Introduction to Language 1
Chapter 1: What is Language?
Knowledge of the Sound system
The unconscious knowledge of language is revealed by the way speakers of
one language pronounce words from another language,
Many French Canadians pronounce words such as this and that as if they
were spelled dis and dat. The English sound represented by the initial letters
th is not part of the French sound system, and the French mispronunciation
reveals the speakers’ unconscious knowledge of this fact.
Knowing the sound system of a language includes more than knowing the
inventory of sounds: sounds may start a word, end a word, or follow each
Knowledge of Words
Knowing a language is knowing that certain sound sequences signify certain
concepts or meanings. Knowing a language is therefore knowing how to
relate sounds and meanings.
If you do not know a language the osunds spoken to you will be mainly
incomprehensible, because the relationship between speech sounds and the
meanings they represent in the languages of the world is, arbitrary.
Swiss linguist Ferdubabd de Saussure (1916/1969) pointed out the
important principle of “the arbitrariness of the sign,” the wholly conventional
pairing of a sound (form) with the concept (meaning).
The arbitrary relationship between the form and the meaning of a work in
spoken language Is also true in sign language.
o A person who knows CSL would find it difficult to understand ASL.
o Signs that may have originally been mimetic (similar to miming) or
iconic (with a nonarbitrary relationship between form and meaning)
change historically as do words, and the iconicity is lost. These signs
Sound symbolism is found in words whose pronunciation suggests the
meaning, as in the word hiss.
A few words in most languages are onomatopoeic—the sounds of the words
supposedly imitate the sounds of nature.
Some words have shared sounds because of a historically related ancestor
The creativity of Linguistic Knowledge
Knowing a language means being able to produce new sentences never
spoken before and to understand sentences never heard before.
Creative aspect of linguistic knowledge: Speakers’ ability to combine finite
number of linguistic units of their language to produce and understand an
infinite range of novel sentences
Knowing a language includes knowing what sentences are appropriate in
The longer sentences become, the less likely we would hear or say them. Knowledge of Sentences and Non-sentences
Our “intuitive” knowledge of what is or is not an acceptable sentence in
English allows us to recognize such ungrammatical sentences with little
Knowledge of a language determines which strings of words are sentences
and which are not. Therefore, in addition to knowledge of the words of the
language, linguistic knowledge includes rules for forming sentences and
These rules must be finite in number so that they can be stored in our finite
brains; yet they must permit us to form and understand an infinite set of new
Linguistic knowledge and Performance
Speakers’ linguistic knowledge permits them to form longer and longer
sentences by joining sentences and phrases together or adding modifiers to a
There is a difference between having the knowledge necessary to produce
sentences of a language and applying this knowledge.
It is a difference between what you know, which is your linguistic
competence, and how you use the knowledge in actual speech production
and comprehension, which is your linguistic performance.
Speakers of all languages have the knowledge to understand or produce
sentences of any length.
When they attempt to use that knowledge there are physiological and
psychological reasons that limit the number of adjectives, adverbs, clauses,
and so on.
Linguistic knowledge is not conscious knowledge
The linguistic system is learned subconsciously with no awarenes