Choose Your Language

Posts Tagged ‘Linguistics’

Linguistics - Syntax

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

All languages do have rules which are called grammar. These rules are necessary to enable those who are learning the language to be able to continue to grow their vocabulary and speak in long sentences throughout their lifetime.

If rules did not exist in language acquisition, the student would find it a huge effort to learn a new language because then they would have to learn each sentence separately. The rules define how sentences should be constructed and what is right from what is the wrong way to put a sentence together. Using those rules helps the student to know how and when to use certain words, verbs, nouns and phrases in a sentence.

With those rules in place, the student will feel more confident in combining words into sentences and can create myriads of sentences on their own while administering these rules of language. The person who has knowledge of the syntax will see the sentence as more meaningful to them. Syntax is very important in constructing sentences and once the rules are learned, it comes quite naturally to the speaker.

In terms of language acquisition, Syntax is the study pertaining to the sentence construction rules and principles in a native language. It goes to the reference of the rules governing the structure of sentences in any language. There are some generic rules that apply to all languages as it relates to its syntax.

The rules include things such as how words are put together, how the word ending changes as it relates to the context of the sentence and how the parts of speech are connected.

In language acquisition, syntax in sentences is exemplified by a few methods below:

“The girl caught the ball”

Here is how you would describe the syntax rule of any sentence (noun or subject is followed by verb and then verb is followed by object or noun): In the above sentence, the subject is the girl and that is followed by the verb caught and then another noun which is the ball.


It does not matter how complex the sentence is because words can be embedded into the existing sentence to make the rules of syntax still work and still meaningful.

Linguistics - Semantics

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

The study of meaning is what semantics indicates and it targets the problem of understanding. It is the meaning of words, phrases or sentences.

It is used to interpret gestures, signs, symbols, facial expressions and body language. When it has to do with written language, though, semantics has to do with the structure of paragraphs, punctuation and content.

Studying semantics formally introduces the student to other subfields such as proxemics, pragmatics, and lexicology. However, semantics is better defined in its own field. Other related fields of semantic are reference, communication and semiotics. So it is more formally complex than any other model.

Due to this complexity, students that study semantics or meaning do differ from their determination of what that meaning is.

For example, if you were to say, “Cindy loves a milkshake,” the word milkshake could possibly be referencing the object itself because this is its actual exact meaning. However, it may also be referring to other metaphoric connection such as the hunger that Cindy has, which may be the implication of the speaker.
Conventionally, the view of formal semantics limits semantics to its exact meaning, and downgrades all metaphoric connections to pragmatics.
With semantics and finding the meaning of phrases, antonyms and synonyms are extremely important.
Semantics is viewed as truth conditions, which is what the world would think of what you say or do according to the knowledge that the world has about what you are saying or doing. This is determined by different cultures and languages.
It comes down to what inferences the person listening will draw from the semantics. It may also be how you deliver the sentence or word.

It is important how you apply semantics. For example, if someone should ask you, “Does every train from Washington DC to Florida make five stops along the way,” then there should be simple semantics specifics related to the question.

If the person being asked the question has knowledge of the answer, then the semantics would contain truth conditions if the answer was “yes, it has five stops along the way.” There could also be partial meaning where the train only stops twice and not five times.

Most semantics theory draw upon the assumption that a sentence is either proposed to be true or it is not true or possibly some truth is in it. Situations are what defines and identifies the truth.

Language Learning - Learner Internal Factors

Monday, August 17th, 2009

There are many reasons that people choose to learn a second language. We may be planning to travel or looking for a job overseas. We may learn a second language from our family or while we are at school. Some people tend to learn language quickly while others struggle. Have you ever wondered why this is?

Within the field of linguistics, our level of competence in learning a second language is referred to as learner internal factors. Input is the exposure to the second language, and instruction is the method by which we are taught. Two people with exactly the same exposure to a second language will learn at completely different rates. While one learner may walk away from a lesson taking in all that they have learnt, another may leaving having recalled nothing.

Age is a major factor in language learning. Children seem to learn a second language much more easily than adults, and usually reach a high level of fluency as well. For this reason, many elementary schools have second language learning built into their curriculum. While it has not been proven conclusively, it is evident that a crucial period for language learning occurs before puberty, when we have a much greater aptitude for language learning.

Research has shown that those who have learnt a second language already will make better progress with subsequent language that they learn. The brain works like a muscle, so to speak, the more we exercise certain parts of it the stronger and more efficient they become. By learning languages, we utilize the parts of the brain involved and improve our own aptitude.

Even personality can have an effect on how someone learns a language. Of course, motivation has an effect. The more motivation you have will change the amount of effort that is placed into language learning. It has also been shown that people with generally low levels of anxiety and stress make for better language learners. Those who are extroverts tend to do better at language learning than introverts. This is thought to  be because extroverts have a lesser fear of failure and are more willing to ask for help.

Linguistics - Morphology

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Morphology examines and studies how words are structured internally. It also looks at the way words are formed and the rules that go along with them.

Morphology spans three primary approaches that embrace the difference of each model in different ways. These three approaches are:

1.    The item and arrangement approach - Morpheme
2.    The item and process approach - Lexeme
3.    The word and paradigm approach – Word-based

These are strongly associated, but do have their differences and are not unlimited in how they are applied to the new language. According to the morphology model, a student will have knowledge of a word when they become familiar with:

1.    The spelling of the word
2.    The pronunciation of the word
3.    The definition of the word
4.    The part of speech of the word
5.    The history of the word
6.    If the word is improper
7.    If the word out of date
8.    Examples of the word
9.    Any slang associated with the word
10.    The root and stem of the word

With morphology, students who can analyze and identify a word in a second language; would have mastered the language to some degree. Rules in most languages determine how closely related words are.

For example in the English language, native speakers may be able to relate to the words, cats, cat, and cat food. They intuitively make inference to the fact that cat is to cats as bird is to birds. In a similar instance, cat is to cat food as bird is to bird feed.

The way that a student identifies both words; cat and cats as being related or similar is known as lexeme. On the other hand, bird and bird cage are different lexemes because they fall into different categories of word form.

The student understands the rules in terms of precise patterns in which the word is formed in a sentence or phrase.


So it is conclusive to say that morphology is an area of linguistics that is the study of the pattern in which words are formed within any language. It tries to form rules that are a representation of the knowledge of the students that speak the languages.

Language Learning - Maintenance Bilingual Program

Monday, July 13th, 2009

The maintenance bilingual program is specifically created to maintain and improve a student’s native language as the student tries to learn a second language.

In 1997, the National Research Council wrote a report that signifies the fact that students who are fully developed in their native language are more than likely to develop proficiently in a second language than those who do not have that benefit.

When a student can understand instruction in their native language, they are able to use those same abilities to acquire a second language. However, the maintenance program puts more emphasis on how fluent those children speak in both languages while they are in school. It should also be evident in how they maintain their academic skills.

Maintenance programs enrich and add stability to how students learn a new language. They are better able to engage and become participants of instructional work given and not just for exposure to it.

Becoming Organized

Usually maintenance bilingual programs are organized in groups of students who have the same native language. This will help them to use their native language instructions to articulate in the new language learned. The primary goal for a maintenance bilingual program is to keep the student’s skills intact while they learn a new language. It helps to develop and continue the enrichment of both languages. The student’s culture is also important to maintain so the student can feel comfortable learning a new language.

There are so much more benefits to speaking two languages. However, having a proficiency in both is an added advantage to the student. The teacher should never let the student feel as if they are giving up their native language. The student will learn faster if they can identify with the new language learned and incorporate what they know from their native language into learning the new language.

The maintenance bilingual program helps students to be more competent in English while still maintaining their own language and culture. The idea of biliteracy is encouraged. Biliteracy is when the teacher accommodates the student and allows them to learn two languages using the same curriculum.


The student is able to develop their cognitive and academic skills in both their native and second language. This would help the student to become more successful because they would be prepared both academically and cognitively.

Language Learning - Linguistics: Input +1

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Twenty five years ago, Stephen Krashen created five hypothesis of language acquisition theory that has been used successfully by students who want to learn a second language. Input hypothesis is one of the five hypothesis theory.

Input hypothesis indicates that language acquisition for individuals who are learning a new language is administered through the understanding of messages and the receiving input that they can comprehend.

The student learning that new language, as the input hypothesis suggests, develops by getting instructions in that language that is beyond their present state of language proficiency.

Learners acquire competence with language comprehension “i” when they are exposed to an input that is comprehensible at a higher level as Krashen indicates would level “i + 1”.

Krashen thinks that students who learn under less pressure and anxiety and adapt to the second language in their own time or comfort level of comprehending are usually the ones that learn best.

Their success and development of the language does not come from forced production and correction, but from communicating and comprehending the language at their own pace.

The input hypothesis is more geared towards language acquisition than the actual learning process.

A student who is at phase “i,” will comprehend not from that particular phase, but from a level that is a little higher, which would be level “i + 1”.

Not every student will be at the same level at the same time, so a teacher should consider this in preparing a curriculum that will address all students in the class at their own comfort level of learning a new language.

Students should learn naturally by communicating with their peers in the language that they are trying to acquire. This will put them at an advance level of comprehension that their stage would rely on.


Stephen Krashen tried to explain the idea of input hypothesis by giving an example of someone who spoke English, but was trying to comprehend Spanish from a program on the radio.

If you are a beginning Spanish student and have ever listened to a Spanish radio station, you know that it is very difficult to comprehend what you hear. First of all, the comprehensible input is too complicated and is lacking a context that you can identify with so as to get clues from it.  This means that the beginner Spanish listener is not at that level of comprehension. Its level is too high for the beginner to comprehend.

However, an advanced Spanish listener would be able to understand. The input hypothesis suggests only a comprehensible input a slighter level higher where the student can at least hear some of the words and phrases learned as a beginner.

Language Learning Methods - The Grammar Translation Method

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

The Grammar Translation Method was a traditional method used to teach Greek and Latin. It is also known as the classical method because it was developed centuries ago specifically to teach classical language.

This technique called for students to provide translation of an entire text on a word for word basis. They had to memorize a lot of grammatical rules and grammatical exceptions as well as a long list of vocabulary.

The main focus of using this method is:

•    Interpretation of words and phrases
•    Learning the structure of the second language by comparing it with the native language
•    Taking into account grammatical rules
•    Be able to read, write and translate a foreign language

The native language is used to conduct the class where a large vocabulary list was used that covered both languages; the second language as well as the first. Grammar points would be derived from the text and contextually presented in the textbook as it is explained by the teacher.

The Learning Process

Those grammar points were instrumental in giving the student a provisional rule of how to assemble words into appropriate sentences. The grammar drills and translations were incorporated into the learning process through practice and exercises. This helped to increase the knowledge of the student without them having to put too much emphasis on the content.

The student would break up different sentences as they were needed and translate them. By the time the student got through that process, they would have translated the entire text from the second language to the native language. In some cases, they would be asked to do the reverse (translate native language into second language) to make sure that they grasped the process.

There was hardly any emphasis placed on how words were pronounced or any type of verbal or nonverbal communication aspects of the language. Reading written text was essential to the learning process, but only to get the translation correct.


Conversational fluency is not important when it comes to grammar translation. You have to depend on your memory to be able to recall all the rules associated with the grammar of the second language you are trying to learn. The student who is learning using this technique will be able to read and write in the target language, but the spoken language is not a priority as well as emphasis on listening skills.

Language Learning - Grammar

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

In any language, structural and consistent rules do apply and serves as a governing factor to the arrangement of sentences, words and phrases. There is generative grammar and transformational grammar.

In generative grammar, initiated by Norma Chomsky, is how the study of syntax is approached. It is how a student would calculate what combined words would form a grammatically sentence accurately.

It identifies and analyzes the correct structure of words and phrases. For example, individuals who speak English would know intuitively that the words cat, cats and cat chaser are very directly related. Most aspects of generative grammar indicate that a sentence is either correct or not pursuant to the rules applied in the language.

Transformational grammar is an earlier version of Chomsky’s generative version. It is representative of deep structures and surface structures. Of course, Chomsky has abandoned this idea and embraced generative grammar instead.

However, deep structure focuses more on the meaning of sentences. Chomsky’s theory was that all languages were conducive to deep structures that revealed their properties. The deep structures were usually hidden by the surface structures. The meaning of a sentence was established by its deep structure.

The generative grammar identifies with just the knowledge that motivates the student’s ability to speak the language and to understand it. Chomsky thinks that this knowledge is inherent, which explains why a baby can have previous knowledge about a language structure and only need to learn the language features by listening to the parents and siblings speak that language.

He also suggests that every language has specific essential things in general and the inherent theory became believable and dominated the attitudes that others had toward learning a new language.

Competence and performance were distinct to the grammatical theory structure that Chomsky embraced. It is obvious that individuals learning a new language will make mistakes when it came to how sentences were structured.

This has nothing to do with competence as long as they had the understanding of grammatical sentences.

Different types of grammar progress by the continued use of the language. When expressing language in written form, grammar has many formal rules that the student has to abide by.

Students learn prescriptive grammar in elementary school, which gives them a better idea of the different grammatical rules to apply in a sentence structure. Prescriptive and descriptive grammar are opposite in nature because one is how language is and the other is how language should really be.

Language Learning - Total Physical Response Learning

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

To assist with learning a second language, Dr. James Asher invented the Total Physical Response method. The concept assumes that learning a second language is an internal process which requires a long listening and comprehension period.

Looking at the example of how children learn their first language by naturally communicating with their parents, it is safe to say that they respond physically to the parent while they internalize and absorb the language until they are fully able to speak.

When the child gets through this process of internalizing and breaking the language barrier code, then language becomes unprompted and natural. This method of learning is what the Total Physical Response (TPR) method incorporates when it comes to teaching adults a second language. The method institutes different classroom tactics that add to the rate at which students adapt to this second language faster.
In the classroom, the teacher becomes the parent and the student becomes the child in the example of how children learn their first language from their biological parents.

The student is required to respond physically to the words of the teacher. The student’s participation is paramount in the success of learning a second language. The teacher may use simple teaching methods such as “Simon Says,” or story telling where the student acts out the story.

The advantages

Learning a second language can be a boring process depending on the method used. With TPR, participants have to move around and interact with teacher and classmates and it makes it less boring and learning becomes more enjoyable.

The use of imperative moods, which is a mood that communicates a direct command or demand, is expressly used in TPR as a means to get students to come out of their comfort zone. An example of this would be to have the student respond to commands such as “Sit Down, and “Get Up.”

Students will use this as a stepping stone to adapting to their new language in a more active way and the commanded actions help them to retain the knowledge of these phrases and words if asked to do it again.


It is evident that TPR is not the traditionally way to learn any language, but this unique method makes learning a second language simpler, fun and adaptive because of its intense participation. It is already been proven to work for babies that learn their first language.

Linguistics - Generative Grammar

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Generative grammar is the method of how to effectively study syntax. In any language, this sets the rules of how grammatical sentences are formed using predictable combined words.

The mind has a controlling Language Acquisition device that knows how to engage the rules of generative grammar unconsciously.

Noam Chomsky, in the late 1950s initiated this method of learning any language. According to Chomsky, his theory, Minimalist Program, an offset to other previous versions, suggest that there is an instinctive universal grammar in all of us.

In addition, generative grammar may be more than just a communication aspect of language acquisition, but more of learning from the environment around us. This is what sets it apart from cognitive grammar.

The previous versions of generative grammar, which includes transformational grammar, distinguishes sentences as either being grammatically correct or not. The rules of engagement for a generative sentence concludes that it is either right or it’s not. It does not give place to much error.

The hierarchy of words

Chomsky constructs a hierarchy that explains the difference between what we consider regular grammar and formal grammar. According to him, regular grammar is not a model to the representation of human language because all language should allow for the embedding of a string of words within a string.

An example of this would be the phrase, “The man ate.” We do not know what the man ate, so this is a regular form of grammar. To expand the string from a regular grammar to formal grammar, you would complete the sentence to make it more descriptive by adding, “The man ate his dinner.”

For someone who intuitively knows their own language, generative grammar enables them to understand the scope of the sentence knowing that the man ate something and expressly knowing that it is some type of “food” would be the word or phrase that comes after the sentence, “The man ate.”

At the conception of generative grammar, it created a set of rules that helps an individual who know their natural language to express grammatical words correctly. Chomsky seemed to reject that claim by saying that language acquisition is not a suggestion of the process involved to making it real, but rather an intuitive mindset.


The rules of generative grammar continue to change as different types of methods emerge, but one thing remains the same, which is the mind’s ability to generate its own rules of learning a language.