Language Paper

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  • Topic: Linguistics, Syntax, Phonology
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Language Paper
Michelle Langmesser
June 6, 2010
Eboni Sheilds

Definition of Language
“Many definitions of language have been suggested. An English Phonetician and language scholar, Henry Sweet stated, Language is the expression of ideas by means of speech-sounds combined into words. Words are combined into sentences, this combination answering to that of ideas into thoughts” (language, 2010). The American linguists George L. Trager and Bernard Bloch have the following definition, a language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group cooperates. Any concise definition of language makes a number of assumptions and brings up many questions. The first focuses on thought and the second on arbitrary: in a specialized but genuine way” (language, 2010). “Language is both a working system of communication in the time and in the community, it is a product of its history and the source of its future development. Any account of language must look at it from both points of view. Language interacts with every part of human life. It can be understood only if it is considered as part of its society” (language 2010). “The science of language is known as linguistics. It includes what are generally distinguished as descriptive linguistics and historical linguistics. Linguistics is now a highly technical subject; it embraces, both descriptively and historically, such major divisions as phonetics, grammar (including syntax an morphology), semantics, and pragmatics, dealing in detail with these various aspect of language” (language, 2010).

Definition of Lexicon
“In its most general sense, the term is synonymous with vocabulary. A dictionary can be seen as a set of lexical entries. The lexicon has a special status in generative grammar, where it refers to the component containing all the information about the structural properties of the lexical items in a language, i.e. their specification semantically, syntactically and phonologically. In later models (see aspects model), these properties are formalized as features, and put in square brackets, e.g. word-class assignments include noun [+N], etc. Given this component, the terminal symbols in phrase-markers can then be related directly to the lexicon through the use of lexical transformations; e.g. any item in the lexicon specified by [+D] can be attached to the node D, and so on. The mental lexicon is the stored mental representation of what we know about the lexical items in our language” (Crystal, 2003).

Key Features of Language
There is a critical period of development in which humans are innately predisposed to the assimilation of the grammar and syntax of language. A classic study conducted by Jackie Johnson and Elissa Newport to Chinese and Korean immigrants to the United States concluded that at or around the age of 16 the ability to easily learn a new language decreases drastically, specifically the ability to become fluent in the languages syntax. In addition, language seems to be a specifically human attribute, even excluding close genetic relatives, the primates. It is clear that primates use some symbolic level of communication to converse; however, the fact still remains that primates do not use anything like the language that humans use every day, nor are they capable of learning grammatical language. Primates seem to be quite adept at memorizing the surface structure of language and using it in limited circumstances, but they are not capable of ascertaining the deep structure of language and then transforming the underlying meanings of language to other phrases. In short, they are good at understanding words, not language. Levels of Language Structure

There are four primary levels of language: phonemes, words, sentences, and texts. Phonemes are the individual sounds that constitute the audible and written reproduction of words. There are about 46 phonemes in the English language, but about 200 phonemes are used worldwide...
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