Introduction to the Study of Language
What is Language?
“Language” is not a very well defined concept.
We will need precise and new terminology.
o Is that well-defined??
o A good way to start thinking about language is to
o Knowledge of language from
o Use of language
Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics termed these:
Linguistic competence versus
i.e. Sara and Bob expect to like them.
Sara and Bob expect to like them.
Them ≠ Sara and Bob?
Add, “Who do”:
Now: them = Sara and Bob
We differentiate knowledge of language from use of language. Noam Chomsky:
Linguistic knowledge: COMPETENCE
Use of language: PERFORMANCE
Language is essentially an individual phenomenon: a system of knowledge that is
internalized in the mind/brain of each individual
It has various social dimensions:
o In order to mature in infants, it relies on social interaction (in great part
because social interaction provides input)
o It is used for social interactions on various levels It interfaces with society in
various ways (language policies/laws, education, etc.)
o It has social consequences
Tacit Knowledge: Linguistic competence, grammar in our brains' Speakers are not aware
or is subconsciously aware ofthe rules/ principles ofa language
Our judgment of how “them” can be interpreted in the two previous sentences is
based on a rule
We all share this rule, but we are not aware of what that rule says precisely.
We were not taught that rule We know this rule intuitively; it is not part of our explicit (conscious) knowledge
Linguists are interested in uncovering and explaining these types of
Children learn the language that is spoken (or signed) in the environment they
grow up in
Children acquire language at roughly the same time across languages
Language acquisition occurs automatically – innate language faculty OR universal
i.e. children do not need to be taught
Grammar: the model that we, as linguists, construct to model linguistic knowledge (i.e.I-
Phonology: knowledge about sound patterns
Morphology: knowledge about word structure
Syntax: knowledge about sentence patterns
Semantics: knowledge about word and sentence meaning
All languages are based on a GRAMMAR.
A grammar is a system of rules
A speaker knows these rules subconsciously
A grammar in this sense is a mental entity
Two notions of “grammar”
1. Prescriptive Grammar: set of rules that prescribe how people should speak and
write “proper English etc”
o A type of grammar that tell people what or how they should use
(considered a stigma on social aspects and conventions)
2. Descriptive Grammar: set rules that describe how people actually do speak
o To describe how people are using language [how they talk and how
communicate, etc. etc.)
Linguistics are interested in the latter: Descriptive grammar
Goal of modern linguistics: a description, and explanation, of human linguistic
i.e. (1) If the light is red, do not cross the street A prescriptive rule: it prescribes something
People need to consciously know/ must be told the rule to obey
People may choose not to obey it
i.e. (2) If retinal molecules are exposed to light, they change configuration
and as a result a nerve impulse is generated.
A descriptive ‘rule’: it describes something that occurs
A process we can observe, describe and explain
Humans are not aware of this process; it happens automatically
It’s generally out of the range of control of humans to “disobey”
Examples of prescriptive grammar rules
1. Don't use double negatives, and don't use ain't.
i.e. Say: I am not going anywhere
Not: I ain’t goin nowhere
Some plausible prescriptive rules for French
1. Use participle agreement in relative clauses.
i.e. Say: Les chaises que j’ai peintes.
The chairs that I’ve painted-PL.FEM
Not: Les chaises que j’ai peint.*
2. Don't use “tu” in questions unless you refer to the 2 person singular (you). Use
‘est-ce que’ instead.
i.e. Say: Est-ce que c’est vrai ?
Not: C’est-tu vrai ?
‘Is that true?’
Prescriptive grammar rules
1. Speakers must be told/taught these rules.
2. Speakers may choose to disobey them - and do !
3. Obeying the rules can be inappropriate in certain social contexts:
a. Looking at an old photograph and exclaiming:
i.e. Gee! Is that really I ?!
The person you're looking for is I.
This is an outrage up with which I shall not put (Winston Churchill)
Standard and non-standard language
The lesser the social prestige of a speech community in a society, the lesser
valued will likely be their speech variety
The language of people with most power and privilege speak is generally proclaimed to be the ‘correct way’
From a linguistic point of view
No intrinsic linguistic reason why one way of speaking is superior to another.
Any language or language variety is based on a mental grammar; a system of
ACCORDING TO PRESCRIPTIVISTS
Rules of two varieties of French
Descriptive grammar= a model of the I-language. The scientific approach
A scientific hypothesis seeks to describe & explain a phenomenon of nature.
A scientific hypothesis must make predications.
This means: for a hypothesis to be scientific, it must be falsifiable.
The scientific method: make observation > generalize > form hypothesis > test
hypothesis (gather more data) > revise hypothesis
The innateness Hypothesis: every human being acquires a language. Humans are born
with the ability to acquire a language.
Hypothesis (Noam Chomsky): Humans possess an innate language faculty.
This faculty is commonly termed Universal Grammar, short UG
How does I-language arise in the mind?
Every individual’s mental grammar that are shared in a community (similar
understanding—not exactly the same as it is affected by individual experiences
and/ or knowledge and their own process of language acquisition]
I-language: the set of rules are internalized by speakers of a language, that is, every
I-language = linguistic competence = mental grammar:
o Generate: comprehend and produce
Permits speakers to generate infinitely many novel utterances from a finite
number of elements – an aspect often referred to as the creative aspect of
language Mentalism and Biolinguis