What is Language?

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Today I am SEO Anyaran will provides explanation about Language by Susan Dostert. This article hopefully can give us about the knowledge of Language is. Ok... read carefully!!

The term ‘language’ can be used to refer to a variety of concepts / things, such as “the particular form of words and speech used by the people of a country, area or social group”, or “the method of human communication using spoken or written words”. In other words, we can talk about a specific language e.g. English, German, Swahili etc. or about language as such. In linguistics, we are interested in both of these fields, whereby General Linguistics will tend to concentrate on the latter topic and the individual language departments on their specific language e.g. English linguistics. A further meaning of ‘language’ is “the style or types of words used by a person or group”, which is a topic generally studied within sociolinguistics.

Language as a form of human communication
Most linguists would probably agree that although many animals are able to communicate, they do not actually have ‘language’ in the sense that humans do. Birds may sing, cats miaow and purr, dogs bark and growl, apes grunt, scream and even chatter, but they are not assumed to be using these sounds in the way we do. ‘Language’ is therefore a major attribute distinguishing us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Yule’s 5 characteristics of human language

This is the ability to use language to talk about times, places and people other than the ‘here and now’. It also enables us to say things which we know to be false i.e. to lie. Bees are said to be able to convey some of this information in their ‘dance’ which they employ to pass on information about food sources. 

This means that there is generally no natural, inherent relationship between the signs (i.e. sounds or letters) we produce and their meaning. For this reason different languages can use different signs to refer to one and the same thing e.g. a flower in English is a Blume in German or a fleur in French. Occasionally we find examples of iconicity, where someone has tried to overtly create a resemblance between the sign and its meaning. 
Examples: small tall fat 

When language tries to mirror or ‘echo’ the sounds made by animals and objects this is called onomatop(o)eia.
Examples: cuckoo squelch ticktock

Arbitrariness  also enables languages to evolve, both in the sense that existing signs can come to mean new things (e.g. pen which used to refer to a quill), but also that new signs can be introduced for existing things. Animal languages, in contrast, are more likely to have fixed reference i.e. a certain sign has a specific and fixed meaning.

This is an important characteristic of human language allowing us to continuously create new utterances, combining the ‘building bricks’ of language in ever new ways, whether these be sounds, words or sentences. Human languages are therefore continually evolving.

Cultural Transmission
This refers to how languages are acquired by our children. The assumption is that there is no genetic component (although Noam Chomsky challenges this with his theory of Universal Grammar) which would enable a child to simply start speaking e.g. English at a certain age, but rather that children need to be exposed to a language (and culture) in order to acquire it. This means, for example, that a child born in Korea to Korean parents but then adopted by French parents in France will tend to grow up speaking French as his/her first language and not Korean (unless the French parents make sure the child is also exposed to Korean). Many animals, however, do seem to pass the ability to communicate on to their offspring genetically e.g. dogs will bark even if they have never heard another dog. 

Duality (or ‘double articulation’) refers to two separate layers of language working together to provide us with a pool of sounds which we can combine to communicate with one another. On the one hand, we have a limited number of discrete sounds (e.g. the 44 phonemes in English) which in isolation have no inherent meaning e.g. b, i, or n. On the other hand, we have a virtually unlimited number of distinct meanings which we can create by combining these sounds in certain ways e.g. bin, or nib. Various other combinations such as *bni are not meaningful in English, but could possibly be in other languages.

Other features of human language 
A further feature of human language is reflexiveness, which means that we are able to use the language to talk about language – which is typically what linguists do. Discreteness is also something that is said to distinguish human languages from other forms of animal communication. It means that the sounds of a language differ sufficiently from one another for a (native) speaker to distinguish them and thereby know which sign with which meaning is being used at any one time.

Language and the brain
Language is a cognitive skill and one therefore whose roots are situated in the evolution of the brain. We do not know exactly when our ancestors began to speak (estimates vary from 30,000 – 100,000 years ago), or even what triggered them to do so, but once they started, there was no stopping them. From such humble beginnings the 5,000 – 6,000 languages we assume to exist today have evolved.

Research mainly on language aphasia has been able to show that there are two major areas of the brain specialized in language processing, production and comprehension: Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, situated in the left hemisphere and named after the two physicians who first discovered them in the 19th century

What is linguistics?
Linguistics is the science of language(s). It is generally a descriptive discipline rather than a prescriptive one, which means that linguists do not lay down hard and fast rules about how to use a certain language, but rather concentrate on describing the rules which (especially native) speakers seem to have internalized. Apart from this, there are various different ways of ‘doing’ linguistics. For example, we can concentrate on language as used at a certain point of time e.g. in 1989; this is called synchronic linguistics. Alternatively, we can look at language from a diachronic point of view, which involves analyzing the development of a language during a certain period of time e.g. during Middle English, or in the 1950s etc. Linguistics is a science which can either be studied in a theoretical or a more applied way. For example, someone may be interested in finding out exactly how questions are formed in English (= theoretical). Once this is known the knowledge could be applied e.g. to language teaching, thereby (hopefully) enabling teachers and pupils to learn the language more effectively.

Yule, George (2006). The Study of Language: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ch. 1-2

Kortmann, Bernd (2005). English Linguistics: Essentials. Berlin: Cornelsen Verlag. Ch. 1.

Finegan, Edward (2004). Language: Its Structure and Use. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. Ch. 1.

Advanced reading
Bauer, Laurie & Trudgill, Peter (Eds.). (1998). Language Myths. London: Penguin. Herrmann, Christoph & Fiebach, Christian (2004).

Gehirn & Sprache. Frankfurt a. M.: Fischer. Pinker, Steven (1994). The Language Instinct. London: Penguin.

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