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Hocketts Design Features of Language

 Charles Hockett proposed identifying

descriptive characteristics
13, 15 or 16 design features described
Hocket, C. F. (1960). The origin of speech. Scientific
American, 203, 89-96.
As cited by Harley (2008). The psychology of

 Hocketts Design Features of Speech/Language

used to compare animal communication to

human communication
Is human communication unique?

Hocketts 16 Design Features of Language

1. Vocal-Auditory Channel
humans communicate via speech, out of mouth, into
advantages compared with other forms: touch,
odor visual
able to use hands while talking
able to hear speech in the dark

2. Broadcast Transmission & Directional

anyone in broad range can hear speech
also get information regarding direction and timing
of sound

Hocketts 16 Design Features of Language

3. Rapid Fading
speech signal is transitory, so gone quickly
this is generally a disadvantage
writing and recording are strategies to assist this

4. Interchangeability
any adult can say what any other adult can say, both
receivers and senders of messages
animal communication sometimes has gender constraints

5. Total Feedback
hear and feel our speech, so able to adjust
compensate for loss of hearing or motor speech skill


Hocketts 16 Design Features of Language

6. Specialization
(Hulit & Howard, 2006) Communication mode
(speech) is only used for communication, some
unique structures
(H l 2009) and
d others:
energy iin signal
l iis nott
important (whispered vs shouted), instead the
source or signal itself is key

7. Semanticity
human language is able to convey very specific,
detailed messages
words have stable relationships to the objects/events
they represent, meanings connected to the world

Hocketts 16 Design Features of Language

8. Arbitrariness
words dont refer directly to objects
nothing about a pen requires that it be called a

9. Discreteness
language is limited to a small number of sounds
relatively small differences between sounds
speakers arent able to perceive or produce
nonnative sounds

Hocketts 16 Design Features of Language

10. Displacement
ability to talk about things remote in place and time
example of history lessons or science fiction

11. Productivityy
human language is creative, able to say things never
said before
create new words
say old things in new ways (metaphors, poetry)
yet the message is still understandable


Hocketts 16 Design Features of Language

12. Cultural Transmission (aka Tradition)
the language is taught and learned
capacity for language appears to be innate; but you
learn the language of the environment

13. Duality of Patterning

a finite number of units combine in infinite ways to
create meaning
sounds combine to form morphemes which combine
to form utterances, etc.
meaning cannot be predicted from the bottom levels

Hocketts 16 Design Features of Language

14. Prevarication
use language to lie and deceive, can create
meaningless messages

15. Reflexiveness
can communicate about communicating
meta linguistic

16. Learnability
speaker of one language can learn another language