Introduction to Linguistics/Introduction

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Introduction to Linguistics

Chapter 1 Introduction[edit]

Defining language[edit]

To a common man, language is "the expression of what we have in our mind" and they know that this expression can be in form of written symbols, spoken sounds or body gestures. But to the linguists or other language researchers, it is "a contextualized system of finite arbitrary symbols, sounds and gestures combined according to rules of grammar for the purpose of communication” and it is “an infinitely extensible and modifiable system of communication based on pure arbitrary convention." Language is more than just a means of communication. It influences our culture and even our thought processes. Language is a social phenomenon. Language only exists in society. It is a means of nourishing and developing culture and establishing human relations.

‘Language’ is a human’s innate ability to talk or in more technical terms, an abstract faculty of speech which facilitates him or her to learn and use a language in order to communicate with other humans. This faculty is held by all human beings in common and does not vary from one region to another as human psychology is universally the same. On the other hand, ‘a language’ is that particular set of codes which ‘language faculty’ facilitates us to learn and use. ‘A language’ is a set of conventions operated through the faculty of ‘language.’ These sets vary in terms of codes as different humans learn and use different codes and thus each group of humans uses a different language and the set of codes, which they name as some particular language, is not held by all human beings in common.

Language as a system of systems[edit]

Language is symbolic, yet its symbols are arranged in a particular system. Almost all languages of the world have their own well-organized and highly developed systems of arranging these symbols. Though symbols in each human language are finite; they can be arranged infinitely, that is to say, we can produce an infinite set of sentences by a finite set of symbols. Every language is a system of systems. All languages have phonological and grammatical systems, and within a system there are also several sub-systems. For example, within grammatical system, we have morphological and syntactic systems, and within these two sub-systems, we have still other sub-systems such as those of number, of mood, of tense, of class etc.

Language as social semiotic[edit]