Exercises to Chapter One

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    Chapter One Invitations to linguistics (simple questions)

    I. Blank-filling.

    1. Language is a system of ________ ________ symbols used for human communication. 2. Linguistics is generally defined as the ________ study of ________.

    3. If a linguistic study describes and analyzes the language people actually use, it is said to be

    ________; if it aims to lay down rules for “correct” behavior, it is said to be ________.

    4. In modern linguistics, ________ study seems to enjoy priority over ________ study. The

    reason is that successful studies of various states of a language would be the foundations of a

    historical study.

    5. Langue refers to the ________ linguistic system shared by all the members of a speech

    community; and parole refers to the ________ of langue in actual use.

    6. Chomsky defines competence as the ideal user’s ________ of the rules of his language, and

    performance, the actual ________ of this knowledge in linguistic communication. 7. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. This famous quotation from Shakespeare

    illustrate that language has the design feature of ________.

    8. The property of ________ of language provides a speaker with an opportunity to talk about a

    wide range of things, free from barries caused by separation in time and place. 9. Language is a system, which cosists of two sets of structures, one of ________, and the other

    of ________. This double articulation of language enables its users to talk about anything

    within their knowledge.

    10. An English speaker and a Chinese speaker are both able to use language, but they are not

    mutually intelligible, which shows that language is culturally ________.

    II. True or False Questions.

    1. Linguistics can be defined as the scientific study of a particular language. 2. Language is arbitrary by nature but it is not completely arbitrary.

    3. It is generally believed that modern linguistics is mostly descriptive, diachronic, and

    emphatic on writing.

    4. Animals are born with the capacity to produce the set of calls peculiar to their species, while

    human beings do not have the genetic basis.

    5. Animals cannot talk about the things except those about food, anger, enemy, etc. because the

    communicative signals of animals do not have the property of displacement. 6. We can use the word “word” to talk about a word, we can talk about “talk”, we can think

    about “thinking”, this shows that language has a metalingual function.

    7. When someone breaks a bowl or a plate on a special occasion in China, the people present

    are likely to say “sui sui ping’an” (every year be safe and happy) as a means of controlling

    the magic forces which the believers feel it might affect their lives. This shows that

    languagehas an interpersonal function.

    8. Language is the instrument of thought, record of facts, and people often feel need to speak

    their thoughts aloud. This indicates that language has an expressive function. 9. A baby’s babbling, widespread use of vebal dueling, poetry writing as well as sefl-singing all

    show that languaeg can be used to amuse the speaker.

    Chapter One Invitations to linguistics (postgraduate exercises)


    1. Synchronic linguistics (2 points, 中国人民大学, 2002): the study of a language at a given

    point in time. The time studied may be either the present or a particular point in the past; synchronic analyses can also be made of dead languages, such as Latin. Synchronic linguistics is


    contrasted with diachronic linguistics (or historical linguistics), the study of a language over a period of time.

    2. Langue (4 points, 北师大, 2004)

    3. Parole (同上)

    4. Duality as design feature of language (4 points, 北师大, 2003)

    5. Synchronic vs. Diachronic perspective (of language) (同上)

    6. Metalingual function (4 points, 北京交通大学, 2007)

    7. Creativity as a property of language (同上)

    8. Displacement (2 points, 北京交通大学, 2006)

    9. Metalanguage (5 points, 中山大学, 2008)


    1. Onomatopoeic words can show the arbitrary nature of language.

    2. The description of a language at some point in time is called diachronic study. (1 point, 北二

    , 2007)

    3. The most important sociological use of language is the recreational function, by which people establish and maintain their status in society. (1 point, 北二外, 2005)

    4. “Langue” refers to the “constant” of a language.


    1. Human language is arbitrary. This refers to the fact that there is no logical or intrinsic connection between a particular sound and the __________ it is associated with. (1 point, 中国

    人民大学, 2007)

    2. One of the important distinctions in linguistics is __________ and parole. The former is the French word for "language", which is the abstract knowledge necessary for speaking, listening, writing and reading. The latter is concerned about the actual use of language by people in speech or writing. Parole is more variable and may change according to the contextual factors. (同上)

    3. Saussure distinguished the linguistic competence of the speaker and the actual phenomena or data of linguistics (utterances) as ________ and __________. The former refers to the abstract linguistic system shared by all the members of a speech community, and the latter is the concrete manifestation of language either through speech or through writing. (2 points, 中国人民大学,


    4. One of the important distinctions in linguistics is _________ and performance.(1 point, 同上)

    5. An approach in linguistic study which attempts to lay down rules of correctness as to how language should be used is __________. (1 point, 北二外, 2008)

    6. When language is used for establishing an atmosphere or maintaining social contact rather than exchanging information or ideas, its function is ______________ function. (1 point, 北二

    , 2007)

    7. Our language can be used to talk about itself. This is the __________ function of language. 8. Human languages enable their users to symbolize objects, events and concepts which are not present (in time and space) at the moment of communication. This quality is labeled as __________. (同上)

    9. Chomsky initiated the distinction between _________ and performance. (同上)

    10. By duality is meant the property of having two levels of structures, such that units of the _________ level are composed of elements of the __________ level and each of the levels has its own principles of organization. (2 points, 北二外, 2006;

    11. According to Chomsky, the object of investigation in linguistics is the ideal speaker's __________ rather than his ____________. (同上)


    12. In ____________ linguistics, language are studied at a theoretical point in time: one describes a "state" of the language, disregarding whatever changes might be taking place. (同上)

    13. The features that define our human languages can be called ___________features. (同上)

    14. One general principle of linguistic analysis is the primacy of speech over _________. (1 point, 北二外, 2005)

    15. Saussure took a __________ view of language, while Chomsky looks at language from a __________ point of view. (2 points, 西安交通大学, 2008)


    1. Shakespeare has Juliet say: What's in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet. What do the above lines say to you about the relationship between the form (sounds) and meaning (concept) of a word in spoken language? Explain with positive evidence as well as exceptions from the English language. (15 points, 北京外国语大学,2004)

    2. Displacement, arbitrariness, productivity, cultural transmission, discreteness and duality are sometimes listed as the 6 cores of human language. Choose 3 out of the 6 and explain with examples what they mean. (12 points, 北京外国语大学, 2002)

    3. What are the seven functions of human language? (20 points, 中国人民大学, 2006)

    4. Analyse the patterns of social greetings in China in the light of diachronic linguistics. (5 points, 同上, 2004)

    5. Try to discuss as many as possible the design features of human language. (15 points, 北师大,


    6. There are two kinds of grammar based on different linguistic points of view. They are prescriptive grammar and descriptive grammar. A grammar may describe how language is actually spoken and/or written, and may not state or postulate how it ought to be spoken or written. But a grammar may also state the rules for what is considered the best or most correct usage. Which grammar is descriptive grammar, and which grammar is prescriptive grammar? Cite some examples to give your reasons. (15 points, 北师大, 2003) The first one is typical of

    descriptive grammar, while the second one is prescriptive grammar. The descriptive grammar aims to describe how people speak and detail the underlying knowledge. It is believed in descriptive grammar that whatever occurs in natural speech, such as hesitation, incomplete utterance, should be described in the analysis, and not be marked as incorrect, abnormal, or corrupt; modern linguistics is mostly descriptive. Whereas, the prescriptive approach aims to

    thteach people how to speak, read, and write a particular language; in the 18 century, all the main

    European languages were studied prescriptively. For example, the statement that "in standard English, a double negative is rarely used" is a description, showing how the language is used in standard English, regardless whether it is correct or not. "You should never use a double-negative" is a typical grammar rule that prescribes what should be grammatically correct in the Standard English. As for the spelling, prescription says "judgment" is correct, but description accurately points out that "judgement" is considered by Edited English to be correct too, and a descriptive account for these two different spellings will show how the later one is used and who uses it.

    7. What is meant by "arbitrariness" according to Saussure? (6 points, 北二外, 2006)

    8. One of the design features of human language is creativity. What is it? And what makes it possible? (10 points, 浙江大学, 2007)

    9. Why is it difficult to define language? (It is difficult to define language, as it is such a general term that covers too many things. Thus, definitions for it all have their own special emphasis, and are not totally free from limitations.


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