What is Language?

  • Language is any form of communication that involved symbols misplacement and productivity

Key Features of Language:

  • Symbolism
  • Displacement
  • Productivity
  • Duality of patterning


  • Based on the arbitrary association of sounds with meanings
  • Arbitrary: no connection between the sound and the object


  • The ability to communicate about something that is not happening at the moment
  • Talk about the past and the future
  • Allows us to lie


  • The ability to add words and join them in different combinations

Duality of Patterning:

  • The independent ordering of speech at two levels

o Sound

o Meaning

Call Systems (signal systems):

  • Animal communication systems that consist of a relatively small number of sounds to express moods and sensations like fear, delight, contentment, anger or pain

The Components of Language:

  • Phonology

o Phon = sound (study of sound)

o Study of sound systems in language, including phonetics and phonemics

o Phonetics: study of the articulation and production of human speech sounds

  • Outside (etic) - sound

o Phonemics: analysis of the use of sounds to differentiate the meanings of words

  • Inside (emic) - meaning

o Phoneme: a minimal unit of sound that differentiates meaning in a particular language

o Ex: /p/ and /b/: pit and bit

  • So in this English example, /p/ and /b/ are separate phonemes

o Stress: phonemic use of accented sounds of syllables

o Pitch: phonemic use of rising and falling speech cadences

  • Ex: in Mandarin, the word /ma/ can be used with 4 different pitches, which all have different meanings
  • Morphology

o Morph = shape (study of shape)

o The study of the internal structure of words and the combination of meaningful units within the words (the analysis of word structure)

o Morpheme: a unit of sound and meaning, either a separate word or a meaningful part of a word

  • Syntax: the rules that generate the combination of words to form phrases and sentences

o Ex: the cat chased the dog or the dog chased the cat

o Same words in both sentences but different meanings because of the word order

  • Semantics: the study of systems of meaning in languages

Non-verbal Communication:

  • Emblems: nonverbal actions with specific meanings that substitute for spoken words
  • Body language
  • Intercultural communications: people from different languages and their communication with each other

Linguistic Anthropology:

  • Investigates connections between language, culture, and worldview
  • Overlaps with sociolinguistics
  • Sociolinguistics: study of the impacts of socioeconomic factors, such as gender and class, on language and communication within a society
  • Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: the assertion that they form and content of language influence speakers' behaviours, thought processes, and worldview

o False story/idea

o Ex: how the Inuit have forty different words for the word snow and shaped how they see the world

  • Dialects: a variety of a language spoken by a particular group of people, based on regional differences of social differences, such as gender, class, race or ethnicity

o Ex: Pittsburg language (yinz - you ones) o Regional dialect

o Social dialects - ex: Black English in the US (speak that way because they are apart of a social group in the same part of the US, not because their black)

Language Standardization:

  • Standard English: the dialect of English chosen as normative, a reflection of the social, economic and political standing of its speakers

o Generic, flat English

  • Code-switching: changing from one dialect or language to another according to the context in which one is speaking

Processes of Language Change:

  • Lingua Franca: language used in particular areas by speakers of many different languages in order to communicate with one another

o Ex: speaking English at the UN

  • Pidgins: a simplified language that develops as a means of communication between two or more groups that do not have a language in common

o Ex: language in Cannibal Source

  • Creoles: a language that has historic roots as an amalgamation of vocabulary and grammar derived from two of more independent languages

o Pidgin evolves into creoles - when pidgin is their native language

  • Historical linguistics:

o Language families

o Cognates - words that all mean the same thing in different languages o False cognates - when you think there is a connection to the spelling of the word, but really it means something completely different

■ Ex: embarazada - you think it would mean embarrassed, but it really means pregnant in Spanish
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