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Chapter 1

Chapter 1

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Marcel Danesi

Chapter 1What is Language y Perhaps no other faculty distinguishes humanity from all other species as language does y Humans use language to encode knowledge to pass it on to subsequent generations to investigate reality to communicate among themselves to entertain themselves and so on and so forthy It is no exaggeration to say that the very survival of human civilization depends on the preservation of the worlds languages y The ambivalence of the ancients toward language continues to this daylanguage is viewed by people commonly as both a tool for gaining and preserving knowledge and as a source of misunderstanding and conflict DEFINING LANGUAGE y Defining language is an impossible task y The best way to formulate a working definition is to consider the origin of the word itself which comes from the Latin lingua meaning tongue y As thus suggests language can be defined as the use of the tongue to create meaningbearing signs y A sign is anything that stands for something other than itself y Language can thus be defined more precisely as a system of signs constructed with the tongue y They enable people to name and thus classify the things that are relevant and meaningful to them y All languages have five basic things in common 1 A system of distinctive sounds 2 Units known as words 3 Grammatical structure 4 Strategies for using language in various personal and social ways 5 Resources for making new words and thus new meanings LANGUAGE AND SPEECH y Language is a mental sign system consisting of certain specific types of signs and of the structural principles for making understanding and using them y Speech on the other hand is the use of language to form and transmit messages y Speech can be vocal involving the use of the vocal organs tongue teeth lungs etc or nonvocal as in writing or in gesturingy One can have language without speech but one cannot have speech without language because the successful deployment of speech is dependent on the categories of the language system y In compensation the lowered larynx permits vocal speech by producing a chamber above the vocal folds that can modify sound y And this in turn prepares the child for the acquisition of language as a vocal system of signs y Since we learn a language with simple exposure to bits and pieces of it in a very short time an obvious cause of the Poverty of Stimulus condition it would indeed seem to be the case that grammatical knowledge the
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