Introduction to Language LCD 101: Intro to Language Fall 2011 Ryan
What is linguistics?
What is language?
What is it to know a language?
Prescriptive Grammar vs. Descriptive
It is a science dedicated to the study of human language
It is an exact science, similar to chemistry, physics, biology, etc.
It is a very recent science. There are many things about language that linguists don’t know – yet!
Linguistics is NOT…
a study of individual languages
a study of foreign languages
about how to write grammar books
a study of how to teach English to
non-native English speakers
the Grammar Police!
What is language?
How does the human brain process and produce language?
How come we are the only creatures on this planet that are capable of knowing and using a language? Or are we?
When we say that we know a language, what exactly is it that we know?
Language Definition from Oxford English Dictionary: language, noun a.The system of spoken or written communication used by a particular country, people, community, etc., typically consisting of words used within a regular grammatical and syntactic structure. e.g.: ‘English language’, ‘French language’ b. The vocal sounds by which mammals and birds communicate; any other signals used by animals to communicate. e.g.: ape, horse language, etc c.A means of communicating other than by the use of words, as gesture, facial expression, etc.; non-verbal communication. e.g. body, code, finger, picture, sign language
The ability to speak and understand a
language comes naturally to humans - just like blinking or breathing – it is inherent.
Language processing is subconscious.
We never think about the rules of language.
As a result, most people take language
The ability to use language makes humans,
different from the rest of the animal world.
We use language to think.
We use language to communicate.
We even use language to talk about
Language is not just a random collection of
It is an incredibly sophisticated structure: a
strictly organized system of units and rules.
Language Units Units of language (sounds, syllables, words, etc.) don’t just combine randomly. They are arranged in a hierarchical system. On every level, there are rules that govern which units can exist in this particular language and how they can combine with each other.
Language Rules: Examples Are these English words? dream bruise strength pitch
Language Rules: Examples What about these words? Could they be English words? ricking glutch trest stoom
Answer: Sure. Even if they aren’t found in the dictionary, we can imagine them as being English words. Some new-ish words which once would have sounded strange: quark, google, email
Language Rules: Examples What about these words? Could they be English words? ngayon gdje mgla mbwa How do you know that this set of words is not possible in English?
Answer: You have a set of rules in your head, like a computer, that tells you which sounds can be combined to make possible English words and which sounds can’t. These rules are called phonotactic constraints.
Language Rules: Examples A speaker of another language has a different “computer”, a different set of rules that compute sound combinations differently ngayon“now” Tagalog gdje “where” Croatian mgla “darkness” Russian mbwa “dog” Bantu
Language Rules: Examples Is this sentence? The cow jumped over the fence. Or this? Unhappiness my of friend’s apparent is. Or this? Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
Some Language Myths You have to be really smart to learn a language. “between you and I” British English is better than American English. Slang is not “real” language. You have an accent – I don’t.
Homework Find someone who speaks English with an accent different from yours. Objectively observe and record those differences. Describe some of those differences – does he or she use different sounds, words, expressions, etc? Be as specific as possible. Give examples. One to two pages, double-spaced, no larger than 12 font size.
References: The Study of Language. 2010. Yule, George. 4th Edition. Language Files. 2007. 10thEdition. Bergmann, A.; Hall, K.C.; Ross, S.M. American Tongues. 1988. PBS.