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nature of language


Linguistics

The Nature of Language
For junior students major in English Purpose of teaching: Invite students to the field of linguistics

I. Lead-in Remarks

Questions: 1. Why is language so important? 2. What is language?

II. Language
1 Why is language so important? ---- It is language that makes us human. 2 Definition of language What is Language? Students’ definition (group discussion): Language is __________.

Some definitions: Language is an activity which consists of listening, speaking, reading and writing. (Halliday) Language is a set (finite or infinite) of sentences, each finite in length and constructed out of a finite set of elements. (Chomsky )

The following is a definition which has been accepted by most people: “Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication.” (Wardhaugh, 1979) Short as it is, this definition has captured the main features of language.

Features of Language Language is a system. Language is arbitrary. Language is vocal. Language is symbolic. Language is particularly human.

Illustration Elements of language are combined according to rules. There is no logical connection between a linguistic form and its meaning. The primary medium for all languages is sound. Words are just symbols; they are associated with objects, actions, ideas, etc. by convention. Language is possessed only by human beings.

III. The nature of language
THE GENERAL FEATURES OF LANGUAGE Language is human-specific

1.
Language is systematic

2.
Language is symbolic

3.
Language is arbitrary

4.
Language is vocal

Design features of language

Design features of language Design features: the defining properties of human language that distinguish it from animal system of communication. Charles Hockett specified 12 design features, 5 of which will be discussed here, including arbitrariness, productivity, duality, displacement and cultural transmission.

1 Arbitrariness (任意性) There is no logical connection between a linguistic form and its meaning.

Language is arbitrary
English Chinese Spanish French German Japanese ぃぬ

dog



perro

chien

hund

Language is not entire arbitrary and certain words are motivated. The best examples are the onomatopoetic words, such as bang, crash, cackle in English. But non-arbitrary words only make up a small percentage of the vocabulary.

2 Productivity
It refers to the property that the finite sounds and vocabulary (linguistic resources) of a language can be used to produce infinite meanings. Language -users can create and understand new expressions and sentences they have never heard of before. Will you please try to create a sentence which we have never heard of before?

3 Duality
Language is a system which consists of two sets of structures, or two levels. the higher level ----words which are meaningful; the lower or the basic level----sounds which are meaningless, but can be grouped and regrouped into words. Can you find duality in dog’s bark ?

4 Displacement Human language can be used to refer to contexts removed from the immediate situations of its users. It can be used to refer to past and future time, and to other locations.
Long long ago, there was…

5 Cultural transmission
Language is passed on from one generation to the next by teaching and learning. The details of language system are not genetically but culturally transmitted. You may inherit brown eyes and dark hair from your parents, you do not inherit their language. You acquire a language in a culture with other speakers. A wolf child

Questions
Answer the following question. What are the design features of human language?

Thank you very much for your listening!


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