The scientific study of language
ELT Teacher Training Course
1. What is Language?
2. Brain and Language
3. Morphology: The Words of Language
4. Syntax: The Sentence Patterns of Language
5. The Meanings of Language
6. Phonetics: The Sounds of Language
7. Phonology: The Sound Patterns of Language
8. Language Acquisition
9. Language Processing: Humans and Computer
10. Language in Society
11. Language Change: The Syllables of Time
12. Writing: The ABCs of Language
UNIT 1 : THE ORIGINS OF LANGUAGE
We simply do not know how language originated. We do not know that
spoken language developed well before written language. Yet we have no
physical evidence relating to speech of our ancestors Because of this absence
of evidence speculations about origins of human speech have been developed.
The Divine Source
― If infants were allowed to grow up without hearing any language, then they
would spontaneously begin using the original God-given language. ―
The Natural Sound Source
― Primitive words could have been imitations of the naturel sounds which
early men & women heard around them ― Examples : cuckoo, splash, bang,
boom. This view has been called ― bow-wow theory ― of language origin and
these words echoing naturel sounds are called ― onomatopoeic words ―
A similar suggestion : ― The original sounds of language came from naturel
cries of emotion such as pain, anger & joy. Examples : Ouch! , Ah!, Hey!
The sounds of a person involved in physical effort could be the source of our
language, especially when that physical effort involved several people and
had to be coordinated. The importance of yo-heave-ho theory is that it places
the development of human language in some SOCIAL CONTEXT.
The Oral-Gesture Source
The theory comes from the idea that there is a link between physical gesture & orally
produced sounds. First of all a set of physical gestures was developed as a means of
communication. Then a set of oral gestures specially involving the mouth developed in
which the movements of the tongue, lips & so on where recognized according to
patterns of movement similar to physical gestures.
The focus is on the biological basis of the formation. In the evolutionary development
there are certain physical features, best thought of a partical adaptations that appear to
be relevant for speech. By themselves, such features would not not lead to speech
production, but they are good clues that a creature possessing such features probably
has the capacity for speech.
Human teeth, lips, mouth, tongue, larynx, pharynx & brain have been created in such
a way to coordinate in producing speech sounds. Their places, connections &
coordinative functions make humankind different from all the living creatures.
Interactions & Transactions
There are two major functions of language:
• Interactional Function : It is related with how human use language to interact with
each other socially or emotionally, how they Express therir feelings or their ideas.
• Transactional Function : It is related with how human use their linguistic abilities to
transfer knowledge from onegeneration to the next.
UNIT 2 : THE DEVELOPMENT OF WRITING
Much of the evidence used in the reconstruction of ancient writing systems comes from
inscriptions on stone or tablets found in the ruble of ruined cities.
Pictograms & Ideograms
A Picture representing a particular image in a consistent way it is called Picturewriting or Pictogram. There must be a link between the pictogram and its meaning. So,
we can easily understand what is refers to when we look at the pictogram.
More abstracts forms of pictograms are called Ideograms. The relationship between
the entity & the symbol is not easily understood like pictograms.
• A shared property of both pictograms & ideograms is that they do not present words
or sounds in a particular language.
When symbols come to be used to represent words in a language they described as
examples of word-writing or logograms. Logographic writing was used by Sumerians
& their particular inscriptions are called CUNEIFORM WRITING . Cuneiform means
wedge-shaped and it was produced by pressing a wedge- shaped implement into soft
clay tablets. When we consider the relationship between the written form & the object
it represents, it is arbitrary. We may accept the cuneiform inscriptions of Sumerians
as ‖ the earliest known writing system ―
The symbol for one entity is taken over as the symbol for the sound of the
spoken word used to refer to that entity. One symbol can be used in many
different ways, with a range of meanings. This brings a sizeable reduction in
the number of symbols needed in a writing system.
When a writing system employs a set of symbols which represent the
pronunciations of syllables it is described as syllabic writing. There are no
purely syllabic writing systems in use today, but modern Japanese can be
written with a single symbols which represent spoken syllables & is
consequently often described as having a syllabic writing or a syllabary.
An alphabet is essentially a set of written symbols which each represent a
single type of sound.
• The spelling of written English took place in 15 th century, via printing, so
Latin & French affected the written forms.
• Many of the early printers were Dutch, so they were not very successful in
English pronounciation .
• Since the 15 th century spoken English has undergone a lot of changes.
1. What is language?
1. system of arbitrary, vocal symbols which permit all people in a given culture, or other
people who have learned the system of that culture, to communicate or to interact
2. system of communication by sound, operating through organs of speech and hearing,
among members of a community, using vocal symbols possessing arbitrary
conventional meanings (Pei).
3. any set or system of linguistic symbols as used in a more or less uniform fashion by
people who are enabled to communicate intelligibly with one another (Random House).
4. system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication (Wardhaugh).
5. a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized
signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings (Gove).
6. Other definitions found in introductory textbooks on linguistics include concepts of:
a) the generatively or creativity of
over writing, and
b) the presumed primacy of speech
c) the universality of
A Consolidation of the Definitions
1. Language is a set of arbitrary symbols.
2. Those symbols are primarily vocal, but may also be visual.
3. The symbols have conventionalized meanings to which they refer.
4. Language is used for communication.
5. Language operates in a speech community or culture.
6. Language is essentially human, although possibly not limited to humans.
7. Language is acquired by all people in much the same way—language and
language learning both have universal characteristics.
What Does Knowing a Language Mean?
We know a system that relates sounds (or hand and body gestures) with meanings
When you know a language you know this system.
We know the grammar of a language.
We have a limited set of rules that comprise the grammar of a language.
This mental grammar is learned when you acquire the language.
What is Grammar?
the sound system (the phonology),
the structure of words (the morphology),
how words may be combined into phrases and sentences (the syntax),
the ways in which sounds and meanings are related (semantics), and words or lexicon.
Competence and Performance
Linguistic knowledge is different from linguistic behavior.
Linguistic competence refers to our knowledge of the language we speak.
Linguistic performance refers to actual use of language or how our knowledge of the
language is put into use.
Our linguistic performance does not always truly reflect our linguistic competence.
The more linguists investigate languages and describe ways in which they differ from
each other, the more they discover that these differences are limited.
There are linguistic universals that pertain to all parts of grammars, the ways in which
these parts are related and the forms of rules.
These principles comprise Universal Grammar, which forms basis of specific grammars
of all possible human languages. They are aspects of lang that all lang have in common.
1. Descriptive Grammar
describes grammatical constructions without making any evaluative judgments about
their standing in society.
These grammars are commonplace in linguistics, where it is practice to investigate a
'corpus' of spoken or written material, describe in detail patterns it contains.
2. Pedagogical Grammar
A book specifically designed for teaching a foreign language, or for developing an
awareness of the mother tongue
Such 'teaching grammars' are widely used in schools, so much so that many people
have only one meaning for the term 'grammar': a grammar book.
3. Prescriptive Grammar
A manual that focuses on constructions where usage is divided, and lays down rules
governing the socially correct use of language.
These grammars were a formative influence on language attitudes in Europe and
America during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Their influence lives on in handbooks of usage widely found today, such as the
Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926) by Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933).
4. Reference Grammar
tries to be as comprehensive as possible, so that it can act as a reference book for those
interested in establishing grammatical facts (like reference lexicon dictionary)
A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (1985) by Randolph Quirk (1920-) et al.
5. Theoretical Grammar
goes beyond the study of individual languages, to determine what constructs are
needed in order to do any kind of grammatical analysis,
and how these can be applied consistently in the investigation of linguistic universals.
6. Traditional Grammar
A term often used to summarize the range of attitudes and methods found in the period
of grammatical study before the advent of linguistic science.
It includes work of classical Greek and Roman grammarians, Renaissance writers, and
18th-century prescriptive grammarians.
It is difficult to generalize about such a wide variety of approaches, but linguist generally use the
term pejoratively, identifying an unscientific approach to grammatical study, in which languages
were analyzed in terms of Latin, with scant regard for empirical facts.
However, many basic notions used by modern approaches can be found in these early
writings, and there is now fresh interest in study of traditional grammar
Properties of Language
Properties of Human Language and Animal Communication Systems
Mode of Communication (vocal-auditory channel) refers to the means by which the messages
Reciprocity (Interchangeability) ability of individuals to both send and receive messages.
Specialization refers to the fact that linguistic signals do not normally serve any other type of
purpose, such as breathing or feeding.
Non-directionality refers to the fact that linguistic signals can be picked up by anyone within
hearing, even unseen.
Rapid fade refers to the fact that linguistic signals are produced and disappear quickly.
Unique Properties of Human Language
Displacement is the property of human language that allows the users of language to talk about
things and events not present in the immediate environment.
Arbitrariness refers to the property of having signals for which the form of the signals is not
logically related to its meaning.
Productivity is a feature of all languages that novel utterances are continually being created.
Cultural transmission is the need for some aspect of a communication system to be learned
through communicative interaction with other users of the system.
enough through thorough thought bough
Phonetics: Definition and Purpose
Phonetics is the science of speech sounds.
It is concerned with describing speech sounds that occur in the languages of the world.
We want to know:
1. what these sounds are,
2. how they fall into patterns, and
3. how they change in different circumstances.
It provides set of features or properties that can be used to describe and distinguish sounds
Knowledge of a language permits to segment continuous sound into linguistic units-words, morphemes, sounds.
physical sounds are physical representations of strings of discrete linguistic segments
cat consists of 3 sounds, initial sound represented by the letter c, second by a, and final sound by t.
not and knot also include 3 sounds even though first sound in knot represented by two letters kn.
pyscho has six letters which represent only four sounds – ps, y, ch, o.
Spelling and Speech
Alphabetic spelling represents the pronunciation of words.
sounds are rather unsystematically represented by orthography — that is, by spelling.
1. Did he believe that Ceasar could see the people seize the seas?
The Phonetic Alphabet
discrepancy between spelling and sounds cause a movement of ―spelling
reformers‖ called orthoepists.
They wanted to revise the alphabet so that one letter would correspond to one
and one sound to one letter, thus simplifying spelling. This is a phonetic
The major phonetic alphabet in use is that of the International Phonetic
It includes modified Roman letters and diacritics by means of which the
sounds of all human languages can be represented.
To distinguish between the orthography, or spelling, of words and their
pronunciations, phonetic transcriptions may be put between square brackets,
as in [f´netik] for phonetic.
spelling reformers believe there is need for phonetic alphabet:
1. Several letters may represent a single sound:
2. A single letter may represent different sounds:
3. A combination of letters may represent a single sound:
4. Some letters have no sound at all in certain words:
5. Some sounds are not represented in the spelling.
In many words the letter u represents a y sound followed by a u sound:
cute (compare: coot)
futile (compare: rule)
6. One letter may represent two sounds; final x in Xerox represents a k followed by an s:
Branches of Phonetics
We can describe the speech sounds at any stage.
The study of of the physical properties of the sounds
themselves is acoustic phonetics.
The study of the way listeners perceive these sounds is
Our primay concern in today’s class is articulatory
the study of how the vocal tract produces speech
sounds; the physiological characteristics of speech
The production of any speech sound involves the
movement of air.
Most speech sounds are produced by pushing lung air
through the opening between the vocal cords.
This opening is called the glottis.
It is located in the larynx ( ―voice box‖) – through the
tub in throat called pharynx,
out of oral cavity through mouth and sometimes also
through nasal cavity and out nose.
The Classification of Sounds
Sounds of all languages fall into two major natural classes:
Consoantal sounds are produced with some restriction or closure
in the vocal tract
as the air from the lungs is pushed through the glottis out the
There are two important criteria in classifying consonants:
places of articulation and manners of articulation.
Manners of Articulation
Voiced and Voiceless Sounds
If the vocal cords are apart during airflow, the air flows freely through the glottis and
supraglottal cavities (part of the vocal tract above the glottis).
The sounds produced in this way are voiceless sounds:
[p], [t], [k], and [s] in the English words. seep [sip], seat [sit], and seek [sik].
If the vocal cords are together, the airstream forces its way through and causes them to
Such sounds are voiced and is illustrated by the sounds [b], [d], [g], [z] in the English
words bate [bet], date [det], gate [get], and cob [kab].
Put a finger in each ear and say the voiced ―z-z-z-z-z‖. Vibrations are felt.
Put a finger in each ear and say the voiced ―s-s-s-s-s‖. No vibration is felt.
Aspirated and Unaspirated Sounds
Voiceless sounds may also be aspirated or unaspirated.
In the production of aspirated sounds the vocal cords remain
apart for a brief time after the stop closure is released.
This produces a puff of air at the time of the release.
• tick [tᵸ
• pit [pᵸ
Hold your palm about 5 centimeters in front of your lips say pit.
You will feel a puff of air, which you will not feel when you say
Nasal and Oral Sounds
Sounds produced with the velum up, blocking the air from
escaping through the nose, are oral sounds,
since the air can escape only through the oral cavity. Most sounds in all
languages are oral sounds.
When the velum is not in its raised position, air escapes through both the nose
and the mouth.
Sounds produced this way are nasal sounds.
The sound [m] is a nasal consonant.
Thus [m] is distinguished from [b] because it is a nasal sound, while [b] is an
Nasal sounds in English: [m], [n], and [ᵸ
Stops [p] [b] [t] [d] [k] [g]
In producing consonants, airstream may completely stopped or just partially obstructed.
Sounds that are completely stopped in the oral cavity for a brief period are called stops.
sound [t] is a stop, but sound [s] is not,that is what makes them different speech sounds.
Fricatives [s] [z] [f] [v] [T] [D] [S] [Z]
In the production of some consonants (continuants), the airflow is so severely
obstructed that it causes friction.
The sounds are therefore called fricatives.
Labiodental Fricatives: [f] and [v]
Interdental Fricatives: [ᶱ and [ᵸ
Alveolar Fricatives: [s] and [z]
Palatal Fricatives: [ᶱ and [ᶱ
The quality of a vowel is determined by the particular configuration of the vocal tract in
the production of that sound.
Vowels are classified according to three questions:
1. How high is the tongue?
2. What part of the tongue is involved; that is, what part is raised or lowered?
3. What is the position of the lips?
In phonetics, a diphthong (also gliding vowel) (Greek
δίφθογγος, "diphthongos", literally "with two sounds," or "with two tones") is a
monosyllabic vowel combination.
It involves a quick but smooth movement from one vowel to another.
It is often interpreted by listeners as a single vowel sound or phoneme.
While "pure" vowels, or monophthongs, are said to have one target tongue position,
diphthongs have two target tongue positions.
Pure vowels are represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet by one symbol:
English "sum" as /sʌm/, for example.
Diphthongs are represented by 2 symbols, English "same" as /seɪm/, where two vowel
symbols represent approximately beginning and ending tongue positions
Phonetics vs. Phonology
Phonetics is the study of speech sounds.
Phonology is the study of the sound patterns found in human language.
Phonetics provides the means to describe speech sounds, showing how they
phonology tells us which sounds function as phonemes to contrast the
meanings of words.
Phonetics is part of phonology.
Phonological knowledge permits a speaker to
produce sounds which form meaningful utterances,
recognize a foreign accent,
make up new words,
add the appropriate phonetic segments to form plurals and past tenses,
produce aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops in the appropriate context,
know what is or is not a meaning-distinguishing sound in one’s language, and
know that different phonetic strings may represent the same meaningful unit.
Phonemes are the distinctive phonological units of language that contrast or distinguish words.
sip, zip /s, z/ are phonemes
fine, vine /f, v/ are phonemes
The forms of the two words, their sounds, are identical except for the initial consonants.
/s/ & /z/ or /f/ & /v/ can therefore distinguish or contrast words.
They are distinctive sounds in English. Such distinctive sounds are called phonemes.
When two different forms are identical in every way except for one sound segment that occurs
in the same place in the string, the two words are called a minimal pair. Examples:
cold [kold], gold [gold] /k, g/
sip [sIp], zip [zIp] /s, z/
lead [lid], read [rid] /l, r/
bite [bajt], but [b√t] /aj, √/
sit [sIt], seat [sit] /I, i/
bar [bar], rod [rAd] (not a pair)
said [sEd], soup[sup] (not a pair)
“pill” and “bill” are called minimal pair. /p/ and /b/ are able to distinguish words (meanings).
They are distinctive sounds in English. /p/ and /b/ are distinctive sounds, and thus are called
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