Introduction to Language
Kuai zhenhua (4 Sept., 2012)
1 Teaching Points
1) What is linguistics?
2) What is language?
3) The functions of language
4) The defining features of language
5) The origin of language
6) The acquisition of language
7) The main branches of linguistics
8) Important distinctions in linguistics
2 What is Linguistics?
Definition: The scientific study of human language
1) Linguistics studies not any particular language, but it studies languages in general.
2) What the linguist has to do first is to collect and observe language facts, then
3) The linguist formulates some hypotheses about the language structure them.
4) The relation between data and theory: both stand in dialectical complementation.
5) The Aim is to discover the nature and rules of the underlying language system. 3 What is Language?
1) Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913): Course in General Linguistics (1916)
Language “is not to be confused with human speech, of which it is only a definite part, though
certainly an essential one. It is both a social product of the faculty of speech and a collection of
necessary conventions that have been adopted by a social body to permit individuals to exercise
2) Edward Sapir (1884-1939): Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech (1921)
“Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions
and desires by means of voluntarily produced symbols.”
3) Bernard Bloch (1907-1965) & George Trager (1906-1992): Outline of Linguistic Analysis (1942)
“A language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group
4) George Trager : The Field of Linguistics (1949)
“A language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which the members of a
society interact in terms of their total culture.”
5) Noam Chomsky (1928- ): Syntactic Structures (1957)
“From now on I will consider language to be a set (finite or infinite) of sentences, each finite
in length and constructed out of a finite set of elements.”
6) 胡壮麟 语言学教程 (2006)
“Language is a means of verbal communication.”
It is instrumental in that communicating by speaking or writing is a purposeful act. It is social
and conventional in that language is a social semiotic and communication can only take place
effectively if all the users share a broad understanding of human interaction including such
associated factors as nonverbal cues, motivation, and socio-cultural roles.
Summary of the definitions above
Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication First of all, language is a system, i.e., elements of language are combined according to rules. Second, language is arbitrary in the sense that there is no intrinsic connection between a linguistic
symbol and what the symbol stands form.
Third, language is vocal because the primary medium for all languages is sound. Fourth, language is human-specific, i.e., it is very different from the communication systems other
forms of life possess.
3 The Functions of Language
3.1 Different classifications
3.1.1. Jakobson’s view point
Language is above all for communication. While for many people, the purpose of communication is referential, for him (and the Prague school structuralists), reference is not the only,
not even the primary goal of communication. Language functions are as follows: 1) referential
3.1.2. Halliday’s view point
Halliday proposes a theory of metafunctions of language, that is, language has ideational,
interpersonal and textual functions.
3.1.3 The view point held by Hu zhuanglin(胡壮麟)and Chen xinren(陈新仁)
3.2 The basic functions of language
1) Informative function
Language is the instrument of thought and people often feel need to speak their thoughts aloud.
The use of language to record the facts is a prerequisite of social development. 2) Interpersonal function
By far the most important sociological use of language, and by which people establish and maintain their status in a society.
In the framework of functional grammar, the interpersonal function is concerned with interaction between the addresser and addressee in the discourse situation and the addresser's attitude toward what he speaks or writes about.
Attached to the interpersonal function is its function of expressing identity. 3) Performative function
The performative function of language is primarily to change the social status of persons, as in marriage ceremonies, the sentencing of criminals, the blessing of children, the naming of a ship at a launching ceremony, and the cursing of enemies.
4) Emotive function
The emotive function of language is one of the most powerful uses of language because it is crucial in changing the emotional status of an audience for or against someone or something.
It is a means of getting rid of our nervous energy when we are under stress. 5) Phatic communion
Phatic communion refers to the social interaction of language.
We all use such small, seemingly meaningless expressions to maintain a comfortable relationship between people without involving any factual content.
Different cultures have different topics of phatic communion.
Broadly speaking, this function refers to expressions that help define and maintain interpersonal relations, such as slang, jokes, jargons, ritualistic exchanges, switches to social and regional dialects 6) Recreational function
The use of language for the sheer joy of using it, such as a baby's babbling or a chanter's chanting.
7) Metalingual function
Our language can be used to talk about itself.
To organize any written text into a coherent whole, writers employ certain expressions to keep their readers informed about where they are and where they are going.
4 The Design Features of Language
Language distinguishes human beings from animals in that it is far more sophisticated than any
animal communication system.
4.1 The definitions of Terms
1. Semiotics (符号学) the analysis of systems using signs or signals for the purpose of communication (semiotic systems). The most important semiotic system is human language, but there are other systems, e.g. Morse code, SIGN LANGUAGE, traffic signals
2. Design features (内在特征/识别特征)
Design features refer to the defining properties of human language that distinguish it from any animal system of communication. By comparing language with animal communication systems, we get a better understanding of the nature of language.
4.2 Design Features of Language
Saussure: the forms of linguistic signs bear no natural relationship to their meaning
Arbitrary relationship between the sound of a morpheme and its meaning, even with
At the syntactic level；language is not arbitrary at the syntactic level.
At the word-building level: some compound words are not entirely arbitrary. 2) Duality
The property of having two levels of structures, such that units of the primary level are
composed of elements of the secondary level and each of the two levels has its own principles
Words can be used in new ways to mean new things, and can be instantly understood by
people who have never come across that usage before.
Human languages enable their users to symbolize objects, events and concepts which are
not present (in time and space) at the moment of communication.
5) Cultural transmission
Language is not genetically inherited, and is culturally transmitted. That is, it is passed on
from one generation to the next by teaching and learning, rather than by instinct. 5. Origin of language (self-study)
6. The Acquisition of Language
L1 acquisition : the learning and development of a person’s native language. Interest in the processes
by which children learn their first language was promoted by the work of Chomsky. Second language acquisition(第二语言习得)(in applied linguistics) the processes by which people develop proficiency in a second or foreign language. These processes are often investigated with the expectation that information about them may be useful in language teaching. 7. Main branches of linguistics
9) Anthropological linguistics
10) Computational linguistics
8) Reference Books
1. 陈新仁 英语语言学实用教程 苏州大学出版社 2007年;
2. 胡壮麟 语言学教程 北京大学出版社 2006 年
3. 戴炜栋 何兆熊 新编简明英语语言学教程 上海外语教育出版社 2002年