Linguistics 110 Linguistic Analysis: Sentences & Dialects
Lecture Number One
What is Language?

  1. The System of Language is Arbitrary


      Words are arbitrary. There is rarely any inherent link between the sound of a word and what it represents
      (or between the written form and what it represents).


    We use and develop words that are important for our lives.

    For example, Arabic has scores of words for "camel."
    Think about it conversely: Who needs to talk about bamboo at the North Pole?

    Because the system of language is by nature abstract, it allows us to think abstractly (see video).

    i. we can speak of things past that we never saw
    ii. we can speak of things that haven't yet happened, and which may never happen
    iii. we can speak of things as they might be, should be, and could be; all potentialities may be linked to conditions

    Grammar allows us to make these arbitrary connections systematic.
    (Sound and Meaning map independently onto Grammar)


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

  1. How Did You Learn Grammar?

    1. Do you remember when your parents taught you relative clauses or how to make a past tense?

    2. How did you learn?

      1. Repeat what you heard? Where do kids hear:
        Daddy go.
        Daddy no go.
        Bobby cookie (for my cookie)
      2. Positive and negative reinforcement?
        1. Children are corrected for what they say not how they say it
          (e.g., child rewarded for "daddy no go" if daddy is, in fact, not going)

        2. Children are rewarded (with laughter) for errors, e.g.:
      3. Errors are almost always correct forms in other languages
        No daddy go
        Daddy no going
        Daddy isn't going
      4. Children build grammatical theories, internal grammars, until theirs matches that of everyone else's.

  2. Independence of Grammatical and Cognitive Dysfunctions
    1. Grammar Loss without Cognitive Loss
      1. Broca's and Wernicke's aphasia
        1. Broca's aphasia (agrammatism):loss of grammatical morphemes
        2. Wernicke's aphasia (fluent aphasia): loss of lexemes
      2. SLI (Specific Language Impairment)
        1. ostensibly genetically determined (runs in families)
        2. late onset of acquisition
        3. speak slowly & deliberately--speaking becomes strenuous mental work
        4. persistent grammatical errors into adulthood
        1. errors in grammatical functions: pronouns, agreement
          It's a flying finches, they are.
          The boys eat four cookie
          Carol is cry in the lunch
        2. fail the 'wug' test (if there is more than 1 how do you say it):
          'Wug. . . wugness, isn't it. No, I see. You want a pair . . . pair it up. OK.'
        3. cognitively normal, even bright. Can score high in math, a subject not dependent on language
    2. Cognitive Loss without Grammar Loss
      1. Hydrocephalus from spinal bifida (Denyse of psychologist Richard Cromer)
        1. severely retarded -- cannot read or write
        2. speaks normally with no grammatical errors
      2. Williams syndrome (defective gene in chromosome 11)
        1. significantly retarded (IQ 50), can't tie their shoes
        2. loquacious, especially like unusual words: prefer ibex, yak, unicorn to dog, cat

  3. Conclusions

    1. Language is an arbitrary system that allows us to think abstractly about the world around us. It is the expression not just of the world as it is but the world of our imaginations, and in this way human language differs from animal language.

    2. Grammar is the tool that allows us to use a system that is "arbitrary" and permits both flexibility and comprehendibility.

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