Communication and Language, Part 1: The Birds and the Bees September 12, 2012
Heads up! Two readings (for next week) have been posted to the course website. 1.For next Monday: Steven Pinker on “The Language Mavens”, from his book, “The Language Instinct”. 2.For next Wednesday: Ray Jackendoff on “Knowledge of Language”.
Quick Write #1 In this class, we have native speakers of: English57 Punjabi4 Vietnamese4 Spanish3 Arabic3 Cantonese2 Japanese2 Russian2 Teochew2 Turkish2 “Chinese”1 Dinka1 Farsi1 Filipino1 Igbo1 Mandarin1 Silozi1 Tagalog1 Four people grew up learning two languages at once!
Quick Write #1 And people have studied the following non-native languages: French39 English27 Spanish13 German4 Japanese4 Cantonese3 Mandarin3 Hindi2 Arabic1 “Chinese”1 Dutch1 Hungarian1 Ilocano1 Italian1 Japanese1 Korean1 Latin1 Jamaican Creole 1 “Pidjin”1 Tagalog1 Vietnamese1
Quick Write #1 67 people know two languages 26 people know three languages 9 people know four languages 4 people know five languages 1 person knows eight languages! Note: a linguist is not necessarily a polyglot!
Igpay Atinlay Do you know any other language games? How about: fo’ shizzle?
In Our Last Episode Linguistics is the scientific study of language. Linguists have learned that language is: 1.Biological 2.Complex 3.Creative What else do we know about language?
Linguists know (part 4): Language is social. Language can be arbitrary. Every language varies according to region, speaker identity, and situation. Language can define communities. Language can shape identity.
Linguists know (part 5): Every language undergoes change. Languages are, in fact, changing all the time. Ex: the great vowel shift Present-day: the Great Lakes vowel shift and a Canadian vowel shift! Languages evolve in reliable ways. Languages can be related to one another. Languages can die. New languages can be born.
This Course Explores... The complex nature of human language from both biological and social perspectives. What is “knowledge of language”? How is language used for communication? How do we know that language is uniquely human? How does human language differ from other animals’ systems of communication? How can language be creative? What are the universal properties of language?
The Structures of Language The majority of this class will be devoted to learning how to analyze and understand the structures of language. Word structure: Morphology What are the units of meaning in language? How are words formed in language? Sound structure #1: Phonetics What sounds are used in speech? How do we make those sounds? (with our lips, jaws, tongues, vocal folds, etc.) What’s the best way to write down what a person has actually said?
The Structures of Language Sound structure #2: Phonology How are sounds related to one another in language? What distinguishes one sound from another? What rules do languages use to put sounds together into words? Sentence structure: Syntax How does language combine words into sentences? How do sentences relate to one another? How do the rules of word order differ from one language to another?
The Structures of Language Meaning structure: Semantics How do words relate to/represent the world? How do we know what words mean? How do we know what a sentence means? Conversation structure: Pragmatics What “maxims” do people follow in conversations? How can they violate those maxims? How do we get meaning out of context? What do people “read into” what you say?
What’s the big idea? Language is biological. Language is a unique property of the human species. All people have language. It’s part of our genetic endowment. We’re neurologically specialized for it. No other species of animal has language. But: dogs bark, cats purr, pigs oink, crows caw… How is that not language?
Language vs. Communication Human beings can use language for communication. Animals communicate with each other without using language. Point: it’s not the ability to communicate that makes humans unique, it’s the ability to use language. “No matter how eloquently a dog may bark, he cannot tell you that his parents were poor, but honest.” --Bertrand Russell
More Deep Thoughts “It is not the want of organs that [prevents animals from making] known their thoughts...for it is evident that magpies and parrots are able to utter words just like ourselves, and yet they cannot speak as we do, that is, so as to give evidence that they think of what they say... On the other hand, men who, being born deaf and dumb, are in the same degree, or even more than the brutes, destitute of the organs which serve the others for talking, are in the habit of themselves inventing certain signs by which they make themselves understood.” --René Descartes (1637)
Questions 1. What’s the difference between language and communication? 2.How do we know that animals don’t have language? 3.Can animals acquire language if we try to teach it to them?
“Design Features” of Language From a 1966 article: “The design features listed below are found in every language on which we have reliable information, and each seems to be lacking in at least one known animal communicative system.” Defined by the linguist Charles Hockett (1916-2000)
“Design Features” of Language All communication systems have the following features: 1.A mode of communication (a medium) Audio-visual for most humans Visual-spatial for sign language users Chemical-olfactory for some plants and animals Electric current for telephones, computers, etc. 2. Semanticity Communication signals have meaning
“Design Features” of Language Some communication systems have the following features: 3. Interchangeability Participants can be transmitters and receivers. 4. Cultural Transmission System gets passed along through interaction with users of the system. “Tradition” IMPORTANT: People are not genetically pre-disposed to learn a particular language.
Cultural Transmission in Birds http://www.bavarianbirds.de/ortolan/ortolan.htm The Ortolan Bunting (found in Germany) exhibits various regional song dialects.
“Design Features” of Language 5. Arbitrariness –No logical relationship between signals (signs) and what they represent (their meaning) SignMeaning “tree” “Baum” “arbre”
Iconicity Arbitrary signs may be contrasted with iconic signs …which bear some resemblance to whatever it is that they signify. Examples: Note: sign languages tend to be highly iconic although they can display abritrariness, too.