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Lecture 1

LINA01 Lecture 1: Intro


Department
Linguistics
Course Code
LINA01H3
Professor
Safieh Moghaddam
Lecture
1

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LINA01H3
Lecture 1: Introduction to Language
When people use human language, they follow certain principles (rules)
The task of linguistic research is to understand what these principles are and how
they are instantiated in language or individual languages
oLinguistic = related to language
What does it mean to know a language?
Knowing a language is being able to speak and be understood by others who know
that language
The capacity to produce some sounds (or signs for deaf and mute people) that
have a certain meaning and to understand and interpret the signs produced by
others
The capacity to understand what linguistic constructions (sounds or signs, words,
sentences) are possible in a speci'c language and what constructions are not
The linguistic knowledge is unconscious knowledge: people speaking a speci'c
language are able to explain what constructions are correct or incorrect in that
language, but they are not able to explain why
Language Acquisition versus Language Learning
Language Acquisition
Natural
Unconscious
With no direct instruction
Language Learning
Requiring practice and study
Conscious
With instructions
How is Language Dierent from other Forms of Communications?
Language is a linguistic rule system with the following characteristics:
1. Arbitrariness
a. The relationship between sound/word (form) and its meaning is
arbitrary (things are not named based on their properties).
i. For example, the concept for (
hand
) is represented by the word
main in French, by the word dast in Farsi, by the word hand in
English, and the word käsi in Finnish.

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LINA01H3
2. Creativity
a.
Humans are able to produce new sentences never spoken before and
to understand sentences never heard before.
i. Language is characterized by creativity
b. Regulated by systematic constraints; innovation can occur within
boundaries set by rules, which are integrant part of our knowledge of
language.
i. Table 1.2 in the textbook (page 3)
3. Displacement
Nouns Used as Verbs in English
Nouns: words that name things (house, dog, pillow, ..)
Verbs: words that name actions (to sleep, to sing, …)
English exhibits a process that creates verbs from nouns (pp.3-4):
Noun Use Verb Use
Pull the boat into the beach Beach the boat
Peep an airplane on the ground Ground an airplane
Put the wine in bottles Bottle the wine
o
It might seem that this innovative process exhibits a great deal of freedom.
Limits:
o
A new verb is rarely coined if a word with the intended meaning already
exists: we can say jail the robber (put the robber in jail), but not prison the
robber (put the robber in prison), because there is another verb in English
with the same meaning (imprison)
oConstraints regarding the creation of time expressions:
Julia summered/wintered/holidayed in Paris.
*The beggar midnighted/nooned/one o’clocked in the streets.
It appears that such verbs can be used only when they are given the interpretation
“to be somewhere for a period of time”. As midnight, noon, one o’clock express
points in time, rather than extended periods of time, they are not allowed.
oNot all nouns referring to extended periods of time are allowed:
*I autumned in London.
oWhen verbs are formed they are allowed to have only speci'c
interpretations. For example:
I wintered in Hawaii, can mean only that
I spent the winter in Hawaii; it cannot mean
*I stayed in Hawaii until the winter began.
Creativity
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LINA01H3
Related to the ability to combine words to form phrases and phrases to form
sentences.
No dictionary of any language contains all the possible sentences.
A given language has only a certain speci'c number of sounds and allows these
sounds to combine in certain speci'c ways.
This yields a 'nite set of words. For example, the average high school graduate
knows 60 000 words. But the number of his/her sentences is in'nite.
This aspect refers therefore to the creative character of language: out of a limited
inventory of signs (words), an in'nite number of sentences can be created.
Von Humboldt (1836): language makes "in'nite use of 'nite means".
Because of the creative capacity of language, the number of some elements in a
sentence might be reiterated as many times as wanted (and this observation is
valid for all languages).
oFor example, a phrase like:
The old house
might be expanded by replicating the concept for old (and this element
is called an adjective), even ad in'nitum:
The old, old house or
The old, old, old house or
The old, old, old, old, old, old, old house. (et c.)
oOr a sentence like:
He is kind
can also be expanded, by adding other sentences
He said that he is kind or
I know that he said that he is kind or
I told her that I know that he said that he is kind…
Competence vs. Performance
Although, hypothetically, there are no limits to reiteration, psychological,
physiological or any other types of language-external reasons might (and, in many
cases, they do) block it.
oE.g., the speaker might run out of breath, the audience might leave, they
might lose track of what is said, they might get tired, bored, etc.
When analyzing language, we need to distinguish between competence, de'ned
as a speaker’s (unconscious) knowledge of what can and can’t be said in their
language, and
Performance (how the speaker actually uses his/her linguistic competence to
produce and understand speech).
Linguistic Competence
“Testing” your linguistic competence:
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