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Linguistics: Introduction

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. Scientific study is one which based on the
systematic investigation of data conducted through some general theory of language structure.
The linguistics study has two aspects:
Macro linguistics
Micro linguistics
Macro linguistics refers to the whole study of language, including such widely diverse field as
Psycho- linguistics, Socio-linguistics, historical linguistics, Speech pathology, lexicography,
computational linguistics and communication theory.
Micro linguistics refers to what may be called the core of language study. This includes the area
of phonology, grammar and semantics.

Language is the most effective method of human communication. The term language is derived
from the Latin word lingua meaning tongue. Human language is in organized form. It is an
open entity, new words or meanings may come into use. Language is as important as breathing.
Barnett says, Verbal communication is a condition of the existence of human society.
Language is a distinctively human possession (e.g. the ability to use language to communicate
with one another.) sets human beings off as unique within the animal kingdom. Language is a
communicative system. The central component of this system is a message or a set of messages.
The message is what the speaker wants to convey to the listener.
Expert Opinion
Edward Sapir
Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas,
emotions and desires by means of voluntarily produced symbols.
Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbol by means of which a social group

R..H. Robins

Language is a symbol system based on pure or arbitrary conventionsinfinitely

extendable and modifiable according to the changing needs and conditions of the
Benjamin Whorf
Language determines one's entire way of life, including one's thinking and all
other forms of mental activity. To use language is to limit oneself to the modes of
perception already inherent in that language. The fact that language is only form
and yet molds everything goes to the core of what ideology is
Naom Chomsky
A language [is] a set (finite or infinite) of sentences, each finite in length and
constructed out of a finite set of elements.
Roland Barthes

Its systematic nature in order to be complete needs only to

be valid, and not
to be true. Language effects the original split between wisdom and method.

"Freedom of speech" does not exist; grammar is the

invisible "thought control" of our invisible prison.

With language we have already accommodated ourselves to

a world of unfreedom.

The tendency to take the conceptual as the perceived and to

treat concepts as
tangible, is as basic to language as it is to ideology.
Mikhail Bakhtin
The language of a class or social position is potentially a prison-house, a
sealed-off and impermeable monoglossia.
Benjamin Whorf
To the question: WHO is speaking? Mallarme, the French poet, answered,
Language is speaking.

Key properties of language

1. Productivity
Productivity is the capacity of human beings to say things that have never been said or
heard before, and yet to be understood by other speakers (audience) without either
speaker being in the slightest aware of the novelty. This is what we mean by productivity.
2. Duality
Any utterance in a language consists of an arrangement of the phonemes of that language;
at the same time, any utterance in a language consists of an arrangement of the
morphemes of that language. This is what we mean by duality.
A language has a phonological system and also a grammatical system. In every language
phonemes are arranged in a special way. For example, there cannot be a word beginning
with mh in English, although such words are possible in Gujrati or Rajasthani as mhare
(mine). Secondly, words are arranged in a special way. In Hindi the normal arrangement
of a sentence is subject+object+verb, whereas in English it is subject+verb+object.

3. Arbitrariness
Essentially, language is a symbol system. In broad terms, the symbols of language are
words. By constructing words and stringing them together according to a set of rules
the grammar of the language we are able to construct meaningful utterances.
The relation between a word and its meaning is in general quite arbitrary. It is a matter of
convention. For the first time Ferdinand de Saussure, the Swiss linguist, pointed out
this fact. He used the terms Signifier and Signified. The term signifier means the sounds
we produce to refer to some idea. Signified is the idea or concept referred to it. There is
nothing inherent in water /wt/ (English) and pani (pa:ni:) (Hindi) to make them mean

why they mean. In English a stream MURMURS but in Hindi it produces a different
sound KALKAL. It means that there is no inherent (logical) connection between a owrd
and what it stands for.
Each particular language (English, French, Russian, Chinese, and so on) uses a different
set of symbols. So, for example, the word-symbol for cup in French is tasse but in
Portuguese it is copo.
Arbitrariness is a useful property because it increases the flexibility of language. The
flexibility arises because language is not constrained by the need to match the form of a
word and its meaning. Because of this it is possible to construct an almost infinite number
of words from a limited set of speech sounds.
There are some English words that appear to be less arbitrary than others. These are
onomatopoeic words: words that imitate the sound associated with an object or an
action. For example, in the utterance the bees were buzzing the word buzzing sounds
similar to the noise bees make. Other examples include hiss and rasp. The features of
such words are often exploited in the writing of poetry.

4. Interchangeability
It means that a speaker of a language is in principle also a hearer and theoretically
capable of saying anything he is able to understand when someone else says it. In other
words we can say that a hearer can be a speaker and vice-versa. This is to say that a
speaker and hearer can change their roles mutually.
5. Specialization
This means that the organs used for producing speech are specially adapted to that task.
The human lips, tongue, throat, etc. have been specialized into speech apparati instead of
being merely the eating apparati they are in many other animals. Dogs, for example, are
not physically capable of all of the speech sounds that humans produce, because they lack
the necessary specialized organs.

6. Displacement
A great deal of human speech is displaced. Language as a system of communication does
not necessitate the presence of the encoder and decoder. The encoder can send his
message to the decoder on a piece of paper. It is that property of language by which some
activity can be narrated or described irrespective of its time and place.
7. Discreteness
The sounds used in language are meaningfully distinct and discrete. There is virtually no
limit of sound which can be produced by the human vocal organs, nut in any one
language only a relatively small number of sound ranges are used, and the difference
between these ranges is absolute. The word give consists of three phonemes /g/ /i/ /v/;
him consists of three phonemes /h/ /i/ /m/; a consists of //.
Phonemes have no descriptive meaning in themselves; they serve only to keep
meaningful utterances, apart, as when
Lend him a pen // lend him pen//
is distinguished from
Lend him a pin //lend him pin//
by the difference between the second phonemes of /pen/ and /pin/.
8. Cultural Transmission
Language is a product of culture. One important ingredient for cultural transmission is
imitation, a type of inter-stimulation in which the behaviour of one individual stimulates
similar behaviour from another.
Human genes transmit the capacity to acquire language, but the detail conventions of a
particular language- the vocabulary and grammatical rules- are transmitted by teaching
and learning.

The inherited genes from parents govern the behavioural pattern largely like them.
Genetic transmission is involuntary. The organism has no control over it whereas cultural
transmission is voluntary. The organism has to acquire culture. However, without the
genetic mechanism, cultural mechanism cannot function. Human beings learn language
because they have a genetic mechanism for learning language which is not in the case of
animals. The other aspect of cultural transmission is that we learn only that language
which is taught to us. A child, who is kept in isolation from its birth to the age of twelve,
and is not exposed to a language at all, will learn no language.