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    What is Linguistics? Essay (5405 words)

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    What is Linguistics ? Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It endeavors to answer the question–what is language and how is represented in the mind? Linguists focus on describing and explaining language and are not concerned with the prescriptive rules of the language. Linguistics is a social science that shares common ground with other social sciences such as psychology, anthropology, sociology and archaeology. It also may influence other disciplines such as English, communication studies and computer science. Linguistics for the most part though can be considered a cognitive science.

    Along with psychology, philosophy and computer science AI, linguistics is ultimately concerned with how the human brain functions. The fields of phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and language acquisition are considered the core fields of study and a firm knowledge of each is necessary in order to tackle more advanced subjects. · Phonetics · Phonology · Morphology · Syntax · Semantics · Language Acquisition Other Disciplines · Sociolinguistics: Sociolinguistics is the study of interrelationships of language and social structure, linguistic variation, and attitudes toward language.

    Neurolinguistics: Neurolinguistics is the study of the brain and how it functions in the production, preception and acquistion of language. · Historical Linguistics: Historical linguistics is the study of language change and the relationships of languages to each other. · Anthropological Linguistics: Anthropological linguistics is the study of language and culture and how they interact. · Pragmatics: Pragmatics studies meaning in context. As mention above linguistics is a very vast field and it cover a lot of latest issues. But I select two issues for my project.

    Historical Linguistics Animal communication system Language: – Language is a way of communicating our ideas and thoughts to other fellow beings. According to an ancient linguist of India, Patanjali, language is that human expression which is utter out by speech organs. In the Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 13, language is defined as “a system of conventional, spoken or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, communication,” Language can also define as 1. A system for representing things, actions, ideas and states 2.

    A tool people use to communicate their concepts of reality into the minds of others 3. A system of meanings shared among people 4. A code that members of a linguistic community use to mediate between form and meaning 5. A set of utterances that could be understood by a linguistic community Animal communication system Human speech is commonly recognized as the dividing line between ourselves and the rest of the animal world. The reason why the ability to speak is such a sharply defined boundary goes deeper than the mere existence of a method of communication, it is what we have done with language that counts.

    Language paved the way for all the special human abilities that we so value- self-awareness, higher emotion and personal memories as we search into the origin, variety and composition of human language, it is important to examine our language at its root. As human beings, we share 99% of our genetic make-up with our closest relative, the chimpanzee. Therefore, by studying the communication abilities and development of language in chimps and other great apes, we can learn more about our own language capabilities and ourselves.

    Research on chimps Lana The first chimp to be taught by this system, called Lana, succeeded in producing strings of Yerkish symbols, such as ‘Please Tim give apple’ or ‘Question you give coke to Lana in cup’ . She could also put together new combinations of lexigrams for objects for which there was no word in her vocabulary. When she wanted an orange, for example she produced the signs ‘Question Tim give apple which-is orange’. Washoe Also in the early 1970’s, a chimpanzee named Washoe was taught to communicate in American Sign Language ASL by Beatrix and Allen Gardner at the University of Nevada in Reno.

    She was immersed in an environment where she learned to use ASL in daily interactions with her human companions. Washoe learned 132 different words in her time with the Gardners. Washoe even taught her own adopted son to sign without human intervention. Although Washoe has been taught signs that she uses intentionally such as the sign for “orange” when she wants an orange, but she does not put them together according to rules. That is, her communication lacks syntax. That is, she has characteristics of communicate the exact meaning of the word, arbitrariness but she could not use “rules” to form the sentences.

    Finally, she requires intensive training to learn signs, unlike the way human children learn language and so lacks the inmate ability of expose language without special training. What she has learned is impressive, but it does not meet the criteria we established for human language. Kanzi Still more remarkable is the pigmy chimpanzee called Kanzi. Kanzi’s mother was taught Yerkish in the usual way, accompanied by her son, who appeared to take little interest in what was going on. But, when she left the project temporarily, Kanzi suddenly showed that he had picked up Yerkish simply by observing his mother being taught.

    By the age of five years, he was handling about150 ‘words’; at six he could respond successfully to around 300 different ‘sentences’ in natural settings, using a transportable board with Yerkish symbols. One successful routine involved Kanzi naming any one of seventeen locations in the surrounding estate, such as ‘tree-house’, and then taking the human being there, with 100% accuracy. Clearly Kanzi was able to comprehend certain aspects of communication, although much of his conversation was only concerned with food.

    Koko In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Koko, a gorilla, was trained to use American Sign Language and spoken English simultaneously from one year of age; a sentence in ASL was used at the same time as a spoken English equivalent. She was put in an environment where ASL was used for about ten hours a day by a variety of human companions. By the age of 5½, she had mastered 246 signs of ASL, such as ‘alligator’, ‘cake’, and ‘pour’. More importantly, she had started to put these separate signs together into two-word combinations such as ‘Food-more’, ‘, and ‘No-gorilla’, many of which she could not have received from her human companions.

    A toy zebra was called a ‘white tiger’, a cigarette lighter a ‘bottle match’ and a mask a ‘face hat’ Sarah Anne and David Premack began in 1966 to work with a chimpanzee named Sarah. Rather than treat the chimp like a human child, David Premack decided to try to find and use the best possible training procedure. The “language” used was also atypical. Instead of ASL, Premack used differently shaped and colour plastic chips. With each chip he arbitrarily associated an English word. Communication between the trainers and Sarah involved placing these chips on the “language board. ” Sarah was taught how to do one type of “sentence” at a time.

    Typically, her task was to choose an appropriate chip from a choice of two or to carry out a task indicated on the language board. Premack intended to teach Sarah the names of objects as well as the names of categories of objects. He originally claimed to have taught her 130 signs, including category names such as colour and concepts such as same and different. Nim Chimpsky In the late 1970s, Herbert Terrace began a project similar to that of the Gardners" with a chimpanzee he humorously named Nim Chimpsky hoping that when Nim learned language, the joke would be on Noam chomsky, the noted linguist who claimed such a thing was impossible.

    Terrace"s concern was to hat a chimp could acquire and display some use of grammar. Terrace believed that evidence of human language capability was the use of grammar and not just the use of signs. By the time Nim was four years old, he had acquired 125 signs, and Terrace felt Nim had indeed acquired human language abilities as well. This project was the first to videotape all interactions between chimp and trainer, however, and it was by reviewing these tapes that Terrace decided he must reverse his initial claim and instead acknowledge that the ape"s use of signs was very different from human language.

    He noted that there were many dissimilarities between Nim"s and a human child"s acquisition of “language. ” Nim, for example, almost never initiated signing. Terrace found that only 12% of Nim"s signs were spontaneous and a full 40% were mere repetitions of what the trainer had just signed. The trainer never noticed this subtle interaction at the time. In addition, Nim"s signing was invariably a request for food or social reward; he never made unsolicited statements or asked questions. Quite unlike a human child, he never took turns and was more likely to interrupt his trainer"s signing than not.

    There was also no evidence that Nim knew any grammar. His combinations had variable word order, and more importantly, Nim rarely went beyond two-word combinations; even when he did, the additional signs added no new information. For example, Nim"s longest utterance was give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you Latest research Savage-Rumbaugh has recently started to work with another species of chimpanzee. Pan paniscus, which she claims is more intelligent than Pan troglodytes, which has been used in all other projects.

    She claims that the new chimp she has been working with, Kanzi, has learned to comprehend spoken English just by being exposed to it and has spontaneously begun to use the keyboard with lexigrams to make requests and comment on his environment. Savage-Rumbaugh reports both anecdotal observations and the results of tests that might substantiate these astonishing claims. Again, these newest claims are difficult to accept without further confirmation and the demonstration of the kind of objective scrutiny and testing that was advocated at the inception of the Sherman and Austin project.

    Research on honey bees The best-known communication system in another species based on the pioneering work of Karl von Frisch, is the stylized ‘dances’ of bees. When an exploring bee finds a suitable source of honey, it flies back to the hive and communicates its location to the other bees by dancing in semi-circles to right and to left of a straight axis, hence known as a ‘wagging’ dance. The other bees join in this dance with the original messenger and then go off to find the honey.

    Three type of bee dance ; Round dance: indicates that the food is located within 20ft of hive; bee moves around in a circle; quality of food indicated by the number of repetitions and vivacity of dance. Sickle dance: indicates that the food is located 20-60ft of the hive; bee traces out a sickle-shaped figure eight on the wall; location of food is given by the angle made by the direction of the open end of the sickle with the vertical— corresponds to the same angle as the food source is from the sun; quality of food indicated by the number of repetitions and vivacity of the dance.

    Tail- wagging dance: indicates that the food is located over 60ft from the hive; for dance pattern; location of food is given by angle of dance with vertical—corresponds to same angle as food source is from the sun; the number of times per minute that the bee dances a complete pattern indicates the distance of the food source the slower the repetition rate, the longer the distance; quality of food indicated by the vivacity of the dance. The bees have a precise method of conveying information, adaptable to vertical or horizontal dimensions.

    However, the system depends on the sky being visible so that the bees can orientate themselves by the sun’s light. An overcast day makes communication difficult. Nor can the system deal with unusual directions. Bees do not succeed in communicating about honey suspended immediately above them or honey that is put directly in their hive. They have limited sign about the direction. As in an experiment when the food was placed at the top of a tower the worker bees fail to communicate the exact location. The reason was that they have no word for “up” in their language.

    The bees" dance is an effective system of communication, capable, in principle; of infinitely many different messages, and in this sense the bees" dance is infinitely variable, like human language. But unlike human language, the communication system of the bees is confined to a single subject. It is frozen and inflexible. For example, an experimenter forced a bee to walk to the food source. When the bee returned to the hive, it indicated a distance twenty-five times farther away than the food source actually was.

    The bee had no way of communicating the special circumstances or taking them into account in its message. This absence of creativity makes the bees" dance qualitatively different from human language. Birds song : structurally complex, and having at least two levels of constituent structure phrases and notes. But variations in songs appear not to be significant. Whale songs – It is still a mystery what these very social and intelligent animals really communicate – although very different from the human languages, whale songs can not be easily dismissed as not being complex or expressive enough.

    Signalling Most animals possess some kind of “signaling” communication system. For example, among the spiders there is a complex system for courtship. The male spider, before he approaches his ladylove, goes through elaborate gestures to inform her he is indeed a spider and not a crumb or a fly to be eaten. These gestures are invariant. One never finds a “creative” spider changing or adding to the particular courtship ritual of his species Gesture A similar kind of “gesture” language is found among the fiddler crabs.

    There are forty different varieties, and each species uses its own particular “claw waving” movement to signal to another member of its “clan. ” The timing, movement, and posture of the body never change from one time to another or from one crab to another within the particular species. Whatever the signal means, it is fixed. Only one meaning can be conveyed. There is not an infinite set of fiddler crab “sentences. ” Nor can the signal be “broken down” into smaller elements, as is possible in any utterance of human language.

    Songs of birds Projects with birds usually involve parrots or the Indian Hill Mynah. These birds are selected for their ability to mimic human speech. The African Grey Parrot and the Indian Hill Mynah are generally considered to be the birds with the greatest ability to mimic human speech patterns but a number of other species mainly parrots such as the budgerigah can be trained to “speak”. Birds song are also a way of communication. Cetaceans Cetaceans, such as whales and dolphins, have been shown to be readily trainable to respond to gestures and sometimes to verbal and other acoustic commands.

    Also, many species have very complex acoustic communication systems. It has been hypothesized that it may be possible to train them to understand language encoded in either gestures or appropriate acoustic signals. Appropriate acoustic signals are assumed to be sounds that are similar to the natural communicative sounds that these animals produce. Human language is unique Human language is unique. While many species have communication systems, there is no other species which has a communication system with the properties of natural human languages.

    There are some properties which characterize human languages. These properties, taken together, distinguish human languages from other communication systems. productivity of human language Human languages create or borrow new words for new things whenever they are needed, I have just faxed someone through my modem; fax and modem are new objects with new words that scarcely existed ten years ago. Human language is inherently flexible and adapts to new circumstances and new things to say.

    Animal languages are inflexible because their stock of ‘words’ is effectively fixed. Since Chomsky’s work of the 1950s, one of the main distinctive features of human language is seen to be its creativity in being able to communicate new messages. For example someone wants to say Twenty five sheep are gazing in the field, the English language rises to the occasion by supplying a grammatical form and vocabulary, despite the fact that nobody has ever wanted to say this sentence before or ever will again.

    Most of the sentences people produce or hear in the course of a day are new in so far as they have never been said or heard in that precise form before Animal languages seem fixed in a single form; a cat cannot say anything new, only repeat what has been said before. A bee can make new ‘sentences’, provided they concern the location of honey or hives. Human language is creative in the technical sense that any speaker can make up a sentence no-one has ever heard before; any listener can understand a novel sentence no-one has ever said before. Creativity is not just W. B.

    Yeats putting words together to create new sentences such as The unpurged images of day recede. All of us have the talent of creating new sentences, even if less effectively. Creativity is a basic fact of human language, not an added extra. Chomsky originally used the notion of creativity to attach associationist theories by arguing that in principle connections of stimulus and response cannot explain totally new sentences. The secret of creativity seems to be the grammatical system through which new sentences can be produced. One of the most crucial things that children have to acquire is the creativity of language.

    Displacement: The ability to communicate about things that are not present in space or time; we can a person who’s not in front of us, about a movie we saw last week or want to see over the weekend, what we did over the break, etc. ; no form of animal communication appears to be able to do this: animal calls are stimulus-response driven: animals call when there"s danger or food, when they want to mate, etc. ; human use of language is not just a response to external or even internal emotional stimuli; we use language for qualitatively different purpose than animals do.

    In all animal communication systems the number of signals is fixed , finite; even if some of the signals are complex, there is no mechanism for systematically combining discrete units to create new signals; animals do not combine their calls and gestures in new ways to communicate new ideas; bees cannot come up with new dance patterns to communicate new information like danger, or the type of food available–the absence of creativity makes bee dance qualitatively different from human language Arbitrariness A less definable characteristic of human language is its arbitrariness, which takes several forms.

    First there is no necessary connection between the object and the word that represents it. A rose could be called a sorp and smell as sweet. Different languages indeed call the same object by different names. English rose may indeed be rose in French but it is bara in Japanese and warda in Arabic. The connection between objects and words is largely arbitrary. Language is also arbitrary in that it relies on combinations of a small set of sounds or shapes that do not have meaning in themselves.

    The sounds / b / , / ¾ / , / g / have no meaning separately; the question ‘ What’s an /¾ /? ‘ Cannot be answered by explaining what /¾ / means. Only when /¾ / is combined with the other sounds of English to get /b¾ g/ bag or /g¾ b/ gab or blackguard or grabbing does the sound become meaningful. Phonemes and letters do not have meaning but they combine to form words . Animal languages in a sense have a limited list of ‘words’, like those Konrad Lorenz found in crows. In animal communication, a ‘word ‘ is an entity of its own.

    Each of the monkeys’ cries has a distinctive meaning, ‘snake’, ‘eagle’, and so on. They cannot be decomposed into a small set of meaningless components like phonemes. Animals have a dictionary consisting of a limited number of signs but they do not have sound or writing systems. In human languages the set of words is open-ended, formed from a strictly limited set of components, whether phonemes, gestures, or letters. The fact that these symbols are themselves meaningless and arbitrary allows them to generate a vast stock of words.

    Though Roman alphabets vary slightly from one language to another, their 26 letters can encode, not only all the words in the Oxford English Dictionary, say, but all the words in the dictionaries of French, Italian, Malaysian, etc, as well, with a handful of additional symbols. Arbitrariness of the actual phonemes or letters is a highly useful characteristic that gives language its infinite flexibility, unlike the total rigidity of animal systems Phrase structure. Human languages depend upon a grammatical system that arranges the elements into a structure rather than just putting one sound or element after another.

    No other species have either this type of phrase structure in general or the specific grammatical configurations. The defenders of apes regard this requirement as an unfair demand; Sue Savage-Rumbaugh does not see why syntax should be ‘the linguist’s holy grail’ and laments that ‘the supposed primacy of syntax still held them in its thrall. ‘ Interpersonal Human languages is interpersonal. The use of language involves social interaction. When we use language in conversation, we make assumptions about what our listeners know and believe, and we bring to the conversation attitudes toward our listeners.

    One’s use of language varies depending on a variety of circumstances. Discreteness: Property of having “internal structure”: complex messages that are built up out of smaller parts; In human languages: sentences are composed of independent words; the words are composed of individual sounds which can be recombined to form new words which can form new sentences; whereas animal communication systems each message is an indivisible unit. Overall then, while there is considerable uncertainty about many of the details, it seems that human language is indeed the sole property of the human race, if language is defined by the above characteristics.

    Prevarication: Speakers can intentionally make utterances that are false or meaningless. But it is now well known that many animals use behaviour explicitly designed to deceive or mislead. Signing apes have been observed to use their sign language to send food-competitors away. Cultural transmission:" Language is passed from one language user to the next, consciously or unconsciously. Conclusion Many linguists still believe that apes have no real grasp of human language , but are merely imitating their human companions.

    They insist that while apes may understand individual symbols or words, they do not understand the concepts of syntax, or how words are put together to form a complete idea. However, evidence is continually proving that the non human primate mind is capable of advanced thought . Some people speak of animal languages, while others argue they are not complex or expressive enough to count as “true” languages. Also, there are some significant differences, which separate human language from the animal languages – even when they are most complex; the underlying principles are not thought to be related.

    Historical linguistics: – Human language is creative and flexible. It changes with the passage of time. When we study language changes historically it is called historical linguistics. Any of the linguistic rules identified in Linguistics Assumptions and Principles may be changed: phonemes may be changed, added or removed, morphological rules may be added, changed, or lost, and even syntactical rules might be modified. Semantic rules and the lexicon change much more rapidly than the other three. Lexical changes the addition, modification, or removal of words from the general lexicon are perhaps the quickest changes in language.

    The semantic change of words may change broaden, narrow, or even shift in meaning. History of the English Language Languages change over time. Slowly, to be sure, but they do change. English is measured in three “cataclysmic” changes that generally coincide with historical events that had a profound effect on the language. The first appearance of English, as such, was when the Saxons invaded Britain. This form of English is called Old English and dates from approximately 449 to 1066, when the Normans conquered England, beginning the period of Middle English.

    It was during this time period 1066-1500 that many of the Latinate words used in English today were introduced into the language, as well as Latinate spellings. Around 1500, there was a great vowel shift, which brought the language into Modern English, which is where it is today. Based on this measure approximately 500 years per shift, we may expect major changes in the language today. The Great Vowel Shift in English changed the seven long tense vowels of Middle English and moved them “up” on the tongue. Fromkin and Rodman posit that the Great Vowel Shift is responsible for many of the spelling “inconsistencies” today.

    Language change, however, is a highly regular process. Causes of language changes Articulatory simplification vTo make articulation of words more and more simple. People leave certain complicated consonant clusters. People want articulatory simplification so they avoid complex clusters. This is the reason of changing in pronunciation. The simplification of sounds basically states that certain sounds are easier to pronounce than others, so the natural tendency of the speakers is to modify the hard-to-say sounds to easier ones.

    An example of this would be the proto-Romance word /camera/ “room” changing into early French /camra/. It is hard to say /m/ and /r/ one after another, so it was “simplified” by adding /b/ in between, to /cambra/ . A more recent example is the English word “nuclear”, which many people pronounce as “nucular”. Natural process Neogrammarians stated that changes are automatic and mechanical, and therefore cannot be observed or controlled by the speakers of the language. They found that what to a human ear is a single “sound” is actually a collection of very similar sounds.

    They call it “low-level deviation” from an “idealized form”. They argue that language change is simply a slow shift of the “idealized form” by small deviations Immigration of speakers The children incorrectly learning the language of their parents, doesn"t work either. Let"s take an extreme case in the form of immigrants. What is observed is that children of immigrants almost always learn the language of their friends at school regardless of the parents" dialect or original language.

    Children of British immigrants in the United States nearly always speak with one of the many regional American accents. So in this case, the parents" linguistic contribution becomes less important than the social group the child is in. Social and cultural identity At the beginning a small part of a population pronounces certain words that have, for example, the same vowel, differently than the rest of the population. This occurs naturally since humans don"t all reproduce exactly the same sounds.

    However, at some later point in time, for some reason this difference in pronunciation starts to become a signal for social and cultural identity. Others of the population who wish to be identified with the group either consciously or unknowingly adopt this difference, exaggerate it, and apply it to change the pronunciation of other words. If given enough time, the change ends up affecting all words that possess the same vowel, and so that this becomes a regular linguistic sound change. We can argue that similar phenomena apply to the grammar and to the lexicon of languages.

    An interesting example is that of computer-related words creeping into standard American language, like “bug”, “crash”, “net”, “email”, etc. This would conform to the theory in that these words originally were used by a small group i. e. computer scientists, but with the boom in the Internet everybody wants to become technology-savvy. And so these computer science words start to filter into the mainstream language. We are currently at the exaggeration phase, where people are coining weird terms like “cyberpad” and “dotcom” which not only drive me crazy but also didn"t exist before in computer science.

    Changes in languages Phonological change There have been many phonological changes between Old English and Modern English as the rules governing flapped and glottal stop variants of t have been added to American English . an important set of extensive sound changes affecting the long tense vowels occurred at the end of the Middle English period.. Lexical change From old English times to the present, new words have continuously been added to the English language. As English has borrowed a lot of words from French language. As, text, prince, judge, prayer, religion, army, navy, enemy, fashion, etc.

    In this way vocabulary of a language also changed. Changes in morphology Language changes have occurred in shape of words. As suffix are borrowed from French to make new words. People assume that a word has a morphological composition that it didn’t originally have root + affix, usually and remove that affix, creating a new word: back formation The assumed model was the class of regular plural nouns ending in -s Another model is agent nouns in –er , -er usually added to verbs to form an agent noun. Sometimes removed from nouns to form new verbs as letch from lecher.

    Historically the inflections had caused mutation of the vowel before them o to e from old to eldest Changes in pronunciation Linguistic change occurs over time; for example, the differences in spelling and pronunciation between Middle English niht and Modern English night represent linguistic changes that developed between roughly the fourteenth and the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. Semantics Changes In old time one word is used for only one specific thing but now we use one word for many things. As in past word “aunt” is used for maternal aunt only but now for any aged relative.

    When one word change from limited to expending use it is called semantics broadness. One word is very comprehensively used in old time but now that is used for a specific thing. When the meaning of a word become less general than it is called semantics narrowness as we word hound for only hunting dog but in past it was used for every dog, Syntactic changes Rule addition A syntactic rule that has been added to English since the Old English period is the particle Movement . as the sentence pairs of the type ” john threw out the fish and John threw out did not occur in Old English.

    Rule Loss A syntactic rule that has been lost from English is the morpho syntactic rule of Adjective Agreement. At one time adjectives required endings that had to agree with the head noun in case, number, and gender. This rule is no longer found in English, since most of the inflectional endings of English have been lost. Changes of verbs Contemporary English makes a distinction between auxiliary verbs and main verb, a distinction reflected in questions only auxiliary verb fronted in question, as in can you leave ? negative sentences only auxiliary verb can take the contracted negative n"t, as in you can"t leave and tage questions only auxiliary verb can appear in tag, as in “you can leave, can,t you?. Focusing now only on so-called modal verbs can, must, it is interesting to note that prior to the sixteenth century thes syntactic distinctions between main verb and auxiliary did not exist. at that time it was possible for main to take not, and examples such as the following can be found in Shakespeare’s writing. I deny it not. I don"t deny it. Forbid him not.

    Don’t forbid him Conclusion The changes that took place between Old English and Modern English are typical of the kinds of changes that all human language undergo over time, and after enough years have passed the latest language can be very different from its ancestor language. Moreover, language change offers important indirect evidence about the nature of human language namely, that it is rule-governed . we see that major language changes occur in English language during Old English and Middle English period are best viewed as in the sets of rules characterizing.

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