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Lecture 1

LIN102H5 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Universal Grammar, Word Formation, Linguistic Performance

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Arsalan Kahnemuyipour

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Lecture 1 – Introduction to Linguistics
What is linguistics?
oLinguistics is the scientific study of language
oLinguists focus on spoken language because:
A. Everyone learns a spoken language, but there are illiterate people
B. It doesn't require explicit teaching, as opposed to writing
C. There's human languages with no writing system (ex: creole)
Why do languages differ?
A. Natural historical change
B. Product of shaping speech to meet social/intellectual needs
C. Contact with people speaking other languages
Why are languages so similar?
oLinguists tend to work on spoken language because everyone learns a
language, but some people are illiterate.
oThe knowledge known as grammatical competence is largely subconscious,
acquired without explicit teaching. Of the many conceivable possibilities,
only a narrow band can be found; language universals
oIn languages like Japanese, you'll say "You ate what?"
oChomskyan view; the possibilities are limited by universal grammar, which
is part of the biologically endowed language faculty
oLinguists assume that various human languages constitute a unified
phenomenon and that the study of particular languages will reveal features
of language that are universal
What do we know when we know a language?
A. Knowledge of the rules of word formation -- Morphology
B. Knowledge of the rules of sentence formation -- Syntax
C. Knowledge of the system of meanings -- Semantics
D. Knowledge of the sound system, its inventory and rules -- Phonetics &
Misconceptions about linguistics:
1. "How many languages do you speak?"
oLinguists may not know a lot of languages, but they will likely know a lot of
facts and will know how to analyze language data
2. Linguists will correct your grammar
oMost linguists are descriptivist, and not presciptivists (interested in what
the facts are not what they should be)
oPresciptivists tell you what's wrong and what's right; they prescibe you (ex:
oModern linguists are interested in how people actually use the language
(ex: Who are you talking to/To whom are you talking?)
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