Unique Properties There are a number of unique properties found in human languages.
Communicative vs. Informative Communicative signals are intentional e.g. I’m sick today Communicative signals are intentional e.g. I’m sick today Informative signals are not intentional E.g. red nose, sneezing, runny nose, etc. Informative signals are not intentional E.g. red nose, sneezing, runny nose, etc.
1. Displacement The ability to speak about things other than here and now. Displacement is the most momentous between human language & the signaling system of all other species. We can refer to mythical creature, fairies, angles, & create fiction (Avatar)
1. Displacement Human Language Animal Communication System Humans can refer to: past, the future, as well as to locations. hypothetical or counterfactual states of affairs E.g. dreams, childhood, dinosaurs Animals lack this property. Exception: the bee dance
2. Arbitrariness The absence of any necessary connection between a linguistic form (a word) and its meaning. Le chat = cat = قطة Arbitrariness is pervasive in human languages. The particular sequence of sounds selected in a given language is completely arbitrary. Due to this feature, even the most powerful computer program can have no way of guessing the meaning of a word it has not encountered before.
2. Arbitrariness Human Language Animal Communication System Every word (form) denotes an a concept or an object. each word is formed according to the phonological system of the language. The particular sequence of sounds selected in a given language is completely arbitrary. There appear s to be a clear connection between the message and the signal used to convey it. the set of signals is finite
3. Productivity/ Creativity Productivity is reflected in our creative ability to (1) combine words to form phrases, and phrases to form sentences, and (2) to produce new sentences never spoken before & understand sentences never heard before. Productivity makes language extremely flexible & limitless
3. Productivity Human Language Animal Communication System All human languages make use of a finite set of discrete sound and letters to form infinite set of sentences and structures Animals have a fixed set of signal (fixed reference), each related to a particular object or occasion. 1 signal = 1 message
4. Discreteness The sounds that are used in language are meaningfully distinct. Each sound in the language system is treated as a linguistically specific & discrete sound. E.g. / / & / / / / & / /
5. Cultural Transmission Human language is passed down from one generation to another regardless of ethnic issues.
6. Duality Language is organized at two levels or layers simultaneously A small number of meaningless units are combined to produce a large number of meaningful units. It is one of the most economical features of human language.
6. Duality Human Language Animal Communication System Layer 1 Finite / fixed set individual phonemes – meaningless Layer 2 infinite / open-ended Phoneme combination no. of phonemes = 44/45 no. of messages ≠ 45 One layer ONLY The no. of signals corresponds to the no. of messages. 20 vocal signals = 20 messages
Other properties Vocal-auditory channel Reciprocity Specialization Non-directionality Rapid fade
References Yule, George. (1996). The Study of Language. Mass.: Cambridge UP Chapter: (3) pp. 19-29
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