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Key Attributes of Human Language This PP presentation uses several graphics and examples from similar material created by Dr. Alicia Wassink, University of Washington, for her introductory linguistics course. I have edited and adapted it for English 301. (August 2007) Points of Focus Seeing language as a set of rules Distinguishing linguistic competence vs. linguistic performance Naming attributes of language Separating animal communication from human language Identifying fields of linguistic study Linguistic competence What we know when we “know” a language. This knowledge is largely unconscious. How do we study linguistic competence? By observing a speaker’s linguistic performance. How Grammar Works Prescriptive grammar Prescribes rules governing what people should/shouldn’t say Descriptive grammar Describes the rules that govern what people do or can say (their “mental grammar”) Prescriptive Rules “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition!” “Don’t split infinitives!” “Don’t use double negatives!” Descriptive Rules In English sentences, words follow a predictable order. The boat sailed away. *Sailed boat away the. Summing up this point Descriptive rules are linguists’ attempt to represent your mental grammar. They are natural followed intuitively need not be taught Prescriptive rules are not natural must be learned by rote (in school) Naming Language Features Goal: Characterize language, distinguish it from other communication systems Caveat: If a system lacks even one feature, it is communication, not language Language Attributes Discreteness Arbitrariness Cultural transmission Displacement Productivity (AKA Creativity) Discreteness Larger, complex messages can be broken down into smaller, discrete parts [tap] p e.g., [pat] a t [apt] Arbitrariness There is no (necessary) connection between the form of signal and its meaning e.g., whale is a small word for big animal, microorganism is just the reverse Cultural transmission At least some aspect of communication system is learned from other users e.g., child of Italian-speaking parents will first speak Italian Displacement Ability to talk about things not present in space or time e.g., “The Dutch bought Manhattan from the Native Americans for $24.” Productivity Speakers can create an infinite number of novel utterances that others can understand Elvis lives!! e.g., “Little purple gnomes / living in my sock drawer said, ‘Elvis lives’.” Animal Communication Does not include displacement, arbitrariness or most of the other features of HUMAN language. Aspects of Language Human language consists of several levels or dimensions of knowledge These dimensions are used by linguists to separate language into separate areas of study Core Subfields Phonetics Phonology Morphology Syntax Semantics Pragmatics Phonetics and Phonology Phonetics: the study of individual units of sound e.g., “ee” is a single sound in “seek” Phonology: the study of how speech sounds pattern and how they are organized (i.e., the sound system) e.g., art, *rta (where ‘*’ = ungrammatical) Morphology Morphology: The study of the origin and structure of words. e.g., algebra is “borrowed” from Arabic e.g., unrealistic un-real-ist-ic Syntax Syntax: the study of the structure of sentences e.g., Fido brought in the paper. BUT NOT *Fido in paper brought the. Semantics and Pragmatics Semantics: the study of meaning in language. Pragmatics: the study of how linguistic meaning depends on context.
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