What is it?
How do we use it?
How do we study it?
The Language System
Words and Phrases
The combination of words
and phrases into
The combination of
into whole texts
• Phonetics investigates the
physical nature of speech, how
sounds are articulated and
– Sounds of all languages are
described according to their
"features“, of which this is a small
stop t k
• Phonology studies the use and patterning of
sounds in language.
• Phonology examines what occurs to speech sounds
when they are combined to form a word and how
these speech sounds interact with each other.
– Can you hear the difference between the stop sounds
in these pairs of words?
• This is language in its more abstract form. Some of
the questions investigated are:
– How did writing originate? What are different writing
• in what way is Chinese writing phonetic? How is writing
different from speaking?
– How is writing different from speech?
• compare see and sea
• note the two pronunciations of what is written record
– How does the process of reading work?
– How should it be taught?
– How do "phonics" and "whole language" differ?
• Syntax looks at how words are organized into
sentences. How can we explain, for example,
– you can omit "that" in This is the book (that) I
– but not in This is the book that was too
• Morphology is a branch of linguistics which
investigates how new words are created from smaller
pieces. Understanding the structure of words can
help to establish meaning.
– There are two meanings for the word unlockable depending
on its structure.
– un + lockable: there's no latch on the door, so you can't lock
– unlock + able: we've got the key now, so we can unlock it
• When we study the meanings of words and
how they combine into sentence meanings we
are in the area known as semantics.
• Look at the meanings of the following
sentences. Is there anything ambiguous?
– "Twenty-year friendship ends at altar."
– “The show ends tomorrow.”
– “The road ends in a cul-de-sac.”
• Pragmatics looks at the effect of situation on language use. The
following sentences all express the same request. Why do we
– Please shut the window.
– It's cold in here.
– I wonder if we should shut the window.
– Do you feel a draft?
• Situations create expectations. Your friend sends you a birthday
card. What would you expect to read?
– "On this day, which is the 24th anniversary of the day of your
birth, these words shall mean to you that the undersigned
wishes to transmit her best wishes, namely congratulations."
– "Happy birthday and best wishes. Yours, Elvira."
Language and thought
• But language is intimately related to life - its
relation to thought and culture raise some
very important issues.
– Does the language you speak affect the way you
– How many words does Eskimo (or English!) have
for "snow"? What does it matter?
– How does language reflect cultural differences?
• Languages change over time and are related to one
another. Historical linguistics studies these changes
and explores the relations. Some of the questions it
tries to answer are:
– In what ways did Latin change to become the various modern
– Is Latin "better" than French or Spanish?
– How can comparison of known languages permit us to
reconstruct the form of languages not spoken for 5000 years
– What can we conclude if they had a word for "sun", or
"snow", or "wheel"?
• Sociolinguistics is the study of
interrelationships of language and social
structure, linguistic variation, and attitudes
toward language. Some of the questions it
– How does language reflect the social identity of the
– Why might you have a different accent than your
parents, if they were the first people you heard
– How is variation in language use part of our knowledge
• Psycholinguistics is the study of how language
is represented in the mind, how it is acquired,
understood and produced. Some of the
questions it tries to answer are:
• How do children learn the complexities of a language
without formal instruction?
• Why do people sometimes make errors like I have a
• What sorts of errors don't typically occur? (One
example: stin keff)
• Evolutionary linguistics looks at human
language in a cross-species context. It explores
questions such as:
– How does animal communication resemble
– Can apes learn sign language?
– How (and why) might language have evolved?
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to
mean--neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master--that's all."
Lewis Caroll, Through the Looking Glass
• Talking, shouting, whispering, lying, swearing, telling jokes or
stories, in short: communication of all sorts by means of
articulate sound is something we are so familiar with that we
hardly ever come to think about it as something unique. Yet it