Unformatted text preview: LIN200 S Introduction to Language
Week 1: Introduction to Language
Lecture: January 12, 2002
Corresponding Reading: Textbook Chapter 1
0.0 Overview of course content, structure and goals
• SEE SYLLABUS • Some additional goals (see Syllabus for others):
o Develop a broad understanding of human language from the
perspective of various subdisciplines of linguistics, with
special emphasis on linguistics as a cognitive science.
o Examine your own linguistic beliefs and attitudes, as well as
prevalent beliefs/attitudes in the community.
o Develop awareness of both the diversity of language systems
and their fundamental similarities
o Practise some core tools and techniques of linguistic analysis
and argumentation. 1.0 The study of language as a cognitive science
• At its core, the study of linguistics = the study of the mind
Goal for today’s lecture: to defend the above statement • Core claim:
humanistic point of view: language is a cultural artefact
o Language is fundamentally a biological artefact, not a cultural
artefact (although it is deeply embedded in culture and, is
culturally transmitted in important ways) sociolinguistics studies the social
forces that shape the way we use
o We will focus on two lines of evidence:
! Innateness of language
! Uniqueness of language to humans LIN200F 2012 12/01/2012 2.0 Innateness of language
• Universality of language – is this evidence for innateness? The Language Instinct by Pinker
Language develops spontaneously,
• Pinker 1994:
even though it's complex.
2 lines of evidence:
o "The universality of language is a discovery that fills
1 innateness of language
linguists with awe, and is the first reason to suspect that
2 uniqueness of language to humans.
language is not just a cultural invention but the product of
a special human instinct. Cultural inventions vary widely in
their sophistication from society to society. Some groups
count by carving notches on bones and cook on fires ignited by spinning sticks in logs; others use computers
and microwave ovens. Language, however, are different.
There are Stone Age societies, but there is no such thing
as a Stone Age language.
Language complexity did not decrease. There are fundamental commonalities.
• Sapir (1884-1939):
No human society was found o “When it comes to linguistic form, Plato walks with the
Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the head-hunter of
with no language.
Pinker uses universality as an Assam."
important evidence for innateness.
But there are skepticism.
• Skepticism: universality doesn’t entail innateness. Invented
artefacts could also become so ubiquitous that they become
universal (cf. Philosopher Hilary Putnam)
• Derek Bickerton: We have evidence that children actually reinvent
language from one generation to another: CREOLISATION
o Case Study 1: the Atlantic slave trade and indentured
servitude in the South Pacific. Bickerton: "Not content to reproduce the fragmentary
word strings, the children injected grammatical
complexity where none existed before, resulting in a
Plantation workers don't have the
chance to learn each other's languages. -new, richly expressive language."
! So their language mashed up.
A single generation can change a pidgin
to a full ﬂedged language. (eg Creole)
! ! 2! American sign language shares all the same grammatical machinery with English
LIN200F 2012 12/01/2012 o Case study 2: Nicaraguan Sign Language
• Further related lines of argumentation that we will probably
encounter throughout course School drilling the children to speak a sign language,
but the children are creating new sign languages.
This is an example of creolization.
o Genetic evidence (FOXP2)
It has spontaneously standardized itself.
o Evidence from language disorders
o Critical period hypothesis
o Poverty of the stimulus communication and language: There are many other
3.0 Uniqeness of language to humans ways to communicate. Animals have ways to
communicate, but they don't have language. • Are humans the only species with language? Yes! • What makes human language different from other forms of
communication? • early 20th century
Hockett’s Design features of language
o 1. Semanticity: speciﬁc signals can be matched to speciﬁc meanings. o 2. Arbitrariness:the relation between sound and meaning is arbitrary.
but sound symbolism in language does exist.
o 3. Discreteness: in a string of sound, you can identify boundaries, units. o 4. Displacement: ability to refer to 虚 items, eg things in the past
o 5. Productivity (creativity): we can make things longer. There
's no limit to words in a sentence.
o 6. Duality of patterning: we can use the alphabet to represent many things
• ! A few case studies: ! 3! LIN200F 2012 Morpheme
= smallest indivisible
unit of meaning 12/01/2012
1st monkey to notice the leopard to sound an alarm call.
A different alarm call to signal a different predator and the monkeys
respond differently. Is it semanticity or monkey just respond to
o Vervet monkeys:
different contexts? It has arbitrariness and semanticity, but lack
o Honeybees: Honeybees display spatial displacement through dance
It has duality of patterning. It can be broken down and put together
in other ways to mean different things
raised by psychologist, communicating using ASL. Free and bound
chimpanzee1 acquired 200-300 signs, but did not
dog is free, it can occur o Chimpanzees trained with HL:develop grammatical structure.
on its own.
"er" in singer isKnowledge of language: What do we know when we know a language?
Some languages only
have bound morphemes.
• What does it mean to know a language? We can relate this question
to our discussion of innateness: morphology is the
study of how
morphemes are put
together. o If language is innate, and an endowment of our species, why
are there so many languages, and so many seeming
differences between them to the point of mutual
There is ﬁnite number of sounds we ﬁnd in human languages.
Phonology is the study of how sounds are combined.
• There is a set of obvious/easy answers to this question, and also
some less obvious ones.
Syntax is the study of how individual words combine to form larger constituents like phrases and clauses.
o The easy part of the answer: arbitrariness of the sign. Readings for next week,
! Sound-meaning pairings are arbitrary
Martin1986, american anthropologist
" NB: this only holds at the level of the MORPHEME
• " ! MORPHEME = smallest indivisible unit of
meaning NB: The combinatorial system by which
morphemes combine is far from arbitrary. The
study of how morphemes combine is called
MORPHOLOGY. ! 4! LIN200F 2012 12/01/2012 o In addition to the arbitrariness inherent in morpheme choices,
languages vary widely (but not wildly) in other respects:
! E.g. sound patterns, syntactic patterns
o Inventory of sounds/gestures.
! The set of sounds (or gestures) which combine to form
morphemes varies across languages.
" NB: The range of possible sounds is not
unconstrained. Not all possible sounds are speech
sounds. " Individual languages select from finite menu of
possible core sounds. " Human babies are finely attuned to this menu of
sounds and are highly sensitive to the contrasts
between them. (More so than adults!) " In addition to differences in the sound inventory,
there is systematic variation in how sounds are
affected in different combinations. The study of
how sounds pattern in natural language is called
PHONOLOGY o Languages also vary in their SYNTAX, i.e. the grammatical
rules that determine how words and morphemes combine at
the level of the clause.
o We referred earlier to the sound-meaning pairing associated
with individual morphemes as an arbitrary one. However the
vast majority of sound-meaning pairings are systematic:
! Compare: ‘The dog bit the man.’ vs. ‘The man bit the
dog.’ ! ! 5! LIN200F 2012 12/01/2012 o From a formal perspective, many linguists actually define
language as a systematic mapping from sound (or gesture) to
meaning, in an infinitely creative/productive fashion.
! Y model
o Languages vary in complex ways with this mapping. Some
! Major word order permutations: SOV, SVO, etc
! Subject drop
! Free word order vs. Configurationality
• A leading objective in the study of linguistics is to understand the
limits of possible variation and also to understanding why variation
is the way it is.
o When we explore these questions, we are in effect, palpating
the organizing principles of the mind.
o The complexity of linguistic systems, and the limits on the
same systems, are a window on our cognitive capacity and
offer a remarkably rich and detailed dataset. 5.0 A few important clarificational points
• What linguists aim to model is not the prescriptive rules that may
be familiar to many of you, especially those who have studied a
second language: DESCRIPTION VS. PRESCRIPTION.
o The ways of speaking that people complain about as being
‘bad grammar’ in language use are almost always just
differences of DIALECT or REGISTER
• That said, we don’t always speak the way we mean to. Formal
grammars are an abstraction/idealization over actual utterances
which cannot be taken to always be characteristic of that
knowledge: COMPETENCE VS. PERFORMANCE 6.0 Fine print on syllabus
! ! 6! ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/03/2012 for the course LINGUISTIC LIN200 taught by Professor Naominagy during the Spring '10 term at University of Toronto.
- Spring '10