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An Introduction To Linguistics


Prof. K.P.Kuriakose Jain Mathew


What is language?

Language is undoubtedly the most valuable single possession of the human race. Man is clearly distinguished from other species by his capacity for using language. The term language is derived from the Latin word lingua means tongue.

Language is our most effective means of communication. We communicate with others through speech and writing. Communication is more effective when we speak. We can make use of variation in voice, gesture and other features to reinforce what we speak. We can make variations in voice, gesture and other features to reinforce what we say. Writing does not offer such conveniences. Again speech has been with us ever since human beings evolved as a distinct species. But writing can claim to have a history of hardly six thousand years. Moreover speech comes first in the life of an individual too. Hence historians consider language as primary and writing as secondary. Considering these facts Wardaugh defines language as a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication.

Language helps man in several ways. No one can ignore the role of language in placing humanity at the pinnacle of progress, without language man r would never have become fully human. Language is quite necessary for the continuity of civilization. It is mainly through language that the human beings collect and preserve knowledge and transfer it to the next generation. It helps him reach back into the collective knowledge of his ancestors . It is not possible to imagine a society without language. Man?s social behavior is conditioned by his nature of communication with fellow beings. That is why Barnett says, verbal knowledge is a condition of the existence of the human society.

It is true that animals too communicate. Some animals, birds and insects ? dogs dolphins, gibbons, herring gulls and honeybees ? have developed their own system of communication. But their communicative system is different from human language. Non-human communicative system is instinctively determined. They lack the flexibility and creativity of human language. Their communicative conventions are required genetically and not through learning.

An American linguist, Charles E.Hockett in a detailed study compared human communicative system with animal communicative system. The aim of the study was to find out the essential defining characteristics of spoken language. He tried to determine what counts as a human language and opposed to some of the systems of communication. He identified thirteen characteristics of spoken language which he termed designed features. They are: auditory vocal channel, broadcast transmission, and directional reception, Rapid Fading, Interchangeability, Total Feedback Specialization, Semanteity, Arbitrariness, Discreteness, Displacement, Productivity, Traditional transmission and Duality of Patterning.

Extract written by srjasfer
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