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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Characteristics of Language

1:Language is a means of communication:-
                            Language is very important means of communication between humans."A" can communicate his or her ideas,emotions,beliefs or feelings to "B" as they share a common code that makes up the language.No doubt,there are many others means of communication used by humans e.g. gestures,nods,winks,flags,smiles,horns,short-hand,braille,alphabet,mathematical symbols,Morse code,sirens,sketches,maps,acting,miming and dancing etc.But all these system of communication are extremely limited or they too,in turn,depend upon language only.They are not so flexible,comprehensive,perfect and extensive as language is.Language is so important a form of communication between humans that it is difficult to think of a society without language.It gives shape to people's thoughts and guides and controls their entire activity.It is carrier of civilization and culture as human thoughts and philosophy are conveyed from one generation to the other through the medium of language.Language is ubiquitous in the sense that it is present every where in all activities.It is as important as the air we breathe and is the most valuable possession of man.In the scheme of the things,all humans are blessed with language and it is the specific property of humans only.Language is thus species - specific and species-uniform.It is because of the use of language only that humans are called talking animals (Homo Loquens)
                          Animals too have their system of communication but their communication is limited to a very small number of messages, e.g hunger,fear and anger.In the case of humans,the situation is entirely different.Human beings can send an infinite number of messages to their fellow beings.It is through language that they store knowledge,transfer it to the next generation and yoke the present,past and the future together.
2: Language is arbitrary:-
                               Language is arbitrary in the sense that there is no inherent relation between the words of a language and their meanings or the ideas conveyed by them (expect in the case of hieroglyphics where a picture of an object may represent the object).There is no reason why a female adult human being called a woman in English,Istree in Hindi,Aurat in Urdu,Zen in Persian,Femine in French or Tinvi in Punjabi.Selection of these words in the languages mentioned here is purely arbitrary,an accident of history.It is just like christening a new born baby who may be christened John or James.But once a child is given some name in a purely arbitrary manner,this name gets associated with child for this entire life and it becomes an important,established convention.The situation in the case of the language is a similar one.The choice of a word selected to mean a particular thing or idea is purely arbitrary but once a word is selected for a particular referent,it comes to stay as such
                                        It may be noted that had language not been arbitrary,there would have been only one language in the world.
                            The arbitrary nature of language permits or presupposes change,but such changes do not normally take place.Names once given are not normally changed.Words in a language are more difficult to change because a whole society has accepted them.Therefore,although the arbitrary nature of language permits change,its conventionality gives it stability.
                                                There are some words in some languages which do have some relation with the meanings or ideas they stand for.Onomatopoeia is a term used for words that imitate the sounds they stand for e.g Bang,Thud,Hum.But such words are very few and for the same sound,different languages have different words.Such words,therefore,do not invalidate the fact that words in a language are arbitrary selected and that relationship between words and their referents is purely arbitrary.
3:Language is a system of system:-
                                    Language is not an amorphous,a dis-organised or a chaotic combination of sounds.Any brick may be used anywhere in a building,but it is not so with sounds or graphic symbols standing for the sounds of a language.Sounds are arranged in certain fixed or established,systematic order to form meaningful units or words.Similarly,words are also arranged in a particular system to frame acceptable meaningful sentence.These systems operate at two levels:Phonological and syntactical....
                                                           At the Phonological level,for example sounds of a language appear only in some fixed combinations.There is no word,for example, that starts with bz-,lr- or zl- combination.Again,while there are several English worlds having an initial consonant cluster with three consonants (e.g spring/string),there are no initial tetraphonemic consonant clusters (a string of four constants in the same syllable) in English.There is no word that begins with "A"  sound or ends with "H" sound.Similarly words to combine to form sentences according to certain conventions  (i.e grammatical or structural rules ) of the language.The sentence "The Hunter shot the tiger with a gun"is acceptable but the sentence "the tiger shot a gun with Hunter the" in not acceptable as the word order om the latter sentence does not conform to the established language conventions.
                                                 Language is thus called a system of systems as it operates at the two levels discussed before.The property of language is also termed duality by some linguistics.This makes language a very complex phenomenon.Every human child has the master conventions of the language her or she learns before being able to successful communicate with other members of the social group in which he or she is placed.
4:Language is primarily vocal:-
Language is primarily made up of vocal sounds only produced by a physiological articulatory mechanism in the human body.In the beginning,it must have appeared as vocal sounds only.Writings must have come much later,as an intelligent attempt to represent vocal sounds.Writings in only the graphic representation of the sounds of the language.The letters K or Q only represents the "K" sound.It was only for some sounds that graphic symbols had to be invented.There are a number of languages which continue to exist,even today in the spoken form only.They do not have a written form.A child learns to speak  first;writing comes much later.
Also,during his life time,a man speaks much more than he writes.The total quantum of speech is much larger than the total quantum of written materials.
                                               It is because of these reasons that some linguistics say that speech is primary,writing is secondary.Writing did have one advantage over speech.It could be preserved in books or records.But,with the invention of magnetic tapes or audio cassettes,it has lost that advantage too.The age-old proverb 'pen is mightier than the sword' does not hold much ground when one finds that the spoken words,at the beck and call of a really good orator,can do much more than a person.Just think of Mark Antony's speech in "Julius Caesar" that inspired the whole mob into action and spurred them on to a mood of frenzy to burn and kill the enemies of Julius Caesar.A number of modern gadgets like the telephone,the tape recorder,the dictaphone, etc. only go to prove the primacy of speech over writing.............


Some more definitions of language

1:Language is the system of conventional spoken or written symbols by means of which human beings,as members of social group participants in its culture,communicate                (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

2:Languages are the principal system of communication used by particular groups of human beings within the particular society (Linguistic community) of which they are members.

                    It is clearly evident from all these definitions,none of which completely defines the term "language that it is not possible to have a single definition that brings out all the properties of language.On the basis of these definitions one can,however,list out the various characteristics of language.It would,therefore,be better to list these characteristics and discuss these in detail.

Levels of Linguistic Analysis

Following are levels of Linguistic Analysis:-
Phonetics
Phonology
Morphology
Lexicology
Syntax
Semantics
Pragmatics
Discourse
1: Phonetics:-
                Phonetics is the study of production,transmission and perception of speech sound.It is concerned with the sounds of languages,how these sounds are articulated and how the hearer perceives them.Phonetics is related to science of accoustics in that it uses much the same techniques in the analysis of sounds that accoustics does.There are three branches of Phonetics :-
1-Articulatory phonetics:-
                             It is the study of production of speech sounds.
2-Acoustic Phonetic:-
                             It is the study of physical production and transmission of speech sounds.
3-Auditory Phonetics:-
                             It is the study of perception of speech sounds.

2:"Phonology":-
                  It is the study of the patterns of language.It is concerned with how sounds are organized in a language.It examines what occurs to speech sounds when they are combined to form a word and how these speech sounds interact with each other it endeavors to explain what these phonological process are in terms of formal rules.
                      The Phonemes of particular language are those minimal distinct units of sound that can distinguish meaning in that English .e.g in English the /p/ sound is phoneme b/c it is the smallest unit of sounds of bill,till or drill making the word pill.The vowel sound of pill is also a phoneme b/c its distinctness in sound makes pill,which means one thing,sound different from pal,which means another.
3: Morphology:-
                  It is study of word formation and structure.It studies how words are put together  from their smaller parts and the rules governing this process.The elements that are combining to form words are called Morpheme.A morpheme is the smallest unit of syntax you can have in language the cats e.g contains the morphemes cat and the plurals.
4:Lexicology:-
                   It is study of words.We study word-formation and world classes.Lexeme is the smallest unit of Lexis.
5:Syntax:-
               It is the study of sentence structure.It attempts to described what are grammatical rules in particular language.These rules detail an underlying structure and a transformational process.The underlying structure of English e.g would have a subject -verb - object sentence order.For example: John hit the ball
                             The transformational process would allow a change of word order,which could give us something like,the ball was hit by John.
6:Semantics:-
                 It is the study of meaning in language.It is concerned with describing how we represent the meaning of word in our mind how we use this representation in constructing sentence.It is based largely on the study logic in philosophy.
7:Pragmatics:-
                     It studies the factors that govern our choice of language in social interaction and the affects of our choices on others.In theory,we can say any thing we like.In practice we follow a large no. of social rules (some of then unconsciously) that constrain the way we like we speak
                                      e.g there is now law that says we must not tell jokes during a funeral,but it is generally not done.
8:Discourse:-
                It is the study of stretches of spoken and written language above the sentence
                                                                             or
                     The way sentences work in sequence to produce coherent stretches of language.