<An Introduction to Language> Notes

Table of content

Chapter 1 | What Is Language
Chapter 2 | Morphology: The Words of Language
Chapter 3 | Syntax: Infinite Use of Finite Means
Chapter 4 | The Meaning of Language
Chapter 5 | Phonetics: The Sounds of Language
Chapter 6 | Phonology: The Sound Patterns of Language
Chapter 7 | Language in Society
Chapter 8 | Language Change: The Syllables of Time
Chapter 9 | Language Acquisition
Chapter 10 | Language Processing and the Human Brain

CHAPTER 1 - What Is Language

For most part, the relationship between speech sounds and the meanings is arbitrary and conventional.

Creative aspect of lanuagage: senticences potentially infinite in length and number

Linguistic competence: knowledge of words and grammar;
Linguistic performance: use linguistic competence in actual speech production and comprehension

Grammar: rules to form language
Phonology: rules for combining sounds into words
Morphology: rules of word formation
Syntax: rules for combining words into phrases and phrases into sentences
Semantics:rules for assigning meaning

The linguist’s goal is to reveal the “laws of human language”

Signed languages resemble spoken languages in all major aspects.

Discreteness: human languages are composed of discrete units(sounds, words, phrases) that are combined according to the rules of the grammar of the language
Displacement: the capacity to talk(or sign) messages that are unrelated to here and now

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis holds that the particular language we speak determines or influences our thoughts and perceptions of the world.

CHAPTER 2 - Morphology: The Words of Language

Nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are the content words, they denote concepts such as objects, actions, attributes and ideas.
function words do not have clear lexical meanings or obvious concepts associated with them, including conjunctions, prepositions and pronouns.

The linguistic term for the most elemental unit of grammatical form is morpheme. The study of the internal structure of words, and of the rules by which words are formed, is morphology.
1 morpheme: boy
2 morphemes: boy + ish
3 morphemes: boy + ish + ness

The decomposition of words into morphemes illustrates discreteness of human language. Discretenessis an important part of linguistic creativity.

Free morphemes can stand alone, constitute words by themselves.
Bound morphemes must be attached to a base morpheme.

Prefixes occur before other morphemes, suffixes following other morphemes. Some languages also have infixes, morphemes that are inserted into other morphemes, and circumfixes, attached to a base morpheme both initially and finally.

Complex words contain a root around which stems are built by affixation. Other affixes can be added to a stem to form a more complex stem. Base means any root or stem to which an affix is attached.

Derivational morphemes derive new words.
Inflextional morphemes are productive: they apply freely to nearly every appropriate base.

Compounds are formed by uniting two or more root words in a single word. The head of the compound (the rightmost word) bears the basic meaning. However, many compounds nowadays do not seem to relate to the meanings of the individual parts at all.

Back-formations are words created by misinterpreting an affix look-alike such as -er as an actual affix.

CHAPTER 3 - Syntax: Infinite Use of Finite Means

The part of grammar that represents a speaker’s knowledge of sentences and their structures is called syntax. Rules of syntax specify the gramatical relations of a sentence.

Subunits (or subtrees) of the sentence are called constituents. Constituent can be tested by:

  • stand alone
  • replacement by a pronoun
  • move as a unit

A sentence is ambiguous if it has two or more meanings. Sometimes an ambiguity arises because a word has more than one meaning, other times because a sentence has more than one tree structure associated with it, resulting in a structual ambiguity.

Sentences have structure that can be represented by phrase structure trees containing syntactic categories

Syntactic category (informally part of speech) is a family of expressions that can sustitute for one another without loss of grammaticality, such as noun phrase(NP), verb phrase(VP), prepositional phrase(PP). There are different kinds of syntactic categories: phrasal categories (eg. NP), lexical categories (eg. N) and functional categories (eg. Det).

The particular order of elements whihin the phrase is subject to language particular variation and can be expressed through the phrase structure rules of each language.

X-bar schema is a template or blueprint that specifies how the phrases of language are organized.

Structure dependent agreement rule: The verb agrees in person and number with the subject of the sentence, where subject is defined as the NP immediately dominate by S (TP).

CHAPTER 4 - The Meaning of Language

True conditions: the circumstances under which the sentence is true or false

The study of the linguistic meaning of morphemes, words, phrases, and sentences is called semantics.

Pragmatics: the study of how context affects meaning.

The first sentence entails the second sentence means if you know that a sentence is true, you can infer that another sentence must also be true. Generally, entailment goes only in one direction.

Two sentences are synonymous(or paraphrases) if they entail each other.

Compositional semantics is the building up of phrasal or sentence meaning from the meaning of smaller units using semantic rules.

When Compositionality Goes Awry

Anomaly: words in an expression cannot be combined together as required by the syntax and related semantic rules(eg. colorless green)
Metaphor: sentences that appear to be anomalous but to which a meaningful concept can be attached(Walls have ears). Metaphor has a strong cultural component
Idioms: expressions have a fixed meaning(kick the bucket)

Reference: meaning of the word is association with the object it refers to
Sence: additional meaning beyond reference

Lexical Relations

Antonyms: words are opposite in meaning(eg. big/small)
Synonyms: words have the same meaning in some or all contexts
Homonyms (homophones): words pronounced the same but have different meanings(eg. bear/bare) Polysemous: word has multiple meanings
Hyponymy: relationship between the more general term and the more specific instances of it(eg. color/blue)

Semantic features: conceptual elements contribute to the meanings of words and sentences Semantic features of nouns: count/mass, male/female…
Semantic features of verbs: cause, go, become…

Some meaning is extra-truth-conditional: it comes about as a result of how a speaker uses the literal meaning in conversation, or as part of a discourse. The study of extra-truth conditional meaning is pragmatics

Reference resolution: process to look to the context in which the pronoun is uttered to determine the referent. There are two types of context relevant for the resolution of a pronoun: linguistic and situational

An implicature is an inference based not only on an utterance, but also on what the speaker is trying to convey, it’s a great example of extra-truth-conditional meaning.

Maxims of Discourse

Maxim of Quality: Truth
Maxim of Quantity: Information
Maxim of Relation: Relevance
Maxim of Manner: Clarity

Implicatures can arise when a maxim is flouted. To flout a maxim is to choose not to follow that maxim in order to implicate something.

Presuppositions: situations that must exist for utterances to be appropriate(eg. Take some more tea has the presupposition already had some tea)

The theory of speech acts tells us that people use language to do things such as lay bets, issue warnings.

Verbs that do things are called performative verbs.

CHAPTER 5 - Phonetics: The Sounds of Language

Our linguistic knowledge makes it possible to ignore nonlinguistic differences in speech

Acoustic phonetics focuses on the physical properties of sounds
Auditory phonetics is concerned with how listeners perceive there sounds
Articulatory phonetics is the study of how the vocal tract produces the sounds of language

The International Phonetic Alphabet(IPA) uses both ordinary letters and invented symbos to represent all of the sounds across all of the world’s languages.

CHAPTER 6 - Phonology: The Sound Patterns of Language

There are thousands of languages, but only hundereds of speech sounds. Sounds form different patterns in different languages.

Allomorph is a variant of a morpheme

A minimal pair is two words with different meanings that are identical except for one sound segment that occurs in the same place in each word.

Phonemes are the abstract basic form of a sound that differentiate words. Allophones are the perceptible sounds corresponding to the phoneme in various environments.

Phonotactic constraints are the limitations on sequences of segments. Possible words without meaning are sometimes called nonsense words and are also referred to as accidental gaps in the lexicon, or lexical gaps

CHAPTER 7 - Language in Society

The language of an individual speaker with its unique characteristics is referred to as the speaker’s idiolect.

Dialects are mutually intelligible forms of a language that differ in systematic ways. In reality, there is no sudden major break between dialects. Rather, dialects merge into each other, forming a dialect continuum.
Dialect leveling is movement toward greater uniformity and less variation among dialects.
Accent is referred to as regional phonological or phonetic distinctions, and also the speech of non-native speakers.
Regional dialects are dialect diferences accumulate in a geographic region.
Social dialects are dialect differences that seem to come about because of social factors。

Lingua franca is the language used by common agreement.

Bilingualism refers to the ability to speak two (or more) languages, either by an individual speaker, individual bilingualism, or within a society, societal bilingualism

Codeswitching is a speech style unique to bilinguals in which fluent speakers switch languages between or within sentences. Borrowing occurs when a word or short expression from one language occurs embedded among the words of a second language and adapts to the regular phonology, morphology and syntax of the second language.

Second-language teaching methods fall into two broad categories: the synthetic approach and the analytic approach.

Styles are situation dialects, such as informal and formal style.
Slang is something that nearly everyone uses and recognizes but nobody can define precisely.
Jargon or argot is specific slang term.

Words relating to sex, sex organs, and natural bodily functions make up a large part of the set of taboo words of many cultures. A euphemism is a word or phrase that replaces a taboo word or serves to avoid frightening or unpleasant subjects. A word or phrase has not only a linguistic denotative meaning but also a connotative meaning that reflects attitudes, emotions, value judgements and so on.

CHAPTER 8 - Language Change: The Syllables of Time

The branch of linguistics that deals with how languages change, what kinds of changes occur, and why they occured is called historical and comparative linguistics.

Linguistic change such as sound shift is found in the history of all languages, as evidenced by the regular sound correspondences that exist between different stages of the same language, different dialects of the same language, and different languages.

Languages that evolve from a common source are genetically related.

All components of the grammar may change. Words, morphemes, phonemes, and rules of all types may be added, lost, or altered. The meanings of words and morphemes may broaden, narrow, or shift. The lexicon may expand by borrowing, which results in loan words in the vocabulary.

Linguistics use the comparative method to identify regular sound correspondences among the cognates of related languages and systematically reconstruct an earlier protolanguage.

Writing is a basic tool of civilization. The precursor of writing was “picture writing”, which used pictograms to represent objects directly and literally.
Pictograms are called ideograms when the drawings become less literal, and the meanings extend to concepts addociated with the objects originally pictured.
**Logographic systems are true writing systems in the sense that the symbols stand for words of a language.

CHAPTER 9 - Language Acquisition

Children do not learn a language simply by memorizing sentences, rather, they acquire a system of grammatical rules.

Innateness hypothesis: many linguistics believe that children are equipped with an innate template or blueprint for language - Universal Grammer(UG). The input to the child is said to be impoverished and this argument for the innateness of UG is called the poverty of the stimulus.

Babbling illustrates the readiness of the human mind to respond to linguistic input from a very early stage. Most children go through a stage in which they utters only single words. The one-word stage is sometimes referred to as the holophrastic stage because these one-word utterances seem to convey the meaning of an entire sentence.
Prosodic bootstrapping refers to that infants can use the stress pattern of the language as a start to word learning. Other bootstrapping methods can help the child to learn verb meaning based on syntactic context (Syntactic bootstrapping), or syntactic categories based on word meaning (semantic bootstrapping)
During the telegraphic stage, the child produces longer sentences that oftern lack functino or grammatical morphemes.

Several learning mechanisms have been suggested to explain the acquisition process: imitation of adult speech, reinforcement and analogy.

The term second language acquisition or L2 acquisition generally refers to the acquisition of a second language by someone who has already acquired a first language. This is also referred to as sequential bilingualism

Bilingual language acquisition refers to the simultaneous acquisition of two languages beginning in infancy.

The separate systems hypothesis says that the bilingual child builds a distinct lexicon and grammar for each language.

Adult second-language learners (L2ers) do not often achieve native-like competence in the L2.
L2ers construct grammars like L1ers, the intermediate grammars that L2ers create on their way to the target have been called interlanguage grammars.

The universality of the language acquisition process, the stages of development, and the relatively short period in which the child constructs a complex grammatical system without overt teaching suggest that the human species is innately endowed with special language acquisition abilities and that language is based in human biology.

CHAPTER 10 - Language Processing and the Human Brain

Psycholinguistics is an area of experimental linguistics that is concerned with linguistic performance in speech (or sign) production and comprehension.

Comprehension requires the ability to access the mental lexicon to match the words in the utterance to their meanings. It begins with the perception of the acoustic speech signal.
The speech signal can be described in terms of the fundamental freequency, perceived as pitch. Intensity determines the loudness of the sound.
The speech wave can be displayed visually as a spectrogram, sometimes called a voiceprint.
Each vowel is characterized by dark bands, called formants

Perception and comprehension involve both top-down processing and bottom-up processing.

Psycholinguists use techniques like lexical decision to study lexical access.

Semantic priming: when we hear a priming word, related words are “awakened” and become more readily accessible for a few moments.

Parsing: listener must determine the syntactic relations among the words and phrases.

Sentences that induce the backtracking effect are called garden path sentences

The initial structural choices that lead people astray may reflect general principles that are used by the mental parser to deal with syntactic ambiguity. Two such principles are known as minimal attachment and late closure

Lexical access is influenced in both cases by semantic and phonological relatedness of words and word frequency.

Speech errors such as spoonerisms show that features, segments, words, and phrases may be conceptualized or planned well before they are uttered.

Neurolinguistics is the study of the brain mechanisms and anatomical structures that underlie linguistic competence and performance.

Aphasia is the neurological term for any language disorder that results from brain damage caused by disease or trauma.

Broca’s aphasia is characterized by labored speech and certain kinds of word-finding difficulties, but it is primarily a disorder that affects a person’s ability to form sentences with rules of syntax.
People with Wernicke’s aphasia produce fluent speech with good intonation. However, their language is often semantically incoherent.
Acquired dyslexia is a disorder in which reading ability is disrupted due to brain damage to the left hemisphere.

The critical-age hypothesis asserts that language is biologically based and that the ability to learn a native language develops within a fixed period, from birth to middle childhood.

Chuanrong Li

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