Anthropology-2 - WEEK 8 The Nature of Language Language...

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WEEK 8 The Nature of Language Language make infinite use of finite means. At every level of the analysis of language (phonology, morphology, syntax & semantics), we find 1) a finite set of elements (phonemes, morphemes, grammatical classes) combined through 2) a finite set of rules (phonological rules, morphological rules, syntactic rules) to generate 3) a (near) infinite number of resulting possibilities. Linguists (and cognitive anthropologists) use this property of language to work backwards, systematically comparing minimally different complex units (sounds, words, meanings) to discover the underlying universe of elements and the rules for combining them. Phonology: study of sound patterns. Morphology: study of word patterns. Syntax: study of sentence patterns. Semantics: study of meaning patterns. Hockett's design features of language. Preconditions for regarding something as a communication system: o specialization: language is a system specialized for communication (consider the panting of a dog). semanticity: words mean something -- refer to things or events in the world. arbitrariness: there is no necessary relationship between a word or sign and its referent (e.g., "microorganism" vs. "whale"). Design features of Human Language: o vocal auditory channel: human speech is produced by the organs in the vocal tract and the message received by the auditory organs. broadcast transmission and directional reception: the signal in language is sent out for all to hear (within a limited range) and recipients of the message can tell where it came from. rapid fading (transitoriness) unlike smell communication, the signal does not remain receivable, but rapidly fades from the channel -- the channel is not clogged with old messages. interchangability: individuals can both receive and transmit messages. total feedback: you can hear what you say. o discreteness: unlike threat displays of chimps and gorillas which are continuously graded, the signs of language differ from one another in discrete units. o duality of patterning: language has two levels of structure: at the level of sound and at the level of meanings, and these two levels of structure are independent of one another. (Actually, a multiplicity of patterning.) Consequences: o productivity: language has the capacity to generate an infinite variety of messages, including messages that have never been said before. o displacement: language is able to refer to things that are removed from the speaker in both time and space. o traditional transmission: language is learned through cultural transmission, typically from parents and older siblings, children build their grammar of language by inference from a limited sample of sentences The design features of productivity, displacement and traditional transmission all contribute to the human capacity to bear and transmit culture. Productivity, by allowing language to refer to an open ended set of possibilities.
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This note was uploaded on 03/16/2010 for the course ANTH 1006 taught by Professor Boster, j during the Fall '08 term at UConn.

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Anthropology-2 - WEEK 8 The Nature of Language Language...

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