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Linguistics - Universal Grammar

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

All humans are born with the ability and drive to learn language. Before we can even walk we start talking. From birth we are listening with intent, ready to learn our native tongue. Evolution has seen to it that we have an aptitude for language learning, but just how much of our abilities are we born with and how much to we acquire as we go along?

When we learn languages, we use the knowledge and skills acquired from the language we already know to understand this new language. That is, we take the rules of language, such as the use of verbs and adjective, sentence structure and syntax, and apply them to the new language. While these rules will always change and vary between languages there are some structures between languages that remain the same. This is known as universal grammar. Items than can be considered a part of universal grammar include tense, aspect and mood.

There are some rules that when applied to one language can be applied to practically any language. For instance, if a language has a name for the color red, it will have a word for the color purple. These rules do not always apply to every single language, which makes the theory of universal grammar difficult for linguists to prove. Universal Grammar forms part of the nature vs. nurture that has had scientists guessing for generations. Are we born destined to grow into a certain person with certain abilities, or do we acquire these characteristics along the way?

Within the field of linguistics there are two theories as to how we learn language as children. The theory of universal grammar was proposed by linguist Noam Chomsky. He believed that a set part of our brain was dedicated to language, and that this part of the brain had a set group of rules which we applied to language. It cannot be changed or altered, we do not learn it we are born with it. These structures appear in every language around the world. The alternative theory is that we are born with no pre-existing knowledge of language, rather it is something that we acquire.

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.

Conclusion

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 - Pragmatics

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Pragmatics is the study of how language is used naturally to communicate. It is how individuals would study language literally and nonliterally according to the meaning, which leans on the rules that draw reference from the physical or social situation in which the language is utilized. Considering these aspects, it is safe to determine that it implicates the conversation of the speaker.

An example would be a sentence such as “Mary has five daughters.” This implicates conversationally that Mary only has five daughters and no more. Another example would be a sentence such as “The man was sick, but getting well.” This would conventionally implicate a comparison between sick and getting well that is not specific.

Pragmatics is more to deal with some aspects of reasoning than it is with semantics, which is more of a conventional rule on the meaning of expressions and how they are combined to portray their meaning.

Knowing how to use language socially is pretty much what pragmatics is all about. For example, let’s say you had a family dinner and invited a coworker and your five year old child happened to be there as well.

Your friend is overweight and loved to eat. After taking a third helping of the food, your child takes notice and says, “You better not take any more of that food or you will get even fatter.” Although, it is an embarrassing social situation for you, your child does not know how to use language in a social setting appropriately and did not mean to be rude. Pragmatics would be how to communicate your feelings in a social situation fittingly.

The rules of pragmatics in communicating effectively involve:

Language use for various purposes
- Saying hello, asking for information, demanding something, promising something or requesting something.

Language change that depends on what the listener needs or what the situation requires
- How you talk to a baby compared to how you talk to an adult, how you speak in a meeting compared to how you speak in a restaurant and providing information to a listener who is not familiar with that information.

Paying attention to conversational rules
- giving someone a chance to speak in a conversation and waiting your turn, staying on point, offering an explanation if misunderstood and how you should use nonverbal and verbal gestures and facial expressions.

Conclusion

Such pragmatic rules will vary depending on the culture and how conversation is perceived. It is best to learn about the culture when you are studying a new language.