language LANGUAGE IS WHAT MAKES US HUMAN, AND HUMAN LANGUAGE IS UNIQUE

8 VIEWS OF THE ORIGIN OF LANGUAGE traced to the Garden of Eden - the first woman and the first man spoke the language bestowed on them by their creator language originated in a paradise where its pristine form was perfectly logical and perfectly grammatical ‘yo-heave-ho’ theory Phrygian origins

9 Language Diversity -- from Babel to Babble Why do languages differ from one another Why did they change ? The Old Testament relates that before the Tower of Babel, all men and women spoke the same language and could understand one another without difficulty

10 Language Diversity -- from Babel to Babble (contd.) human haughtiness eventually provoked God into punishing people by confounding their language and introducing mutually unintelligible tongues given this story, language differences among people can be seen as a penalty for sinful behavior

11 Language Diversity -- from Babel to Babble (contd.) similarly, Muslims believe that God spoke to Prophet Mohammed in a form of Arabic that was by definition ‘pure’ and ‘perfect’ The Holy Koran is viewed as the exemplar of pure and grammatically perfect Arabic the many varieties of present-day Arabic spoken in Africa and the Gulf, and elsewhere, are seen as having risen through the subsequent weakness and culpability of their speakers

12 Language Diversity -- from Babel to Babble (contd.) professional linguists take a different approach they see the multiplicity of languages as the product of natural historical change the inevitable result of people shaping and reshaping their languages to meet changing social and intellectual needs, and as a reflection of contact with peoples speaking other languages

13 DESIGN FEATURES OF LANGUAGE (fundamental properties of language ) duality of patterning displacement open-endedness stimulus-freedom arbitrariness

14 DUALITY OF PATTERNING for most people, most of the time, the ordinary medium of language is speech how do we speak ? we allow air from the lungs to pass out through our mouths, and at the same time, we move our mouths in various ways to produce speech sounds-- consonants and vowels every utterance we make consists of speech sounds, one after another

15 DUALITY OF PATTERNING (contd.) how many different speech sounds can you produce ?- there is no cut-and-dried answer to this question however, unless you have had specialist training in phonetics (the study of speech sounds), you find it very difficult to produce even a hundred different individual speech sounds

16 DUALITY OF PATTERNING (contd.) in fact, every human language operates with only a small set of speech sounds take English for example, consider the word cat - how many speech sounds does it contain ? (answer : 3 ) the k-sound, the flat a, and the t-sound

17 DUALITY OF PATTERNING (contd.) For convenience, let us introduce special symbols for each of the speech sounds / k /, /æ /, / t / we use the slashes / / to indicate we are talking about distinctive speech sounds (phonemes) of a particular language --in this case, English

18 DUALITY OF PATTERNING (contd.) now, if someone asks you what the English word / k æ t / means, you will have no trouble in answering but suppose, someone asks you what the English phoneme / k / means ? this time it is impossible for you to answer as the phoneme / k / has no meaning in English ( nor / æ / or / t /

19 DUALITY OF PATTERNING (contd.) but now notice something else -- these same meaningless phonemes can be rearranged to produce different words with different meanings thus the order / t æ k / produces the word tack, while / æ k t / produces the word act, / æ t / gives at, and / t æ k t / gives tacked or tact

20 DUALITY OF PATTERNING (contd.) what is happening is that, by combining a very small set of meaningless speech sounds in various ways, we can produce a very large number of different meaningful items -- words. all human languages are constructed in this way, and this is called duality of patterning or duality

21 DUALITY OF PATTERNING (contd.) duality is the use of a small number of meaningless elements in combination to produce a large number of meaningful elements

22 DUALITY OF PATTERNING (contd.) Why is this significant ? suppose, every individual sound we could produce had its own meaning, then -- the number of different meanings we could express would be no greater than the number of sounds we could produce then ??

23 DUALITY OF PATTERNING (contd.) we have seen that we can’t produce more than about a hundred speech sounds, the result would be that a language could contain only about a hundred ‘words’ this would be catastrophic--imagine English consisting no more than a hundred words

24 DUALITY OF PATTERNING (contd.) DUALITY IS UNIQUE TO HUMAN LANGUAGE in fact, bird songs and whale songs arguably contain an element of duality, but these are not exactly signaling systems other creatures have signaling systems which are based on the principle of ‘one sound, one meaning’

25 Incidentally !! how many phonemes are there in English ? answer : around why such a vague answer ? because not all English speakers use exactly the same set of speech sounds -- e.g. do you pronounce the words book or buck differently or identically ? (people who pronounce them differently have one more vowel than those who pronounce them identically )

26 DISPLACEMENT displacement is the use of language to talk about things other than the here and now we are able to talk about last night’s badminton game, our childhood, or the behavior of dinosaurs which lived over 100 million years ago

27 OPEN-ENDEDNESS open-endedness is our ability to use language to say anything at all, including lots of things we’ve never said or heard before A large pink spider wearing sunglasses and a polka dot sarong danced across the floor (It is most unlikely that you have ever seen the sentence above, but you have no difficulty in understanding it--even though you may not believe it)

28 NON-HUMAN ANIMALS (with an exception) non-human animals do not exhibit displacement (mice do not swap stories about their close encounters, rabbits do not engage in heated arguments about what may lie over the hill) virtually all ‘utterances’ by non-human animals appear to relate directly, and exclusively, to the time and place of uttering

29 NON-HUMAN ANIMALS (contd.) these creatures also exhibit nothing we could call open-endedness it appears to be that each species’ signaling system contains only a small number of possible utterances

30 NON-HUMAN ANIMALS (contd.) lacking duality, non-human creatures appear to be locked into a world of expression which we can barely conceive of -- a system of communication lacking both a past and a future, bounded by the horizon, and devoid of novelties, consisting only of the endless repetition of a few familiar messages about what‘s going on at the moment

31 Exception !!! in the 1950’s and 1960’s an Austrian ethologist, Karl von Frisch carried out a series of studies which revealed something unexpected about the behavior of European honeybees. when a honeybee scout discovers a useful source of nectar, it flies back to its hive and then performs an astonishing little dance inside, watched by the other bees the details of the dance vary depending both on the distance of the nectar and on the particular species and variety of bee in the most famous case, the dancing bee performs a tail-wagging dance in the form of a squashed figure eight with a straight middle section Von Frisch was able to decode this dance

32 Exception !!! (contd.) the time the dancing bee takes to complete a circuit of the figure eight indicates the distance to the nectar source (a longer time represents a longer flight) the level of excitement demonstrated by the bee represents the quantity of nectar, and hence the number of bees needed to harvest it (greater excitement - more nectar, and hence more bees needed) finally, and most stunningly, the orientation of the straight part of the figure eight represents the direction of the source with respect to the position of the sun (e.g.. if the straight section is oriented at 80 degrees to the left of straight up, the bees will fly toward a point of 80 degrees to the left of the sun) this is DISPLACEMENT ! The dancing bee is passing on information about a nectar source which it visited some time ago, which is now perhaps miles away, and which it therefore cannot see)

33 Exception !!! (contd.) wonderful as the bee dance is, it is none the less, as von Frisch was able to show, severely limited in important respects in a famous experiment, he allowed some bee scouts to find an artificial nectar source, a bowl of water and sugar, placed on a telephone pole twenty feet high, much higher than the bees were accustomed to finding nectar the bee scouts returned to the hive and danced as usual. The result ?? A swarm of bees soon arrived at the pole, buzzed around it in seeming confusion for a while, and then went home. The dancing scouts had been unable to include in their dance the novel bit of information about the height -- or as von Frisch put it, there is no word in honeybee for ‘up’

34 STIMULUS - FREEDOM stimulus-freedom is the ability to say anything you like in any context suppose someone says to you, ‘What do you think of my kebaya ?’-- you are free to make any response you like, including none at all.You might reply, ‘it’s pretty’ or ‘it is so ugly’ or ‘it doesn’t suit you’. this however does not mean that human language is totally random. There are social pressures that make some responses more likely than others the absence of stimulus-freedom would mean that your every remark is determined by the context, so that like a character in a play, you do not have the choice of what to say

35 STIMULUS - FREEDOM (contd.) there are, of course, certain formal and especially ceremonial context in which you are bound by the context -e.g.. church services non-human signals are NOT stimulus-free, but rather stimulus bound i.e.. a non-human creature produces a particular signal always and only when the appropriate stimulus is present

36 ANIMAL SIGNALING SYSTEMS Vs HUMAN LANGUAGES lacking duality, lacking displacement, lacking open-endedness, lacking stimulus- freedom, animal signaling systems are almost unfathomably different from human languages human language is unique on this earth, and without it, we could not count ourselves as human at all

37 ARBITRARINESS this is the absence of any necessary connection between a linguistic form and its meaning the overwhelming presence of arbitrariness in language is the chief reason it takes so long to learn the vocabulary of a foreign language-- it is generally impossible to guess the meaning of an unfamiliar word

38 WHAT IS LINGUISTICS ? Linguistics can be defined as the scientific inquiry of human language Linguistics is best regarded as an enterprise whose principal objective is to provide an increasingly adequate understanding of particular facets of languages, thereby gradually building our understanding of the nature of language itself

39 WHAT IS LANGUAGE ? Language is defined as an arbitrary vocal system used by human beings to communicate with one another however, speech is more than communication -- it is action a language is a communication system that has work to perform, a system that speakers exploit purposefully

40 WHAT IS LANGUAGE ?(contd.) Language is used to DO things, not merely to REPORT them or TALK ABOUT them

41 BRANCHES OF LINGUISTICS there are many branches of linguistics and new ones continue to arise historically, the central branch has been grammar some linguists are interested in the description of particular languages others, in uncovering the patterns across languages and explaining universal patterns in psychological or social terms

42 BRANCHES OF LINGUISTICS (contd.) other linguists focus on language variation both across speech communities and within a single community, across time, and across different situations of use


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