Linguistics 105 * Words and Sounds
Lecture Number Two
What is Language?

  1. The Critical Linguistic Questions.

    1. What is language?
    2. What does it mean to "know" a language?
    3. How is language processed?
    4. How is language learned?
    5. How did languages arise?

  2. How To Go About Answering Them?

    1. Language is a system of signs.

      1. Every sign system is made up of two parts: form and meaning.
      2. There are three kinds of signs: iconic, indexical, symbolic.
        Language is a system of symbolic signs. The relationship between the signifier (the form of the sign) and the signified (the meaning of the sign) is arbitrary.
      3. In spoken language the form of the sign is its sound.

    2. Sound and Meaning: How are they related?

      SOUND What maps . . . ? sound to meaning? MEANING
      1. The study of sounds is phonetics from Greek fone 'sound'.
      2. The study of meaning is semantics from Greek sema 'sign' and semain-ein 'to mean, to signify'.

    3. Evidence of Grammar

      (1) Jabberwocky
      Twas brillig and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
      All mimsy were the borogoves
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

      How do we know that brillig is an adjective and not a noun like Zelig and that tove is not a verb like rove and that gyre is not a noun like lyre? It is the grammatical markers in boldface that tell us that the poem is English. Similarly, in the French translation of this nonsense poem, grammatical markers are used to give the same kinds of clues to the interpreter.

      (2) Le Jaserroc
      Il brilgue. Les toves lubricieux
      Se gyrent en vrilliant dans le gabe;
      Enmimes sont les gougebosqueux
      Et les mome rathes horsgrabe.

    4. Grammar is the mapping system from sound to meaning.

      In the above example, grammar allowed you to understand a number of things. The ways the sounds were put together in such words as "brillig" allowed you to accept them as potentially English words. The system that marked "slithy" as an adjective and "borogoves" as plural help you to classify the function of the words. The order of the words allowed you to further define the function of the words in the context of the rest of the utterance. fixes, prepositions, auxiliaries which define grammar, are all English, e.g 'Twas, and, the, -y, -s, did, in, all, were, out-.

      SOUND Grammar maps . . . GRAMMAR . . . sound to meaning MEANING

    5. Grammar then, consists of several sub-systems.

      Phonology (from Greek phone, 'sound,' and logos, 'speech, word, idea, reason (i.e., ideas and reasoning = science). This system governs the structure of sound combinations.

      Morphology (from Greek morfe, 'form,' and logos,'idea, word'). This system governs the structure of words, their prefixes, suffixes, and the like. In "Jabberwocky" English morphological markers helped us define words as nouns, adjectives, and verbs.

      Syntax (from Greek syn-taxis, 'putting together, construction'). The system that determines the order of words in sentences and further helps determine the relation between sound and meaning. Remember that syntax cannot be reduced to semantics.
      1. Semantically paradoxical sentences may still be grammatical (as in the Jabberwocky song). The categorial structure is grammatical. And remember the infamous nonsense utterance:
        1. Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
        2. *Furiously ideas green colorless sleep.

      2. Some ambiguities occur which must be explained in terms of structural relations alone, not by word order.

        Flying planes can be dangerous.

        1. Planes which are flying . . . SUBJ + V
        2. X flying planes . . .V + DO
      3. Discontinuous morphemes
        1. John looked up his long-lost friend from New York.
        2. John looked his long-lost friend from New York up.
        3. *John looked his long-lost friend from New York.
        4. John looked his (*up) long-lost (*up) friend (*up) from New York.

      1. Conclusion

        We come to the conclusion after all of this that language comprises articulated sound (phonetics) that is mapped (arbitrarily) to meaning (semantics). The rules that govern the "navigation" of this map are called grammar, and include phonology, morphology, syntax. This means that grammar is the heart of language. The map from phonetics (sound, the signifier) to semantics (meaning, the signified) that is provided by grammar can be illustrated as follows:

      Sound 1. Phonetics
      GRAMMAR 2. Phonology
      3. Morphology
      4. Syntax
      Meaning 5. Semantics

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