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Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language

The Features of Human Language
(adapted from Hockett, Charles. 1960. The Origin of Speech; and 1966

The Problem of

Universals in Language and Kenneth Hyde: 1998) Hockett isolated 13 features that characterize human language and which distinguish it from other communication systems. The following diagram graphically represents each of the thirteen features. Each feature is numbered and listed below the diagram, along with a more developed discussion of the feature.

.This means that the standard human language occurs as a vocal (making sounds with the mouth) type of communication which is perceived by hearing it. This is why it is not possible to simply say "hello" and have someone hear it hours later. or by playing the audio-record. Rapid fading (transitoriness) -.Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language "The design-features listed below are found in every language on which we have reliable information. For spoken language. 2. They are not all logically independent. the vast majority of human languages occur in the vocal-auditory channel as their basic mode of expression. This is why a person can stand in the middle of a room and be heard by everyone (assuming they are speaking loudly enough).This means that the human language signal does not persist over time. and do not necessarily all belong to our defining list for language--a point to be taken up separately. Speech waveforms fade rapidly and cannot be heard after they fade. the listener hears the sound as coming from a particular direction and is notably better at hearing sounds that are coming from in front of the them than from behind them. There are obvious exceptions: writing and sign language are examples of communication in the manual-visual channel. and somewhat marginal form of language. while sign languages are in limited use. either by reading the written form. while it is perceived in a limited direction. Writing is a secondary. Broadcast transmission and directional reception -.This means that the human language signal is sent out in all directions. mostly among deaf people who are limited in their ability to use the auditory part of the vocal-auditory channel. the sound perpetuates as a waveform that expands from the point of origin (the mouth) in all directions. and each seems to be lacking in at least one known animal communicative system. However.. . Vocal-auditory channel -. 3. Writing and audio-recordings can be used to record human language so that it can be recreated at a later time. However." (Hockett: 1966) 1.

" although they can perceive it. 5. even onomatopoeic words are. 7.this means that the speaker can hear themself speak and can monitor their language performance as they go. For example. the word sel means a white. sticklefish signals are not interchangeable. are not physically capable of all of the speech sounds that humans produce. tongue. because they lack the necessary specialized organs. Anyone speaker of these languages will recognize that the signal sel or salt refers to the substance sodium chloride. Specialization -. So. the similarity if very loose (a dog that actually said "bark" would be very surprising) and does not always hold up across languages (Spanish dogs. Similarly. . to some extent. Thus. 8. However. However. 6. for example. This is distinctive from some animal communications such as that of the sticklefish. Dogs.This means that the speaker can both receive and broadcast the same signal. i. based on the argument that they are pronounced like the sound they refer to. Total feedback -. the males say "I'm a boy" and the females say "I'm a girl"). This differs from some other simple communication systems. For example. male fish cannot say "I'm a girl. for example. The same substance is matched with the English word salt. etc. crystalline substance consisting of sodium and chlorine atoms. say "guau"). The human lips. arbitrary. something as large as a whale can be referred to by a very short word. such as traffic signals. throat. there is no reason that a four-legged domestic canine should be called a dog and not a chien or a perro or an anjing (all words for 'dog' in other languages).This means that specific signals can be matched with specific meanings. This is a fundamental aspect of all communication systems.e. Traffic signs are not normally capable of monitor their own functions (a red light can't tell when the bulb is burned out.This means that there is no necessary connection between the form of the signal and the thing being referred to. Onomatopoeic words such as "meow" or "bark" are often cited as counter-examples.). Semanticity -. have been specialized into speech apparati instead of being merely the eating apparati they are in many other animals. Interchangeability -. The sticklefish make auditory signals based on gender (basically. in French. Arbitrariness -.This means that the organs used for producing speech are specially adapted to that task.Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language 4.

never-before-heard utterances that others can understand. They can even refer to things and events that do not actually exist (they are not present in reality) such as the Easter Bunny. For example. it is often suggested that it is only man who has a mind or spirit. Cartesians latched on to the one obvious external trait that seems to separate men from beasts -. have called into question the Cartesian separation of man from beast. or the destruction of Tara in Gone with the Wind. but any fluent speaker of English would be able to understand it (and realize that the speaker was not completely sane. 10. or "mind".Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language 9. Lacking direct evidence that animals lack a soul. the moon. There is no gradual. continuous shading from one sound to another in the linguistics system. Displacement -. etc. Thus speakers will perceive a sound as either a [p] or a [b]. even insects. But can these forms of communication be considered language? . For example. although there may be a continuum in the real physical world. human language allows speakers to talk about the past and the future. which was under attack from all sides during the Reformation and Enlightenment. even if physically it falls somewhere between the two sounds. the sentence "The little lavender men who live in my socks drawer told me that Elvis will come back from Mars on the 10th to do a benefit concert for unemployed Pekingese dogs" is a novel and never-before-heard sentence (at least. as well as the present. In the Cartesian search for the single characteristic that sets man apart from animals. Studies in the past century.). Descartes provided a solid philosophical foundation for the Catholic church. By linking man directly to God in this way. either spatially or temporally. By then treating language as a unique indicator of the presence of soul.This means that the basic units of speech (such as sounds) can be categorized as belonging to distinct categories. stimulated by the work of Charles Darwin. Discreteness -. Cartesians were able to erect a seemingly impenetrable barrier between the physical world of beasts and the spiritual world of man. have a highly developed social system and sense of reason combined with the capacity for different forms of communication. Ethologists have shown that many animals. Productivity -.human language. I hope it is!).This means that the speaker can talk about things which are not present.This means that human languages allow speakers to create novel. 11. the Earth having an emperor. reason. in all probability). but not as blend. Speakers can also talk about things that are physically distant (such as other countries.

to the delight of the Cartesians. Human language uses referential displacement. Second. displacement. We can call this procedural displacement. Once we allow ourselves to refer to make-believe objects in make-believe locations in makebelieve worlds. man is able to transmit thoughts about things that cannot be directly perceived. human language may be the distinguishing feature of the human mind and we owe it all to . So we can say that "The water in the pot on top of the camp stove boiled over" and just be referring to something we saw several hours ago. However. Third. and events that are "not here" and "not now". which seems to serve as a clear separator between animal communication and human language. Birds also possess "total feedback" and some song birds have "traditional transmission" in the form of local dialects. we can locate objects in positions that we cannot see. We can talk about "the camp stove" even when that camp stove is in a camp that is on the other side of the hill. we are able to refer to objects that are not physically present. the design feature which involves use of the "vocal-auditory channel" does not distinguish human language from the bird call. Yes. however. We can talk about the marriage of coyote girl and the moon or the combined forces of He-Man and the Care Bears in an attempt to save the world. Or we can refer to events that might happen in some possible world of the future when we say "The water in the pot on top of the camp stove might boil over. . cannot speak about where the best source of pollen was a week ago or where it might be tomorrow. but not referential displacement. places. we can get into stream of consciousness in movies like "Total Recall" or novels such as "Ulysses" and produce strange references so bizarre that even the smartest English professors can no longer figure out what is going on. there is at least one design feature. ("Human Language and Animal Communication" pg." The honeybee.Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language Charles Hockett helped clarify our discussions of the unique properties of human language by listing thirteen design features that describe essential characteristics of human language. if we turn up the gas too high. Because human language is capable of displacement. However. For example. we can refer to events that are not currently happening. Many of these design features represent characteristics of human language that fail to separate it out from animal communication. the dance of the honey bee tells the onlooker bees exactly how to travel to reach the pollen source. It is true that bees can refer to the presence of pollen at a distance and sometimes even around barriers such as mountains.7 ) Displacement is the ability to refer objects. Going still further. First. displacement. the sky is the limit. you guessed it. 6. We can make up great and heroic stories about the adventures of the Starship Enterprise and its interactions with Klingon warriors. We can talk about "the pot on top of the camp stove" which then locates the pot by referring to a position that is determined with reference to an object that we cannot see. There is virtually no limit to the freedom we can give to our imagination.

We might be able to produce perhaps 100 such units. the number of expressions we could produce would be quite limited. 13. while Duality of patterning refers to the ability to recombine small units in different orders. Duality allows us to continue to create new words as needed. or acquire. Traditional Transmission -.This means that human language is not something inborn. Duality of patterning involves the ability of humans to combine patterns on two different levels. This idea is similar to Productivity (Feature 11). Duality of patterning -. bees are born knowing how to dance and some birds are born knowing their species of bird-songs (this is not true of all birds). their native language from other speakers. the meaning may be completely different as is the case with the words cat. duality provides a springboard for the other design feature of productivity and displacement. This is different from many animal communication systems where the animal is born knowing their entire system. and act. they must learn. the words are combined into sentences. Although humans are probably born with an ability to do language. they put together different sounds or phonemes in a specified order to make a single identifiable unit known as a word or morpheme. Because we can produce so many words.This means that the discrete parts of a language can be recombined in a systematic way to create new forms.Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language 12. If we did not have duality of patterning. . If one does not maintain the correct order of sounds in a word. However. e. Each word would have to be a single sound unit. tack. Productivity refers to the ability to generate novel meanings. Hockett thinks this is the crucial feature. . On the first level.g. but then the capacity of our vocal apparatus to create new items would be used up. On the second level.

and Nonverbal Communication [and Comments and Reply] Robbins Burling. 1993).edu/itc/psychology/rmk/Readings/Hockett. No. Either by accessing this page http://www. The Library online Type in your e-proxy or Athens username/password (found in your university e-mail in box. PART A: Read: Hockett. OR you can make a very poor photocopy from my very poor photocopy in the office in the Victoria Building. 203:88-96. You must attempt both. Vol. EXTRA BROWNIE POINTS (optional) Read: Primate Calls. (Feb.columbia. • • • Go to the University library page Go to Electronic Resources. (1968) The Origin of Speech IN. pp. 1. et al. 25-53.. IN Current Anthropology. A & B. 34. You can save a copy onto a pen-drive or c:drive ( if you are at home). Scientific American. Human Language. if this is a problem contact the library) • • Click on core journal Choose J-STORE . C.Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language Homework Your homework is in two parts.pdf which is the best way.

Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language • • Cut and paste the title Primate Calls. Human Language. . and Nonverbal Communication [and Comments and Reply] Download as High Quality PDF onto your pen-drives or c:drive (if from home).

For each design feature. . one language or communication system that does not exhibit the feature Extra (optional) The values of some the 13 design features are dependent (linked) to others for either practical or logical reasons. give an example of:2.Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language Part B Analysis and Academic Writing exercise: 1. Explain why you think the design features are linked. When you have completed this e-mail the answers to me at meclinton@btinternet. Keep a copy on your pen-drive and computer. one language or communication system that does exhibit the feature 3. I will reply by Tuesday. list all other features whose values depend on the value of the first feature.m. Define and/or describe each of Hockett's 13 design features and for each design by Monday night 10p.

Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language Design Feature Definition/ Description System with feature System without feature Vocal/auditory Tactile/visual Chemical-olfactory Link Broadcast/Reception Link Rapidly Fading Link .

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Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language Design Feature Definition/ Description System with feature System without feature Interchangeability Link Total Feedback Link Specialization Link .

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Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language Design Feature Definition/ Description System with feature System without feature Semanticity Link Arbitrariness Link Discreetness Link .

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Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language Design Feature Definition/ Description System with feature System without feature Displacement Link Productivity Link Traditional Transmission Link .

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Go Higher Arts Introduction to Language Design Feature Definition/ Description System with feature System without feature Duality of Patterning Link .