Characteristics of the Human Language

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EndyzNotes/IGNOU/MEG 04: Aspects of language/Block -01/01

Suggested Question and Answers

Q.1: What is language?
Discuss the characteristic of human language? (4+16)

Ans: The term language has been defined differently by different people. It is not easy to define language. Most common people define it as a means of Communication. For the professional grammarian, language is the pairing of a lexicon and a set of rules of syntax. But, as we will see language is far more complex and we need to make a sustained effort to explore its nature and structure. Fromkin and Rodnian defined it as 'Language is that system by which sounds and meanings are related'. Brown defines, 'Language is the most sophisticated and versatile means available to human beings for the communication of meaning’. 'Language is purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of voluntarily produced symbols as described by Sapir in 1921.'Language is the institution whereby humans communicate and interact with each other by means of habitually used oral-auditory arbitrary symbols’ is called by Hall. Again ,Trager defines a language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which the members of a society interact in terms of their total culture and as per Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. 1989, Language is a 'System of sounds, words, patterns, etc, used by humans to communicate thoughts and feelings.' 'Language is a patterned system of arbitrary sound signals, characterised by structure dependence, creativity, displacement, duality, and cultural transmission.' (Aitchrson.1987). One of the best ways to understand human language is to compare it with animal communication, and to see where the similarities & differences lie. We will do that in a while, but, before that, let us try to understand how and why language originated. According to Hockett (1958), language is "the most valuable single possession of the human race". Each one of us makes use of language in' virtually everything we do. The use of language is an integral part of being human. Humboldt has even gone to the extent of saying that "man is man through the use of language alone". Yet, the use of language is so spontaneous and natural that we pay no more attention to it than we do to our breathing or to the beating of our hearts. We take language too much for granted, just for a brief while, try and imagine what our life would be like without language.

Characteristics of human language: Language is a unique gift given to human beings alone. It brings people together, but it also creates a barrier for communication. It is a part of culture and it is transmitted through teaching and learning, coded by symbols. According to Charles Hockett (1958), language is "the most valuable EndyzNotes/IGNOU/MEG 04: Aspects of language/Block -01/02

single possession of the human race", Each one of us makes use of language in' virtually everything we do. The use of language is an integral part of being human. Humboldt has even gone to the extent of saying that "man is man through the use of language alone". Yet, the use of language is so spontaneous and natural that we pay no more attention to it than we do to our breathing or to the beating of our hearts. One of the best ways to understand what human language is to compare it with other Systems of animal communication and try to understand the similarities and differences between the two. Hockett listed following different design features of human language...

(a) Use of sound signals: The use of sound signals is perhaps the most obvious characteristic of human language. But this feature is neither unique to human beings nor all-important. It is not unique to humans as a lot of other animals also use sounds for communication. And it is not all-important because human beings can transfer language to visual symbols and to tactile symbols. So, this characteristic...
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