Chapter 1 Notes.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Narayan, Chandan

Chapter 1- What is Language and how do We Study It? Human language has numerous features that distinguish it from other communication systems:  “It is remarkable fact that there are none so depraved and stupid, without even excepting idiots, that they cannot arrange different words together, forming of them a statement by which they make know their thoughts; while, on the other hand, there is no other animal, however perfect and fortunately circumstanced it may be, which can do the same” (Descartes, 1637)  Charles Hockett proposed a list of design features that characterize human language and distinguish it from other communication systems o Semanticity: words have meanings (i.e. specific signals are matched with specific meanings) o Arbitrariness: For the most part there is no logical connection between the linguistic signal and thing it refers to. Ex. Dog in English is Hund in German.  Exception: Onomatopoeia. However, in English cows “moo” but in Tamil, cows are called “maahd” because they are said to make the sound “maa.” Similar to the fact in English frogs “ribbit” but in Japanese they “gero gero” o Discreteness: refers to the fact that linguistic messages are made up of smaller, repeatable discrete parts. Everything can be divided into smaller parts until we can get into the units of sounds (sentences made up of words, words made of units of sounds) o Displacement: Talk about things out of our immediate presence (time and space), even things that are impossible. Ex. What I made for dinner last night o Productivity: language users can understand and create never-before heard utterances. Sometimes even create new words Ex. Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. o Duality of Patterning: is the productivity of language given discrete sets of units (i.e. by combining these discrete parts of the language in a systematic way we can create an infinite number of meaningful utterances). o If we take for example the African vervet monkey communication statement. We notice that it has some design features such as Semanticity (signals have meanings, a distinct call for each of their predators), arbitrariness (no logical connection between the signal and the predator such as the leopard). It lacks discreteness (signals can’t be broken down), no displacement (not used out of context), no productivity (only a single set of calls), no duality of patterning (calls are combined to make new calls) o Can other animals learn language? It is hard to say if they can a acquire language as most lack the same vocal apparatus they have to use a different modality, and it’s hard to measure. However, most don’t have all of Hockett’s design features. What is Grammar?  It is the ability to combine discrete units into larger unit forms using a complex system of rules that governs how speakers organize sounds into words, words into sentences  Components of Grammar: o Phonetics- the inventory of sounds. The study of it entails the physical properties (how it’s produced, how it’s heard, etc.) There is a subset of sounds that languages use but they overlap o Phonology- Rules of how sounds are combined in a language. The study of patterns of sounds which much more theoretical  Example English has basically 12 vowel sounds while the Hawaiian only has 5 (differ in inventory of sounds), while Hawaiian end their words with vowels, English ends in both constants and vowel sounds (difference in how sounds are combined) o Morphology- Rules of word formation in a language (the study of meaningful parts- morphs)  Example English adds “ed” to form the past participle, while in German the past participle of the verb lernen, is gelernt (add –ge and –t) o Syntax- Rules of sentence formation in a language (word order)  Example In English colour adjectives usually precede the noun (black cat) while in French they go after the noun (chat noir) o Semantics- Rules that govern how meaning is expressed by word and sentences in a language  For example although languages have similar words. In English, “grand” in front of mother means a mother two generations distant , however the equivalent in Njamal, has a term that refers to “any relative two generations distant, future or past” maili What is Grammatical?  When linguists ask whether an utterance is grammatical, we’re are investigating whether the utterance adheres to the rules of the language in question  A grammatical sentence is one that is possible in the language, a ungrammatical being one that
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