linguistic syllabus

Although the existence of words as distinct units with

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Unformatted text preview: s to another fundamental aspect of words: their sound, once we stop ignoring intonation and transition processes. Although the existence of words as distinct units with sound and meaning seems very intuitive and straightforward to us, the human task of extracting words, with their specific meaning, from the acoustic jumble of speech turns out to be a very complex one. Words present other mysteries to modern scientists. For instance, the number of words known by adults is typically underestimated, and most people believe that vocabulary size is directly linked to literacy. And yet, linguists have determined that an average, normal adult, regardless of his or her level of education, knows approximately 50,000 words (although, of course, these words may vary according to education and background). But how is it possible for a child to learn so many words, in what appears to be a relatively short period of time? Others believe that our vocabulary determines how we think, and that as a result, the nature of thought itself may vary from one language community to the next. But linguists now believe that most language systems are fundamentally similar to one another, and that there is no evidence that our speech patterns determine our thinking. When scientists attempt to make more explicit what it means for all of us to routinely use and understand so many words, they are faced with many important, non-trivial questions. How do we extract words, with their specific meaning, from the acoustic jumble of speech? How do we know when “strike” is a noun and when it is a verb? How do we know that “convers-ation-al-ly” is probably a word in English, even if we don't know what it means, but that “convers-ly-al-tion” is not? What mechanisms underline or seemingly effortless ability to comprehend the contribution of words to the meaning of larger expressions? And how do children, at such a young age, learn all this? Linguists believe that fin...
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