Noam Chomsky

Homo loquens

Posted on Updated on

(401 words)

Homo sapiens describes a species capable of thought, while homo loquens is used to describe a species capable of speech. Only humans are capable of communication through speech. Calls made by animals represent a very limited form of speech. Animals are also capable of making facial expressions, hand movements, and have a sense of touch, just as we humans do. However, we differ from other animals because of language. The basis of the chimpanzee society is grooming, cleaning each other. Human society is based in speech. The development of vocal communication in human beings has been very rapid, dating as far back as five to eight million years ago.

Language is primarily vocal, although it is also written. Even today, many people are illiterate. Speech is often closely related to other non-verbal behavior. While speaking, body language plays an important role as well. Non-verbal communications, gestures, have a language of their own. Gestures that may be acceptable in some cultures may be offensive in others. 

Tone of voice is also important. Most of us can relate to the anecdote of the mother calling her child. When the mother first calls for the child, her voice is normal. Yet as the child continues to play, the mother’s tone of voice will change, typically pronouncing every syllable of the child’s name.

Language has two different layers. Smaller units, letters, are themselves meaningless. Letters can be combined to form something meaningful, a word. For example, the letters s, t, o, and p form the word stop. This system is unique to human languages.

A feature of the English language is stress. By shifting stress, “wind” easily becomes “wind”.

Another feature is called redundancy, and an advantage of it is that speech is seldom misheard.

Language is not in our genes. A person who grows up speaking Spanish probably learned Spanish as a child. If a baby born in Peru were to be adopted and moved to Thailand, the baby would grow up speaking Thai. According to Noam Chomsky, the “God Father of Linguistics”, some of our language skills are genetically inherited.

Language first appeared in modern man 100,000 years ago and it is thought to have spread worldwide.

Linguists focus on the structure of current languages, and they focus less on how languages came into existence. However, linguistic evolution: “it is a good way to appreciate what has made our species so remarkable”.

Syntax – an indepth look

Posted on Updated on

(6981 words)

Human communication in all its forms almost always uses words. We could say that communication is essentially the expression of thought. Every time we speak or write we are faced with a myriad of choices to explain ourselves. Within this information transmission that uses thought, we use words to express our beliefs and judgments, intentions and desires, etc. The words are used in a combination to make others understand our desired thoughts. Human languages are among several systems of human communication (some others such as gestures, symbol systems), but language has immeasurably greater communicative power than the others. The grammar we use to communicate, the context, the people with whom we are communicating with and whether we are writing or speaking have to be in a form that is fully recognized. Sentences are not unordered strings of words; rather the words and morphemes are grouped into functional constituents such as subject, predicate, direct object, noun phrase, verb phrase, and so on. It means that we take a finite number of discrete elements (words) and combine them to create larger structures that are different in meaning from the original words themselves. The choices for expression make use of many patterns in the English language. All human languages have very similar underlying structures; they all have phrase structure rules and transformational rules. The use of these words is systematized according to syntax. It is Syntax that this paper is concerned with. In this paper, I will take a deeper look at how English language syntax helps us form the complete understandable sentences that help us communicate so well.

It is clear to see that the sentence ‘Man hits animal’ is not the same as ‘Animal hits man’.  We know this because we use a code, or set of rules, to translate between orders of words and combinations of thoughts. Generally speaking, this set of rules is called generative grammar. Syntax works on a prescriptive use of grammar although spoken English is not as formal as we think and works along the lines of a more descriptive method. Descriptive syntax is about understanding the rules that a speech community employs by examining the way that the members of that community actually do talk. I will try to show in this paper syntax as comprehensively as possible while recognizing that the coverage of all the details is impossible.

 The English language holds rules that can create larger more complex structures. It is by learning phrase and clause structures that give us a clearer picture of syntax. These structures are what make the syntax rules. We find that it is possible to create an infinite number of sentences, all of which can express meaningful thought. Thus it is possible to construct sentences that the speaker has never used before. It can be said that English has a finite number of rules which facilitate an infinite number of sentences. Syntax shows that sentences and the relationship of their component parts works in English. To understand a sentence one cannot merely pay attention to the order of words. Communication is grounded on getting our point across. The study of language is of the formal interrelations that exist between the elements of a language (i.e., sounds, words) themselves. Syntax is the system that speakers and writers use when they combine words into phrases and clauses, ultimately creating meaning in their structures. Thus, the point of us using words is to be comprehended. English speakers show this in their syntax that is used by every English-speaking person.  The old definition of a sentence was ‘a complete expression of thought’, although today this may seem a bit vague to be helpful. An English-speaking person may say ‘beautiful day!’ which is not a grammatically complete sentence, but it is our knowledge of the sentence ‘it is a beautiful day!’ that we are able to understand the utterance. So, although a person takes the language and uses it to different extremes it is our fundamental knowledge of the original grammar that allows us to comprehend incomplete sentences.

Subscribe to get access

Read more of this content when you subscribe today.

Colourless green ideas sleep furiously.

Posted on Updated on

While observing, a student was telling me that the exercise her teacher gave her was too difficult, and she could not make a sentence with the words she had been given. She had three nouns and three verbs given to her on pieces of paper. She made a sentence, in the end, but said to me that it did not make any sense. Of course, she was right, but upon seeing the sentence I noticed that she had made a complete grammatical sentence (with added parts of speech).

This made me think of Noam Chomsky‘s classic sentence ‘colourless green ideas sleep furiously’ in his 1957 book Syntactic Structure. While this sentence as much as the sentence my student made was nonsense, they also show that sentences which could be thought impossible/nonsensical are actually still grammatical.  This being said, there are still sentences that can be easily interpreted but are not adhered to the grammatical code such as ‘the child seems sleeping’. I think recognition of students’ grammatical ability in complete sentences has to be admired.

Overall, I must say the words she had were quite random, but I still felt there was room for inventiveness as a classroom exercise that recognises students’ grammatical ability.

A linguistics class reflection

Posted on Updated on

(1102 Words)

Six days of attending linguistic lectures spread over three weeks can not be a major amount of time to achieve a solid and complete knowledge of linguistics, but all the same, this essay will try to establish how I accomplished a relative level of understanding through my studies. I tried hard to combine items raised in these lectures, my classmates’ comments, further reading away from the class, and clarity added by my focus group. I will try to highlight some of the points that stuck in my mind regarding linguistics while giving a little insight into the further ideas into the subject.

To begin with, would be to give my general view of linguistics. So, as I researched I found that linguistics is the study of human languages, where within this the science examines not only the structure of language but also its use and the structure in the mind. A layman may think that a linguist, the person who is skilled in linguistics, only looks at rules and grammar, but it is so much more than this. The subject takes in such fields as humanity, science, society, philosophy and literary criticism. Language is not as routine as some may think, and it is astonishing to think that language came from one source which spread across the world to create 6000 more. A learner of linguistics then would be amazed how many branches of linguistics have been created. So, without language where would we be?

My first recognisable factor about the classes was the highlighting of daily use of language which has to be the main dynamic in anyone’s scaffolding of knowledge. The more any speaker uses it, the more they will be able to use their fresh available knowledge of language. The lecturer actually mentioned that reading and writing inspire to make you more creative with your writing and speaking. This, I found to be a sensible choice to further one’s linguistic knowledge. The path that I followed on this course was not the one that I thought and as such I would like to draw attention to some of the further points.

Subscribe to get access

Read more of this content when you subscribe today.

The Study of Linguistics – A reflection

Posted on Updated on

(964 words)

My initial thought would be to give my general view of linguistics. Therefore, linguistics is the study of human languages where within this the science examines not only the structure of language but also its use and the structure in the mind. A layman may think that a linguist, the person who is skilled in linguistics, only looks at rules and grammar but it is so much more than this. The subject takes in such fields as humanity, science, society, philosophy, and literary criticism. Language is not as routine as some may think and it is astonishing to think that language came from one source which spread across the world to create 6000 more. A learner of linguistics then would be amazed how many branches of linguistics have been created. Without language where would we be?

The first recognizable factor, I found, was the highlighting of daily use of language which has to be the main dynamic in anyone’s scaffolding of knowledge. The more any speaker uses it, the more they will be able to use their fresh available knowledge of language. Reading and writing inspire to make people more creative with their writing and speaking. This is a sensible choice to further anyone’s linguistic knowledge. This would seem straightforward. However, the path that I followed was not the one that I thought and as such, I would like to draw attention to some further points.

The Power of Babel by John McWhorter

Subscribe to get access

Read more of this content when you subscribe today.