The Structure of Language
Language is a system of symbols and rules that is used for meaningful communication. A system of communication
has to meet certain criteria in order to be considered a
A language uses symbols, which are sounds, gestures, or written characters that represent objects, actions,
events, and ideas. Symbols enable people to refer to objects that are in another place or events that
occurred at a different time.
A language is meaningful and therefore can be understood by other users of that language.
A language is generative, which means that the symbols of a language can be combined to produce an
infinite number of messages.
A language has rules that govern how symbols can be arranged. These rules allow people to understand
messages in that language even if they have never encountered those messages before.
The Building Blocks of Language
Language is organized hierarchically, from phonemes to morphemes to phrases and sentences that communicate
Phonemes are the smallest distinguishable units in a language. In the English language, many consonants, such as
, correspond to single phonemes, while other consonants, such as
, can correspond to more than one
. Vowels typically correspond to more than one phoneme. For example,
corresponds to different
phonemes depending on whether it is pronounced as in
. Some phonemes correspond to
combinations of consonants, such as
Morphemes are the smallest meaningful units in a language. In the English language, only a few single letters, such
, are morphemes. Morphemes are usually whole words or meaningful parts of words, such as prefixes,
suffixes, and word stems.
The word “disliked” has three morphemes: “dis,” “lik,” and “ed.”
Syntax is a system of rules that governs how words can be meaningfully arranged to form phrases and sentences.
One rule of
is that an article such as “the” must come before a noun, not after: “Read the book,” not “Read book the.”
Language Development in Children
Children develop language in a set sequence of stages, although sometimes particular skills develop at slightly
Three-month-old infants can distinguish between the phonemes from any language.
At around six months, infants begin babbling, or producing sounds that resemble many different
languages. As time goes on, these sounds begin to resemble more closely the words of the languages the