The Study of Language This best-selling textbook provides an engaging and user-friendly introduction to

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The Study of Language This best-selling textbook provides an engaging and user-friendly introduction to

the study of language. Assuming no prior knowledge of the subject, Yule presents

information in bite-sized sections, clearly explaining the major concepts in linguistics –

from how children learn language to why men and women speak differently, through

all the key elements of language. This fifth edition has been revised and updated

with new figures and tables, additional topics, and numerous new examples using

languages from across the world. To increase student engagement, and to foster

problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, the book includes thirty new tasks. An

expanded and revised online study guide provides students with further resources,

including answers and tutorials for all tasks, while encouraging lively and proactive

learning. This is the most fundamental and easy-to-use introduction to the study

of language.

George Yule has taught Linguistics at the universities of Edinburgh, Hawai‘i,

Louisiana State and Minnesota.

 

 

 

The Study of Language FIFTH EDITION

George Yule

 

 

University Printing House, Cambridge CB2 8BS, United Kingdom

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York

Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge.

It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of

education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.

www.cambridge.org

Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9781107658172

First and second editions © Cambridge University Press 1985, 1996 Third, fourth and fifth editions © George Yule 2006, 2010, 2014

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception

and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,

no reproduction of any part may take place without the written

permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 1985

Second edition 1996

Third edition 2006

Fourth edition 2010

Fifth edition 2014

Printed in the United Kingdom by MPG Printgroup Ltd, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Yule, George, 1947–

The study of language / George Yule. – 5th ed.

pages cm

Previous ed.: 2010.

ISBN 978-1-107-04419-7 (Hardback) – ISBN 978-1-107-65817-2 (Paperback)

1. Language and languages. 2. Linguistics. I. Title.

P107.Y85 2014

400–dc23 2013028557

ISBN 978-1-107-04419-7 Hardback

ISBN 978-1-107-65817-2 Paperback

Additional resources for this publication at www.cambridge.org/XXXXXXXXX

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of

URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication,

and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain,

accurate or appropriate.

 

 

Contents

Preface xi

l1 The origins of language The divine source 2 The natural sound source 2

The “bow-wow” theory 3 The “pooh-pooh” theory 3

The social interaction source 3 The physical adaptation source 4

Teeth and lips 4 Mouth and tongue 5 Larynx and pharynx 5

The tool-making source 5 The human brain 6

The genetic source 6 Study questions 8 Tasks 8 Discussion topics/projects 9 Further reading 9

l2 Animals and human language Communication 12 Properties of human language 12

Displacement 13 Arbitrariness 13 Productivity 14 Cultural transmission 15 Duality 16

Talking to animals 16 Chimpanzees and language 17

Washoe 17 Sarah 18 Lana 19 The controversy 19 Kanzi 20

Using language 20 Study questions 22 Tasks 22 Discussion topics/projects 23 Further reading 24

l3 The sounds of language Phonetics 27 Voiced and voiceless sounds 27 Place of articulation 27 Consonants 28

Familiar symbols 28 Unfamiliar symbols 29

Consonants: manner of articulation 29

Stops 29 Fricatives 30 Affricates 30 Nasals 31 Liquids 31 Glides 31

A consonant chart 31 Glottal stops and flaps 31

Vowels 32 Diphthongs 33 Subtle individual variation 34 Study questions 35 Tasks 35 Discussion topics/projects 37 Further reading 37

l4 The sound patterns of language Phonology 40 Phonemes 40

Natural classes 41 Phones and allophones 41 Minimal pairs and sets 42 Phonotactics 43 Syllables 43

Consonant clusters 44 Coarticulation effects 44

Assimilation 45 Nasalization 45 Elision 46 Normal speech 46

 

 

Study questions 47 Tasks 47 Discussion topics/projects 48 Bob Belviso translated 49 Further reading 49

l5 Word formation Neologisms 51 Etymology 51 Borrowing 52

Loan-translation 52 Compounding 53

Blending 53 Clipping 54

Hypocorisms 54 Backformation 54

Conversion 55 Coinage 56

Acronyms 56 Derivation 57

Prefixes and suffixes 57 Infixes 57

Multiple processes 58 Study questions 59 Tasks 60 Discussion topics/projects 62 Further reading 63

l6 Morphology Morphology 66 Morphemes 66 Free and bound morphemes 66

Lexical and functional morphemes 67 Derivational morphemes 67 Inflectional morphemes 68

Morphological description 68 Problems in morphological description 69

Morphs and allomorphs 69 Other languages 70

Kanuri 70 Ganda 71 Ilocano 71 Tagalog 71

Study questions 73 Tasks 73 Discussion topics/projects 76 Further reading 78

l7 Grammar English grammar 80 Traditional grammar 80

The parts of speech 80 Agreement 81 Grammatical gender 82 Traditional analysis 83

The prescriptive approach 83 Captain Kirk’s infinitive 84

The descriptive approach 84 Structural analysis 85 Constituent analysis 85 Labeled and bracketed sentences 86 Hierarchical organization 87 A Gaelic sentence 87 Why study grammar? 88

Study questions 89 Tasks 89 Discussion topics/projects 92 Further reading 93

l8 Syntax Syntactic rules 95

A generative grammar 95 Deep and surface structure 96

Structural ambiguity 96 Tree diagrams 97

Tree diagram of an English sentence 97

Symbols used in syntactic analysis 98 Phrase structure rules 99 Lexical rules 100 Movement rules 101 Study questions 103 Tasks 104 Discussion topics/projects 106 Further reading 108

vi Contents

 

 

l9 Semantics Meaning 110 Semantic features 110

Words as containers of meaning 111

Semantic roles 112 Agent and theme 112 Instrument and experiencer 112 Location, source and goal 113

Lexical relations 113 Synonymy 113 Antonymy 114 Hyponymy 115 Prototypes 116 Homophones and homonyms 116 Polysemy 117 Word play 117 Metonymy 118

Collocation 118 Study questions 120 Tasks 120 Discussion topics/projects 123 Further reading 123

l10 Pragmatics Pragmatics 126 Context 127

Deixis 128 Reference 128

Inference 129 Anaphora 129 Presupposition 130

Speech acts 131 Direct and indirect speech acts 131

Politeness 132 Negative and positive face 133

Study questions 134 Tasks 134 Discussion topics/projects 136 Further reading 138

l11 Discourse analysis Discourse 140

Interpreting discourse 140 Cohesion 141 Coherence 142 Speech events 142

Conversation analysis 143 Turn-taking 143

The co-operative principle 144 Hedges 145 Implicatures 146

Background knowledge 146 Schemas and scripts 147

Study questions 149 Tasks 149 Discussion topics/projects 151 Further reading 152

l12 Language and the brain Neurolinguistics 155 Language areas in the brain 155

Broca’s area 156 Wernicke’s area 156 The motor cortex and the arcuate fasciculus 157 The localization view 157

Tongue tips and slips 158 The tip of the tongue phenomenon 158 Slips of the tongue 158 Slips of the brain 159 Slips of the ear 159

Aphasia 160 Broca’s aphasia 160 Wernicke’s aphasia 160 Conduction aphasia 161

Dichotic listening 161 Left brain, right brain 162

The critical period 163 Genie 163

Study questions 165 Tasks 165 Discussion topics/projects 166 Further reading 167

Contents vii

 

 

l13 First language acquisition Acquisition 170

Input 170 Caregiver speech 171

The acquisition schedule 171 Cooing 172 Babbling 172 The one-word stage 173 The two-word stage 173 Telegraphic speech 174

The acquisition process 174 Learning through imitation? 175 Learning through correction? 175

Developing morphology 176 Developing syntax 177

Forming questions 177 Forming negatives 178

Developing semantics 178 Later developments 179

Study questions 181 Tasks 181 Discussion topics/projects 183 Further reading 184

l14 Second language acquisition/learning Second language learning 187

Acquisition and learning 187 Acquisition barriers 187 The age factor 188 Affective factors 188

Focus on teaching method 189 The grammar–translation method 189 The audiolingual method 190 Communicative approaches 190

Focus on the learner 190 Transfer 191 Interlanguage 191 Motivation 192 Input and output 192 Task-based learning 193

Communicative competence 194 Applied linguistics 194 Study questions 196 Tasks 196 Discussion topics/projects 198 Further reading 198

l15 Gestures and sign languages Gestures 201

Iconics 201 Deictics 201 Beats 202

Types of sign languages 202 Oralism 203 Signed English 203 Origins of ASL 204 The structure of signs 204

Shape and orientation 205 Location 205 Movement 205 Primes 205 Facial expressions and finger-spelling 206

The meaning of signs 206 Representing signs 207 ASL as a natural language 208 Study questions 209 Tasks 209 Discussion topics/projects 210 Further reading 210

l16 Written language Writing 213

Pictograms 213 Ideograms 213 Logograms 214

Phonographic writing 215 The rebus principle 216

Syllabic writing 216 Alphabetic writing 217 Written English 218

English orthography 219 Study questions 221 Tasks 221 Discussion topics/projects 223 Further reading 224

viii Contents

 

 

l17 Language history and change Family trees 227 Indo-European 227

Cognates 228 Comparative reconstruction 228

General principles 229 Sound reconstruction 229 Word reconstruction 230

The history of English 230 Old English 231 Middle English 231

Sound changes 232 Metathesis 233 Epenthesis 233 Prothesis 234

Syntactic changes 234 Loss of inflections 234

Semantic changes 235 Broadening of meaning 235 Narrowing of meaning 235

Diachronic and synchronic variation 236 Study questions 237 Tasks 237 Discussion topics/projects 239 Further reading 240

l18 Regional variation in language The standard language 243 Accent and dialect 243

Variation in grammar 244 Dialectology 244

Regional dialects 244 Isoglosses and dialect boundaries 245 The dialect continuum 246

Bilingualism 247 Diglossia 248

Language planning 249 Pidgins 250 Creoles 251

The post-creole continuum 251

Study questions 252 Tasks 252

Discussion topics/projects 254 Further reading 254

l19 Social variation in language Sociolinguistics 257

Social dialects 257 Education and occupation 257 Social markers 259

Speech style and style-shifting 259 Prestige 260

Speech accommodation 261 Convergence 261 Divergence 261

Register 261 Jargon 262

Slang 262 Taboo terms 263

African American English 263 Vernacular language 263 The sounds of a vernacular 264 The grammar of a vernacular 264

Study questions 266 Tasks 266 Discussion topics/projects 268 Further reading 268

l20 Language and culture Culture 271 Categories 271

Kinship terms 272 Time concepts 272

Linguistic relativity 273 The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis 273 Against the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis 274 Snow 274 Non-lexicalized categories 275

Cognitive categories 275 Classifiers 276

Social categories 276 Address terms 277

Gender 278 Gendered words 278

Contents ix

 

 

Gendered structures 279 Gendered speech 279 Same-gender talk 280 Gendered interaction 280

Study questions 281 Tasks 281

Discussion topics/projects 284 Further reading 284

Glossary 286 References 300 Index 312

x Contents

 

 

Preface

In this new edition

For all their advice and suggestions for improvements to the fifth edition of this book,

I’d like to thank the reviewers, instructors, students and researchers who have

commented on earlier versions. I have made a number of revisions in the internal

organization of all the chapters, with a clearer division into major topics and subsec-

tions. Additional section headings have been included to make the material more

accessible and a number of extra examples from everyday language use are offered

to make some of the points clearer. There are also more substantial revisions in

Chapters 3 (Phonetics), 4 (Phonology), 5 (Word formation) and 8 (Syntax) that

should make these units more manageable. I hope these revisions will make the book

more informative, easier to read, and overall more user-friendly.

In addition, there are thirty new tasks. The majority of these are data-based and

designed to foster problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. New examples from

languages as diverse as German, Hawaiian, Hungarian, Lakhota, Proto-Polynesian,

Quechua, Spanish and Tamasheq provide an opportunity to explore further aspects of

languages other than English. Additional topics explored in the study of the English

language include adjective order, adverb position in sentences, American and British

differences, compounds, general extenders, the presuppositions of jokes, recasts,

stylistics, synecdoche and vague language. An expanded and revised Study Guide

providing answers and tutorials for all the tasks can be found on the book’s website:

www.cambridge.org/yule.

To the student

In The Study of Language, I have tried to present a comprehensive survey of what is

known about language and also of the methods used by linguists in arriving at that

knowledge. There have been many interesting developments in the study of language

over the past two decades, but it is still a fact that any individual speaker of a language

has a more comprehensive “unconscious” knowledge of how language works than any

linguist has yet been able to describe. Consequently, as you read each of the following

chapters, take a critical view of the effectiveness of the descriptions, the analyses, and

the generalizations by measuring them against your own intuitions about how your

language works. By the end of the book, you should feel that you do know quite a lot

 

 

about both the internal structure of language (its form) and the varied uses of language

in human life (its function), and also that you are ready to ask more of the kinds of

questions that professional linguists ask when they conduct their research.

At the end of each chapter, there is a section where you can test and apply what

you have learned. This section contains:

� Study questions that you can use to check if you have understood some of the main points and important terms introduced during that chapter

� Tasks that extend the topics covered in the book, mostly through data analysis, with examples from English and a wide range of other languages

� Discussion topics/projects that offer opportunities to consider some of the more general, sometimes controversial, language-related topics and to develop your own

opinions on issues involving language

� Further reading suggestions provided to help you find more detailed treatments of all the topics covered in that chapter

The origins of this book can be traced to introductory courses on language taught at

the University of Edinburgh, the University of Minnesota and Louisiana State Univer-

sity, and to the suggestions and criticisms of hundreds of students who forced me to

present what I had to say in a way they could understand. An early version of the

written material was developed for Independent Study students at the University of

Minnesota. Later versions have had the benefit of expert advice from a lot of teachers

working with diverse groups in different situations. I am particularly indebted to

Professor Hugh Buckingham, Louisiana State University, for sharing his expertise

and enthusiasm over many years as a colleague and friend.

For feedback and advice in the preparation of recent editions of the book, I would

like to thank Jean Aitchison (University of Oxford), Linda Blanton (University of New

Orleans), Karen Currie (Federal University of Espı́ritu Santo), Mary Anna Dimitrako-

poulos (Indiana University, South Bend), Thomas Field (University of Maryland,

Baltimore), Anthony Fox (University of Leeds), Agustinus Gianto (Pontifical Biblical

Institute), Gordon Gibson (University of Paisley), Katinka Hammerich (University of

Hawai‘i), Raymond Hickey (University of Duisburg–Essen), Daniel Hieber (Rosetta

Stone), Richard Hirsch (Linköping University), Fiona Joseph (University of Wolver-

hampton), Eliza Kitis (Aristotle University), Terrie Mathis (California State University,

Northridge), Stephen Matthews (University of Hong Kong), Robyn Najar (Flinders

University), Eric Nelson (University of Minnesota), Jens Reinke (Christian Albrecht

University Kiel), Philip Riley (University of Nancy 2), Rick Santos (Fresno City

College), Joanne Scheibman (Old Dominion University), Royal Skousen (Brigham

Young University), Michael Stubbs (University of Trier), Mary Talbot (University of

Sunderland) and Sherman Wilcox (University of New Mexico).

For my own introductory course, I remain indebted to Willie and Annie Yule, and,

for my continuing enlightenment, to Maryann Overstreet.

xii Preface

 

 

CHAPTER 1

The origins of language

The suspicion does not appear improbable that the progenitors of man, either the males

or females, or both sexes, before they had acquired the power of expressing their mutual love

in articulate language, endeavoured to charm each other with musical notes and rhythm.

Darwin (1871)

In Charles Darwin’s vision of the origins of language, early humans had already

developed musical ability prior to language and were using it “to charm each other.”

This may not match the typical image that most of us have of our early ancestors as

rather rough characters wearing animal skins and not very charming, but it is an

interesting speculation about how language may have originated. It remains,

however, a speculation.

We simply don’t know how language originated. We do know that the ability

to produce sound and simple vocal patterning (a hum versus a grunt, for example)

appears to be in an ancient part of the brain that we share with all vertebrates,

including fish, frogs, birds and other mammals. But that isn’t human language. We

suspect that some type of spoken language must have developed between 100,000 and

50,000 years ago, well before written language (about 5,000 years ago). Yet, among

the traces of earlier periods of life on earth, we never find any direct evidence or

artifacts relating to the speech of our distant ancestors that might tell us how language

was back in the early stages. Perhaps because of this absence of direct physical evidence,

there has been no shortage of speculation about the origins of human speech.

 

 

The divine source

In the biblical tradition, as described in the book of Genesis, God created Adam and

“whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.”Alternatively,

following a Hindu tradition, language came from Sarasvati, wife of Brahma, creator of the

universe. In most religions, there appears to be a divine source who provides humans

with language. In an attempt to rediscover this original divine language, a few experiments

have been carried out, with rather conflicting results. The basic hypothesis seems to have

been that, if human infants were allowed to grow upwithout hearing any language around

them, then they would spontaneously begin using the original God-given language.

The Greek writer Herodotus reported the story of an Egyptian pharaoh named

Psammetichus (or Psamtik) who tried the experiment with two newborn babies more

than 2,500 years ago. After two years of isolation except for the company of goats and a

mute shepherd, the children were reported to have spontaneously uttered, not an

Egyptian word, but something that was identified as the Phrygian word bekos, meaning

“bread.” The pharaoh concluded that Phrygian, an older language spoken in part of what

is modern Turkey, must be the original language. That seems very unlikely. The children

may not have picked up this “word” from any human source, but as several commen-

tators have pointed out, they must have heard what the goats were saying. (First remove

the -kos ending, which was added in the Greek version of the story, then pronounce be- as

you would the English word bed without -d at the end. Can you hear a goat?)

King James the Fourth of Scotland carried out a similar experiment around the

year 1500 and the children were reported to have spontaneously started speaking

Hebrew, confirming the king’s belief that Hebrew had indeed been the language of the

Garden of Eden. It is unfortunate that all other cases of children who have been

discovered living in isolation, without coming into contact with human speech, tend

not to confirm the results of these types of divine-source experiments. Very young

children living without access to human language in their early years grow up with no

language at all. This was true of Victor, the wild boy of Aveyron in France, discovered

near the end of the eighteenth century, and also of Genie, an American child whose

special life circumstances came to light in the 1970s (see Chapter 12). From this type

of evidence, there is no “spontaneous” language. If human language did emanate

from a divine source, we have no way of reconstructing that original language,

especially given the events in a place called Babel, “because the Lord did there

confound the language of all the earth,” as described in Genesis (11: 9).

The natural sound source

A quite different view of the beginnings of language is based on the concept of natural

sounds. The human auditory system is already functioning before birth (at around

2 The Study of Language

 

 

seven months). That early processing capacity develops into an ability to identify

sounds in the environment, allowing humans to make a connection between a sound

and the thing producing that sound. This leads to the idea that primitive words derive

from imitations of the natural sounds that early men and women heard around them.

Among several nicknames that he invented to talk about the origins of speech,

Jespersen (1922) called this idea the “bow-wow” theory.

The “bow-wow” theory

In this scenario, when different objects flew by, making a Caw-Caw or Coo-Coo

sound, the early human tried to imitate the sounds and then used them to refer to

those objects even when they weren’t present. The fact that all modern languages

have some words with pronunciations that seem to echo naturally occurring sounds

could be used to support this theory. In English, in addition to cuckoo, we have splash,

bang, boom, rattle, buzz, hiss, screech, and of course bow-wow.

Words that sound similar to the noises they describe are examples of

onomatopeia. While it is true that a number of words in any language are onomato-

poeic, it is hard to see how most of the soundless things (e.g. “low branch”) as well as

abstract concepts (e.g. “truth”) could have been referred to in a language that simply

echoed natural sounds. We might also be rather skeptical about a view that seems to

assume that a language is only a set of words used as “names” for things.

The “pooh-pooh” theory

Another of Jespersen’s nicknames was the “pooh-pooh” theory, which proposed that

speech developed from the instinctive sounds people make in emotional circum-

stances. That is, the original sounds of language may have come from natural cries

of emotion such as pain, anger and joy. By this route, presumably, Ouch! came to have

its painful connotations. But Ouch! and other interjections such as Ah!, Ooh!, Phew!,

Wow! or Yuck! are usually produced with sudden intakes of breath, which is the

opposite of ordinary talk. We normally produce spoken language as we breath out, so

we speak while we exhale, not inhale. In other words, the expressive noises people

make in emotional reactions contain sounds that are not otherwise used in speech

production and consequently would seem to be rather unlikely candidates as source

sounds for language.

The social interaction source

Another proposal involving natural sounds was nicknamed the “yo-he-ho” theory.

The idea is that the sounds of a person involved in physical effort could be the source

of our language, especially when that physical effort involved several people and the

The origins of language 3

 

 

interaction had to be coordinated. So, a group of early humans might develop a set of

hums, grunts, groans and curses that were used when they were lifting and carrying

large bits of trees or lifeless hairy mammoths.

The appeal of this proposal is that it places the development of human language in

a social context. Early people must have lived in groups, if only because larger groups

offered better protection from attack. Groups are necessarily social organizations and,

to maintain those organizations, some form of communication is required, even if it is

just grunts and curses. So, human sounds, however they were produced, must have

had some principled use within the life and social interaction of early human groups.

This is an important idea that may relate to the uses of humanly produced sounds. It

does not, however, answer our question regarding the origins of the sounds produced.

Apes and other primates live in social groups and use grunts and social calls, but they

do not seem to have developed the capacity for speech.

The physical adaptation source

Instead of looking at types of sounds as the source of human speech, we can look at

the types of physical features humans possess, especially those that are distinct from

other creatures, which may have been able to support speech production. We can start

with the observation that, at some early stage, our ancestors made a very significant

transition to an upright posture, with bi-pedal (on two feet) locomotion, and a revised

role for the front limbs.

Some effects of this type of change can be seen in physical differences between the

skull of a gorilla and that of a Neanderthal man from around 60,000 years ago. The

reconstructed vocal tract of a Neanderthal suggests that some consonant-like sound

distinctions would have been possible. We have to wait until about 35,000 years ago

for features in reconstructions of fossilized skeletal structures that begin to resemble

those of modern humans. In the study of evolutionary development, there are certain

physical features, best thought of as partial adaptations, which appear to be relevant

for speech. They are streamlined versions of features found in other primates. By

themselves, such features wouldn’t guarantee speech, but they are good clues that a

creature with such features probably has the capacity for speech.

Teeth and lips

Human teeth are upright, not slanting outwards like those of apes, and they are

roughly even in height. Such characteristics are not very useful for ripping or tearing

food and seem better adapted for grinding and chewing. They are also very helpful in

making sounds such as f or v. Human lips have much more intricate muscle inter-

lacing than is found in other primates and their resulting flexibility certainly helps in

making sounds like p, b and m. In fact, the b and m sounds are the most widely

4 The Study of Language

 

 

attested in the vocalizations made by human infants during their first year, no matter

which language their parents are using.

Mouth and tongue

The human mouth is relatively small compared to other primates and can be opened

and closed rapidly. It is also part of an extended vocal tract that has much more of an

L-shape than the fairly straight path from front to back in other mammals. In contrast

to the fairly thin flat tongue of other large primates, humans have a shorter, thicker

and more muscular tongue that can be used to shape a wide variety of sounds inside

the oral cavity. In addition, unlike other primates, humans can close off the airway

through the nose to create more air pressure in the mouth. The overall effect of these

small differences taken together is a face with more intricate muscle interlacing in the

lips and mouth, capable of a wider range of shapes and a more rapid and powerful

delivery of sounds produced through these different shapes.

Larynx and pharynx

The human larynx or “voice box” (containing the vocal folds or vocal cords) differs

significantly in position from the larynx of other primates such as monkeys. In the

course of human physical development, the assumption of an upright posture moved

the head more directly above the spinal column and the larynx dropped to a lower

position. This created a longer cavity called the pharynx, above the vocal folds,

which acts as a resonator for increased range and clarity of the sounds produced via

the larynx and the vocal tract. Other primates have almost no pharynx. One unfortu-

nate consequence of this development is that the lower position of the human larynx

makes it much more possible for the human to choke on pieces of food. Monkeys

may not be able to use their larynx to produce speech sounds, but they do not suffer

from the problem of getting food stuck in their windpipe. In evolutionary terms, there

must have been a big advantage in getting this extra vocal power (i.e. a larger range

of sounds) to outweigh the potential disadvantage from an increased risk of choking

to death.

The tool-making source

In the physical adaptation view, one function (producing speech sounds) must have

been superimposed on existing anatomical features (teeth, lips) previously used for

other purposes (chewing, sucking). A similar development is believed to have taken

place with human hands and some believe that manual gestures may have been a

precursor of language. By about two million years ago, there is evidence that humans

had developed preferential right-handedness and had become capable of making

The origins of language 5

 

 

stone tools. Wood tools and composite tools eventually followed. Tool-making, or the

outcome of manipulating objects and changing them using both hands, is evidence of

a brain at work.

The human brain

The human brain is not only large relative to human body size, it is also lateralized,

that is, it has specialized functions in each of the two hemispheres. (More details are

presented in Chapter 12.) Those functions that control the motor movements involved

in complex vocalization (speaking) and object manipulation (making or using tools)

are very close to each other in the left hemisphere of the brain. That is, the area of the

motor cortex that controls the muscles of the arms and hands is next to the articulatory

muscles of the face, jaw and tongue. It may be that there was an evolutionary connec-

tion between the language-using and tool-using abilities of humans and that both were

involved in the development of the speaking brain. Most of the other speculative

proposals concerning the origins of speech seem to be based on a picture of humans

producing single noises to indicate objects in their environment. This activity may

indeed have been a crucial stage in the development of language, but what it lacks is

any structural organization. All languages, including sign language, require the organ-

izing and combining of sounds or signs in specific arrangements. We seem to have

developed a part of our brain that specializes in making these arrangements.

If we think in terms of the most basic process involved in primitive tool-making, it

is not enough to be able to grasp one rock (make one sound); the human must also be

able to bring another rock (other sounds) into proper contact with the first in order to

develop a tool. In terms of language structure, the human may have first developed a

naming ability by producing a specific and consistent noise (e.g. beer) for a specific

object. The crucial additional step was to bring another specific noise (e.g. good) into

combination with the first to build a complex message (beer good). Several thousand

years of development later, humans have honed this message-building capacity to a

point where, on Saturdays, watching a football game, they can drink a sustaining

beverage and proclaim This beer is good. As far as we know, other primates are not

doing this.

The genetic source

We can think of the human baby in its first few years as a living example of some of

these physical changes taking place. At birth, the baby’s brain is only a quarter of its

eventual weight and the larynx is much higher in the throat, allowing babies, like

chimpanzees, to breathe and drink at the same time. In a relatively short period of

time, the larynx descends, the brain develops, the child assumes an upright posture

and starts walking and talking.

6 The Study of Language

 

 

This almost automatic set of developments and the complexity of the young

child’s language have led some scholars to look for something more powerful than

small physical adaptations of the species over time as the source of language. Even

children who are born deaf (and do not develop speech) become fluent sign language

users, given appropriate circumstances, very early in life. This seems to indicate that

human offspring are born with a special capacity for language. It is innate, no other

creature seems to have it, and it isn’t tied to a specific variety of language. Is it

possible that this language capacity is genetically hard-wired in the newborn human?

As a solution to the puzzle of the origins of language, this innateness hypothesis

would seem to point to something in human genetics, possibly a crucial mutation, as

the source. This would not have been a gradual change, but something that happened

rather quickly. We are not sure when this proposed genetic change might have taken

place or how it might relate to the physical adaptations described earlier. However, as

we consider this hypothesis, we find our speculations about the origins of language

moving away from fossil evidence or the physical source of basic human sounds

toward analogies with how computers work (e.g. being pre-programmed or hard-

wired) and concepts taken from the study of genetics. The investigation of the origins

of language then turns into a search for the special “language gene” that only humans

possess.

If we are indeed the only creatures with this special capacity for language, then

will it be completely impossible for any other creature to produce or understand

language? We’ll try to answer that question in Chapter 2.

The origins of language 7

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 Why are interjections such as Ooh! or Yuck! considered to be unlikely sources of

human speech sounds?

2 What is the basic idea behind the “bow-wow” theory of language origin?

3 Why is it difficult to agree with Psammetichus that Phrygian must have been the

original human language?

4 Where is the pharynx and how did it become an important part of human sound

production?

5 Why do you think that young deaf children who become fluent in sign language

would be cited in support of the innateness hypothesis?

6 With which of the six “sources” would you associate this quotation?

Chewing, licking and sucking are extremely widespread mammalian activities,

which, in terms of casual observation, have obvious similarities with speech.

(MacNeilage, 1998)

TASKS

A What is the connection between the Heimlich maneuver and the development of

human speech?

B What exactly happened at Babel and why is it used in explanations of language

origins?

C What are the arguments for and against a teleological explanation of the origins of

human language?

D The idea that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” was first proposed

by Ernst Haeckel in 1866 and is still frequently used in discussions of

language origins. Can you find a simpler or less technical way to express

this idea?

E The Danish linguist Otto Jespersen, who gave us the terms “bow-wow” and “pooh-

pooh” for theories about language origins, dismissed both of these ideas in favor of

another theory. What explanation did Jespersen (1922, chapter 21) favor as the

likely origin of early speech?

F In his analysis of the beginnings of human language, William Foley comes to the

conclusion that “language as we understand it was born about 200,000 years ago”

(1997: 73). This is substantially earlier than the dates (between 100,000 and 50,000

years ago) that other scholars have proposed. What kinds of evidence and

arguments are typically presented in order to choose a particular date “when

language was born”?

8 The Study of Language

 

 

G What is the connection between the innateness hypothesis, as described in this

chapter, and the idea of a Universal Grammar?

H When it was first identified, the FOXP2 gene was hailed as the “language gene.”

What was the basis of this claim and how has it been modified?

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I In this chapter we didn’t address the issue of whether language has developed as

part of our general cognitive abilities or whether it has evolved as a separate

component that can exist independently (and is unrelated to intelligence, for

example). What kind of evidence do you think would be needed to resolve this

question?

(For background reading, see chapter 4 of Aitchison, 2000.)

II A connection has been proposed between language, tool-using and right-

handedness in the majority of humans. Is it possible that freedom to use the hands,

after assuming an upright bipedal posture, resulted in certain skills that led to the

development of language? Why did we assume an upright posture? What kind of

changes must have taken place in our hands?

(For background reading, see Beaken, 2011.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Aitchison, J. (2000) The Seeds of Speech (Canto edition) Cambridge University Press

Kenneally, C. (2007) The First Word Viking Press

More detailed treatments

Beaken, M. (2011) The Making of Language (2nd edition) Dunedin Academic Press

McMahon, A. and R. McMahon (2013) Evolutionary Linguistics Cambridge

University Press

Music before language

Mithen, S. (2006) The Singing Neanderthals Harvard University Press

A hum versus a grunt

Bass, A., E. Gilland and R. Baker (2008) “Evolutionary origins for social vocalization in a

vertebrate hindbrain-spinal compartment” Science 321 (July 18): 417–421

Victor and Genie

Lane, H. (1976) The Wild Boy of Aveyron Harvard University Press

Rymer, R. (1993) Genie HarperCollins

“Bow-wow” theory, etc.

Jespersen, O. (1922) Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin George Allen & Unwin

The early sounds made by infants

Locke, J. (1983) Phonological Acquisition and Change Academic Press

The origins of language 9

 

 

Social interaction

Burling, R. (2005) The Talking Ape Oxford University Press

Physical development

Lieberman, P. (1998) Eve Spoke: Human Language and Human Evolution W. W. Norton

Gesture

Corballis, M. (2002) From Hand to Mouth Princeton University Press

McNeill, D. (2012) How Language Began: Gesture and Speech in Human Evolution Cambridge

University Press

Brain development

Loritz, D. (1999) How the Brain Evolved Language Oxford University Press

Tool-making

Gibson, K. and T. Ingold (eds.) (1993) Tools, Language and Cognition in Human Evolution

Cambridge University Press

Innateness

Pinker, S. (1994) The Language Instinct William Morrow

Against innateness

Sampson, G. (2005) The “Language Instinct” Debate (revised edition) Continuum

Other references

Foley, W. (1997) Anthropological Linguistics Blackwell

MacNeilage, P. (1998) “The frame/content theory of evolution of speech production”

Behavioral and Brain Sciences 21: 499–546

10 The Study of Language

 

 

CHAPTER 2

Animals and human language

One evening in the mid-1980s my wife and I were returning from an evening cruise around

Boston Harbor and decided to take a waterfront stroll. We were passing in front of the Boston

Aquarium when a gravelly voice yelled out, “Hey! Hey! Get outa there!” Thinking we had

mistakenly wandered somewhere we were not allowed, we stopped and looked around for a

security guard or some other official, but saw no one, and no warning signs. Again the voice

boomed, “Hey! Hey you!” As we tracked the voice we found ourselves approaching a large,

glass-fenced pool in front of the aquarium where four harbor seals were lounging on display.

Incredulous, I traced the source of the command to a large seal reclining vertically in the water,

with his head extended back and up, his mouth slightly open, rotating slowly. A seal was

talking, not to me, but to the air, and incidentally to anyone within earshot who cared to listen.

Deacon (1997)

There are a lot of stories about creatures that can talk. We usually assume that

they are fantasy or fiction or that they involve birds or animals simply imitating

something they have heard humans say (as Terrence Deacon discovered was the case

with the loud seal in Boston Aquarium). Yet we think that creatures are capable of

communicating, certainly with other members of their own species. Is it possible that

a creature could learn to communicate with humans using language? Or does human

language have properties that make it so unique that it is quite unlike any other

communication system and hence unlearnable by any other creature? To answer

these questions, we first look at some special properties of human language, then

review a number of experiments in communication involving humans and animals.

 

 

Communication

We should first distinguish between specifically communicative signals and those

which may be unintentionally informative signals. Someone listening to you may

become informed about you through a number of signals that you have not intention-

ally sent. She may note that you have a cold (you sneezed), that you aren’t at ease

(you shifted around in your seat), that you are disorganized (non-matching socks)

and that you are from somewhere else (you have a strange accent). However, when

you use language to tell this person, I’m one of the applicants for the vacant position of

senior brain surgeon at the hospital, you are normally considered to be intentionally

communicating something.

Humans are capable of producing sounds and syllables in a stream of speech

that appears to have no communicative purpose, as in glossolalia, or “speaking in

tongues,” which is associated with the religious practices of Pentecostal churches.

These outpourings sound like language, but with no speaker control, it isn’t inten-

tional communication. We might say the same thing about some of the chirping and

singing produced by birds. We also don’t assume that the blackbird is communi-

cating anything by having black feathers, sitting on a branch and looking down at

the ground. However, the bird is considered to be sending a communicative signal

with the loud squawking that is produced when a cat appears on the scene.

So, when we talk about distinctions between human language and animal

communication, we are considering both in terms of their potential as a means of

intentional communication.

Properties of human language

While we tend to think of communication as the primary function of human language,

it is not a distinguishing feature. All creatures communicate in some way, even if it’s

not through vocalization. However, we suspect that other creatures are not reflecting

on the way they create their communicative messages or reviewing how they work (or

not). That is, one barking dog is probably not offering advice to another barking dog

along the lines of “Hey, you should lower your bark to make it sound more men-

acing.” They’re not barking about barking. Humans are clearly able to reflect on

language and its uses (e.g. “I wish he wouldn’t use so many technical terms”). This is

reflexivity. The property of reflexivity (or “reflexiveness”) accounts for the fact that

we can use language to think and talk about language itself, making it one of the

distinguishing features of human language. Indeed, without this general ability, we

wouldn’t be able to reflect on or identify any of the other distinct properties of human

language. We’ll look in detail at another five of them: displacement, arbitrariness,

productivity, cultural transmission and duality.

12 The Study of Language

 

 

Displacement

When your pet cat comes home and stands at your feet calling meow, you are likely to

understand this message as relating to that immediate time and place. If you ask your

cat what it’s been up to, you’ll probably get the same meow response. Animal

communication seems to be designed exclusively for this moment, here and now. It

isn’t used to relate events that are far removed in time and place. When your dog says

GRRR, it means GRRR, right now, because dogs aren’t capable of communicating

GRRR, last night, over in the park. In contrast, human language users are normally

capable of producing messages equivalent to GRRR, last night, over in the park, and

then going on to say In fact, I’ll be going back tomorrow for some more. Humans can

refer to past and future time. This property of human language is called

displacement. It allows language users to talk about things and events not present

in the immediate environment. Indeed, displacement allows us to talk about things

and places (e.g. angels, fairies, Santa Claus, Superman, heaven, hell) whose existence

we cannot even be sure of.

We could look at bee communication as a small exception because it seems to

have some version of displacement. When a honeybee finds a source of nectar

and returns to the beehive, it can perform a dance routine to communicate to the

other bees the location of this nectar. Depending on the type of dance (round

dance for nearby and tail-wagging dance, with variable tempo, for further away

and how far), the other bees can work out where this newly discovered feast can

be found. Doesn’t this ability of the bee to indicate a location some distance away

mean that bee communication has at least some degree of displacement as a

feature? Yes, but it is displacement of a very limited type. It just doesn’t have

the range of possibilities found in human language. Certainly, the bee can direct

other bees to a food source. However, it must be the most recent food source.

It cannot be that delicious rose bush on the other side of town that we visited

last weekend, nor can it be, as far as we know, possible future nectar in

bee heaven.

Arbitrariness

It is generally the case that there is no “natural” connection between a linguistic form

and its meaning. The connection is quite arbitrary. We can’t just look at the Arabic

word کلب and, from its shape, for example, determine that it has a natural and

obvious meaning any more than we can with its English translation form dog. The

linguistic form has no natural or “iconic” relationship with that hairy four-legged

barking object out in the world. This aspect of the relationship between words and

objects is described as arbitrariness. It is possible, as in a child’s game, to make

words appear to “fit” the idea or activity they indicate, as shown in Figure 2.1.

Animals and human language 13

 

 

However, this type of game only emphasizes the arbitrariness of the connection that

normally exists between a word and its meaning.

There are some words in language with sounds that seem to “echo” the sounds of

objects or activities and hence seem to have a less arbitrary connection. English

examples are cuckoo, crash, slurp, squelch or whirr. However, these onomatopoeic

words are relatively rare in human language.

For the majority of animal signals, there does appear to be a clear connection

between the conveyed message and the signal used to convey it. This impression may

be closely connected to the fact that, for any animal, the set of signals used in

communication is finite. Each variety of animal communication consists of a limited

set of vocal or gestural forms. Many of these forms are only used in specific situations

(to establish territory) or at particular times (to find a mate).

Productivity

Humans are continually creating new expressions by manipulating their linguistic

resources to describe new objects and situations. This property is described as

productivity (or “creativity” or “open-endedness”) and essentially means that the

potential number of utterances in any human language is infinite.

The communication systems of other creatures are not like that. Cicadas have

four signals to choose from and vervet monkeys have thirty-six vocal calls. Nor

does it seem possible for creatures to produce new signals to communicate novel

experiences or events. The honeybee, normally able to communicate the location of

a nectar source to other bees, will fail to do so if the location is really “new.” In one

experiment, a hive of bees was placed at the foot of a radio tower and a food source

placed at the top. Ten bees were taken to the top, given a taste of the delicious food,

and sent off to tell the rest of the hive about their find. The message was conveyed

via a bee dance and the whole gang buzzed off to get the free food. They flew

around in all directions, but couldn’t locate the food. (It’s probably one way to

make bees really mad.) The problem seems to be that bee communication has a

fixed set of signals for communicating location and they all relate to horizontal

distance. The bee cannot manipulate its communication system to create a “new”

message indicating vertical distance. According to Karl von Frisch, who conducted

the experiment, “the bees have no word for up in their language” and they can’t

invent one.

Figure 2.1

14 The Study of Language

 

 

This lack of productivity in animal communication can be described in terms of

fixed reference. Each signal in the communication system of other creatures seems to

be fixed in terms of relating to a particular occasion or purpose. This is particularly

true of scent-based signaling, as in the pheromones (a chemical substance) released

by insects such as female moths as they try to contact a mate. It’s a case of one scent,

one meaning.

Among our closer relatives, there are lemurs (similar to small monkeys) in

Madagascar that have only three basic calls, each tied to one type of dangerous or

threatening situation. In the vervet monkey’s repertoire, there is one danger signal

CHUTTER, which is used when a snake is around, and another RRAUP, used when an

eagle is spotted nearby. These signals are fixed in terms of their reference and cannot

be manipulated. What might be presented as evidence of productivity in the monkey’s

communication system would be an utterance of something like CHUTT-RRAUP when

a flying creature that looked like a snake came by. Despite a lot of research involving

snakes suddenly appearing in the air above them (among other unusual and terrifying

experiences), the vervet monkeys didn’t produce a new danger signal. The human,

given similar circumstances, is quite capable of creating a “new” signal, after initial

surprise perhaps, by saying something never said before, as in Hey! Watch out for that

flying snake!

Cultural transmission

While we may inherit physical features such as brown eyes and dark hair from our

parents, we do not inherit their language. We acquire a language in a culture with

other speakers and not from parental genes. An infant born to Korean parents in

Korea, but adopted and brought up from birth by English speakers in the United

States, will have physical characteristics inherited from his or her natural parents, but

will inevitably speak English. A kitten, given comparable early experiences, will

produce meow regardless.

This process whereby a language is passed on from one generation to the next is

described as cultural transmission. It is clear that humans are born with some kind

of predisposition to acquire language in a general sense. However, we are not born

with the ability to produce utterances in a specific language such as English. We

acquire our first language as children in a culture.

The general pattern in animal communication is that creatures are born with a set

of specific signals that are produced instinctively. There is some evidence from studies

of birds as they develop their songs that instinct has to combine with learning (or

exposure) in order for the right song to be produced. If those birds spend their first

seven weeks without hearing other birds, they will instinctively produce songs or

calls, but those songs will be abnormal in some way. Human infants, growing up in

isolation, produce no “instinctive” language.

Animals and human language 15

 

 

Duality

Human language is organized at two levels or layers simultaneously. This property is

called duality (or “double articulation”). When we speak, we have a physical level at

which we produce individual sounds, like n, b and i. As individual sounds, none of

these discrete forms has any intrinsic meaning. In a particular combination such as

bin, we have another level producing a meaning that is different from the meaning of

the combination in nib. So, at one level, we have distinct sounds, and, at another

level, we have distinct meanings. This duality of levels is one of the most economical

features of human language because, with a limited set of discrete sounds, we are

capable of producing a very large number of sound combinations (e.g. words) that are

distinct in meaning.

Among other creatures, each communicative signal appears to be a single fixed

form that cannot be broken down into separate parts. Although your dog may be able

to produce woof (“I’m happy to see you”), it does not seem to do so on the basis of a

distinct level of production combining the separate elements of w þ oo þ f. If the dog was operating with the double level (i.e. duality), then we might expect to hear

different combinations with different meanings, such as oowf (“I’m hungry”) and

foow (“I’m really bored”).

Talking to animals

If these properties make human language such a unique communication system, then

it would seem extremely unlikely that other creatures would be able to understand it.

Some humans, however, do not behave as if this is the case. There is a lot of spoken

language directed by humans to animals, apparently under the impression that the

animal follows what is being said. Riders can say Whoa to horses and they stop, we

can say Heel to dogs and they will follow at heel (well, sometimes), and a variety of

circus animals go Up, Down and Roll over in response to spoken commands. Should

we treat these examples as evidence that non-humans can understand human lan-

guage? Probably not. The standard explanation is that the animal produces a particu-

lar behavior in response to a particular sound stimulus, but does not actually

“understand” what the words in the noise mean.

If it seems difficult to conceive of animals understanding human language,

then it appears to be even less likely that an animal would be capable of produ-

cing human language. After all, we do not generally observe animals of one

species learning to produce the signals of another species. You could keep your

horse in a field of cows for years, but it still won’t say Moo. And, in some homes,

a new baby and a puppy may arrive at the same time. Baby and puppy grow up in

the same environment, hearing the same things, but two years later, the baby is

16 The Study of Language

 

 

making lots of human speech sounds and the puppy is not. Perhaps a puppy is a

poor example. Wouldn’t it be better to work with a closer relative such as a

chimpanzee?

Chimpanzees and language

The idea of raising a chimp and a child together may seem like a nightmare, but this is

basically what was done in an early attempt to teach a chimpanzee to use human

language. In the 1930s, two scientists (Luella and Winthrop Kellogg) reported on their

experience of raising an infant chimpanzee together with their baby son. The chim-

panzee, called Gua, was reported to be able to understand about a hundred words, but

did not “say” any of them. In the 1940s, a chimpanzee named Viki was reared by

another scientist couple (Catherine and Keith Hayes) in their own home, exactly as if

she was a human child. These foster parents spent five years attempting to get Viki to

“say” English words by trying to shape her mouth as she produced sounds. Viki

eventually managed to produce some words, rather poorly articulated versions of

mama, papa and cup. In retrospect, this was a remarkable achievement since it has

become clear that non-human primates do not actually have a physically structured

vocal tract which is suitable for articulating the sounds used in speech. Apes and

gorillas can, like chimpanzees, communicate with a wide range of vocal calls, but

they just can’t make human speech sounds.

Washoe

Recognizing that a chimpanzee was not likely to learn spoken language,

another scientist couple (Beatrix and Allen Gardner) set out to teach a female

chimpanzee called Washoe to use a version of American Sign Language. As

described later in Chapter 15, this sign language has all the essential properties

of human language and is learned by many congenitally deaf children as their

natural first language.

From the beginning, the Gardners and their research assistants raised Washoe like

a human child in a comfortable domestic environment. Sign language was always

used when Washoe was around and she was encouraged to use signs, even her own

incomplete “baby-versions” of the signs used by adults. In a period of three and a half

years, Washoe came to use signs for more than a hundred words, ranging from

airplane, baby and banana through to window, woman and you. Even more impres-

sive was Washoe’s ability to take these forms and combine them to produce “sen-

tences” of the type gimme tickle, more fruit and open food drink (to get someone to

open the refrigerator). Some of the forms appear to have been inventions by Washoe,

as in her novel sign for bib and in the combination water bird (referring to a swan),

Animals and human language 17

 

 

which would seem to indicate that her communication system had the potential for

productivity. Washoe also demonstrated understanding of a much larger number of

signs than she produced and was capable of holding rudimentary conversations,

mainly in the form of question–answer sequences. A similar ability with sign

language was reported by Francine Patterson working with a gorilla named Koko

not long after.

Sarah

At the same time as Washoe was learning sign language, another chimpanzee was

being taught (by Ann and David Premack) to use a set of plastic shapes for the

purpose of communicating with humans. These plastic shapes represented “words”

that could be arranged in sequence to build “sentences” (Sarah preferred a vertical

order, as shown in Figure 2.2). The basic approach was quite different from that of

the Gardners. Sarah was systematically trained to associate these shapes with

objects or actions. She remained an animal in a cage, being trained with food

rewards to manipulate a set of symbols. Once she had learned to use a large number

of these plastic shapes, Sarah was capable of getting an apple by selecting the correct

plastic shape (a blue triangle) from a large array. Notice that this symbol is arbitrary

since it would be hard to argue for any natural connection between an apple and a

blue plastic triangle. Sarah was also capable of producing “sentences” such as Mary

give chocolate Sarah and had the impressive capacity to understand complex struc-

tures such as If Sarah put red on green, Mary give Sarah chocolate. Sarah got the

chocolate.

MARY

GIVE

CHOCOLATE

SARAH

Figure 2.2

18 The Study of Language

 

 

Lana

A similar training technique with another artificial language was used (by Duane

Rumbaugh) to train a chimpanzee called Lana. The language she learned was called

Yerkish and consisted of a set of symbols on a large keyboard linked to a computer.

When Lana wanted some water, she had to find and press four symbols to produce the

message please machine give water, as illustrated in Figure 2.3.

Both Sarah and Lana demonstrated an ability to use what look like word symbols

and basic structures in ways that superficially resemble the use of language. There is,

however, a lot of skepticism regarding these apparent linguistic skills. It has been

pointed out that when Lana used the symbol for “please,” she did not have to

understand the meaning of the English word please. The symbol for “please” on the

computer keyboard might simply be the equivalent of a button on a vending machine

and, so the argument goes, we could learn to operate vending machines without

necessarily knowing language. This is only one of the many arguments that have been

presented against the idea that the use of signs and symbols by these chimpanzees is

similar to the use of language.

The controversy

On the basis of his work with another chimpanzee called Nim, the psychologist

Herbert Terrace argued that chimpanzees simply produce signs in response to the

demands of people and tend to repeat signs those people use, yet they are treated (by

naive researchers) as if they are taking part in a “conversation.” As in many critical

studies of animal learning, the chimpanzees’ behavior is viewed as a type of condi-

tioned response to cues provided (often unwittingly) by human trainers. Herbert’s

conclusion was that chimpanzees are clever creatures who learn to produce a certain

type of behavior (signing or symbol selection) in order to get rewards and are

essentially performing sophisticated “tricks.”

In response, the Gardners argued that they were not animal trainers, nor were

they inculcating and then eliciting conditioned responses from Washoe. In complex

experiments, designed to eliminate any possible provision of cues by humans, they

showed that in the absence of any human, Washoe could produce correct signs to

identify objects in pictures. They also emphasize a major difference between the

experiences of Washoe and Nim. While Nim was a research animal in a complex

Figure 2.3

Animals and human language 19

 

 

environment, having to deal with a lot of different research assistants who were often

not fluent in American Sign Language, Washoe lived in a more limited domestic

environment with a lot of opportunity for imaginative play and interaction with fluent

signers who were also using sign language with each other. They also report that

another group of younger chimpanzees not only learned sign language, but also

occasionally used signs with each other and with Washoe, even when there were no

humans present.

Kanzi

In a more recent set of studies, an interesting development relevant to this controversy

came about almost by accident. While Sue Savage-Rumbaugh was attempting to train

a bonobo (a pygmy chimpanzee) called Matata how to use the symbols of Yerkish,

Matata’s adopted baby, Kanzi, was always with her. Although Matata did not do very

well, her son Kanzi spontaneously started using the symbol system with great ease.

He had learned not by being taught, but by being exposed to, and observing, a kind of

language in use at a very early age. Kanzi eventually developed a large symbol

vocabulary (over 250 forms). By the age of eight, he was reported to be able to

demonstrate understanding of spoken English at a level comparable to a two-and-a-

half-year-old human child. There was also evidence that he was using a consistently

distinct set of “gentle noises” as words to refer to things such as bananas, grapes and

juice. He had also become capable of using his symbol system to ask to watch his

favorite movies, Quest for Fire (about primitive humans) and Greystoke (about the

Tarzan legend).

Using language

Important lessons have been learned from attempts to teach chimpanzees how to use

forms of language. We have answered some questions. Were Washoe and Kanzi

capable of taking part in interaction with humans by using a symbol system chosen

by humans and not chimpanzees? The answer is clearly “Yes.” Did Washoe and Kanzi

go on to perform linguistically on a level comparable to a human child about to begin

pre-school? The answer is just as clearly “No.” In arriving at these answers, we’ve had

to face the fact that, even with a list of key properties, we still don’t seem to have a

non-controversial definition of what “using language” means.

One solution might be to stop thinking of language, at least in the phrase “using

language,” as a single thing that one can either have or not have. We could then say

there are (at least) two ways of thinking about what “using language” means. In a

very broad sense, language serves as a type of communication system that can

be observed in different situations. In one situation, we look at the behavior of a

two-year-old human child interacting with a caregiver as an example of “using

20 The Study of Language

 

 

language.” In another situation, we observe very similar behavior from chimpanzees

and bonobos when they are interacting with humans they know. It has to be fair to say

that, in both cases, we observe the participants “using language.”

However, there is a difference. Underlying the two-year-old’s communicative

activity is the capacity to develop a complex system of sounds and structures, plus

computational procedures, that will allow the child to produce extended discourse

containing a potentially infinite number of novel utterances. No other creature has

been observed “using language” in this sense. It is in this more comprehensive and

productive sense that we say that language is uniquely human.

Animals and human language 21

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 What is the difference between a communication system with productivity and one

with fixed reference?

2 Why is reflexivity considered to be a special property of human language?

3 What kind of evidence is used to support the idea that language is culturally

transmitted?

4 How did the Gardners try to show that Washoe was not simply repeating signs

made by interacting humans?

5 If Sarah could use a gray plastic shape to convey the meaning of the word red,

which property does her “language” seem to have?

6 What was considered to be the key element in Kanzi’s language learning?

TASKS

A In studies of communication involving animals and humans, there is

sometimes a reference to “the Clever Hans phenomenon.” Who or what was

Clever Hans, why was he/she/it famous and what exactly is the

“phenomenon”?

B We recognized a distinction early in the chapter between communicative and

informative signals. How would “body language” be characterized? Also, what

kind of signaling is involved in “distance zones”? What about “eye contact” and

“eyebrow flashes”?

C What is meant by “sound symbolism” and how does it relate to the property of

arbitrariness?

D (i) In the study of animal communication, what are “playback experiments”?

(ii) Which forms of animal communication described in this chapter were

discovered as a result of playback experiments?

E What was the significance of the name given to the chimpanzee in the research

conducted by the psychologist Herbert Terrace (1979)?

F We reviewed studies involving chimpanzees and bonobos learning to

communicate with humans. Can only African apes accomplish this task? Are there

any studies involving the Asian great ape, the orangutan, learning how to use a

human communication system?

G Consider these statements about the symbol-using abilities of chimpanzees in

animal language studies and decide if they are correct or not. What evidence can be

used to argue for or against the accuracy of these statements?

22 The Study of Language

 

 

(1) They can create combinations of signs that look like the telegraphic speech

produced by young children.

(2) They can invent new sign combinations.

(3) They can understand structures with complex word order, such as conditionals

(i.e. if X, then Y).

(4) They overgeneralize the references of signs, using one sign for many different

things, just as human children do in the early stages.

(5) They don’t use signs spontaneously and only produce them in response to

humans.

(6) They have complex concepts such as time because they produce sign

combinations such as time eat.

(7) They use signs to interact with each other, just as three-year-old children do

with speech.

(8) They steadily increase the length of their utterances, so that their average

utterance length of 3.0 is equivalent to that of a three-and-a-half-year-old child.

H It has been claimed that “recursion” is a key property of human language, and

of human cognition in general. What is recursion? Could it still be a universal

property of human language if one language was discovered that had no evidence

of recursion in its structure?

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I Listed below are six other properties (or “design features”) that are often discussed

when human language is compared to other communication systems.

vocal–auditory channel use (language signals are sent using the vocal organs and

received by the ears)

specialization (language signals do not serve any other type of purpose such as

breathing or feeding)

non-directionality (language signals have no inherent direction and can be picked

up by anyone within hearing, even unseen)

rapid fade (language signals are produced and disappear quickly)

reciprocity (any sender of a language signal can also be a receiver)

prevarication (language signals can be false or used to lie or deceive)

(i) Are these properties found in all forms of human communication via

language?

(ii) Are these special properties of human language or can they be found in the

communication systems of other creatures?

(For background reading, see chapter 18 of O’Grady et al., 2009)

Animals and human language 23

 

 

II The most persistent criticism of the chimpanzee language-learning projects is that the

chimpanzees are simply making responses like trained animals for rewards and are

consequently not using language to express anything. Read over the following reports

and try to decide how the different behaviors of these chimpanzees (Dar, Washoe and

Moja) should be characterized. Signs are represented by words in capital letters.

After her nap, Washoe signed OUT. I was hoping for Washoe to potty herself and

did not comply. Then Washoe took my hands and put them together to make OUT

and then signed OUT with her own hands to show me how.

Greg was hooting and making other sounds, to prevent Dar from falling asleep.

Dar put his fist to Greg’s lips and made kissing sounds. Greg asked WHAT

WANT? and Dar replied QUIET, placing the sign on Greg’s lips.

Moja signed DOG on Ron and me and looked at our faces, waiting for us to

“woof.” After several rounds I made a “meeow” instead. Moja signed DOG again,

I repeated “meeow” again, and Moja slapped my leg harder. This went on. Finally

I woofed and Moja leapt on me and hugged me.

Moja stares longingly at Dairy Queen as we drive by. Then for a minute or more

signs NO ICE CREAM many times, by shaking her head while holding fist to

mouth, index edge up.

(For background reading, see Rimpau et al., 1989, which is the source of these

examples. There is also a film with the title Project Nim (Lionsgate), that describes

the unfortunate experiences of the chimpanzee Nim.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Aitchison, J. (2011) The Articulate Mammal (chapter 2) Routledge Classics

Friend, T. (2005) Animal Talk Simon and Schuster

More detailed treatments

Anderson, S. (2004) Doctor Doolittle’s Delusion Yale University Press

Rogers, L. and G. Kaplan (2000) Songs, Roars and Rituals Harvard University Press

General properties of language

Hockett, C. (1960) “The origin of speech” Scientific American 203: 89–96

Glossolalia

Newberg, A., N. Wintering, D. Morgan and M. Waldman (2006). “The measurement of regional

cerebral blood flow during glossolalia: a preliminary SPECT study” Psychiatry Research:

Neuroimaging 148: 67–71

Samarin,W.(1972)TonguesofMenandAngels:TheReligiousLanguageofPentecostalismMacmillan

Animal communication and consciousness

Griffin, D. (2001) Animal Minds University of Chicago Press

Hauser, M. (1996) The Evolution of Communication MIT Press

24 The Study of Language

 

 

Bee communication

von Frisch, K. (1993) The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees Harvard University Press

Lemur and vervet monkey communication

Cheney, D. and R. Seyfarth (1990) How Monkeys See the World University of Chicago Press

Jolly, A. (1966) Lemur Behavior University of Chicago Press

Individual chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos

(Gua) Kellogg, W. and L. Kellog (1933) The Ape and the Child McGraw-Hill

(Viki) Hayes, C. (1951) The Ape in Our House Harper

(Washoe) Gardner, R., B. Gardner and T. van Cantfort (eds.) (1989) Teaching Sign Language

to Chimpanzees State University of New York Press

(Koko) Patterson, F. and E. Linden (1981) The Education of Koko Holt

(Sarah) Premack, A. and D. Premack (1991) “Teaching language to an ape” In W. Wang (ed.)

The Emergence of Language (16–27) W. H. Freeman

(Lana) Rumbaugh, D. (ed.) (1977) Language Learning by a Chimpanzee: The LANA Project

Academic Press

(Nim) Hess, E. (2008) Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human Bantam Books

(Kanzi) Savage-Rumbaugh, S. and R. Lewin (1994) Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human

Mind John Wiley

Other references

O’Grady, W., J. Archibald, M. Aronoff and J. Rees-Miller (2009) Contemporary Linguistics (6th

edition) Bedford/St. Martins Press

Rimpau, J., R. Gardner and B. Gardner (1989) “Expression of person, place and instrument in

ASL utterances of children and chimpanzees” In R. Gardner, B. Gardner and T. van Cantfort

(eds.) Teaching Sign Language to Chimpanzees (240–268) State University of New York

Press

Terrace, H. (1979) Nim: A Chimpanzee Who Learned Sign Language Knopf

Animals and human language 25

 

 

CHAPTER 3

The sounds of language

I take it you already know

Of tough and bough and cough and dough?

Others may stumble but not you

On hiccough, thorough, lough and through.

Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,

To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word,

That looks like beard and sounds like bird.

And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead –

For goodness sake don’t call it “deed”!

Watch out for meat and great and threat

(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).

T.S.W. quoted in Mackay (1970)

In Chapter 1, we noted some of the basic features of the human vocal tract and

the intricate muscle interlacing in and around the mouth that give humans the ability

to produce a wide range of sounds with great speed. Yet, as they chatter away,

humans do not simply produce a random selection of these sounds. Only certain

sounds are selected on a regular basis as significant for communicative activity. In

order to identify and describe those sounds, we have to slow down the chatter of

everyday talk and focus on each individual sound segment within the stream of

speech. This may seem straightforward, but it is not an easy task.

 

 

Phonetics

Fortunately, there is an already established analytic framework for the study of speech

segments that has been developed and refined for over a hundred years and is known

as the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA. In this chapter, we will look at how

the symbols of this alphabet can be used to represent both the consonant and vowel

sounds of English words and what physical aspects of the human vocal tract are

involved in the production of those sounds.

The general study of the characteristics of speech sounds is called phonetics. Our

main interest will be in articulatory phonetics, which is the study of how speech sounds

are made, or articulated. Other areas of study are acoustic phonetics, which deals with

the physical properties of speech as sound waves in the air, and auditory phonetics (or

perceptual phonetics), which deals with the perception, via the ear, of speech sounds.

Voiced and voiceless sounds

In articulatory phonetics, we investigate how speech sounds are produced using the

fairly complex oral equipment we have. We start with the air pushed out by the lungs

up through the trachea (or windpipe) to the larynx. Inside the larynx are your vocal

folds (or vocal cords), which take two basic positions.

1 When the vocal folds are spread apart, the air from the lungs passes between them

unimpeded. Sounds produced in this way are described as voiceless.

2 When the vocal folds are drawn together, the air from the lungs repeatedly pushes

them apart as it passes through, creating a vibration effect. Sounds produced in this

way are described as voiced.

The distinction can be felt physically if you place a fingertip gently on the top of your

Adam’s apple (i.e. that part of your larynx you can feel in your neck below your chin),

then produce sounds such as Z-Z-Z-Z or V-V-V-V. Because these are voiced sounds, you

should be able to feel some vibration. Keeping your fingertip in the same position, now

make the sounds S-S-S-S or F-F-F-F. Because these are voiceless sounds, there should

be no vibration. Another trick is to put a finger in each ear, not too far, and produce the

voiced sounds (e.g. Z-Z-Z-Z) to hear and feel some vibration, whereas no vibration

will be heard or felt if you make voiceless sounds (e.g. S-S-S-S) in the same way.

Place of articulation

Once the air has passed through the larynx, it comes up and out through the mouth

and/or the nose. Most consonant sounds are produced by using the tongue and other

parts of the mouth to constrict, in some way, the shape of the oral cavity through

which the air is passing. The terms used to describe many sounds are those that

The sounds of language 27

 

 

denote the place of articulation of the sound: that is, the location inside the mouth at

which the constriction takes place.

What we need is a slice of head. If you crack a head right down the middle, you

will be able to see those parts of the oral cavity that are crucially involved in speech

production. In Figure 3.1, in addition to lips and teeth, a number of other physical

features are identified. To describe the place of articulation of most consonant sounds,

we can start at the front of the mouth and work back. We can also keep the voiced–

voiceless distinction in mind and begin using the symbols of the IPA for specific

sounds. These symbols will be enclosed within square brackets [].

Consonants

Familiar symbols

Many of the symbols used to describe consonant sounds will be familiar. We use [p]

for the consonant in pop, [b] in Bob, and [m] in mom. These are bilabial consonants,

made with both lips. We use [f] and [v] for the labiodentals (using upper teeth and

lower lip) at the beginning and end of five. Behind the upper teeth is a rough area (the

alveolar ridge) where we make the alveolar sounds of [t] in tot, [d] in dad, [s] and [z]

in size, and [n] in nun.

Of course, there isn’t always a match between written letters and phonetic

symbols, as in the pronunciation of the sound at the beginning of photo and the end

nasal cavity

palate

velum

uvula

pharynx

larynx vocal folds

tongue

alveolar ridge

Figure 3.1

28 The Study of Language

 

 

of enough. In both cases, we would represent the sound with [f]. More tricky are the

final sounds in the pairs face versus phase and race versus raise: if you listen carefully,

you will hear [s] in the first word of each pair and [z] in the second.

Unfamiliar symbols

Other symbols are much less familiar, as in the two ways of representing the “th”

sounds in English. We use [θ], called “theta,” for the voiceless version, as in three,

wrath. We use [ð], called “eth,” for the voiced version, as in thus, loathe. Because the

teeth are involved in the production of these sounds, they are called dentals, or in

those cases where the tongue tip is between (¼ inter) the teeth, they may be described as interdentals.

There are some special symbols used for the sounds made in the middle area of

the mouth, involving the tongue and the palate (the roof of the mouth). We use [ʃ] for

the “sh” sound, as in shout, shoe-brush, and [ʧ] for the “ch” sound, as in child, church.

These are voiceless.

Their voiced counterparts are [ʒ] for the sound in treasure, rouge, and [ʤ] for the

sound in judge, George. Another voiced sound made in this area is [j], which typically

represents the “y” sound, as in yes, yoyo. Because the palate area is involved in these

sounds, they are described as palatals.

The sounds produced toward the back of the mouth, involving the velum,

are represented by the velars [k], as in kick, and [ɡ], as in gag. Note that phonetic

[ɡ] is different from typewritten “g.” We often use [k] to represent the sound of words

beginning with “c,” as well as some other letters, as in cat, character and queue.

One other consonant produced in this area is [ŋ], called “angma,” as in thong, ringing. Be careful not to be misled by the spelling because both bang and tongue end

with [ŋ] only. There is no [ɡ] sound at the end of these words. A description of the place of articulation for each consonant is presented in Table 3.1.

Consonants: manner of articulation

In Table 3.1, there is a detailed analysis of the place of articulation for consonants. From

this we can see that [t] and [s] are similar in that they are both voiceless alveolars. But

they’re clearly different. The difference is in how they are pronounced, or their manner

of articulation. The [t] sound is a “stop” consonant and the [s] sound is a “fricative.”

Stops

In producing a stop consonant, we block the airflow briefly, then let it go abruptly.

The voiceless stops are [p], [t], [k] and the voiced stops are [b], [d], [ɡ]. So, the word

pet begins and ends with voiceless stops and bed with voiced stops.

The sounds of language 29

 

 

Fricatives

To produce a fricative, we almost block the airflow and force it through a narrow gap,

creating a type of friction. The voiceless forms are [f], [θ], [s], [ʃ], [h], so that the word

fish begins and ends with voiceless fricatives. The voiced versions are [v], [ð], [z], [ʒ],

so the word those begins and ends with voiced fricatives.

Affricates

When we combine a brief stopping of the airflow with a release through a narrow gap,

we produce the voiceless affricate [[ʧ], at the beginning of cheap, and the voiced

affricate [ʤ] at the beginning of jeep.

Table 3.1

Consonants Place of articulation Voiceless Voiced

Bilabials both (¼ bi) lips [p] [b], [m], [w] (¼ labia) together pat bat, mat, wet

Labiodentals the upper teeth with the lower lip [f] [v]

fat, safe vat, save

Dentals the tongue tip behind the upper

teeth or between the teeth

[θ] [ð]

thin, bath then, bathe

Alveolars the front part of the tongue on [t], [s] [d], [n], [z] [l], [r]

the alveolar ridge (the rough area

behind and above the upper teeth)

top, sit dog, nut, zoo

lap, rap

Palatals the tongue and the hard palate [ʃ], [ʧ] [ʒ], [ʤ], [j]

(on the roof of the mouth)

shop, chop casual, gem, yet

Velars the back of the tongue [k] [ɡ], [ŋ]

on the velum (soft palate)

cat gun, bang

Glottals using the glottis, the open space [h]

between the vocal folds

hat, who

30 The Study of Language

 

 

Nasals

Most sounds are produced orally, with the velum raised, preventing airflow from

entering the nasal cavity. When the velum is lowered, allowing air to flow out through

the nose, we can produce the nasals [m], [n] and [ŋ]. The words morning, knitting and name begin and end with nasals, all voiced.

Liquids

We describe the production of the two voiced sounds [l] and [r] as liquids. The

[l] sound, as in led and light, is formed by letting the air flow around the sides

of the tongue as the tip touches near the alveolar ridge. The [r] sound in red

and write is formed with the tongue tip raised and curled back near the alveolar ridge.

Glides

The voiced sounds [w] and [j] are described as glides because they are produced with

the tongue in motion (or “gliding”) to or from the position of a vowel. The words we,

wet, yes and you begin with glides (also called “semi-vowels”).

A consonant chart

Having described the most common consonant sounds used by English speakers, we

can summarize the information in Table 3.2. Along the top are the terms for place of

articulation, as well as –V (voiceless) and þV (voiced). On the left-hand side are the terms for manner of articulation.

Glottal stops and flaps

Missing from Table 3.2 are two ways of pronouncing consonants that may also be heard in

English, usually in casual speech situations. The glottal stop, represented by the symbol

Table 3.2

Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal

−V þV −V þV −V þV −V þV −V þV −V þV −V þV Stops p b t d k ɡ

Fricatives F v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ h

Affricates ʧ ʤ

Nasals m n ŋ

Liquids l r

Glides w j

The sounds of language 31

 

 

[ʔ], is produced when the space between the vocal folds (the glottis) is closed completely

very briefly, then released. Many speakers produce a glottal stop in the middle of Uh-uh

(meaning “no”), when they say the name Harry Potter as if it didn’t have the “H” or the

“tt,” or even in the words bottle or butter without pronouncing the “tt” part.

If, however, you are someone who pronounces the word butter in a way that is close

to “budder,” you are making a flap. It is represented by [ɾ]. This sound is produced by

the tongue tip tapping the alveolar ridge briefly. Many American English speakers have

a tendency to “flap” [t] and [d] consonants between vowels with the result that the

pairs latter/ladder, metal/medal and writer/rider do not have distinct middle conson-

ants. Those young students who were told about the importance of Plato in class and

wrote it in their notes as playdough were clearly victims of a misinterpreted flap.

Vowels

While the consonant sounds are mostly articulated via closure or obstruction in the vocal

tract, vowel sounds are produced with a relatively free flow of air. They are all typically

voiced. To describe vowel sounds, we consider the way in which the tongue influences

the shape through which the airflow must pass. To talk about a place of articulation, we

think of the space inside the mouth as having a front versus a back and a high versus a

low area. Thus, in the pronunciation of heat and hit, we talk about “high, front” vowels

because the sound is made with the front part of the tongue in a raised position.

In contrast, the vowel sound in hat is produced with the tongue in a lower

position and the sound in hot can be described as a “low, back” vowel. The next time

you’re facing the bathroom mirror, try saying the words heat, hit, hat, hot. For the first

two, your mouth will stay fairly closed, but for the last two, your tongue will move

lower and cause your mouth to open wider. (The sounds of relaxation and pleasure

typically contain lower vowels.)

We can use a vowel chart, like Table 3.3 (based on Ladefoged and Johnson, 2011),

to help classify the most common vowel sounds in English.

Table 3.3

Front Central Back

i u

High

ɪ ʊ

Mid e ə o

ɛ ʌ ɔ

Low æ

a ɑ

32 The Study of Language

 

 

Diphthongs

In addition to single vowel sounds, we regularly create sounds that consist of a

combination of two vowel sounds, known as diphthongs. When we produce

diphthongs, our vocal organs move from one vocalic position [a] to another [ɪ]

as we produce the sound [aɪ], as in Hi or Bye. The movement in this diphthong is

from low toward high front. Alternatively, we can use movement from low towards

high back, combining [a] and [ʊ] to produce the sound [aʊ], which is the diph-

thong repeated in the traditional speech training exercise [haʊ naʊ braʊn kaʊ]. In

some descriptions, the movement is interpreted as involving a glide such as [j] or

[w], so that the diphthongs we are representing as [aɪ] and [aʊ] may sometimes be

seen as [aj] or [aw].

While the vowels [e], [a] and [o] are used as single sounds in other languages,

and by speakers of different varieties of English, they are more often used as the first

sounds of diphthongs in American English. Figure 3.2 provides a rough idea of how

diphthongs are produced and is followed by a list of the sounds, with examples to

illustrate some of the variation in the spelling of these sounds.

Front

High I

e

a

O o

U

Mid

Low

Central Back

Figure 3.2

Front vowels Central vowels Back vowels

[i] bead, beef, key, me [ə] above, oven, support [u] boo, move, two, you

[ɪ] bid, myth, women [ʌ] butt, blood, dove, tough [ʊ] book, could, put

[ɛ] bed, dead, said [ɔ] born, caught, fall, raw

[æ] bad, laugh, wrap [ɑ] Bob, cot, swan

Diphthongs

[aɪ] buy, eye, I, my, pie, sigh [oʊ] boat, home, throw, toe

[aʊ] bough, doubt, cow [ɔɪ] boy, noise

[eɪ] bait, eight, great, late, say

The sounds of language 33

 

 

Subtle individual variation

Vowel sounds are notorious for varying between one variety of English and the next,

often being a key element in what we recognize as different accents. So, you may feel

that some of the words offered in the earlier lists as examples don’t seem to be

pronounced with the vowel sounds exactly as listed. Also, some of the sound distinc-

tions shown here may not even be used regularly in your own speech. It may be, for

example, that you make no distinction between the vowels in the words caught and

cot and use [ɑ] in both. You may also be used to seeing the vowel sound of pet

represented as [e] in dictionaries rather than with [ɛ] as used here. For many speakers,

[e] is the vowel in words like came and make.

You may not make a significant distinction between the central vowels [ə], called

“schwa,” and [ʌ], called “wedge.” If you’re trying to transcribe, just use schwa [ə]. In

fact, in casual speech, we all use schwa more than any other single sound. It is the

unstressed vowel (underlined) in the everyday use of words such as afford, collapse,

photograph, wanted, and in those very common words a and the.

There are many other variations in the actual physical articulation of the sounds

we have considered here. We didn’t even mention the uvula (which means “little

grape”), hanging at the end of the velum. It is used with the back of the tongue to

produce uvular sounds, such as the “r” sound, usually represented by [R], in the

French pronunciation of rouge and lettre. The more we focus on the subtle differences

in the actual articulation of each sound, the more likely we are to find ourselves

describing the pronunciation of small groups or even individual speakers. Such subtle

differences enable us to identify individual voices and recognize people we know as

soon as they speak. But those differences don’t help us understand how we are able to

work out what total strangers with unfamiliar voices are saying. We are clearly able to

disregard all the subtle individual variation in the phonetic detail of voices and

recognize each underlying sound type as part of a word with a particular meaning.

To make sense of how we do that, we will need to look at the more general sound

patterns, or the phonology, of a language.

34 The Study of Language

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 What different aspects of language are studied in articulatory phonetics, acoustic

phonetics and auditory phonetics?

2 Which of the following words normally end with voiceless (−V) sounds and which

end with voiced sounds (þV) sounds? (a) bash ___________

(b) clang __________

(c) din ____________

(d) fizz___________

(e) rap___________

(f) smack ________

(g) splat __________

(h) thud __________

(i) wham __________

3 Try to pronounce the initial sounds of the following words and identify the place of

articulation of each one (e.g. bilabial, alveolar, etc.).

(a) calf ____________

(b) chin ___________

(c) foot ____________

(d) groin ___________

(e) hand _________

(f) knee __________

(g) mouth ________

(h) pelvis ________

(i) shoulder ________

(j) stomach ________

(k) thigh __________

(l) toe ____________

4 Identify the manner of articulation of the initial sounds in the following words

(stop, fricative, etc.).

(a) cheery _________

(b) crazy __________

(c) dizzy __________

(d) funny ________

(e) jolly __________

(f) loony _________

(g) merry _________

(h) silly ___________

(i) wimpy _________

5 Which English words are usually pronounced as they are transcribed here?

(a) baɪk ___________

(b) bɔt ____________

(c) ənʤɔɪ __________

(d) feɪs ____________

(e) haʊl__________

(f) hoʊpɪŋ ________ (g) hu ___________

(h) kloʊk ________

(i) maɪn ___________

(j) pis _____________

(k) ʧip ____________

(l) ðə______________

6 Using symbols introduced in this chapter, write a basic phonetic transcription of the

most common pronunciation of the following words.

(a) catch ___________

(b) doubt __________

(c) gem ____________

(d) measure________

(e) noise _________

(f) phone ________

(g) shy __________

(h) these _________

(i) thought ________

(j) tough __________

(k) would _________

(l) wring __________

TASKS

A The following transcription was made by Peter Ladefoged of a speech sample of “a

21-year-old speaker who has lived all her life in Southern California” and included

in the Handbook of the International Phonetic Association (1999: 41). Most of the

phonetic symbols should be familiar, with the exception of [ɹ], which is close to [r],

and [ɚ] which identifies the sound made when combining a schwa [ə] and [r]-type

sound, often written in English as “er” or “ir.”

Can you produce a written English version of this text?

The sounds of language 35

 

 

ðə noɹθ wɪnd ən ðə sʌn wɚ dɪspjutɪŋ wɪʧ wəz ðə stɹɑŋɡɚ, wɛn ə tɹævəlɚ kem əlɑŋ ɹæpt ɪn ə

woɹm klok. ðe əɡɹid ðət ðə wʌn hu fɚst səksidəd ɪn mekɪŋ ðə tɹævəlɚ tek ɪz klok ɑf ʃʊd bi

kənsɪdɚd stɹɑŋɡɚ ðən ðɪ əðɚ. ðɛn ðə noɹθ wɪnd blu əz hɑɹd əz i kʊd, bət ðə moɹ hi blu ðə moɹ

klosli dɪd ðə tɹævlɚ fold hɪz klok əɹaʊnd ɪm; æn ət læst ðə noɹθ wɪnd ɡev ʌp ði ətɛmpt. ðɛn ðə

sʌn ʃaɪnd aʊt woɹmli, ənd ɪmidiətli ðə tɹævlɚ tʊk ɑf ɪz klok. ən so ðə noɹθ wɪnd wəz əblaɪʒ tɪ

kənfɛs ðət ðə sʌn wəz ðə stɹɑŋɡɚ əv ðə tu.

B The relationship between the spelling and pronunciation of English words is not

always simple. Keeping this in mind, try to provide a basic phonetic representation

of the following words.

although, beauty, bomb, ceiling, charisma, choice, cough, exercise, hour, light,

phase, quiche, quake, sixteen, thigh, tongue, whose, writhe

C Using a dictionary if necessary, try to decide how each of the following

words is usually pronounced. Then, put the words in five lists as illustrations of

each of the sounds [eɪ], [i], [f], [k] and [ʃ]. Some words will be in more than

one list.

air, belief, critique, crockery, Danish, gauge, giraffe, headache, keys, meat,

mission, nation, ocean, pear, people, philosopher, queen, receipt, scene, Sikh,

sugar, tough, weight

D We can create a definition for each consonant (e.g. [k]) by using the distinction

between voiced and voiceless plus the terms for place (i.e. velar) and manner of

articulation (i.e. fricative). So we say that [k] is a voiceless velar fricative. Write

similar definitions for the initial sounds in the normal pronunciation of the

following words.

fan, lunch, goal, jail, mist, shop, sun, tall, yellow, zoo

Are there any definitions in which the voiced/voiceless distinction is actually

unnecessary and could be omitted?

E In some phonetic descriptions, particularly in traditional North American

studies, the following four symbols are used: [š], [ž], [č], [ǰ]. The small v-shaped mark, called haček (“little hook”) or caron, indicates some common feature in the pronunciation of these sounds. Based on the following examples, can you

work out what that common feature is? What are the four equivalent symbols

used in the International Phonetic Alphabet, as illustrated in Table 3.2?

[eɪǰ], [ǰɪn], [trɛžər], [ruž], [čip], [roʊč], [šu], [fɪš]

F The terms “obstruent” and “sonorant” are sometimes used in descriptions of how

consonants are pronounced. Among the types of consonants already described

(affricates, fricatives, glides, liquids, nasals, stops), which are obstruents, which

are sonorants, and why?

36 The Study of Language

 

 

G (i) How would you make a retroflex sound?

(ii) How are retroflex sounds identified in phonetic transcription?

(iii) With which varieties of English are retroflex sounds generally associated?

H What is forensic phonetics?

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I When we concentrate on the articulation of sounds, it’s easy to forget that people

listening to those sounds often have other clues to help them recognize what we’re

saying. In front of a mirror (or enlist a cooperative friend to be the speaker), say the

following pairs of words. As you are doing this, can you decide which are rounded

or unrounded vowels and which are tense or lax vowels? What clues are you using

to help you make your decision?

bet/bought, coat/caught, feed/food, late/let, mail/mole, neat/knit

(For background reading, see chapter 5 of Ashby and Maidment, 2005.)

II English has a number of expressions such as chit-chat and flip-flop which never

seem to occur in the reverse order (i.e. not chat-chit or flop-flip). Perhaps you can

add examples to the following list of similar expressions.

(i) Can you think of a phonetic description of the regular pattern of sounds in

these expressions?

(ii) What kind of phonetic description might account for these other common

pairings?

(For background reading, see chapter 6 of Pinker, 1994.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Knight, R-A. (2012) Phonetics: A Course Book Cambridge University Press

Ladefoged, P. and K. Johnson (2010) A Course in Phonetics (6th edition) Wadsworth, Cengage

Learning

criss-cross hip-hop riff-raff

dilly-dally knick-knacks see-saw

ding-dong mish-mash sing-song

fiddle-faddle ping-pong tick-tock

flim-flam pitter-patter zig-zag

fuddy-duddy hocus-pocus namby-pamby

fuzzy-wuzzy hurly-burly razzle-dazzle

hanky-panky lovey-dovey roly-poly

helter-skelter mumbo-jumbo super-duper

The sounds of language 37

 

 

More detailed treatments

Ashby, M. and J. Maidment (2005) Introducing Phonetic Science Cambridge University Press

Ogden, R. (2009) An Introduction to English Phonetics Edinburgh University Press

On acoustic and auditory phonetics

Johnson, K. (2011) Acoustic and Auditory Phonetics (3rd edition) Wiley-Blackwell

On phonetic symbols

Ashby, P. (2005) Speech Sounds (2nd edition) Routledge

Pullum, G. and W. Ladusaw (1996) Phonetic Symbol Guide (2nd edition) University of Chicago

Press

Phonetic descriptions of other languages

Handbook of the International Phonetic Association (1999) Cambridge University Press

A phonetics dictionary

Crystal, D. (2008) A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (6th edition) Blackwell

On pronunciation

Cox, F. (2012) Australian English: Pronunciation and Transcription Cambridge University Press

Cruttenden, A. (2008) Gimson’s Pronunciation of English (7th edition) Hodder Arnold

Jones, D., P. Roach, J. Setter and J. Esling (2011) Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary

(18th edition) Cambridge University Press

Kreidler, C. (2004) The Pronunciation of English (2nd edition) Blackwell

Other references

Pinker, S. (1994) The Language Instinct William Morrow

38 The Study of Language

 

 

CHAPTER 4

The sound patterns of language

Uans appona taim uas tri berres; mamma berre, pappa berre, e beibi berre. Live inne

contri nire foresta. NAISE AUS. No mugheggia. Uanna dei pappa, mamma, e beibi go bice,

orie e furghetta locche di dorra.

Bai ene bai commese Goldilocchese. Sci garra natingha tu du batte meiche troble.

Sci puscia olle fudde daon di maute; no live cromma. Den sci gos appesterrese enne slipse

in olle beddse.

Bob Belviso, quoted in Espy (1975)

In the preceding chapter, we investigated the physical production of speech sounds

in terms of the articulatory mechanisms of the human vocal tract. That investigation

was possible because of some rather amazing facts about the nature of language.

When we considered the human vocal tract, we didn’t have to specify whether we

were talking about a fairly large person, over six feet tall, weighing over 200 pounds,

or about a rather small person, about five feet tall, weighing less than 100 pounds.

Yet those two physically different individuals would inevitably have physically

different vocal tracts, in terms of size and shape. In a sense, every individual has

a physically different vocal tract. Consequently, in purely physical terms, every

individual will pronounce sounds differently. There are, then, potentially millions

of physically different ways of saying the simple word me.

 

 

Phonology

In addition to those millions of different individual vocal tracts, each individual will not

pronounce the word me in a physically identical manner on every occasion. Obvious

differences occur when that individual is shouting, or has just woken from a deep sleep,

or is suffering from a bad cold, or is trying to ask for a sixth martini, or any combination

of these. Given this vast range of potential differences in the actual physical production

of a speech sound, how do we manage consistently to recognize all those versions of me

as the form [mi], and not [ni] or [si] or [ma] or [mo] or something else entirely? The

answer to that question is provided to a large extent by the study of phonology.

Phonology is essentially the description of the systems and patterns of speech

sounds in a language. It is, in effect, based on a theory of what every adult speaker of a

language unconsciously knows about the sound patterns of that language. Because of

this theoretical status, phonology is concerned with the abstract or mental aspect of the

sounds in language rather than with the actual physical articulation of speech sounds. If

we can manage to make sense of Bob Belviso’s comic introduction to the story of

Goldilocks and the Three Bears quoted on the previous page, we must be using our

phonological knowledge of likely combinations of sounds in English words to overcome

some very unusual spellings of those words. (See the end of the chapter for a translation.)

Phonology is about the underlying design, the blueprint of each sound type, which

serves as the constant basis of all the variations in different physical articulations of

that sound type in different contexts. When we think of the [t] sound in the words tar,

star, writer, butter and eighth as being “the same,” we actually mean that, in the

phonology of English, they would be represented in the same way. In actual speech,

these [t] sounds are all potentially very different from each other because they can be

pronounced in such different ways in relation to the other sounds around them.

However, all these articulation differences in [t] sounds are less important to us

than the distinction between the [t] sounds in general and the [k] sounds, or the [f]

sounds, or the [b] sounds, because there are meaningful consequences related to the

use of one rather than the others. These sounds must be distinct meaningful sounds,

regardless of which individual vocal tract is being used to pronounce them, because

they are what make the words tar, car, far and bar meaningfully distinct. Considered

from this point of view, we can see that phonology is concerned with the abstract

representation of sounds in our minds that enables us to recognize and interpret the

meaning of words on the basis of the actual physical sounds we say and hear.

Phonemes

Each one of these meaning-distinguishing sounds in a language is described as a

phoneme. When we learn to use alphabetic writing, we are actually using the concept

40 The Study of Language

 

 

of the phoneme as the single stable sound type that is represented by a single written

symbol. It is in this sense that the phoneme /t/ is described as a sound type, of which

all the different spoken versions of [t] are tokens. Note that slash marks are conven-

tionally used to indicate a phoneme, /t/, an abstract segment, as opposed to the

square brackets, as in [t], used for each phonetic or physically produced segment.

An essential property of a phoneme is that it functions contrastively. We know

there are two phonemes /f/ and /v/ in English because they are the only basis of the

contrast in meaning between the words fat and vat, or fine and vine. This contrastive

property is the basic operational test for determining the phonemes that exist in a

language. If we substitute one sound for another in a word and there is a change of

meaning, then the two sounds represent different phonemes. When we reviewed the

set of important types of sounds in English in Chapter 3, we arrived at lists of the basic

phonemes of English in the consonant, vowel and diphthong charts presented there.

Natural classes

The technical terms used in creating those charts can be considered “features” that

distinguish each phoneme from the next. If the feature is present, we mark it with a

plus sign (þ) and if it’s not present, we use a minus sign (−). Thus /p/ can be characterized as [−voice, þbilabial, þstop] and /k/ as [−voice, þvelar, þstop]. Because these two sounds share some features (i.e. both are voiceless stops), they

are sometimes described as members of a natural class of phonemes. Phonemes that

have certain features in common tend to behave phonologically in some similar ways.

Phonemes that do not share those features tend to behave differently.

For example, /v/ has the features [þvoice, þlabiodental, þfricative] and so cannot be in the same natural class of sounds as /p/ and /k/. Although other factors

will be involved, this feature-analysis could lead us to suspect that there may be a

good phonological reason why words beginning with /pl−/ and /kl−/ are common in

English, but words beginning with /vl−/ are not. Could it be that there are some

definite sets of features required in a sound in order for it to occur word-initially

before /l/? If we are successful at identifying the essential features involved in these

types of sound combinations, then we will be on our way to producing a phonological

account of not only the individual phonemes in a language, but also the possible

sequences of phonemes in that language.

Phones and allophones

While the phoneme is the abstract unit or sound type (“in the mind”), there are many

different versions of that sound type regularly produced in actual speech (“in the

mouth”). We can describe those different versions as phones. Phones are phonetic

units and appear in square brackets. When we have a set of phones, all of which are

The sound patterns of language 41

 

 

versions of one phoneme, we add the prefix “allo-” (¼ one of a closely related set) and refer to them as allophones of that phoneme.

For example, the phoneme /t/ can be pronounced in a number of physically

different ways as phones. The [t] sound in the word tar is normally pronounced with

a stronger puff of air than is present in the [t] sound in the word star. If you put the

back of your hand in front of your mouth as you say tar, then star, you should be able

to feel some physical evidence of aspiration (the puff of air) accompanying the [t]

sound at the beginning of tar (but not in star). This aspirated version is represented

more precisely as [tʰ]. That’s one phone.

In the last chapter, we noted that the [t] sound between vowels in a word like

writer often becomes a flap, which we can represent as [ɾ]. That’s another phone.

We also saw that a word like butter can have a glottal stop as the middle

consonant in the pronunciation, so the part written as “tt” may be pronounced

as [ʔ], which is yet another phone. In the pronunciation of a word like eighth (/eɪtθ/),

the influence of the final dental [θ] sound causes a dental articulation of the [t] sound.

This can be represented more precisely as [t̪]. That’s yet another phone. There are

even more variations of this sound which, like [tʰ], [ɾ], [ʔ] and [t̪], can be represented

in a more precise way in a detailed, or narrow phonetic transcription. Because these

variations are all part of one set of phones, they are referred to as allophones of the

phoneme /t/, as detailed in Table 4.1.

The crucial distinction between phonemes and allophones is that substituting one

phoneme for another will result in a word with a different meaning (as well as a

different pronunciation), but substituting allophones only results in a different (and

perhaps unusual) pronunciation of the same word.

Minimal pairs and sets

Phonemic distinctions in a language can be tested via pairs and sets of words. When

two words such as pat and bat are identical in form except for a contrast in one

phoneme, occurring in the same position, the two words are described as a minimal

pair. More accurately, they would be classified as a minimal pair in the phonology of

English. (Arabic, for example, does not have this contrast between /p/ and /b/.) Other

Table 4.1

Phoneme Allophones

[tʰ] (tar)

/t/ [ɾ] (writer)

[ʔ] (butter)

[t̪] (eighth)

42 The Study of Language

 

 

examples of English minimal pairs are fan–van, bet–bat, site–side. Such pairs have

traditionally been used in the teaching and testing of English as a second or foreign

language to help students develop the ability to understand the contrast in meaning

based on the minimal sound contrast.

When a group of words can be differentiated, each one from the others, by

changing one phoneme (always in the same position in the word), then we have a

minimal set. For example, one minimal set based on the vowel phonemes of English

could include feat, fit, fat, fate, fought, foot, and another minimal set based on

consonant phonemes could have big, pig, rig, fig, dig, wig.

Phonotactics

This type of exercise involving minimal sets also allows us to see that there are

definite patterns in the types of sound combinations permitted in a language. In

English, the minimal set we have just listed does not include forms such as lig or

vig. According to my dictionary, these are not English words, but they could be viewed

as possible English words. That is, our phonological knowledge of the pattern of

sounds in English words would allow us to treat these forms as acceptable if, at some

future time, they came into use. They might, for example, begin as invented abbrevi-

ations (I think Bubba is one very ignorant guy. � Yeah, he’s a big vig!). Until then, they represent “accidental” gaps in the vocabulary of English.

It is, however, no accident that forms such as [fsɪg] or [rnɪg] do not exist or are

unlikely ever to exist. They have been formed without obeying some constraints on

the sequence or position of English phonemes. Such constraints are called the

phonotactics (i.e. permitted arrangements of sounds) in a language and are obvi-

ously part of every speaker’s phonological knowledge. Because these constraints

operate on a unit that is larger than the single segment or phoneme, we have to move

on to a consideration of the basic structure of that larger phonological unit called the

syllable.

Syllables

A syllable must contain a vowel or vowel-like sound, including diphthongs. The most

common type of syllable in language also has a consonant (C) before the vowel (V)

and is typically represented as CV. The basic elements of the syllable are the onset

(one or more consonants) followed by the rhyme. The rhyme (sometimes written as

“rime”) consists of a vowel, which is treated as the nucleus, plus any following

consonant(s), described as the coda.

Syllables like me, to or no have an onset and a nucleus, but no coda. They are

known as open syllables. When a coda is present, as in the syllables up, cup, at or

hat, they are called closed syllables. The basic structure of the kind of syllable found

The sound patterns of language 43

 

 

in English words like green (CCVC), eggs (VCC), and (VCC), ham (CVC), I (V), do

(CV), not (CVC), like (CVC), them (CVC), Sam (CVC), I (V), am (VC) is shown in

Figure 4.1.

Consonant clusters

Both the onset and the coda can consist of more than one consonant, also known as a

consonant cluster. The combination /st/ is a consonant cluster (CC) used as onset in

the word stop, and as coda in the word post. There are many CC onset combinations

permitted in English phonotactics, as in black, bread, trick, twin, flat and throw. Note

that liquids (/l/, /r/) and a glide (/w/) are used in second position.

English can actually have larger onset clusters, as in the words stress and splat,

consisting of three initial consonants (CCC). The phonotactics of these larger onset

consonant clusters is not too difficult to describe. The first consonant must always

be /s/, followed by one of the voiceless stops (/p/, /t/, /k/) and a liquid or glide

(/l/, /r/, /w/). You can check if this description is adequate for the combinations in

splash, spring, strong, scream and square. Does the description also cover the

second syllable in the pronunciation of exclaim? How about /ɛk-skleɪm/? Remember

that it is the onset of the syllable that is being described, not the beginning of the word.

Coarticulation effects

It is quite unusual for languages to have large consonant clusters of the type just

described. Indeed, the syllable structure of many languages (e.g. Japanese) is pre-

dominantly CV. It is also noticeable in English that large consonant clusters may be

reduced in casual conversational speech, particularly if they occur in the middle of a

word. This is just one example of a process that is usually discussed in terms of

coarticulation effects.

In much of the preceding discussion, we have been describing speech sounds in

syllables and words as if they are always pronounced carefully and deliberately,

almost in slow motion. Speech isn’t normally like that. Mostly our talk is fast and

spontaneous, and it requires our articulators to move from one sound to the next

syllable

onset

consonant(s) vowel

nucleus

rhyme

coda

consonant(s)

Figure 4.1

44 The Study of Language

 

 

without stopping. The process of making one sound almost at the same time as the

next sound is called coarticulation. There are two well-known coarticulation effects,

described as assimilation and elision.

Assimilation

When two sound segments occur in sequence and some aspect of one segment is

taken or “copied” by the other, the process is known as assimilation. If we think of

the physical production of speech, we realize that this regular process happens

simply because it’s quicker, easier and more efficient for our articulators as they

do their job. Think of the word have /hæv/ by itself, then think of how it is

pronounced in the phrase I have to go in everyday speech. In this phrase, as we

start to say the /t/ sound in to, which is voiceless, we tend to produce a voiceless

version of the preceding sound, resulting in what sounds more like /f/ than /v/.

So, we typically say [hæftə] in this phrase and you may even see it written infor-

mally as “hafta,” showing how the assimilation from a voiced to a voiceless sound

is perceived.

Nasalization

Vowels are also subject to assimilation. In isolation, we would typically pronounce [ɪ]

and [æ] without any nasal quality at all. However, when we say words like pin and

pan in everyday speech, the anticipation of forming the final nasal consonant will

make it easier to go into the nasalized articulation in advance. This process is known

as nasalization and is represented in narrow transcription with a small mark (~),

called “tilde,” over the vowel symbol. The vowel sounds in those words will be, in

more precise transcription, [ɪ]̃ and [æ̃]. This phonological process is a very regular

feature of English speakers’ pronunciation. It is so regular, in fact, that a phonological

rule can be stated in the following way: “Any vowel becomes nasal whenever it

immediately precedes a nasal.”

This type of assimilation process occurs in a variety of different contexts. By

itself, the word can may be pronounced as [kæn], but, when we say I can go, the

influence of the following velar [ɡ] in go will almost certainly make the preceding

nasal sound come out as [ŋ] (the velar nasal) rather than [n] (the alveolar nasal). The most commonly observed conversational version of the phrase is [aɪkəŋɡoʊ]. Notice that the vowel in can has also changed to schwa [ə] from the isolated-word

version [æ]. In many words spoken carefully, the vowel receives stress, but in the

course of ordinary everyday talk, that vowel may no longer receive any stress and

naturally reduce to schwa. We may, for example, pronounce and as [ænd] by

itself, but in the normal use of the phrase you and me, we usually say [ən], as in

[ju ənmi].

The sound patterns of language 45

 

 

Elision

In the last example, illustrating the normal pronunciation of you and me, the [d]

sound of the word and was not included in the transcription. That’s because it isn’t

usually pronounced in this phrase. In the environment of a preceding nasal [n] and a

following nasal [m], we simply don’t devote speech energy to including the stop

sound [d]. This isn’t laziness, it’s efficiency.

There is also typically no [d] sound included in the everyday pronunciation of a

word like friendship [frɛnʃɪp]. This process of not pronouncing a sound segment that

might be present in the deliberately careful pronunciation of a word in isolation is

described as elision. In consonant clusters, especially in coda position, /t/ is a

common casualty in this process, as in the typical pronunciation [æspɛks] for aspects,

or in [himəsbi] for the phrase he must be. We can, of course, slowly and deliberately

pronounce each part of the phrase we asked him, but the process of elision (of /k/) in

casual conversation is likely to produce [wiæstəm]. Vowels also disappear, as in [ɛvri]

for every, [ɪntrɪst] for interest, [kæbnət] for cabinet, [kæmrə] for camera, [prɪznər] for

prisoner and [spoʊz] for suppose.

Normal speech

These two processes of assimilation and elision occur in everyone’s normal speech

and should not be regarded as some type of sloppiness or laziness in speaking. In fact,

consistently avoiding the regular patterns of assimilation and elision used in a

language would result in extremely artificial-sounding talk. The point of investigating

these phonological processes is not to arrive at a set of rules about how a language

should be pronounced, but to try to come to an understanding of the regularities and

patterns that underlie the actual use of sounds in language.

46 The Study of Language

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 In French, the words /bo/ for beau (“handsome”) and /bõ/ for bon (“good”) seem

to have different vowels. Are these two vowels allophones or phonemes in French?

2 What is an aspirated sound and which of the following words would normally be

pronounced with one?

kill, pool, skill, spool, stop, top

3 Which of the following words would be treated as minimal pairs?

ban, fat, pit, bell, tape, heat, meal, more, pat, tap, pen, chain, vote, bet, far, bun,

goat, heel, sane, tale, vet

4 What is meant by the phonotactics of a language?

5 What is the difference between an open and a closed syllable?

6 Which segments in the pronunciation of the following words are most likely to be

affected by elision?

(a) government (b) postman (c) pumpkin (d) sandwich (e) victory

TASKS

A What are diacritics and which ones were used in this chapter to identify

sounds?

B (i) In the phonology of the Hawaiian language there are only open syllables.

Using this information, can you work out how English “Merry Christmas”

became “Mele Kalikimaka” for people in Hawai‘i? Also, based on this

slender evidence, which two English consonants are probably not phonemes

in Hawaiian?

(ii) Including the glottal stop /ʔ/, described in Chapter 3, Hawaiian has eight

consonant phonemes. Looking at the list of Hawaiian names below, can you

identify the other seven Hawaiian consonants?

(iii) Can you pair each Hawaiian name with its matching English name from the

second list (e.g. Henele ¼ Henry)?

C The word central has a consonant cluster (-ntr-) in the middle and two syllables.

What do you think is the best way to divide the word into two syllables (ce þ ntral, centr þ al, cen þ tral, cent þ ral) and why?

D Individual sounds are described as segments. What are suprasegmentals ?

Henele, Kala, Kalona, Kania, Bev, David, Fabian, Fred,

Kawika, Keoki, Kimo, Likeke, George, Henry, Jim, Richard,

Lopaka, Papiano, Peleke, Pewi Robert, Sarah, Sharon, Tanya

The sound patterns of language 47

 

 

E The English words lesson and little are typically pronounced with syllabic consonants.

(i) What exactly is a syllabic consonant and how would it appear in a phonetic

transcription?

(ii) Which of these words would most likely be pronounced with a syllabic

consonant?

bottle, bottom, button, castle, copper, cotton, paddle, schism, wooden

F A general distinction can be made among languages depending on their basic

rhythm, whether they have syllable-timing or stress-timing. How are these two

types of rhythm distinguished and which type characterizes the pronunciation of

English, French and Spanish?

G In the Spanish words mismo (“same”) and isla (“island”), the “s” is pronounced as

[z], but in the words este (“this”) and pescado (“fish”), the “s” is pronounced [s]. (i) Using these and following examples, can you work out the phonological rule

for choosing [z] or [s] here?

(ii) Based on this (rather slim) evidence, would you say that the difference is

phonemic or allophonic?

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I We can form negative versions of words such as audible and edible in English by

adding in- to produce inaudible and inedible. How would you describe the special

phonological processes involved in the pronunciation of the negative versions of

the following words?

balance, compatible, complete, decent, glorious, gratitude, legal, literate,

mature, perfect, possible, rational, responsible, sane, tolerant, variable

(For background reading, see chapter 3 (pages 75–78) of Payne, 2006.)

II The use of plural -s in English has three different, but very regular, phonological

alternatives. We add /s/ to words like bat, book, cough and ship. We add /z/ to

words like cab, cave, lad, rag and thing. We add /əz/ or/IZ/ to words like bus, bush,

church, judge and maze.

(a) Can you identify the sets of sounds that regularly precede each of these

alternative pronunciations of the plural ending?

(b) What features do each of these sets have in common?

(For background reading, see chapter 2 (pages 55–56) of Jeffries, 2006.)

(s ¼ [z]) (s ¼ [s]) béisbol (“baseball”) España (“Spain”)

desde (“from”) casa (“house”)

rasgado (“torn”) sistema (“system”)

socialismo (“socialism”) socialista (“socialist”)

48 The Study of Language

 

 

BOB BELVISO TRANSLATED

One attempt to interpret those very unusual spellings might be as follows:

Once upon a time was three bears; mama bear, papa bear, and baby bear. Live

in the country near the forest. NICE HOUSE. No mortgage. One day papa,

mama, and baby go beach, only they forget to lock the door.

By and by comes Goldilocks. She got nothing to do but make trouble. She

push all the food down the mouth; no leave a crumb. Then she goes upstairs

and sleeps in all the beds.

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Davenport, M. and S. Hannahs (2013) Introducing Phonetics and Phonology (3rd edition)

Routledge

McMahon, A. (2002) An Introduction to English Phonology Edinburgh University Press

More detailed treatments

Odden, D. (2005) Introducing Phonology Cambridge University Press

Roach, P. (2009) English Phonetics and Phonology (4th edition) Cambridge University Press

Syllables

Duanmu, S. (2008) Syllable Structure Oxford University Press

Ladefoged, P. and K. Johnson (2010) A Course in Phonetics (6th edition) (chapter 10)

Wadsworth, Cengage

Phonotactics

Herbst, T. (2010) English Linguistics (chapter 5) de Gruyter

Coarticulation

Hardcastle, W. and N. Hewlett (2006) Coarticulation: Theory, Data and Techniques Cambridge

University Press

Assimilation and elision

Brown, G. (1990) Listening to Spoken English (2nd edition) Longman

Other references

Jeffries, L. (2006) Discovering Language Palgrave Macmillan

Payne, T. (2006) Exploring Language Structure Cambridge University Press

The sound patterns of language 49

 

 

CHAPTER 5

Word formation

Though the Dutch were only a passing political presence in America, their linguistic

legacy is immense. From their earliest days of contact, Americans freely appropriated Dutch

terms – blunderbuss (literally “thunder gun”) as early as 1654, scow in 1660, sleigh in 1703.

By the mid-eighteenth century Dutch words flooded into American English: stoop, span,

coleslaw, boss, pit in the sense of the stone of a fruit, bedpan, bedspread (previously

known as a counterpane), cookie, waffle, nitwit (from the colloquial Dutch Ik niet weet,

meaning “I don’t know”), the distinctive American interrogative how come? (a literal

translation of the Dutch hoekom), poppycock (from pappekak, “soft dung”), dunderhead,

and probably the caboodle in kit and caboodle.

Two particularly durable Americanisms that emanate from Dutch are Santa Claus

(out of Sinter Klaas, a familiar form of St Nicholas), first recorded in American English in 1773,

and Yankee (probably from either Janke, a diminutive equivalent to the English Johnny, or

Jan Kaas, “John Cheese,” intended originally as a mild insult).

Bryson (1994)

 

 

Neologisms

Around 1900, in New Berlin, Ohio, a department-store worker named J. Murray

Spangler invented a device that he called an electric suction sweeper. This device

eventually became very popular and could have become known as a spangler. People

could have been spanglering their floors or they might even have spanglered their

rugs and curtains. The use could have extended to a type of person who droned on

and on (and really sucked), described as spanglerish, or to a whole style of behavior

called spanglerism. However, none of that happened. Instead, Mr. Spangler sold his

new invention to a local businessman called William H. Hoover, whose Hoover

Suction Sweeper Company produced the first machine called a “Hoover.” Not only

did the word hoover (without a capital letter) become as familiar as vacuum cleaner all

over the world, but in Britain, people still talk about hoovering (and not spanglering)

their carpets.

The point of this small tale is that, although we had never heard of Mr. Spangler

before, we really had no difficulty coping with the new words: spangler, spanglerish,

spanglerism, spanglering or spanglered. That is, we can very quickly understand a

new word, a neologism, and accept the use of different forms of that new word in the

language. This ability must derive in part from the fact that there is a lot of regularity

in the word-formation processes in a language. In this chapter, we will explore some

of the basic processes by which new words are created.

Etymology

The study of the origin and history of a word is known as its etymology, a term

which, like many of our technical words, comes to us through Latin, but has its

origins in Greek (étymon “original form” þ logia “study of”), and is not to be confused with entomology, also from Greek (éntomon “insect”). When we look

closely at the etymologies of less technical words, we soon discover that there are

many different ways in which new words can enter the language. We should keep

in mind that these processes have been at work in the language for some time and

a lot of words in daily use today were, at one time, considered barbaric misuses of

the language. It is difficult now to understand the views expressed in the early

nineteenth century over the “tasteless innovation” of a word like handbook, or the

horror expressed by a London newspaper in 1909 over the use of the newly coined

word aviation. Yet many new words can cause similar outcries as they come into

use today. Rather than act as if the language is being debased, we might prefer to

view the constant evolution of new words and new uses of old words as a

reassuring sign of vitality and creativeness in the way a language is shaped by

the needs of its users.

Word formation 51

 

 

Borrowing

As Bill Bryson observed in the quotation presented earlier, one of the most common

sources of new words in English is the process simply labeled borrowing, that is, the

taking over of words from other languages. (Technically, it’s more than just

borrowing, because English doesn’t give them back.) Throughout its history, the

English language has adopted a vast number of words from other languages, includ-

ing these examples:

Other languages, of course, borrow terms from English, as in the Japanese use of

suupaa or suupaamaaketto (“supermarket”) and taipuraitaa (“typewriter”). We can

also hear of people in Finland using a šekki (“check”) to pay their bills, Hungarians

talking about sport, klub and futbal, or the French discussing problems of le stress,

over a glass of le whisky, during le weekend. In Brazilian Portuguese, the English

words up and nerd have been borrowed and turned into verbs for the new activities

upar (“to upload”) and nerdear (“to surf the internet”). In some cases, the borrowed

words may be used with quite novel meanings, as in the contemporary German use of

the English words partner and look in the phrase im Partnerlook to describe two

people who are together and wearing similar clothing. There is no equivalent use of

this expression in English (so far).

Loan-translation

A special type of borrowing is described as loan-translation or calque (/kælk/). In

this process, there is a direct translation of the elements of a word into the

borrowing language. Interesting examples are the French term gratte-ciel, which

literally translates as “scrape-sky,” the Dutch wolkenkrabber (“cloud scratcher”) or

the German Wolkenkratzer (“cloud scraper”), all of which were calques for the

English skyscraper. The English word superman is thought to be a loan-translation

of the German Übermensch, and the term loanword itself is believed to have come

from the German Lehnwort. The English expression moment of truth is believed to

be a calque from the Spanish phrase el momento de la verdad, though not

restricted to the original use as the final thrust of the sword to end a bullfight.

Nowadays, some Spanish speakers eat perros calientes (literally “dogs hot”) or hot

dogs. The American concept of “boyfriend” was borrowed, with sound change,

into Japanese as boyifurendo, but as a calque into Chinese as “male friend” or nan

pengyu.

dope (Dutch) piano (Italian) tattoo (Tahitian)

jewel (French) pretzel (German) tycoon (Japanese)

glitzy (Yiddish) ski (Norwegian) yogurt (Turkish)

lilac (Persian) sofa (Arabic) zebra (Bantu)

52 The Study of Language

 

 

Compounding

In some of the examples we have just considered, there is a joining of two separate

words to produce a single form. Thus, Lehn and Wort are combined to produce

Lehnwort in German. This combining process, technically known as compounding,

is very common in languages such as German and English, but much less common in

languages such as French and Spanish. Common English compounds are bookcase,

doorknob, fingerprint, sunburn, textbook, wallpaper, wastebasket and waterbed. All

these examples are nouns, but we can also create compound adjectives (good-looking,

low-paid) and compounds of adjective (fast) plus noun (food) as in a fast-food

restaurant or a full-time job.

This very productive source of new terms has been well documented in English

and German, but can also be found in totally unrelated languages, such as Hmong

(spoken in South-East Asia), which combines hwj (“pot”) and kais (“spout”) to

produce hwjkais (“kettle”). Recent creations are paj plus kws (“flower” þ “corn”) for pajkws (“popcorn”) and hnab þ rau þ ntawv (“bag” þ “put” þ “paper”) for hnabrauntawv (“schoolbag”).

Blending

The combination of two separate forms to produce a single new term is also present

in the process called blending. However, in blending, we typically take only the

beginning of one word and join it to the end of the other word. To talk about the

combined effects of smoke and fog, we can use the word smog. In places where they

have a lot of this stuff, they can jokingly make a distinction between smog, smaze

(smoke þ haze) and smurk (smoke þ murk). In Hawaii, near the active volcano, they have problems with vog. Some other commonly used examples of blending

are bit (binary/digit), brunch (breakfast/lunch), motel (motor/hotel), telecast

(television/broadcast) and the Chunnel (Channel/tunnel), connecting England

and France.

The activity of fund-raising on television that feels like a marathon is typically

called a telethon, while infotainment (information/entertainment) and simulcast

(simultaneous/broadcast) are other new blends from life with television. To

describe the mixing of languages, some people talk about Franglais (French/

Anglais) and Spanglish (Spanish/English). In a few blends, we combine the

beginnings of both words, as in terms from information technology, such as telex

(teleprinter/exchange) or modem (modulator/demodulator). A blend from the

beginnings of two French words velours croché (“hooked velvet”) is the source of

the word velcro. There is also the word fax, but that is not a blend. It’s an example of

our next category.

Word formation 53

 

 

Clipping

The element of reduction that is noticeable in blending is even more apparent in

the process described as clipping. This occurs when a word of more than one

syllable (facsimile) is reduced to a shorter form (fax), usually beginning in casual

speech. The term gasoline is still used, but most people talk about gas, using the

clipped form. Other common examples are ad (advertisement), bra (brassiere), cab

(cabriolet), condo (condominium), fan (fanatic), flu (influenza), perm (permanent

wave), phone, plane and pub (public house). English speakers also like to clip each

other’s names, as in Al, Ed, Liz, Mike, Ron, Sam, Sue and Tom. There must be

something about educational environments that encourages clipping because so

many words get reduced, as in chem, exam, gym, lab, math, phys-ed, poly-sci, prof

and typo.

Hypocorisms

A particular type of reduction, favored in Australian and British English, produces

forms technically known as hypocorisms. In this process, a longer word is reduced to

a single syllable, then -y or -ie is added to the end. This is the process that results in

movie (“moving pictures”) and telly (“television”). It has also produced Aussie

(“Australian”), barbie (“barbecue”), bickie (“biscuit”), bookie (“bookmaker”), brekky

(“breakfast”), hankie (“handkerchief”) and toastie (“toasted sandwich”). You can

probably guess what Chrissy pressies are. By now, you may be ready to take a sickie

(“a day of sick leave from work, whether for real sickness or not”).

Backformation

A very specialized type of reduction process is known as backformation. Typically, a

word of one type (usually a noun) is reduced to form a word of another type (usually a

verb). A good example of backformation is the process whereby the noun television

first came into use and then the verb televise was created from it. Other examples of

words created by this process are: donate (from “donation”), emote (from “emotion”),

enthuse (from “enthusiasm”), liaise (from “liaison”) and babysit (from “babysitter”).

Indeed, when we use the verb backform (Did you know that “opt” was backformed

from “option”?), we are using a backformation.

One very regular source of backformed verbs in English is based on the common

pattern worker – work. The assumption seems to have been that if there is a noun

ending in -er (or something close in sound), then we can create a verb for what that

noun-er does. Hence, an editor will edit, a sculptor will sculpt and burglars, peddlers

and swindlers will burgle, peddle and swindle.

54 The Study of Language

 

 

Conversion

A change in the function of a word, as for example when a noun comes to be used

as a verb (without any reduction), is generally known as conversion. Other labels

for this very common process are “category change” and “functional shift.”

A number of nouns such as bottle, butter, chair and vacation have come to be

used, through conversion, as verbs: We bottled the home-brew last night; Have you

buttered the toast?; Someone has to chair the meeting; They’re vacationing in

Florida. These forms are readily accepted, but some conversions, such as the noun

impact used as a verb, seem to impact some people’s sensibilities rather

negatively.

The conversion process is very productive in modern English, with new uses

occurring frequently. The conversion can involve verbs becoming nouns, with guess,

must and spy as the sources of a guess, a must and a spy. Phrasal verbs (to print out, to

take over) also become nouns (a printout, a takeover). One complex verb combination

(want to be) has become a new noun, as in He isn’t in the group, he’s just a wannabe.

Some other examples of conversion are listed here.

Verbs (see through, stand up) can also become adjectives, as in see-through material or

a stand-up comedian. A number of adjectives, as in a dirty floor, an empty room, some

crazy ideas and those nasty people, have become the verbs to dirty and to empty, or the

nouns a crazy and the nasty.

Some compound nouns have assumed other functions, exemplified by the ball

park appearing in a ball-park figure (as an adjective) or asking someone to ball-park

an estimate of the cost (as a verb). Other nouns of this type are carpool, mastermind,

microwave and quarterback, which are also used as verbs now. Other forms, such as

up and down, can also become verbs, as in They’re going to up the price of oil or We

downed a few beers at the Chimes.

It is worth noting that some words can shift substantially in meaning when they

go through conversion. The verb to doctor often has a negative sense, not normally

associated with the source noun a doctor. A similar kind of reanalysis of meaning is

taking place with the noun total and the verb run around, which do not have

negative meanings. However, if you total (¼ verb) your car, and your insurance company gives you the runaround (¼ noun), you will have a double sense of the negative.

Noun ! Verb Verb ! Noun dust Did you dust the living room? to cheat He’s a cheat.

glue I’ll have to glue it together. to doubt They have some doubts.

referee Who will referee the game? to hand out I didn’t get a handout.

water Would you water my plants? to hire We have two new hires.

Word formation 55

 

 

Coinage

The invention and general use of totally new terms, or coinage, is not very common in

English. Typical sources are trade names for commercial products that become gen-

eral terms (usually without capital letters) for any version of that product. Older

examples are aspirin, nylon, vaseline and zipper; more recent examples are granola,

kleenex, teflon and xerox. It may be that there is an obscure technical origin (e.g. te

(tra)-fl(uor)-on) for some of these invented terms, but after their first coinage, they

tend to become everyday words in the language. The most salient contemporary

example of coinage is the word google. Originally a misspelling for the word googol

(¼ the number 1 followed by 100 zeros), in the creation of the word Googleplex, which later became the name of a company (Google), the term google (without a capital

letter) has become a widely used expression meaning “to use the internet to find

information.”

New words based on the name of a person or a place are called eponyms. When

we talked about a hoover (or even a spangler), we were using an eponym. We use the

eponyms teddy bear, derived from US president Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, and

jeans (from the Italian city of Genoa where the type of cloth was first made). Another

eponym dates from 1762 when John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, insisted on

having his salt beef between two slices of toasted bread while gambling. Apparently

his friends started to ask “to have the same as Sandwich.”

Acronyms

Acronyms are new words formed from the initial letters of a set of other words. These

can be forms such as CD (“compact disk”) or SPCA (“Society for the Prevention of

Cruelty to Animals”) where the pronunciation consists of saying each separate letter.

More typically, acronyms are pronounced as new single words, as in NATO, NASA or

UNESCO. These examples have kept their capital letters, but many acronyms simply

become everyday terms such as laser (“light amplification by stimulated emission of

radiation”), radar (“radio detecting and ranging”), scuba (“self-contained underwater

breathing apparatus”) and zip (“zone improvement plan”) code. You might even hear

talk of a snafu, which is reputed to have its origins in “situation normal, all fouled

up,” though there is some dispute about the appropriate verb in there.

Names for organizations are often designed to have their acronym represent an

appropriate term, as in “mothers against drunk driving” (MADD) and “women

against rape” (WAR). Many speakers do not think of their component meanings.

Innovations such as the ATM (“automatic teller machine”) and the required PIN

(“personal identification number”) are regularly used with one of their elements

repeated, as in I sometimes forget my PIN number when I go to the ATM machine.

56 The Study of Language

 

 

Derivation

In our list so far, we have not dealt with what is by far the most common word-

formation process to be found in the production of new English words. This process

is called derivation and it is accomplished by means of a large number of small

“bits” of the English language that are not usually given separate listings in diction-

aries. These small “bits” are generally described as affixes. Some familiar examples

are the elements un-, mis-, pre-, -ful, -less, -ish, -ism and -ness which appear in

words like unhappy, misrepresent, prejudge, joyful, careless, boyish, terrorism and

sadness.

Prefixes and suffixes

Looking more closely at the preceding group of words, we can see that some affixes

are added to the beginning of the word (e.g. un-, mis-). These are called prefixes.

Other affixes are added to the end of the word (e.g. -less, -ish) and are called suffixes.

All English words formed by this derivational process have either prefixes or suffixes,

or both. Thus, mislead has a prefix, disrespectful has both a prefix and a suffix, and

foolishness has two suffixes.

Infixes

There is a third type of affix, not normally used in English, but found in some other

languages. This is called an infix and, as the term suggests, it is an affix that is

incorporated inside another word. It is possible to see the general principle at work in

certain expressions, occasionally used in fortuitous or aggravating circumstances by

emotionally aroused English speakers: Hallebloodylujah!, Absogoddamlutely! and

Unfuckinbelievable!. We could view these “inserted” forms as a special version of

infixing in English. However, a much better set of examples can be provided from

Khmu (or Kamhmu), a language spoken in Laos, South-East Asia.

From these examples, we can see that there is a regular pattern whereby the infix -rn-

is added to verbs to form nouns. If this is a general pattern in the language and we

know that the form srnal is the Khmu noun for “an ear ornament,” then we can work

out the corresponding verb “to put an ornament in the ear.” According to Merrifield

et al. (2003), the source of these examples, it is sal.

Verb Noun

(“to drill”) see srnee (“a drill”)

(“to chisel”) toh trnoh (“a chisel”)

(“to eat with a spoon”) hiip hrniip (“a spoon”)

(“to tie”) hoom hrnoom (“a thing with which to tie”)

Word formation 57

 

 

Multiple processes

Although we have concentrated on each of these word-formation processes in isol-

ation, it is possible to trace the operation of more than one process at work in the

creation of a particular word. For example, the term deli seems to have become a

common American English expression via a process of first borrowing delicatessen

(from German) and then clipping that borrowed form. If someone says that problems

with the project have snowballed, the final word can be analyzed as an example of

compounding in which snow and ball were combined to form the noun snowball,

which was then turned into a verb through conversion. Forms that begin as acronyms

can also go through other processes, as in the use of lase as a verb, the result of

backformation from laser. In the expression waspish attitudes, the acronym WASP

(“white Anglo-Saxon Protestant”) has lost its capital letters and gained a suffix (-ish)

in the derivation process.

An acronym that never seems to have had capital letters comes from “young

urban professional,” plus the -ie suffix, as in hypocorism, to produce the word yuppie

(first recorded in 1984). The formation of this new word, however, was helped by a

quite different process, known simply as analogy, whereby new words are formed to

be similar in some way to existing words. Yuppie was made possible as a new word by

analogy with the earlier word hippie and another short-lived analogy yippie. The word

yippie also had an acronym basis (“youth international party”) and was used for some

students in the USA who were protesting against the war in Vietnam. One joke has it

that yippies just grew up to be yuppies. And the process continues. Another analogy,

with the word yap (“to make shrill noises”), helped label some of the noisy young

professionals as yappies.

Many of these new words can, of course, have a very brief life-span. Perhaps the

generally accepted test of the “arrival” of recently formed words in a language is their

published appearance in a dictionary. However, even this may not occur without

protests from some conservative voices, as Noah Webster found when his first

dictionary, published in 1806, was criticized for citing words like advocate and test

as verbs, and for including such “vulgar” words as advisory and presidential. It would

seem that Noah had a keener sense than his critics of which new word forms in the

language were going to last.

58 The Study of Language

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 When is an eponym a neologism?

2 Which of the following pairs contains an example of calque? How would you

describe the other(s)?

(a) footobooru (Japanese) – football (English)

(b) tréning (Hungarian) – training (English)

(c) luna de miel (Spanish “moon of honey”) – honeymoon (English)

(d) jardin d’enfants (French “garden of children”) – Kindergarten (German

“children garden”)

3 Can you identify the different word-formation processes involved in producing

each of the underlined words in these sentences?

(a) Don’t they ever worry that they might get AIDS?

(b) Do you have a xerox machine?

(c) That’s really fandamntastic!

(d) Shiel still parties every Saturday night.

(e) These new skateboards from Zee Designs are kickass.

(f) When I’m ill, I want to see a doc, not a vet.

(g) The house next door was burgled when I was babysitting the Smiths’

children.

(h) I like this old sofa – it’s nice and comfy.

(i) My guess is that the company will need a bailout.

(j) I think Robyn said she’d like a toastie for brekky.

(k) You don’t need to button it because it’s got velcro inside.

4 Identify the prefixes and suffixes used in these words:

misfortune, terrorism, carelessness, disagreement, ineffective, unfaithful,

prepackaged, biodegradable, reincarnation, decentralization

5 In Khmu, the word kap means “to grasp with tongs”. What would be the word

for “tongs”?

6 More than one process was involved in the creation of the forms underlined in

these sentences. Can you identify the processes involved in each case?

(a) Are you still using that old car-phone?

(b) Can you FedEx the books to me today?

(c) Police have reported an increase in carjackings in recent months.

(d) Welcome, everyone, to karaokenight at Bubba’s Bar and Grill!

(e) Jeeves, could you tell the maid to be sure to hoover the bedroom carpet?

(f) I know there are some newbies in the group, but it’s not a difficult system.

(g) I had to temp for a while before I got a real job.

(h) Would you prefer a decaf?

Word formation 59

 

 

TASKS

A What are “initialisms”? Were there any examples in this chapter?

B Who invented the term “portmanteau words”? How many examples were included

in this chapter?

C Using a dictionary with etymological information, identify which of the following

words are borrowings and from which languages they were borrowed. Are any of

them eponyms?

assassin, clone, cockroach, denim, diesel, frisbee, horde, kayak, kiosk, nickname,

penguin, robot, shampoo, sherry, slogan, snoop, taboo, tea, tomato, tuxedo,

umbrella, voodoo

D There are a lot of new words in English from IT (an acronym for “information

technology”) and the widespread use of the internet (a blend from “international”

and “network”). Using a dictionary if necessary, try to describe the word-formation

processes involved in the creation of the underlined words in these sentences.

(1) There are some teenage netizens who rarely leave their rooms.

(2) How much RAM do you have?

(3) I can’t get some of the students to keyboard more carefully.

(4) Your friend Jason is such a techie!

(5) Doesn’t every new computer have a webcam now?

(6) You should bookmark that site.

(7) I got a great new app for my phone.

(8) We’re paying too much attention to bloggers.

(9) Subscribers have unlimited downloads.

(10) You should check the faq because the information is usually helpful.

(11) Some people will have to learn better netiquette.

(12) Hey, just heard about the accident, ruok?

E Can you divide the following set of English compounds into nouns and verbs? How

do you decide? Which part of the compound determines whether it is a noun or

verb?

crash helmet, crash land, freeze dry, freeze frame, hang glide, hang nail, kick

boxer, kick start, skim milk, skim read, sleep mode, sleep walk

F In this chapter we noted an example (Partnerlook) of the creation of a new German

word using one or more English words, yet with a meaning not found in English. In

the following list, there are some more words in contemporary German that have

been created from English words.

(i) What is the technical term used to describe forms created in this way?

(ii) Can you work out which meanings from the set below go with which words?

60 The Study of Language

 

 

G Another type of affix is called a circumfix. Here are some examples from

Indonesian:

1 Can you provide the missing forms in these examples?

2 What is the circumfix illustrated here?

3 For what type of word-formation process is the circumfix being used here?

4 Given the words tersedia (“available”), sulit (“difficult”), sesuai (“suitable”) and

seimbang (“balanced”), how would you translate “availability,” “difficulty,”

“suitability” and “balance”?

5 After analyzing the following examples, what do you think the corresponding

Indonesian words would be for “happy,” “just/fair” and “satisfied”?

ketidakjujuran (“dishonesty”)

ketidaksenangan (“unhappiness”)

ketidakadilan (“injustice”)

ketidakpuasan (“dissatisfaction”)

H When Hmong speakers (from Laos and Vietnam) settled in the USA, they had to

create some new words for the different objects and experiences they encountered.

der Barmixer (¼ _____________________________) der Beamer (¼ _____________________________) der Bodybag (¼ _____________________________) der Flipper (¼ _____________________________) das Handy (¼ _____________________________) der Messie (¼ _____________________________) der Oldtimer (¼ _____________________________) die Peep Toes (¼ _____________________________) der Shootingstar (¼ _____________________________) der Smoking (¼ _____________________________) der Talkmaster (¼ _____________________________) der Tramper (¼ _____________________________)

“bartender” “shoulder bag” “tuxedo”

“cell phone or mobile” “overnight success” “women’s open-toed shoes”

“hitchhiker” “pinball machine” “video projector”

“hoarder or pack rat” “talk show host” “vintage car”

(“big”) besar kebesaran (“bigness”)

(“beautiful”) indah keindahan (beauty”)

(“healthy”) _______ kesehatan (“health”)

(“free”) _______ kebebasan (“freedom”)

(“kind”) baik __________ (“kindness”)

(“honest”) jujur __________ (“honesty”)

Word formation 61

 

 

Using the following translations (provided by Bruce Downing and Judy Fuller,

1984), can you work out the English equivalents of the Hmong expressions listed

below?

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I When we form compounds in English, how do we know whether to join the words

(hairspray), join them with a hyphen (hair-spray) or leave a space between them

(hair spray)? Using the examples below, and any others that you want to include in

the discussion, try to decide if there are any typical patterns in the way we form

compounds.

backpack, back-pedal, back seat, blackboard, black hole, black-tie affair,

bulletin board, double bed, double-cross, house husband, house-warming,

housewife, life-saving, lifestyle, life insurance, mother-in-law, mother tongue,

postcard, Post-its, post office, workbook, work experience, work-to-rule

(For background reading, see chapter 3 of Denning, Kessler and Leben, 2007.)

II The sign in Figure 5.1 contains a word (flushable) that you may not have seen

before. But it isn’t hard to understand. However, when we derive new words with a

suffix such as -able, there seems to be some type of constraint on what is permitted.

The words in the left column below are “acceptable” (that’s one!), but the forms in

the other two columns don’t seem to be current English words. They are marked

with an asterisk * to show that we think they are “unacceptable” (there’s another

one!). From these examples, and any others that you think might be relevant to the

discussion, can you work out what the rule(s) might be for making new adjectives

with the suffix -able?

chaw (“place”) kho (“fix”) hlau (“iron”) cai (“right”)

dav (“bird”) muas (“buy”) hniav (“teeth”) daim (“flat”)

hnab (“bag”) nres (“stand”) looj (“cover”) mob (“sickness”)

kev (“way”) ntaus (“hit”) ntoo (“wood”) nqaj (“rail”)

kws (“expert”) tos (“wait”) ntawv (“paper”) tshuaj (“medicine”)

tsheb (“vehicle”) zaum (“sit”) tes (“hand”)

chawkhomob _______ kwshlau _______

chawnrestsheb _______ kwskhohniav _______

chawzaumtos _______ kwsntausntawv _______

davhlau _______ kwsntoo _______

hnabloojtes _______ kwskhotsheb _______

kevcai _______ kwstshuaj _______

kevkhomob _______ tshebnqajhlau _______

kevnqajhlau _______ daimntawvmuastshuaj _______

62 The Study of Language

 

 

(For background reading, see chapter 4 of Language Files, 2011.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Denning, K., B. Kessler and W. Leben (2007) English Vocabulary Elements (2nd edition) Oxford

University Press

Minkova, D. and R. Stockwell (2009) English Words (2nd edition) Cambridge University Press

More detailed treatments

Harley, H. (2006) English Words: A Linguistic Introduction Blackwell

Plag, I. (2003) Word-formation in English Cambridge University Press

Etymology

Crystal, D. (2003) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (chapters 10–12)

(2nd edition) Cambridge University Press

Durkin, P. (2008) The Oxford Guide to Etymology Oxford University Press

Figure 5.1

breakable *carable *dieable

doable *chairable *disappearable

downloadable *diskable *downable

inflatable *hairable *pinkable

movable *housable *runable

understandable *pencilable *sleepable

wearable *quickable *smilable

Word formation 63

 

 

Googling

Vise, D. and M. Malseed (2005) The Google Story Delacorte Press

Borrowing

Hitchings, H. (2008) The Secret Life of Words John Murray

Miller, D. (2012) External Influences on English: From Its Beginnings to the Renaissance Oxford

University Press

Borrowing in Brazilian Portuguese

Diniz de Figueiredo, E. (2010) “To borrow or not to borrow: the use of English loanwords as

slang on websites in Brazilian Portuguese” English Today 26 (4): 5–12

Compounding

Fabb, N. (1998) “Compounding” In A. Spencer and A. Zwicky (eds.) The Handbook of

Morphology (66–83) Blackwell

Lieber, R. and P. Stekauer (2009) The Oxford Handbook of Compounding Oxford University

Press

Hypocorisms

Allan, K. (1986) Linguistic Meaning Routledge

Conversion

Aitchison, J. (2012) Words in the Mind (4th edition) (part 3) Wiley-Blackwell

Eponyms

Marciano, J. (2009) Anonyponymous Bloomsbury

Derivation

Haspelmath, M. and A. Sims (2010) Understanding Morphology (2nd edition) (chapter 5)

Hodder Education

Lieber, R. (2004) Morphology and Lexical Semantics Cambridge University Press

Infixes

Yu, A. (2007) A Natural History of Infixation Oxford University Press

Other references

Downing, B. and J. Fuller (1984) “Cultural contact and the expansion of the Hmong lexicon”

Unpublished manuscript, Department of Linguistics, University of Minnesota

Language Files (2011) (11th edition) Ohio State University Press

Merrifield, W., C. Naish, C. Rensch and G. Story (2003) Laboratory Manual for Morphology and

Syntax (7th edition) Summer Institute of Linguistics

64 The Study of Language

 

 

CHAPTER 6

Morphology

BAMBIFICATION: The mental conversion of flesh and blood living creatures into cartoon

characters possessing bourgeois Judeo-Christian attitudes and morals.

Coupland (1991)

Throughout Chapter 5, we approached the description of processes involved in word

formation as if the unit called the “word” was always a regular and easily identifiable

form, even when it is a form such as bambification that we may never have seen

before. This doesn’t seem unreasonable when we look at a text of written English,

since the “words” in the text are, quite obviously, those sets of things marked in black

with the bigger spaces separating them. Unfortunately, there are a number of

problems with using this observation as the basis of an attempt to describe language

in general, and individual linguistic forms in particular.

 

 

Morphology

In many languages, what appear to be single forms actually turn out to contain a large

number of “word-like” elements. For example, in Swahili (spoken throughout East

Africa), the form nitakupenda conveys what, in English, would have to be repre-

sented as something like I will love you. Now, is the Swahili form a single word? If it is

a “word,” then it seems to consist of a number of elements that, in English, turn up as

separate “words.” A rough correspondence can be presented in the following way:

It would seem that this Swahili “word” is rather different from what we think of as an

English “word.” Yet there clearly is some similarity between the languages, in that

similar elements of the whole message can be found in both. Perhaps a better way of

looking at linguistic forms in different languages would be to use this notion of

“elements” in the message, rather than depend on identifying only “words.”

The type of exercise we have just performed is an example of investigating basic

forms in language, generally known as morphology. This term, which literally means

“the study of forms,” was originally used in biology, but since the middle of the

nineteenth century has also been used to describe the type of investigation that analyzes

all those basic “elements” used in a language. What we have been describing as

“elements” in the form of a linguistic message are technically known as “morphemes.”

Morphemes

We do not actually have to go to other languages such as Swahili to discover that

“word forms” may consist of a number of elements. We can recognize that English

word forms such as talks, talker, talked and talking must consist of one element talk,

and the other four elements -s, -er, -ed and -ing. All these elements are described as

morphemes. The definition of a morpheme is “a minimal unit of meaning or gram-

matical function.” Units of grammatical function include forms used to indicate past

tense or plural, for example. So, the word renewed consists of one minimal unit of

meaning (new), another unit of meaning (re- ¼ “again”) and a unit of grammatical function -ed (¼ past tense). The word tourists has two units of meaning (tour and -ist) plus a unit of grammatical function -s (¼ plural).

Free and bound morphemes

From these examples, we can make a broad distinction between two types of mor-

phemes. There are free morphemes, that is, morphemes that can stand by themselves

as single words, for example, new and tour. There are also bound morphemes, which

ni- ta- ku- penda

“I will you love”

66 The Study of Language

 

 

are those forms that cannot normally stand alone and are typically attached to another

form, exemplified as re-, -ist, -ed, -s. These forms were described in Chapter 5 as

affixes. So, we can say that all affixes (prefixes and suffixes) in English are bound

morphemes. The free morphemes can generally be identified as the set of separate

English word forms such as basic nouns, adjectives and verbs. When they are used

with bound morphemes attached, the basic word forms are technically known as

stems. For example:

We should note that this type of description is a partial simplification of the morpho-

logical facts of English. There are a number of English words in which the element

treated as the stem is not, in fact, a free morpheme. In words such as receive, reduce

and repeat, we can identify the bound morpheme re- at the beginning, but the

elements -ceive, -duce and -peat are not separate word forms and hence cannot be

free morphemes. These types of forms are sometimes described as “bound stems.”

Lexical and functional morphemes

What we have described as free morphemes fall into two categories. The first category

is that set of ordinary nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs that we think of as the

words that carry the “content” of the messages we convey. These free morphemes are

called lexical morphemes and some examples are: girl, man, house, tiger, sad, long,

yellow, sincere, open, look, follow, break. We can add new lexical morphemes to the

language rather easily, so they are treated as an “open” class of words.

Other types of free morphemes are called functional morphemes. Examples are:

and, but, when, because, on, near, above, in, the, that, it, them. This set consists

largely of the functional words in the language such as conjunctions, prepositions,

articles and pronouns. Because we almost never add new functional morphemes to

the language, they are described as a “closed” class of words.

Derivational morphemes

The set of affixes that make up the category of bound morphemes can also be divided

into two types. One type is described in Chapter 5 in terms of the derivation of words.

These are the derivational morphemes. We use these bound morphemes to make

new words or to make words of a different grammatical category from the stem. For

example, the addition of the derivational morpheme -ness changes the adjective good

to the noun goodness. The noun care can become the adjectives careful or careless by

the addition of the derivational morphemes -ful or -less. Derivational morphemes

undressed carelessness

un- dress -ed care -less -ness

prefix stem suffix stem suffix suffix

(bound) (free) (bound) (free) (bound) (bound)

Morphology 67

 

 

include suffixes, such as the -ish in foolish, the -ly in quickly, and the -ment in

payment, and prefixes, such as re-, pre-, ex-, mis-, co-, un-.

Inflectional morphemes

The second set of bound morphemes contains what are called inflectional mor-

phemes (or “inflections”). These are not used to produce new words in the language,

but rather to indicate aspects of the grammatical function of a word. Inflectional

morphemes are used to show if a word is plural or singular, past tense or not, and if

it is a comparative or possessive form. English has only eight inflectional morphemes,

all suffixes, as shown here.

Jim’s two sisters are really different.

One likes to have fun and is always laughing.

The other liked to read as a child and has always taken things seriously.

One is the loudest person in the house and the other is quieter than a mouse.

In the first sentence, both inflections (-’s, -s) are attached to nouns, one marking

possessive and the other marking plural. Note that -’s here is a possessive inflection

and different from the -’s used as an abbreviation for is or has (e.g. she’s singing, it’s

happened again). There are four inflections attached to verbs, -s (3rd person singular,

present tense), -ing (present participle), -ed (past tense) and -en (past participle). There

are two inflections attached to adjectives: -er (comparative) and -est (superlative).

There is some variation in the form of these inflectional morphemes. For example, the

possessive sometimes appears as a plural form -s’ (those boys’ bags) and the past

participle is often -ed (they have finished).

Morphological description

The difference between derivational and inflectional morphemes is worth emphasiz-

ing. An inflectional morpheme never changes the grammatical category of a word.

For example, both old and older are adjectives. The -er inflection here (from Old

English -ra) simply creates a different version of the adjective. However, a derivational

morpheme can change the grammatical category of a word. The verb teach becomes

the noun teacher if we add the derivational morpheme -er (from Old English -ere). So,

the suffix -er in Modern English can be an inflectional morpheme as part of an

adjective and also a distinct derivational morpheme as part of a noun. Just because

they look the same (-er) doesn’t mean they do the same kind of work.

Noun þ -’s, -s Verb þ -s, -ing, -ed, -en Adjective þ -er, -est

68 The Study of Language

 

 

Whenever there is a derivational suffix and an inflectional suffix used together,

they always appear in that order. First the derivational (-er) is attached to teach, then

the inflectional (-s) is added to produce teachers. Armed with all these terms for

different types of morphemes, we can now take most sentences of English apart and

list all the “elements.” For example, in the sentence The teacher’s wildness shocked the

girls’ parents, we can identify thirteen morphemes.

A useful way to remember all these different types of morphemes is in the chart

presented in Figure 6.1.

Problems in morphological description

The rather neat chart presented here conceals a number of outstanding problems in

the analysis of English morphology. The inflectional morpheme -s is added to cat and

we get the plural cats. What is the inflectional morpheme that makes sheep the plural

of sheep, or men the plural of man? These two words are clearly exceptions to the

general pattern and have to be treated as special cases.

Morphs and allomorphs

One way to treat differences in inflectional morphemes is by proposing variation in

morphological realization rules. In order to do this, we draw an analogy with some

processes already noted in phonology (Chapter 4). Just as we treated phones as the

actual phonetic realization of phonemes, so we can propose morphs as the actual

forms used to realize morphemes. For example, the form cats consists of two morphs,

cat þ -s, realizing a lexical morpheme (“cat”) and an inflectional morpheme (“plural”). The form buses also consists of two morphs (bus þ -es), realizing a lexical morpheme and an inflectional morpheme (“plural”). So there are at least two differ-

ent morphs (-s and -es, actually /s/ and /əz/) used to realize the inflectional mor-

pheme “plural.” Just as we noted that there were “allophones” of a particular

The teach -er -’s wild -ness shock

functional lexical derivational inflectional lexical derivational lexical

-ed the girl -s’ parent -s

inflectional functional lexical inflectional lexical inflectional

morphemes

free

bound

lexical (child, teach)

(and, the)

(re-, -ness)

(-’s, -ed)

functional

derivational

inflectional

Figure 6.1

Morphology 69

 

 

phoneme, so we can recognize the existence of allomorphs of a particular morpheme.

That is, when we find a group of different morphs, all versions of one morpheme, we

can use the prefix “allo-” (¼ one of a closely related set) and describe them as allomorphs of that morpheme.

Let’s look at the morpheme “plural,” which has the consistent function in English

of indicating “there is more than one.” Note that it can be attached to a number of

lexical morphemes to produce structures like “cat þ plural,” “bus þ plural,” “sheep þ plural,” and “man þ plural.” In each of these examples, the actual forms of the morphs that result from the morpheme “plural” are different. Yet they are all allo-

morphs of the one morpheme. So, in addition to /s/ and /əz/, another allomorph of

“plural” in English seems to be a zero-morph because the plural form of sheep is

actually “sheep þ ø.” When we look at “man þ plural,” we have a vowel change in the word (æ ! ɛ) as the morph that produces the “irregular” plural form men.

There are a number of other morphological processes at work in a language like

English, such asthose involved in the rangeof allomorphs for themorpheme “past tense.”

These include the common pattern in “walk þ past tense” that produces walked or “help þ past tense” for helped. There is also the special pattern that takes “go þ past tense”and produces the “irregular” past form went or “be þ past tense” to give us was and were.

Other languages

When we look at the morphology of other languages, we can find other forms and

patterns realizing the basic types of morphemes we have identified. In the following

examples, from a range of languages originally described in Gleason (1955), we can

try to work out how different forms in the languages are used to realize morphological

processes and features.

Kanuri

This first set of examples is from Kanuri, a language spoken in Nigeria.

From this set, we can propose that the prefix nəm- is a derivational morpheme that

can be used to derive nouns from adjectives. Discovering a regular morphological

feature of this type will enable us to make certain predictions when we encounter

other forms in the language. For example, if the Kanuri word for “length” is nəmkur-

ugu, then we can be reasonably sure that “long” is kurugu.

Adjective Noun

(“excellent”) karite nəmkarite (“excellence”)

(“big”) kura nəmkura (“bigness”)

(“small”) gana nəmgana (“smallness”)

(“bad”) dibi nəmdibi (“badness”)

70 The Study of Language

 

 

Ganda

Different languages also employ different means to produce inflectional marking on

forms. Here are some examples from Ganda, a language spoken in Uganda.

From this small sample, we can observe that there is an inflectional prefix omu- used

with singular nouns, and a different inflectional prefix aba- used with the plural of

those nouns. If you are told that abalenzi is a Ganda plural, meaning “boys,” you

should be able to work out the singular form meaning “boy.” It is, of course,

omulenzi.

Ilocano

When we look at Ilocano, a language of the Philippines, we find a quite different way

of marking plurals.

In these examples, there seems to be repetition of the first part of the singular form.

When the first part is bi- in the singular, the plural begins with this form repeated

bibi-. The process involved here is technically known as reduplication (¼ “repeating all or part of a form”). Having seen how plurals differ from singular forms in Ilocano,

you should be able to take this plural form taltálon (“fields”) and work out what the

singular (“field”) would be. If you follow the observed pattern, you should get tálon.

Tagalog

Here are some examples from Tagalog, another language of the Philippines.

If we assume that the first form in each column can be treated as a stem, then it

appears that, in the second item in each column, an element -um- has been inserted

Singular Plural

(“doctor”) omusawo abasawo (“doctors”)

(“woman”) omukazi abakazi (“women”)

(“girl”) omuwala abawala (“girls”)

(“heir”) omusika abasika (“heirs”)

Singular Plural

(“head”) úlo ulúlo (“heads”)

(“road”) dálan daldálan (“roads”)

(“life”) bı́ag bibı́ag (“lives”)

(“plant”) múla mulmúla (“plants”)

basa (“read”) tawag (“call”) sulat (“write”)

bumasa (“Read!) tumawag (“Call!”) sumulat (“Write!”)

babasa (“will read”) tatawag (“will call”) susulat (“will write”)

Morphology 71

 

 

after the first consonant, or more precisely, after the syllable onset. It is an example of

an infix (described in Chapter 5). In the third example in each column, note that the

change involves a repetition of the first syllable. So, the marking of future reference in

Tagalog is accomplished via reduplication. Using this information, we can complete

these examples:

lakad (“walk”) ____________ (“Walk!”)_______ (“will walk”)

lapit (“come here”)_____ (“Come here!”) ______ (“will come here”)

In the second column, with an infix, we’ll put lumakad and lumapit, while in the

other column, with reduplication, we’ll put lalakad and lalapit. So, next time you’re

in Manila and you hear lumapit!, you’ll know what to do.

72 The Study of Language

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 What are the functional morphemes in the following sentence?

When she walked into the room, the doctor asked me if I had a sore throat or an

annoying cough.

2 (i) List the bound morphemes in these words: fearlessly, happier, misleads,

previewer, shortening, unreconstructed

(ii) Which of these words has a bound stem: consist, deceive, introduce, repeat?

(iii) Which of these words contains an allomorph of the morpheme “past tense”:

are, have, must, sitting, waits?

3 What are the inflectional morphemes in these expressions?

(a) Have you eaten yet?

(b) Do you know how long I’ve been waiting?

(c) She’s younger than me and always dresses in the latest style.

(d) We looked through my grandmother’s old photo albums.

(e) My parents’ parents were all from Scotland.

4 What are the allomorphs of the morpheme “plural” in this set of English words?

criteria, dogs, oxen, deer, judges, stimuli

5 In Indonesian, the singular form translating “child” is anak and the plural form

(“children”) is anakanak. What is the term used to describe this relationship?

6 Provide equivalent forms, in the languages listed, for the English translations

shown on the right below.

TASKS

A What is “suppletion”? Were there any examples of English suppletive forms

described in this chapter?

B The selection of appropriate allomorphs is based on three different effects: lexical

conditioning, morphological conditioning or phonological conditioning. What type

of conditioning do you think is involved in the relationship between the words in

each of the following pairs?

Ganda omuloŋgo (“twin”) – (“twins”) _______ Ilocano tawtáwa (“windows”) – (“window”) _______

Ilocano tálon (“field”) – (“fields”) _______

Kanuri nəmkəǰi (“sweetness”) – (“sweet”) _______

Tagalog bili (“buy”) – (“will buy”) _______

Tagalog kain (“eat”) – (“Eat!”) _______

Morphology 73

 

 

(1) stitch – stitches

(2) exclaim – exclamation

(3) child – children

(4) conclude – conclusion

(5) cliff – cliffs

(6) tooth – teeth

C What are enclitics and proclitics? Does English have both? What are some typical

English examples? Why aren’t they just called affixes?

D Look over the following examples from Hungarian (based on Frommer and

Finegan, 2012: 3) and try to answer the questions that follow.

(i) Did you complete the example in (10)?

(ii) What are the five free (adjective) morphemes in the data?

(iii) What are the four pronouns? Are these lexical or functional morphemes?

(iv) What are the three verb suffixes? Are these derivational or inflectional suffixes?

(v) What are the two adjective suffixes? What do you think is the basis for

choosing one or the other?

E Using what you learned about Swahili and information provided in the set of

examples below, create appropriate forms as translations of the English expressions

(1–6) that follow.

(1) (“She loved you”)

(2) (“I will cook them”)

(3) (“You will pass by”)

(4) (“We paid him”)

(5) (“She will beat me”)

(6) (“They left”)

F These examples are from Samoan, as reported in Yu (2007: 24), and based on Mosel

and Hovdhaugen (1992). (The consonant represented by ʔ is a glottal stop, as

described in Chapter 3.)

(1) te szép vagy “you’re beautiful” (singular)

(2) én beteg vagyok “I’m ill”

(3) te magas vagy “you’re tall” (singular)

(4) mi lankadtak vagyunk “we’re tired”

(5) ti kedvesek vagytok “you’re nice” (plural)

(6) ti betegek vagytok “you’re ill” (plural)

(7) mi magasak vagyunk “we’re tall”

(8) te kedves vagy “you’re nice” (singular)

(9) én lankadt vagyok “I’m tired”

(10) __ ______ _____ “you’re beautiful” (plural)

nitakupenda (“I will love you”) alipita (“She passed by”)

watanilipa (“They will pay me”) uliwapika (“You cooked them”)

tutaondoka (“We will leave”) walimpiga (“They beat him”)

74 The Study of Language

 

 

(i) What is the morphological process involved here and where exactly does it

take place in the word form?

(ii) What would be the plural of avága (“elope”), má (“ashamed”), maʔalı́li

(“cold”) and toʔúlu (“fall”)?

G Using what you learned about Tagalog, plus information from the set

of examples here, create appropriate forms of these verbs for

(1–10) below.

basag (“break”), bili (“buy”), hanap (“look for”), kain (“eat”)

H Regular nouns in Tamasheq (spoken in north-west Africa) have different forms

when they are singular or plural, masculine or feminine.

(i) Using the general patterns in the examples listed here (based on Sudlow,

2001), fill in the missing words to complete the chart.

(ii) Can you describe the general patterns found here relating singular to plural

forms of the same noun?

(iii) Are the affixes involved derivational or inflectional? Is there a special

term for affixes that have the structure illustrated in most of the plural

nouns here?

Singular Plural

(“love”) alófa alolófa

(“clever”) atamái atamamái

(“work”) galúe galulúe

(“brave”) tóa totóa

(“Write!”) sumulat (“Call!”) tumawag

(“was written”) sinulat (“was called”) tinawag

(“is writing”) sumusulat (“is calling”) tumatawag

(“is being written”) sinusulat (is being called”) tinatawag

(1) (“Buy!”) __________

(2) (“was bought”) __________

(3) (“was broken”) __________

(4) (“was looked for”) __________

(5) (“is looking for”) __________

(6) (“is eating”) __________

(7) (“is breaking”) __________

(8) (“is being broken”) __________

(9) (“is being looked for”) __________

(10) (“is being eaten”) __________

Morphology 75

 

 

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I In English, plural forms such as mice appear to be treated in a different

way from plurals such as rats. If you tell people that a place is infested with mice

or rats, they will accept the compounds mice-infested and rat-infested, but not

*rats-infested. This would suggest that the forms which have the regular plural affix

(-s) follow a different rule in compounding than irregular plural forms such as

mice. Can you think of a way to state a rule (or sequence of rules) that would

accommodate all the examples given here? (The asterisk * designates an

unacceptable form.)

(For background reading, see chapter 6 of Pinker, 1999.)

Singular Plural

amadray (younger brother) imadrayan (younger brothers)

amanokal (chief) imanokalan (chiefs)

amawad (adolescent boy) imawadan (adolescent boys)

amaqqar (older brother) ________ (older brothers)

amaraw (parent) ________ (parents)

anharag (male neighbor) ________ (male neighbors)

enhad (craftsman) inhadan (craftsmen)

esed (donkey) isedan (donkeys)

esen (tooth) ________ (teeth)

tabarart (female child) tibararen (female children)

tagolayt (stepdaughter) tigolayen (stepdaughters)

tahayawt (female descendant) ________ (female descendants)

tamadrayt (younger sister) _________ (younger sisters)

tamagart (female guest) _________ (female guests)

tamaqqart (older sister) _________ (older sisters)

___________ (spoon) tisokalen (spoons)

___________ (concubine) tiwayhaten (concubines)

___________ (road) zabotan (roads)

___________ (market) hebutan (markets)

bahu (lie) bahutan (lies)

bokəti (bucket) bokətitan (buckets)

teethmarks the feet-cruncher lice-infested a people-mover

clawmarks the finger-cruncher roach-infested a dog-mover

*clawsmarks *the fingers-cruncher *roaches-infested *a dogs-mover

76 The Study of Language

 

 

II In Turkish, there is some variation in the plural inflection.

(i) Can you provide the missing forms?

(ii) What are the two plural morphs exemplified here?

(iii) Treat the written forms of a and o as representing back vowels and e and i as

representing front vowels. Using this information, can you state the

conditions under which each of the plural morphs is used?

(iv) On the basis of the following phrases, how would you describe the Turkish

translation equivalents of your and the conditions for their use?

(v) While English usually marks location with prepositions (in a house or at a

place), Turkish has postpositions (house-in or place-at). After looking at the

following examples, try to identify the three versions of the “location” suffix

and the conditions for their use.

dishin (“your tooth”) topun (“your gun”)

okun (“your arrow”) dersin (“your lesson”)

kushun (“your bird”) kibritlerin (“your matches”)

(“book”) kitap – kitapta (“in a book”)

(“chair”) koltuk – koltukta (“in a chair”)

(“room”) oda – odada (“in a room”)

(“restaurant”) lokanta – lokantada (“in a restaurant”)

(“house”) ev – evde (“in a house”)

(“place”) yer – yerlerde (“in places”)

(“hand”) el – ellerimde (“in my hands”)

(“road”) yol – yollarda (“in roads)

Singular Plural

(“man”) adam – adamlar (“men”)

(“gun”) ________ – toplar (“guns”)

(“lesson”) ders – ________ (“lessons”)

(“place”) yer – yerler (“places”)

(“road”) _______ – yollar (“roads”)

(“lock”) _______ – kilitler (“locks”)

(“arrow”) ok – ________ (“arrows”)

(“hand”) el – ________ (“hands”)

(“arm”) kol – ________ (“arms”)

(“bell”) ________ – ziller (“bells”)

(“friend”) ________ – dostlar (“friends”)

(“apple”) elma – ________ (“apples”)

Morphology 77

 

 

(vi) When Turkish speakers borrowed (from French) the word randevu,

meaning “an appointment,” how do you think they expressed “in an

appointment”?

(For more examples, see Gleason, 1955. For more on Turkish, see Lewis, 2000.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Aronoff, M. and K. Fudeman (2005) What is Morphology? Blackwell

Payne, T. (2006) Exploring Language Structure (chapters 1–3) Cambridge University Press

More detailed treatments

Bauer, L. (2003) Introducing Linguistic Morphology (2nd edition) Edinburgh University Press

Booij, G. (2012) The Grammar of Words: An Introduction to Morphology (3rd edition) Oxford

University Press

Specifically on English morphology

Carstairs-McCarthy, A. (2002) An Introduction to English Morphology Edinburgh University

Press

Reduplication

Inkelas, S. and C. Zoll (2009) Reduplication: Doubling in Morphology Cambridge University

Press

Morphology exercises

Language Files (2011) (11th edition) Ohio State University Press

Lieber, R. (2010) Introducing Morphology Cambridge University Press

Other references

Frommer, P. and E. Finegan (2012) Looking at Languages (5th edition) Wadsworth

Gleason, H. (1955) Workbook in Descriptive Linguistics Holt

Lewis, G. (2000) Turkish Grammar (2nd edition) Oxford University Press

Mosel, U. and E. Hovdhaugen (1992) Samoan Reference Grammar Scandinavian University

Press

Pinker, S. (1999) Words and Rules HarperCollins

Sudlow, D. (2001) The Tamasheq of North-East Burkina Faso. R. Köppe Verlag

Yu, A. (2007) A Natural History of Infixation Oxford University Press

78 The Study of Language

 

 

CHAPTER 7

Grammar

Diagramming sentences is one of those lost skills, like darning socks or playing the

sackbut, that no one seems to miss. When it was introduced in an 1877 text called Higher

Lessons in English by Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg, it swept through American public

schools like measles, embraced by teachers as the way to reform students who were

engaged in (to take Henry Higgins slightly out of context) “the cold-blooded murder of

the English tongue.”

Florey (2006)

We have already looked at two levels of description used in the study of language.

We have described linguistic expressions as sequences of sounds that can be

represented in the phonetic alphabet and described in terms of their features. That is,

we can identify a voiced fricative /ð/, a voiceless stop /k/ and a diphthong /ɔɪ/ as

segments in the transcription of a phrase such as /ðəlʌkibɔɪz/.

We can take the same expression and describe it as a sequence of morphemes.

With these descriptions, we could characterize all the words and phrases of a

language in terms of their phonology and morphology.

the luck -y boy -s

functional lexical derivational lexical inflectional

 

 

English grammar

However, we have not accounted for the fact that the three words in this phrase can

only be combined in a particular sequence. We recognize that the phrase the lucky

boys is a well-formed phrase in contemporary English, but that the following two

“phrases” are not at all well-formed.

(We use an asterisk * to indicate that a form is unacceptable or ungrammatical.)

From these examples, we can see that English has strict rules for combining words

into phrases. The article (the) must go before the adjective (lucky), which must go

before the noun (boys). So, in order to be grammatical, this type of phrase must have the

sequence article þ adjective þ noun (and not *noun þ article þ adjective, for example). The process of describing the structure of phrases and sentences in such a way

that we account for all the grammatical sequences in a language and rule out all the

ungrammatical sequences is one way of defining the grammar of a language. It is the

kind of definition assumed when we talk about the grammar of English as opposed to

the grammar of Swahili, Tagalog or Turkish. As illustrated in Chapter 6, each of these

languages has different ways of forming grammatical phrases and sentences. Studying

grammar in this way has a very long tradition.

Traditional grammar

The terms “article,” “adjective” and “noun” that we use to label the grammatical

categories of the words in the phrase the lucky boys come from traditional grammar,

which has its origins in the description of languages such as Latin and Greek. Indeed,

the expression “grammar school” was originally used exclusively for an institution

where Latin was taught. Since there was a well-established grammatical description of

Latin, based on earlier analyses of Greek, it seemed appropriate to adopt the existing

categories from this description and apply them in the analysis of newer languages

such as English. Because Latin and Greek were the languages of philosophy, religion

and scholarship, the description of the grammatical components of these languages

was taken to be the best model for other grammars. We have inherited a number of

terms from the model that are used in describing those basic grammatical compon-

ents, known as the “parts of speech,” and how they connect to each other in terms of

“agreement.”

The parts of speech

Each part of speech, or word class, is illustrated in the following sentence and simple

definitions of each technical term are listed below.

*boys the lucky *lucky boys the

80 The Study of Language

 

 

Nouns are words used to refer to people (boy), objects (backpack), creatures (dog),

places (school), qualities (roughness), phenomena (earthquake) and abstract

ideas (love) as if they were all “things.” We begin proper nouns with a capital

letter (Cathy, Latin, Rome).

Articles are words (a, an, the) used with nouns to form noun phrases classifying

those “things” (You can have a banana or an apple) or identifying them as

already known (I’ll take the apple).

Adjectives are words used, typically with nouns, to provide more information about

the things referred to (large objects, a strange experience).

Verbs are words used to refer to various kinds of actions (go, talk) and states (be,

have) involving people and things in events (Jessica is ill and has a sore throat so

she can’t talk or go anywhere).

Adverbs are words used, typically with verbs, to provide more information about

actions, states and events (slowly, yesterday). Some adverbs (really, very) are

also used with adjectives to modify information about things (Really large

objects move slowly. I had a very strange experience yesterday).

Prepositions are words (at, in, on, near, with, without) used with nouns in phrases

providing information about time (at five o’clock, in the morning), place (on the

table, near the window) and other connections (with a knife, without a thought)

involving actions and things.

Pronouns are words (she, herself, they, it, you) used in place of noun phrases,

typically referring to people and things already known (She talks to herself.

They said it belonged to you).

Conjunctions are words (and, but, because, when) used to make connections and

indicate relationships between events (Chantel’s husband was so sweet and he

helped her a lot because she couldn’t do much when she was pregnant).

Agreement

In addition to the terms used for the parts of speech, traditional grammatical analysis

has also given us a number of other categories, including “number,” “person,”

“tense,” “voice” and “gender.” These categories can be discussed in isolation, but

their role in describing language structure becomes clearer when we consider them in

terms of agreement. For example, we say that the verb loves “agrees with” the noun

Cathy in the sentence Cathy loves her dog.

the park and they opened it carefully

article noun conjunction pronoun verb pronoun adverb

The lucky boys found a backpack in

article adjective noun verb article noun preposition

Grammar 81

 

 

This agreement is partially based on the category of number, that is, whether

the noun is singular or plural. It is also based on the category of person, which

covers the distinctions of first person (involving the speaker), second person

(involving the hearer) and third person (involving any others). The different forms

of English pronouns can be described in terms of person and number. We use I for

first person singular, you for second person singular, and he, she, it (or Cathy) for

third person singular. So, in the sentence Cathy loves her dog, we have a noun

Cathy, which is third person singular, and we use the verb loves (not love) to “agree

with” the noun.

In addition, the form of the verb must be described in terms of another category

called tense. In this case, the verb loves is in the present tense, which is different from

the past tense (loved). The sentence is also in the active voice, describing what Cathy

does (i.e. she performs the action of the verb). An alternative would be the passive

voice, which can be used to describe what happens to Cathy (i.e. she doesn’t perform

the action), as in Cathy is loved by her dog or just Cathy is loved.

Our final category is gender, which helps us describe the agreement between

Cathy and her in our example sentence. In English, we have to describe this relation-

ship in terms of natural gender, mainly derived from a biological distinction between

male and female. The agreement between Cathy and her is based on a distinction

made in English between reference to female entities (she, her), male entities (he, his)

and things or creatures, when the sex is unknown or irrelevant (it, its).

Figure 7.1 shows the basis of the agreement between Cathy and loves, and also

between Cathy and her in the same sentence.

Grammatical gender

The type of biological distinction based on “natural gender” in English is quite different

from the more common distinction found in languages that use grammatical gender.

Whereas natural gender is based on sex (male and female), grammatical gender is

based on the type of noun (masculine and feminine) and is not tied to sex. In this latter

sense, nouns are classified according to their gender class and, typically, articles and

adjectives have different forms to “agree with” the gender of the noun.

female gender

cathy loves her dog

third person singular, present tense, active voice

Figure 7.1

82 The Study of Language

 

 

Spanish, for example, has two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine,

illustrated by the expressions el sol (“the sun”) and la luna (“the moon”). German

uses three genders, masculine der Mond (“the moon”), feminine die Sonne (“the

sun”) and neuter das Feuer (“the fire”). The different forms of the articles in both

the Spanish (el or la) and German (der, die or das) examples correspond to differences

in the gender class of the nouns.

We should emphasize that this gender distinction is not based on a distinction in

sex. A young girl is biologically female, but the German noun das Mädchen used to

talk about her is grammatically neuter. The French noun in le livre (“the book”) is

grammatically masculine, but neither we nor the French people consider a book to be

biologically male. Grammatical gender is a very important category for the description

of a number of languages (including Latin), but not for other languages such as

English. (For more on gender, see Chapter 20.)

Traditional analysis

The notion of appropriateness of analytic categories for a particular language has not

always been a consideration. In traditional grammar books, tables such as the

following were often presented for the analysis of English verbs, constructed by

analogy with tables in Latin grammar, in this case for the verb amare (“to love”).

Each of the Latin verb forms is different, according to the categories of person

and number, yet the English verb forms are (with one exception) mostly the

same. Thus, in Latin, these descriptive categories characterize verb forms, but they

don’t really describe different verb forms in English. In English, it makes more sense

to say the categories can be used to describe different forms of pronouns or nouns.

The prescriptive approach

It is one thing to adopt the grammatical labels (e.g. “noun,” “verb”) to categorize

words in English sentences; it is quite another thing to go on to claim that the

structure of English sentences should be like the structure of sentences in Latin. That

was an approach taken by a number of influential grammarians, mainly in eighteenth-

century England, who set out rules for the “proper” use of English. This view of

grammar as a set of rules for the proper use of a language is still to be found today and

First person singular (I) love amo

Present tense, active voice Second person singular (you) love amas

Third person singular (she) loves amat

First person plural (we) love amamus

Second person plural (you) love amatis

Third person plural (they) love amant

Grammar 83

 

 

may be best characterized as the prescriptive approach. Some familiar examples of

prescriptive rules for English sentences are:

You must not split an infinitive

You must not end a sentence with a preposition

Following these types of rules, traditional teachers would correct sentences like Who

did you go with? to With whom did you go? (making sure that the preposition with was

not at the end of the sentence). And Mary runs faster than me would be corrected to

Mary runs faster than I. And, in proper English writing, one should never begin a

sentence with and!

It may, in fact, be a valuable part of one’s education to be made aware of this

“linguistic etiquette” for the use of language in certain contexts. Yet it is worth

considering the origins of some of these rules and asking whether they have to be

followed in English. Let’s look at one example: “You must not split an infinitive.”

Captain Kirk’s infinitive

The infinitive in English has the form to þ the base form of the verb, as in to go, and can be used with an adverb such as boldly. At the beginning of each of the older televised

Star Trek episodes, one of the main characters, Captain Kirk, always used the expres-

sion To boldly go . . . This is an example of a split infinitive. Captain Kirk’s teacher might

have expected him to say To go boldly or Boldly to go, so that the adverb didn’t split the

infinitive. If Captain Kirk had been a Roman space traveler, speaking Latin, he would

have used the expressions ire (“to go”) and audacter (“boldly”). Now, in saying Ire

audacter . . . in Latin, Capitaneus Kirkus would not even have the opportunity to split

his infinitive (ire), because Latin infinitives are single words and just do not split.

If it is a typical feature of the use of English that speakers and writers regularly

produce forms such as to boldly go, to solemnly swear or to never ever get back

together, then we may simply wish to note that there are structures in English that

differ from those found in Latin, rather than think of the English forms as “bad”

because they don’t follow a rule of Latin grammar.

The descriptive approach

It may be that using a well-established grammatical description of Latin is a useful

guide for some European languages (e.g. Italian or Spanish), is less useful for others

(e.g. English), and may be absolutely misleading if you are trying to describe some

non-European languages. This last point became clear to those linguists who were

trying to describe the structure of the native languages of North America toward the

end of the nineteenth century. Because the categories and rules of Latin grammar did

not seem to fit these languages, a rather different method, called the descriptive

84 The Study of Language

 

 

approach, was adopted. Analysts collected samples of the language they were inter-

ested in and attempted to describe the regular structures of that language as it was

used, not according to some view of how it should be used.

Structural analysis

One type of descriptive approach is called structural analysis and its main concern is

to investigate the distribution of forms in a language. The method involves the use of

“test-frames,” which can be sentences with empty slots in them.

The _______________ makes a lot of noise.

I heard a _______________ yesterday.

There are a lot of forms that can fit into these slots to produce good grammatical

sentences of English (e.g. car, child, donkey, dog, radio). As a result, we can propose

that, because all these forms fit in the same test-frame, they are likely to be examples

of the same grammatical category, traditionally described as “noun.”

However, there are many forms that do not fit those test-frames. Examples would

be Cathy, someone, the dog, a car, and many others. (That is, we wouldn’t say *The

Cathy or *The the dog.) For these forms, we require different test-frames:

_______________ makes a lot of noise.

I heard _______________ yesterday.

Among other forms that comfortably fit these test-frames are it, the big dog, an old car,

Ani Difranco, the professor with the Scottish accent, and many other examples of the

same grammatical category, traditionally described as “noun phrase.”

Observing that it fits in this second set of test-frames, and not in the first set (*The

it makes a lot of noise), allows us to improve on the older, Latin-influenced, analysis

of pronouns in English. In the older analysis, pronouns were described as “words

used in place of nouns.” We can now see that it is more accurate to say that pronouns

are used in place of noun phrases (not just nouns).

Constituent analysis

An approach with the same descriptive aims is called constituent analysis. The

technique employed in this approach is designed to show how small constituents

(or components) go together to form larger constituents. One basic step is determin-

ing how words go together to form phrases. In the following sentence, we can identify

nine constituents at the word level: An old man brought a shotgun to the wedding.

How do those nine constituents go together to form constituents at the phrase level?

Does it seem appropriate to put the words together as follows?

An old man brought brought a shotgun to to the

Grammar 85

 

 

We don’t normally think of these combinations as phrases in English. We are more

likely to say that the phrase-like constituents here are combinations of the following

types: an old man, a shotgun, the wedding (noun phrases), to the wedding (a

prepositional phrase), and brought a shotgun (a verb phrase).

This analysis of the constituent structure of the sentence can be represented in a

diagram (Figure 7.2) showing the distribution of the constituents at different levels.

Using this kind of diagram we can determine the types of forms that can be

substituted for each other at different levels of constituent structure (Figure 7.3).

One advantage of this type of analysis is that it shows rather clearly that proper

nouns or names (Gwen, Kingston) and pronouns (I, him, her), though they are single

words, can be used as noun phrases and fill the same constituent space as longer

phrases (e.g. an old man or the woman).

Labeled and bracketed sentences

An alternative type of diagram is designed to show how the constituents in sentence

structure can be marked off by using labeled brackets. The first step is to put brackets

(one on each side) round each constituent, and then more brackets round each

combination of constituents, as in Figure 7.4:

With this procedure, the different constituents of the sentence are shown at the

word level [the] or [dog], at the phrase level [the dog], or [loved the girl], and at the

sentence level [The dog loved the girl].

An man brought to the weddinga shotgunold

Figure 7.2

An

The

old man

woman

Gwen took

kept

brought a shotgun

large snake

Kingston

recently

her

the

a

wedding

cage

with

to

in

him

a

sawI

Figure 7.3

[The] [dog] [loved] [the] [girl]

Figure 7.4

86 The Study of Language

 

 

We can then label each constituent using these abbreviated grammatical terms:

In Figure 7.5, these labels are placed beside each bracket that marks the beginning of

a constituent. The result is a labeled and bracketed analysis of the constituent

structure of the sentence.

Hierarchical organization

In performing this type of analysis, we have not only labeled all the constituents, we

have revealed the hierarchical organization of those constituents. In this hierarchy,

the sentence (S) is higher than and contains the noun phrase (NP). The noun phrase

(NP) is higher than and contains the noun (N). We can also see that the sentence (S)

contains a verb phrase (VP), which contains a verb (V) and another noun phrase

(NP). We will return to the important concept of hierarchical organization in

grammatical structure in Chapter 8.

Before moving on, however, we should note that constituent analysis is not only

useful for describing the structure of English sentences. We can take a sample

sentence from a language with a grammatical structure that is really quite different

from English and apply the same type of analysis.

A Gaelic sentence

Here is a sentence from Scottish Gaelic, which would be translated into English as:

“The boy saw the black dog.”

Art (¼ article) V (¼ verb) N (¼ noun) VP (¼ verb phrase) NP (¼ noun phrase) S (¼ sentence)

S

VP

NP NP

Art N V Art N [The] [dog] [loved] [the] [girl]

Figure 7.5

Chunnaic an gille an cu dubh

saw the boy the dog black

Grammar 87

 

 

One obvious difference between the structure of this Gaelic sentence and its English

counterpart is the fact that the verb comes first in the sentence. Another noticeable

feature is that, when an adjective is used, it goes after the noun and not before it. We

can represent these structural observations in a labeled and bracketed diagram

(Figure 7.6).

The diagram in Figure 7.6 makes it clear that this Gaelic sentence is organized

with a V NP NP structure, which is rather different from the NP V NP structure we

found in the English sentence analyzed earlier.

Why study grammar?

It is not, of course, the aim of this type of analysis that we should be able to draw

complicated-looking diagrams in order to impress our friends. The aim is to make

explicit, via the diagram, what we believe to be the structure of grammatical sen-

tences in the language. It also enables us to describe clearly how English sentences are

put together as combinations of phrases that, in turn, are combinations of words. We

can then look at similar descriptions of sentences in other languages such as Gaelic,

Japanese or Spanish and see clearly what structural differences exist. At a very

practical level, it may help us to understand why a Spanish learner of English

produces phrases like *the wine red (instead of the red wine), using a structural

organization of constituents that is possible in Spanish, but not in English.

S

NP NP

V Art N Art N Adj [Chunnaic] [an] [gille] [an] [cu] [dubh]

Figure 7.6

88 The Study of Language

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 What is the difference between grammatical gender and natural gender?

2 What prescriptive rules for the “proper” use of English are not obeyed in the

following sentences and how would they be “corrected”?

(a) The old theory consistently failed to fully explain all the data.

(b) I can’t remember the name of the person I gave the book to.

3 Identify all the parts of speech used in this sentence (e.g. woman ¼ noun): The woman kept a large snake in a cage, but it escaped recently.

4 What was wrong with the older Latin-influenced definition of English pronouns?

5 Given these other Gaelic words, translate the following sentences into English.

(a) Bhuail an gille beag an cu dubh

(b) Chunnaic an cu an duine mor

6 Create a labeled and bracketed analysis of this sentence: The thief stole a wallet.

TASKS

A Another term used in the description of the parts of speech is

“determiner.” What are determiners? How many examples were included in

this chapter?

B In this chapter, we discussed “correction” in grammar. What is “hypercorrection”?

C What is aspect? How is it used in the description of the underlined forms in these

sentences?

I hope no one calls while I’m eating lunch.

She’s writing a story about her dog.

I’ve eaten lunch already, thanks.

She’s written a story about her cat and the cat next door.

I was eating lunch, so I didn’t answer.

She had written a story about her goldfish before that.

As a child, she used to write stories about the insects in the garden.

D What is the basis of the categorization of English verbs as transitive, intransitive or

ditransitive? Can you use this categorization to explain why these sentences are

ungrammatical?

(1) *I thought I had lost my sunglasses, but Ali found in his car.

(2) *Mark didn’t win, but he didn’t care that.

(3) *They had a problem so we discussed.

mor (“big”) beag (“small”) bhuail (“hit”) duine (“man”)

Grammar 89

 

 

(4) *Suzy needed a jacket so I lent mine.

(5) *We’re always waiting you because you’re late.

(6) *I didn’t have a pen so Anne gave one.

(7) *When it’s your birthday, people bring you.

(8) *She smiled me yesterday when I saw her, so I think she really likes.

E All the underlined words in the following sentences are adverbs. On the basis of

these sentences, can you formulate a simple rule of adverb position in English that

would exclude the ungrammatical forms?

(1) Do you usually wake up hungry?

(2) Normally I don’t eat breakfast.

(3) I’d rather sleep longer.

(4) I always have a cup of green tea to start my day.

(5) I’ll have some fruit juice occasionally.

(6) Of course I’m often starving by lunchtime.

(7) *I might have later a small snack or something.

(8) *If I feel tired, I’ll drink sometimes coffee at work.

F If people typically say little plastic forks (and not plastic little forks), there must

be a preferred order of adjectives before nouns in the grammar of English. In this

case, the adjective describing the size (little) goes before the adjective describing

the material (plastic) of the noun (forks). How are other categories of adjectives

ordered?

(i) Using the underlined examples in the following sentences, identify the other

categories and complete the chart to capture the preferred order of descriptive

adjectives in evidence here.

(ii) If we wanted to add those adjectives that express a subjective “opinion” to the

chart (e.g. beautiful, cute, horrible), where would we put them relative to the

other types?

(1) Japanese silk scarves were very popular for many years.

(2) The plant has small round pink flowers.

(3) The recent European results were not very encouraging.

(4) They had uncovered some ancient square stones with carvings on them.

(5) It looked like squiggly Arabic writing on the back of the card.

(6) She was wearing a white cotton blouse with a short green skirt.

(7) Her ring had an oval red ruby surrounded by tiny wedge-shaped

diamonds.

(8) Eric still drives that big old American car.

(9) The windows had dated Victorian-style lace curtains.

(10) I was wearing my brand-new black leather shoes.

(11) Yuri works downtown in one of those huge modern glass buildings.

(12) The best bowls have circular blue Chinese designs in the middle.

90 The Study of Language

 

 

G As studied in language typology, the grammars of different languages can be

distinguished in terms of their basic structural organization. For example, the

structural analysis of a basic English sentence (NP þ V þ NP) is often described as “Subject Verb Object” or SVO. The basic sentence order in a Gaelic sentence

(V þ NP þ NP) is described as “Verb Subject Object” or VSO. (i) After looking at the following examples (based on Inoue, 1979), would you

describe the basic sentence order in these Japanese sentences as SVO or VSO or

something else?

(ii) Given the forms tabemashita (“ate”), ringo (“apple”) and -ni (“in”), how would

you translate these two sentences: Jack ate an apple and John is in school?

(1)

(2)

(3)

(4)

H The sample sentences below are from (i) Latin and (ii) Amuzgo, a language of

Mexico (adapted from Merrifield et al., 2003).

1 Using what you have learned about Latin, carefully translate this sentence: The

doves love the small girl.

2 How would you write A big woman is reading the red book in Amuzgo?

3 In terms of basic sentence order, which of these languages is most similar to

Amuzgo: English, Gaelic, Japanese or Latin?

SIZE MATERIAL

little plastic

Jakku-ga gakkoo-e ikimasu

Jack school to go

(“Jack goes to school”)

Kazuko-ga gakkoo-de eigo-o naratte imasu

Kazuko school at English learn be

(“Kazuko is learning English at school”)

Masuda-ga tegami-o kakimasu

Masuda letter write

(“Masuda writes a letter”)

Jon-ga shinbun-o yomimasu

John newspaper read

(“John reads a newspaper”)

Grammar 91

 

 

(i) Latin

(ii) Amuzgo

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I In this chapter, we briefly mentioned the grammatical category of tense and

illustrated the difference between past tense (loved) and present tense (loves). Using

the examples below, and any others that you think are relevant, try to describe the

“future tense” in English.

(1) We may forgive, but we shall never forget.

(2) We’ll leave if you want.

(3) Jenny’s arriving at eight o’clock tonight.

(4) Your plane leaves at noon tomorrow.

(5) They were about to leave when I got there.

(6) We’re going to visit Paris next year.

(7) She said Jim was leaving next Wednesday.

(8) I wish I had a million dollars.

(9) The president is to visit Japan in May.

(10) Water will freeze at zero degrees centigrade.

(For background reading, see the section on “Future” in Hurford, 1994.)

II In the descriptive approach, “ungrammatical” simply means “not well-formed”

in purely structural terms. However, the word “ungrammatical” is also used with a

more general meaning. Which of the following sentences should be considered

“ungrammatical” in your opinion and why?

(1) There’s hundreds of students waiting outside.

(2) Who’s there? It’s me and Lisa.

(3) Ain’t nobody gonna tell me what to do.

(4) You wasn’t here when he come looking for you.

(5) I hate lobsters anymore.

(6) Are y’all coming to see us soon?

puellae aquilas portant “The girls carry the eagles”

feminae columbas amant “The women love the doves”

puella aquilam salvat “The girl saves the eagle”

femina parvam aquilam liberat “The woman frees the small eagle”

magna aquila parvam columbam

pugnat

“The big eagle fights the small dove”

macei’na tyocho kwi com “The boy is reading a book”

kwil’a yonom kwi w’aa “The men are building a house”

nnceihnda yusku kwi com we “The woman will buy a red book”

kwil’a yonom ndee meisa “The men are making three tables”

macei’na kwi tyocho com t’ma “A boy is reading the big book”

92 The Study of Language

 

 

(7) That chair’s broke, so you shouldn’t ought to sit on it.

(8) I can’t remember the name of the hotel that we stayed in it.

(9) I never seen anything.

(10) If you’d have come with, we’d have had more fun.

(For background reading, see chapter 8 of Napoli and Lee-Schoenfeld, 2010.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Altenberg, E. and R. Vago (2010) English Grammar: Understanding the Basics Cambridge

University Press

Swan, M. (2005) Grammar Oxford University Press

More detailed treatments

Hurford, J. (1994) Grammar: A Student’s Guide Cambridge University Press

Kroeger, P. (2005) Analyzing Grammar: An Introduction Cambridge University Press

Grammatical terms

Peters, P. (2013) The Cambridge Dictionary of English Grammar Cambridge University Press

On the prescriptive approach

Cameron, D. (1995) Verbal Hygiene Routledge

Pullum, G. (2009) “50 years of stupid grammar advice” The Chronicle of Higher Education:

The Chronicle Review 55 (32): B15. Available online at http://chronicle.com Section:

The Chronicle Review volume 55, issue 32, page B15

Constituent analysis

Payne, T. (2006) Exploring Language Structure (chapter 6) Cambridge University Press

Gaelic sentence structure

Brown, K. and J. Miller (1991) Syntax: A Linguistic Introduction to Sentence Structure

(2nd edition) Routledge

English grammar courses

Celce-Murcia, M. and D. Larsen-Freeman (1999) The Grammar Book (2nd edition) Heinle &

Heinle

Yule, G. (1998) Explaining English Grammar Oxford University Press

English reference grammars

Huddleston, R. and G. Pullum (2005) A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar Cambridge

University Press

Quirk, R., S. Greenbaum, G. Leech and J. Svartvik (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the

English Language Longman

Other references

Inoue, K. (1979) “Japanese” In T. Shopen (ed.) Languages and Their Speakers (241–300)

Winthrop Publishers

Merrifield, W., C. Naish, C. Rensch and G. Story (2003) Laboratory Manual for Morphology and

Syntax (7th edition) Summer Institute of Linguistics

Napoli, D. and L. Lee-Schoenfeld (2010) Language Matters (2nd edition) Oxford University Press

Grammar 93

 

 

CHAPTER 8

Syntax

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

Oettinger (1966)

In an early observation on the difficulties of getting computers to process natural

language, Anthony Oettinger used the example above to illustrate how we tend

to interpret sentences based on an expected structure and when we arrive at a

problematic interpretation, we are able to go back and try to use a different

structure. This process brings to light the importance of recognizing the underlying

structure of sentences in order to make sense of them. If we keep thinking that the

structure of the second expression is the same as the first in the example, we’ll

miss something.

In Chapter 7, we moved from the general categories of traditional grammar to

more specific methods of describing the structure of phrases and sentences. When we

concentrate on the structure and ordering of components within a sentence, we are

studying the syntax of a language. The word “syntax” comes originally from Greek

and literally means “a putting together” or “arrangement.” In earlier approaches,

there was an attempt to produce an accurate description of the sequence or ordering

“arrangement” of elements in the linear structure of the sentence. In more recent

attempts to analyze structure, there has been a greater focus on the underlying rule

system that we use to produce or “generate” sentences.

 

 

Syntactic rules

When we set out to provide an analysis of the syntax of a language, we try to

adhere to the “all and only” criterion. This means that our analysis must account

for all the grammatically correct phrases and sentences and only those grammat-

ically correct phrases and sentences in whatever language we are analyzing. In

other words, if we write rules for the creation of well-formed structures, we have to

check that those rules, when applied logically, won’t also lead to ill-formed

structures.

For example, we might say informally that, in English, we put a preposition

(near) before a noun (London) to form a prepositional phrase (near London). This

will describe a large number of phrases, but does it describe all (and only) the

prepositional phrases in English? Note that, if we use this as a rule of the grammar to

create structures involving a preposition and a noun, we will end up producing

phrases like *near tree or *with dog. These don’t seem to be well-formed English

structures, so we mark them with an asterisk *, indicating that they are

ungrammatical.

We clearly need to be more careful in forming the rule that underlies the structure

of prepositional phrases in English. We might have more success with a rule stating

that we put a preposition before a noun phrase (not just a noun). In Chapter 7, we saw

that a noun phrase can consist of a proper noun (London), a pronoun (you) or the

combination of an article (a, the) with a noun (tree, dog), so that the revised rule can

be used to produce these well-formed structures: near London, with you, near a tree,

with the dog.

A generative grammar

When we have an effective rule such as “a prepositional phrase in English consists

of a preposition followed by a noun phrase,” we can imagine an extremely large

number of English phrases that could be produced using this rule. In fact, the

potential number is unlimited. This reflects another goal of syntactic analysis, which

is to have a small and finite (i.e. limited) set of rules that will be capable of

producing a large and potentially infinite (i.e. unlimited) number of well-formed

structures. This small and finite set of rules is sometimes described as a generative

grammar because it can be used to “generate” or produce sentence structures and

not just describe them.

This type of grammar should also be capable of revealing the basis of two other

phenomena: first, how some superficially different phrases and sentences are closely

related and, second, how some superficially similar phrases and sentences are in fact

different.

Syntax 95

 

 

Deep and surface structure

Our intuitions tell us that there must be some underlying similarity involving these

two superficially different sentences: Charlie broke the window and The window was

broken by Charlie. In traditional grammar, the first is called an active sentence,

focusing on what Charlie did, and the second is a passive sentence, focusing on The

window and what happened to it. The distinction between them is a difference in their

surface structure, that is, the different syntactic forms they have as individual

English sentences. However, this superficial difference in form disguises the fact that

the two sentences are very closely related, even identical, at some less superficial

level.

This other “underlying” level, where the basic components (Noun Phrase þ Verb þ Noun Phrase) shared by the two sentences can be represented, is called their deep

structure. The deep structure is an abstract level of structural organization in which

all the elements determining structural interpretation are represented. That same deep

structure can be the source of many other surface structures such as It was Charlie

who broke the window and Was the window broken by Charlie?. In short, the grammar

must be capable of showing how a single underlying abstract representation can

become different surface structures.

Structural ambiguity

Let’s say we have two distinct deep structures. One expresses the idea that “Annie had

an umbrella and she bumped into a man with it.” The other expresses the idea that

“Annie bumped into a man and the man happened to be carrying an umbrella.” Now,

these two different versions of events can actually be expressed in the same surface

structure form: Annie bumped into a man with an umbrella. This sentence provides

an example of structural ambiguity. It has two distinct underlying interpretations

that have to be represented differently in deep structure. Note that this is not the type

of ambiguity that we experience in hearing Their child has grown another foot, which

illustrates lexical ambiguity mainly because the word foot has more than one meaning

(see Chapter 9).

The comedian Groucho Marx knew how to have fun with structural ambiguity. In

the film Animal Crackers, he first says I once shot an elephant in my pajamas, then

follows it with How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know. In the non-funny

interpretation, part of the underlying structure of the first sentence could be some-

thing like: “I shot an elephant (while I was) in my pajamas.” In the other (ho, ho)

interpretation, part of the underlying structure would be something like: “I shot an

elephant (which was) in my pajamas.” There are two different underlying structures

with the same surface structure.

96 The Study of Language

 

 

Tree diagrams

One of the best ways to create a visual representation of underlying syntactic structure

is through tree diagrams. We can use the symbols introduced in Chapter 7 (Art ¼ article, N ¼ noun, NP ¼ noun phrase) to label parts of the tree when we create a representation of how each part fits into the underlying hierarchical structure of

phrases and sentences. The information in a labeled and bracketed phrase, on the

left, can be expressed in a tree diagram, on the right, as shown in Figure 8.1.

Although this kind of “tree,” with its “branches,” on the right, seems to grow

down rather than up, it functions rather well as a diagram representing all the

grammatical information found in the other analysis on the left. It also shows very

explicitly that there are different levels in the analysis. That is, there is a level of

analysis at which a constituent such as NP is represented and a different, lower, level

at which a constituent such as N is represented.

We can use a similar tree diagram to represent the structure of an English verb

phrase (VP), as shown in Figure 8.2.

Tree diagram of an English sentence

We can now put together the structure of a whole sentence, hierarchically organ-

ized, as shown below in Figure 8.3. We start at the top of the tree diagram with (S)

and divide it into two constituents (NP and VP). In turn, the NP constituent is

NP NP

Art N Art N

[The] [girl]

The girl

Figure 8.1

VP

V NP

Art N

saw a dog

Figure 8.2

Syntax 97

 

 

divided into two other constituents (Art and N). Finally, one word is selected that

fits the label Art (the) and another that fits N (girl). You can go through the same

procedure with the VP branches.

Symbols used in syntactic analysis

We have already encountered some symbols that are used as abbreviations for

syntactic categories. Examples are “S” (¼ sentence), “NP” (¼ noun phrase), “N” (¼ noun), “Art” (¼ article), “V” (¼ verb) and “VP” (¼ verb phrase). Others, such as “PP” (¼ prepositional phrase), seem fairly transparent. There are three more symbols that are commonly used in syntactic description.

The first is in the form of an arrow !. It can be interpreted as “consists of” or “rewrites as.” It is typically used in the following type of rule:

NP ! Art N This is simply a shorthand way of saying that a noun phrase (NP) such as the dog

consists of or rewrites as (!) an article (Art) the and a noun (N) dog. The second symbol is a pair of round brackets ( ). Whatever occurs inside these

round brackets will be treated as an optional constituent. For instance, we can

describe something as the dog or the small dog, each of which is a noun phrase

(NP). When we use a noun phrase in English, we can include an adjective (Adj) such

as small, but we don’t have to. It’s an optional constituent in a grammatically well-

formed noun phrase, as shown here:

NP ! Art (Adj) N This shorthand notation expresses the idea that a noun phrase (NP) rewrites as (!) an article (Art) and a noun (N), with the option of including an adjective (Adj) in a

specific position between them. So, we can use this notation to generate the dog, the

small dog, a cat, a big cat, the book, a boring book and an endless number of other

similar noun phrases.

S

NP VP

Art N V NP

Art N

The girl saw a dog

Figure 8.3

98 The Study of Language

 

 

The third symbol is in the form of curly brackets { }.These indicate that only

one of the elements enclosed within the curly brackets must be selected. For

example, we have already seen that a noun phrase can consist of an expression

such as the dog (article plus noun), or it (pronoun), or Cathy (proper noun). Using

the abbreviations “Pro” (for pronoun) and “PN” (for proper noun), we can try to

capture this observation about English with three separate rules, as shown on the

left. However, it is more succinct to write one rule, as shown on the right, using

curly brackets.

It is important to remember that, although there are three constituents inside these

curly brackets, only one of them can be selected on any occasion.

The list of common symbols and abbreviations is summarized here.

Phrase structure rules

When we use a tree diagram format, we can think of it in two different ways. In one

way, we can simply treat it as a static representation of the structure of the sentence

shown at the bottom of the diagram. We could then propose that, for every single

sentence in English, a tree diagram of this type could be drawn. An alternative view is

to treat the tree diagram as a dynamic format, in the sense that it represents a way of

generating not only that one sentence, but also a very large number of other sentences

with similar structures.

This second approach is very appealing because it would enable us to generate a

very large number of sentences with what look like a very small number of rules.

These rules are called phrase structure rules. As the name suggests, these rules

state that the structure of a phrase of a specific type will consist of one or more

constituents in a particular order. We can use phrase structure rules to present the

information of the tree diagram in another format. That is, the information shown in

NP ! Art (Adj) N NP ! Pro NP ! {Art (Adj) N, Pro, PN} NP ! PN

S sentence NP noun phrase PN proper noun

N noun VP verb phrase Adv adverb

V verb Adj adjective Prep preposition

Art article Pro pronoun PP prepositional phrase

* ungrammatical sentence

! consists of / rewrites as ( ) optional constituent

{ }one and only one of these constituents must be selected

Syntax 99

 

 

the tree diagram on the left in Figure 8.4 can be expressed in the phrase structure

rule on the right.

According to this basic rule, “a noun phrase rewrites as an article followed by a

noun.” Using this format, we can create a more detailed set of rules.

The first rule in the following set of simple (and necessarily incomplete) phrase

structure rules states that “a sentence rewrites as a noun phrase and a verb phrase.”

The second rule states that “a noun phrase rewrites as either an article plus an

optional adjective plus a noun, or a pronoun, or a proper noun.” The other rules

follow a similar pattern.

S ! NP VP NP ! {Art (Adj) N, Pro, PN} VP ! V NP (PP) (Adv) PP ! Prep NP

Lexical rules

Phrase structure rules generate structures. In order to turn those structures

into recognizable English, we also need lexical rules that specify which words can

be used when we rewrite constituents such as PN. The first rule in the following set

states that “a proper noun rewrites as Mary or George.” (It’s a very small world.)

We can rely on these rules to generate the grammatical sentences shown below in

(1)–(6), but not the ungrammatical sentences shown in (7)–(12).

(1) A dog followed the boy.

(2) Mary helped George.

(3) George saw the dog.

(4) The boy helped you.

(5) It followed Mary.

(6) You saw it.

(7) *Dog followed boy.

(8) *The helped you boy.

(9) *George Mary dog.

(10) *Helped George the dog.

(11) *You it saw.

(12) *Mary George helped.

As a way of visualizing how the phrase structure rules form the basis of

these sentences, we can draw the tree diagrams for sentences (1) and (6), as in

Figure 8.5.

PN ! {Mary, George} Art ! {a, the} N ! {girl, dog, boy} Pro ! {it, you} V ! {followed, helped, saw}

NP

Art N NP Art N

Figure 8.4

100 The Study of Language

 

 

Movement rules

The very small set of phrase structure rules just described is a sample of what a more

complex phrase structure grammar of English, with many more parts, would look

like. These rules can be treated as a representation of the underlying or deep

structures of sentences in English. One feature of these underlying structures is that

they will generate sentences with a fixed word order. That is convenient for creating

declarative forms (You can see it), but not for making interrogative forms, as used in

questions (Can you see it?). In making the question, we move one part of the structure

to a different position. This process is based on a movement rule.

In order to talk about this process, we need to expand our phrase structure rules to

include an auxiliary verb (Aux) as part of the sentence. This is illustrated in the first

rewrite rule below. Auxiliary verbs (sometimes described as “helping” verbs) take

different forms in English, but one well-known set can be included in the rudimentary

lexical rule for Aux below. The examples listed here for Aux, such as can and will, are

called “modal verbs” and they are always used with the basic form of the main verb.

The basic forms of some verbs are included in the third rewrite rule here.

S ! NP Aux VP Aux ! {can, could, should, will, would} V ! {follow, help, see} With these components, we can specify a simple movement rule that is involved in

the creation of one basic type of question in English.

NP Aux VP ) Aux NP VP This rule states that if we have one structure of the type You (NP) þ can (Aux) þ see it (VP), then we can turn it into a different structure by moving the Aux component

to the first position in the sequence in order to create Can you see it?. Similarly, if we

start with You will help Mary, we can use the Aux-movement rule to produce Will

(1) S (6) S

NP VP NP VP

Art N V NP Pro V NP

Art N Pro

A dog followed the boy You saw it

Figure 8.5

Syntax 101

 

 

you help Mary?. Note that this type of rule has a special symbol ) and can be illustrated in the process of one tree, on the right, being derived from the tree on the

left, as in Figure 8.6.

Using this simple rule, we can also generate these other questions:

These are all surface structure variations of a single underlying structure.

As we try to capture more aspects of the structure of complex English sentences,

we inevitably need to identify more rules and concepts involved in the analysis of

syntax. (We’ve barely scratched the surface structures.) However, having explored

some of the basic issues, terminology, and methods of syntactic analysis in order to

talk about structure in language, we need to move on to consider how we might

incorporate the analysis of meaning in the study of language.

Can you see the dog? Should Mary follow you?

Could the boy see it? Would George help Mary?

S ⇒ S

NP Aux VP Aux NP VP

Pro V NP Pro V NP

PN PN

You will help Mary Will you help Mary

Figure 8.6

102 The Study of Language

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 What is wrong with the following rule of English syntactic structure?

“A prepositional phrase is formed with a preposition followed

by a noun.”

2 Do phrase structure rules represent deep structure or surface structure?

3 Which of the following expressions are structurally ambiguous and

in what way?

(a) These are designed for small boys and girls.

(b) The parents of the bride and groom were waiting outside.

(c) How come a bed has four legs, but only one foot?

(d) We met an English history teacher.

(e) Flying planes can be dangerous.

(f) The students complained to everyone that they couldn’t

understand.

4 Which of the following expressions would be generated by this phrase structure

rule: NP ! {Art (Adj) N, Pro, PN}? (a) a lady

(b) the little girl

(c) her

(d) Annie

(e) the widow

(f) she’s an old woman

5 Which of these sentences would result from applying the rule: NP Aux VP ) Aux NP VP?

(a) George will follow Mary.

(b) Could you follow it?

(c) Can George see the dog?

(d) The girl helped you.

6 Complete the following tree diagrams.

(a) S (b) S

NP VP NP VP

Art NP V

A girl saw you Mary help the boycan

Figure 8.7

Syntax 103

 

 

TASKS

A What is the distinction made between “competence” and embedded

structure“performance” in the study of syntax?

B What is meant by the expression “an embedded structure”? Were there any

examples in this chapter?

C Which of the following two tree diagrams could be used to represent the underlying

structure of the sentence: George saw the boy with a telescope?

D In spoken English, the sequence want to is sometimes contracted to wanna, as in

I don’t wanna go or What do you wanna do tonight?. However, as illustrated in the

following set of sentences, there are some structures where want to cannot be

contracted. English-speaking children know how to use wanna in the right places

(and none of the wrong places) at a very early age. Can you work out what it is that

they know about using wanna?

(1) Who do you want to or wanna visit?

(2) Who would you want to or wanna go out with?

(3) How many of your friends do you want to or wanna invite to the wedding?

(4) Who do you want to (*wanna) win the game?

(5) Who would you want to (*wanna) look after your pets?

(6) How many of your friends do you want to (*wanna) stay with us?

E The following simplified set of phrase structure rules describes part of the syntax of

a language called Ewe, spoken in West Africa. Based on these rules, which of the

following sentences (1)–(10) should have an asterisk * before them?

S ➝ NP VP N ➝ {oge, ika, amu}

NP ➝ N (Art) Art ➝ ye

VP ➝ V NP V ➝ {xa, vo}

(i) S (ii) S

NP VP NP VP

V NP PP V NP

Art N PP

Figure 8.8

(1) Oge xa ika

(2) Ye amu vo oge

(3) Ika oge xa ye

(4) Oge ye vo ika ye

(5) Amu xa oge

(6) Vo oge ika

(7) Amu ye vo ika

(8) Ye ika xa ye oge

(9) Xa amu ye

(10) Oge ye xa amu

104 The Study of Language

 

 

F Using these simple phrase structure rules for Scottish Gaelic, identify (with *) the

ungrammatical sentences below and draw tree diagrams for the grammatical

sentences.

(1) Calum chunnaic an gille.

(2) Bhuail an beag cu Tearlach.

(3) Bhuail an gille mor an cu.

(4) Chunnaic Tearlach an gille.

(5) Ban an cu an duine beag.

(6) Fhuair Mairi an cu ban.

G The basic structure of a sentence in Tamasheq, spoken in north-west Africa, is

illustrated as (1) in the chart below, but an emphasized element can be moved to

front position, as shown in the other examples. All these examples are from Sudlow

(2001: 47), with minor changes.

(i) After looking at the syntactic structure of each Tamasheq sentence, can you add

these English translations to appropriate places in the chart?

“It isn’t men who cook porridge.”

“Porridge, men aren’t the ones who cook it.”

“Men don’t cook porridge?”

“Men aren’t the ones who cook porridge.”

(ii) Using information from Chapters 7 and 8, can you decide which of these

languages has the same basic sentence structure as Tamasheq, as shown in

example (1): English, Ewe, Gaelic, Japanese, Latin?

(1)

(2) meddan a waren isəkədiw asink _________________________

(3) asink, meddan a waren t-isəkədiw _______________________

(4) wadde medan a isakadawan asink ______________________

(5) meddan war səkədiwan asink? ______________________

H The concept of recursion is used in syntax to describe the repeated application of a

rule to the output of an earlier application of the rule. For example, we can use the

terms “complementizer” (C) for the English word that, and “complement phrase”

(CP) for that Mary helped you as part of the sentence Cathy knew that Mary helped

you. In the complement phrase, the part Mary helped you represents a sentence (S),

so there must be a rule: CP ! C S, or “a complement phrase rewrites as a complement and a sentence.”

S ➝ V NP NP NP ➝ {Art N (Adj), PN}

Art ➝ an

N ➝ {cu, duine, gille} Adj ➝ {ban, beag, mor}

PN ➝{Calum, Mairi, Tearlach} V ➝ {bhuail, chunnaic, fhuair}

war səkədiwan meddan asink “Men don’t cook porridge.”

(not) (cook) (men) (porridge)

Syntax 105

 

 

This provides us with a small set of rules incorporating recursion, as illustrated

here. (Note that when you reach the end of this set of rules, you can keep going

back to the beginning and thus repeat the sequence, the essence of recursion.)

S ! NP VP VP ! V CP CP ! C S Using these rules, can you fill in the missing elements in the tree diagram in

Figure 8.9?

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I There is a principle of syntax called “structure dependency” that is often used to

show that the rules of language structure depend on hierarchical organization and

not on linear position. For example, someone trying to learn English might be

tempted to think that questions of the type in (2) are formed simply by moving the

second word in a statement (1) to become the first word of a question (2).

S

NP VP

V

S

NP VP

V

NP VP

V NP

PN PN PN

John believed that Cathy knew that Mary helped you

Figure 8.9

106 The Study of Language

 

 

Using the sentences in (2)–(6), try to decide if this is the best way to describe how all

of these English questions are formed and, if it is not, try to formulate a better rule.

(3) Are the exercises in this book too easy?

(4) Is the cat that is missing called Blackie?

(5) Will the price of the new book you’ve ordered be really expensive?

(6) Was the guy who scored the winning goal in the final playing for love or money?

(For background reading, see chapter 3 of Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams, 2014.)

II We could propose that passive sentences (George was helped by Mary) are derived from

active structures (Mary helped George) via a movement rule such as the following:

(active) NP1 V NP2 ¼> NP2 be V-ed by NP1 (passive) Note that the tense, past or present, of the V (e.g. helped) in the active structure

determines the tense of be in the passive structure (e.g. was helped). Which of the

following active sentences can be restructured into passive sentences using this

rule? What prevents the rule from working in the other cases?

(1) The dog chased the cat.

(2) Snow White kissed Grumpy.

(3) He loves them.

(4) Betsy borrowed some money from Christopher.

(5) The team played badly.

(6) The bank manager laughed.

(7) They have two children.

(8) The duckling became a swan.

(9) Someone mentioned that you played basketball.

(10) The police will arrest violent demonstrators.

(For background reading, see Morenberg, 2009.)

TIME FLIES LIKE AN ARROW; FRUIT FLIES LIKE A

BANANA

Different underlying structures in Oettinger’s (1966: 168) example can be seen in

Figure 8.10.

S

V

NP VP

PP

Time flies like an arrow

S

V

NP VP

NP

likefruit flies a banana

Figure 8.10

(1) Shaggy is tired. (2) Is Shaggy tired?

You will help him. Will you help him?

Syntax 107

 

 

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Miller, J. (2008) An Introduction to English Syntax (2nd edition) Edinburgh University Press

Thomas, L. (1993) Beginning Syntax Blackwell

More detailed treatments

Morenberg, M. (2009) Doing Grammar (4th edition) Oxford University Press

Tallerman, M. (2011) Understanding Syntax (3rd edition) Hodder Arnold

Specifically on English syntax

Jonz, J. (2013) An Introduction to English Sentence Structure Equinox Publishing

Radford, A. (2009) An Introduction to English Sentence Structure Cambridge University Press

On generative grammar

Baker, M. (2001) The Atoms of Language: The Mind’s Hidden Rules of Grammar Basic Books

On structural ambiguity

Pinker, S. (1994) The Language Instinct (chapter 4) William Morrow

Tree diagrams

Carnie, A. (2012) Syntax (3rd edition) Wiley-Blackwell

On Gaelic syntax

Brown, K. and J. Miller (1991) Syntax: A Linguistic Introduction to Sentence Structure (2nd

edition) Routledge

Other references

Fromkin, V., R. Rodman and N. Hyams (2014) An Introduction to Language (10th edition)

Wadsworth

Sudlow, D. (2001) The Tamasheq of North-East Burkina Faso R. Köppe Verlag

108 The Study of Language

 

 

CHAPTER 9

Semantics

This one time I was flying out of SFO (San Francisco) and I happened to have a jar of

home-made quince preserves in my carry-on. A TSA (Transportation Security Administration)

agent stopped me, saying that the quince preserves couldn’t come aboard because no gels,

liquids, or aerosols were allowed past the checkpoint. I asked him politely which of those

quince preserves were: gel, liquid, or aerosol, because they seemed a lot like fruit. His

response, and I kid you not, was “Sir, I’m not going to argue semantics with you.”

Bergen (2012)

Semantics is the study of the meaning of words, phrases and sentences. In

semantic analysis, there is always an attempt to focus on what the words

conventionally mean, rather than on what an individual speaker might think they

mean, or want them to mean, on a particular occasion. This approach is concerned

with objective or general meaning and avoids trying to account for subjective or local

meaning. Doing semantics is attempting to spell out what it is we all know when

we behave as if we share knowledge of the meaning of a word, a phrase, or a

sentence in a language.

 

 

Meaning

While semantics is the study of meaning in language, there is more interest in certain

aspects of meaning than in others. We have already ruled out special meanings that

one individual might attach to words or what TSA agents believe words mean, as in

Ben Bergen’s story quoted earlier. We can go further and make a broad distinction

between conceptual meaning and associative meaning.

Conceptual meaning covers those basic, essential components of meaning that are

conveyed by the literal use of a word. It is the type of meaning that dictionaries are

designed to describe. Some of the basic components of a word like needle in English

might include “thin, sharp, steel instrument.” These components would be part of the

conceptual meaning of needle. However, different people might have different associ-

ations or connotations attached to a word like needle. They might associate it with

“pain,” or “illness,” or “blood,” or “drugs,” or “thread,” or “knitting,” or “hard to find”

(especially in a haystack), and these associations may differ from one person to the next.

These types of associations are not treated as part of the word’s conceptual meaning.

One way in which the study of basic conceptual meaning might be helpful would

be as a means of accounting for the “oddness” we experience when we read sentences

such as the following:

The hamburger ate the boy.

The table listens to the radio.

The horse is reading the newspaper.

We should first note that the oddness of these sentences does not derive from their

syntactic structure. According to the basic syntactic rules for forming English sen-

tences (presented in Chapter 8), we have well-formed structures.

This sentence is syntactically good, but semantically odd. Since the sentence The boy

ate the hamburger is perfectly acceptable, we may be able to identify the source of the

problem. The components of the conceptual meaning of the noun hamburger must be

significantly different from those of the noun boy, allowing one, not the other, to

“make sense” with the verb ate. Quite simply, the kind of noun used with ate must

denote an entity that is capable of “eating.” The noun hamburger doesn’t have this

property and the noun boy does.

Semantic features

We can make this observation more generally applicable by trying to determine

the crucial element or feature of meaning that any noun must have in order to be

NP V NP

The hamburger ate the boy

110 The Study of Language

 

 

used as the subject of the verb ate. Such an element may be as general as

“animate being.” We can then use this idea to describe part of the meaning of

words as having either plus (þ) or minus (−) that particular feature. So, the feature that the noun boy has is “−animate” (¼ denotes an animate being) and the feature that the noun hamburger has is “−animate” (¼ does not denote an animate being).

This simple example is an illustration of a procedure for analyzing meaning in

terms of semantic features. Features such as “þanimate / −animate,” “þhuman / −human,” “þfemale / −female,” for example, can be treated as the basic elements involved in differentiating the meaning of each word in a language from every other

word. If we had to provide the crucial distinguishing features of the meanings of a set

of English words such as table, horse, boy, man, girl, woman, we could begin with the

chart in Table 9.1.

From a feature analysis like this, we can say that at least part of the meaning of the

word girl in English involves the elements [þhuman, þfemale, −adult]. We can also characterize the feature that is crucially required in a noun in order for it to appear as

the subject of a particular verb, supplementing the syntactic analysis with semantic

features. We can then predict which nouns (e.g. table, horse, hamburger) would make

the sentence semantically odd.

The _____________ is reading the newspaper.

N [þhuman]

Words as containers of meaning

The approach just outlined is a start on analyzing the conceptual components of word

meaning, but it is not without problems. For many words in a language it may not be

as easy to come up with neat components of meaning. If we try to think of the

components or features we would use to differentiate the nouns advice, threat and

warning, for example, we may not be very successful. Part of the problem seems to be

that the approach involves a view of words in a language as some sort of “containers”

that carry meaning components. There is clearly more to the meaning of words than

these basic types of features.

Table 9.1

table horse boy man girl woman

animate − þ þ þ þ þ human − − þ þ þ þ female − − − − þ þ adult − þ − þ − þ

Semantics 111

 

 

Semantic roles

Instead of thinking of words as containers of meaning, we can look at the “roles” they

fulfill within the situation described by a sentence. If the situation is a simple event, as

in The boy kicked the ball, then the verb describes an action (kick). The noun phrases

in the sentence describe the roles of entities, such as people and things, involved in

the action. We can identify a small number of semantic roles (also called “thematic

roles”) for these noun phrases.

Agent and theme

In our example sentence, one role is taken by the noun phrase The boy as “the entity

that performs the action,” technically known as the agent. Another role is taken by

the ball as “the entity that is involved in or affected by the action,” which is called the

theme (or sometimes the “patient”). The theme can also be an entity (The ball) that is

simply being described (i.e. not performing an action), as in The ball was red.

Agents and themes are the most common semantic roles. Although agents are

typically human (The boy), as in (1) below, they can also be non-human entities that

cause actions, as in noun phrases denoting a natural force (The wind), a machine

(A car), or a creature (The dog), all of which affect the ball as theme in examples (2)–(4).

The theme is typically non-human, but can be human (the boy), as in the last

sentence (5).

(1) The boy kicked the ball.

(2) The wind blew the ball away.

(3) A car ran over the ball.

(4) The dog caught the ball.

(5) The dog chased the boy.

Instrument and experiencer

If an agent uses another entity in order to perform an action, that other entity fills the

role of instrument. In the sentences The boy cut the rope with an old razor and He

drew the picture with a crayon, the noun phrases an old razor and a crayon are being

used in the semantic role of instrument.

When a noun phrase is used to designate an entity as the person who has a

feeling, perception or state, it fills the semantic role of experiencer. If we see, know or

enjoy something, we’re not really performing an action (hence we are not agents). We

are in the role of experiencer. In the sentence The boy feels sad, the experiencer (The

boy) is the only semantic role. In the question, Did you hear that noise?, the experi-

encer is you and the theme is that noise.

112 The Study of Language

 

 

Location, source and goal

A number of other semantic roles designate where an entity is in the description of an

event. Where an entity is (on the table, in the room) fills the role of location. Where the

entity moves from is the source (from Chicago) and where it moves to is the goal (to New

Orleans), as in We drove from Chicago to New Orleans. When we talk about transferring

money from savings to checking, the source is savings and the goal is checking.

All these semantic roles are illustrated in the following scenario. Note that a single

entity (e.g. George) can appear in several different semantic roles.

Lexical relations

Not only can words be treated as containers of meaning, or as fulfilling roles in events,

they can also have “relationships” with each other. In everyday talk, we often

explain the meanings of words in terms of their relationships. If we’re asked the

meaning of the word conceal, for example, we might simply say, “It’s the same as

hide,” or give the meaning of shallow as “the opposite of deep,” or the meaning of pine

as “a kind of tree.” In doing so, we are characterizing the meaning of each word, not in

terms of its component features, but in terms of its relationship to other words. This

approach is used in the semantic description of language and treated as the analysis of

lexical relations. The lexical relations we have just exemplified are synonymy (con-

ceal/hide), antonymy (shallow/deep) and hyponymy (pine/tree).

Synonymy

Two or more words with very closely related meanings are called synonyms. They

can often, though not always, be substituted for each other in sentences. In the

appropriate circumstances, we can say, What was his answer? or What was his reply?

with much the same meaning. Other common examples of synonyms are the pairs:

Mary saw a fly on the wall.

Experiencer theme location

She borrowed a magazine from George.

Agent theme source

She squashed the bug with the magazine.

Agent theme instrument.

She handed the magazine back to George.

Agent theme goal

“Gee thanks,” said George.

agent

Semantics 113

 

 

We should keep in mind that the idea of “sameness” of meaning used in discussing

synonymy is not necessarily “total sameness.” There are many occasions when one

word is appropriate in a sentence, but its synonym would be odd. For example,

whereas the word answer fits in the sentence Sandy had only one answer correct on

the test, the word reply would sound odd. Although broad and wide can both be used

to describe a street in a similar way, we only talk about being in broad agreement (not

wide) and in the whole wide world (not broad). There are also regional differences in

the use of synonymous pairs, with candy, chips, diaper and gasoline in American

English being equivalents of sweets, crisps, nappy and petrol in British English.

Synonymous forms may also differ in terms of formal versus informal uses. The

sentence My father purchased a large automobile has virtually the same meaning as

My dad bought a big car, with four synonymous replacements, but the second version

sounds much more casual or informal than the first.

Antonymy

Two forms with opposite meanings are called antonyms. Some common examples are

the pairs:

Antonyms are usually divided into two main types, “gradable” (opposites along a

scale) and “non-gradable” (direct opposites). We can use gradable antonyms in

comparative constructions like I’m smaller than you and slower, sadder, colder, shorter

and older, but richer. Also, the negative of one member of a gradable pair does not

necessarily imply the other. For example, the sentence My car isn’t old doesn’t have to

mean My car is new.

With non-gradable antonyms (also called “complementary pairs”), comparative

constructions are not normally used. We don’t typically describe someone as deader

or more dead than another. Also, using the “negative test,” we can see that the

negative of one member of a non-gradable pair does imply the other member. That

is, My grandparents aren’t alive does indeed mean My grandparents are dead. Other

non-gradable antonyms are the pairs: male/female, married/single and true/false.

Although we can use the “negative test” to identify non-gradable antonyms in a

language, we usually avoid describing one member of an antonymous pair as the

negative of the other. For example, while undress can be treated as the opposite of

dress, it doesn’t mean “not dress.” It actually means “do the reverse of dress.”

Antonyms of this type are called reversives. Other common examples are enter/exit,

pack/unpack, lengthen/shorten, raise/lower, tie/untie.

almost/nearly big/large broad/wide buy/purchase

cab/taxi car/automobile couch/sofa freedom/liberty

alive/dead big/small enter/exit fast/slow happy/sad hot/cold

long/short male/female married/single old/new rich/poor true/false

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Hyponymy

When the meaning of one form is included in the meaning of another, the relationship

is described as hyponymy. Examples are the pairs: animal/horse, insect/ant, flower/

rose. The concept of “inclusion” involved in this relationship is the idea that if an

object is a rose, then it is necessarily a flower, so the meaning of flower is included in

the meaning of rose. Or, rose is a hyponym of flower.

When we investigate connections based on hyponymy, we are essentially looking

at the meaning of words in some type of hierarchical relationship. Try to think quickly

of a basic meaning for each of these words: banyan, parakeet, terrier, turnip. You can

check Figure 9.1 to see if your meaning included hyponymy.

Looking at the diagram, we can say that “horse is a hyponym of animal” or “ant is a

hyponym of insect.” In these two examples, animal and insect are called the

superordinate (¼ higher level) terms. We can also say that two or more words that share the same superordinate term are co-hyponyms. So, dog and horse are

co-hyponyms and the superordinate term is animal. Or schnauzer and yorkie are

co-hyponyms, withterrierasonesuperordinateand dog as anotherat amore general level.

The relation of hyponymy captures the concept of “is a kind of,”as when we give the

meaning of a word by saying, “a schnauzer is a kind of dog.” Sometimes the only thing

we know about the meaning of a word is that it is a hyponym of another term. That is,

we may know nothing more about the meaning of the word yorkie other than that it is a

kind of dog (also known as a Yorkshire terrier) or that banyan is a kind of tree.

Of course, it is not only words for “things” that are hyponyms. Words such

as punch, shoot and stab, as verbs describing “actions,” can all be treated as

living thing

creature plant

animal bird insect vegetable flower tree

dog horse duck parrot ant cockroach turnip rose banyan pine

terrier parakeet fir

schnauzer yorkie Figure 9.1

Semantics 115

 

 

co-hyponyms of the superordinate term injure and the verbs bake, boil, fry, and grill

as co-hyponyms of the superordinate cook. For a lot of people, microwave has become

another one.

Prototypes

While the words canary, cormorant, dove, duck, flamingo, parrot, pelican and robin

are all equally co-hyponyms of the superordinate bird, they are not all considered to

be equally good examples of the category “bird.” According to some researchers, the

most characteristic instance of the category “bird” is robin. The idea of “the charac-

teristic instance” of a category is known as the prototype. The concept of a prototype

helps explain the meaning of certain words, like bird, not in terms of component

features (e.g. “has feathers,” “has wings”), but in terms of resemblance to the clearest

example. Thus, we might wonder if ostrich or penguin should be hyponyms of bird

(technically they are), but we have no trouble deciding about sparrow or pigeon.

These last two are much closer to the prototype.

Given the category label furniture, we are quick to recognize chair as a better example

than bench or stool. Given clothing, people recognize shirts quicker than shoes, and given

vegetable, they accept carrot before potato or turnip. It is clear that there is some general

pattern to the categorization process involved in prototypes and that it determines our

interpretation of word meaning. However, this is one area where individual experience

can lead to substantial variation in interpretation and people may disagree over the

categorization of a word like avocado or tomato as fruit or vegetable. These words seem

to be treated as co-hyponyms of both fruit and vegetable in different contexts.

Homophones and homonyms

When two or more different (written) forms have the same pronunciation, they are

described as homophones. Common English examples are bare/bear, meat/meet,

flour/flower, pail/pale, right/write, sew/so, to/too/two.

We use the term homonyms when one form (written or spoken) has two or more

unrelated meanings, as in these examples:

bat (flying creature) – bat (used in sports)

mole (on skin) – mole (small animal)

pen (writing instrument) – pen (enclosed space)

race (contest of speed) – race (ethnic group)

sole (single) – sole (part of foot or shoe)

The temptation is to think that the two types of bat must be related in meaning. They

are not. Homonyms are words that have separate histories and meanings, but have

accidentally come to have exactly the same form.

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Polysemy

When we encounter two or more words with the same form and related meanings, we

have what is technically known as polysemy. Polysemy (from Greek poly “many” and

semy “meanings”) can be defined as one form (written or spoken) having multiple

meanings that are all related by extension. Examples are the word head, used to refer

to the object on top of your body, froth on top of a glass of beer, person at the top of a

company or department or school, and many other things. Other examples of poly-

semy are foot (of a person, of a bed, of a mountain), mouth (part of a face, a cave, a

river) or run (person does, water does, colors do).

If we aren’t sure whether different uses of a single word are examples of homo-

nymy or polsemy, we can check in a dictionary. If the word has multiple meanings

(i.e. it’s polysemous), then there will be a single entry, with a numbered list of the

different meanings of that word. If two words are treated as homonyms, they will

typically have two separate entries. In most dictionaries, bat, mail, mole and sole are

clearly treated as homonyms whereas face, foot, get, head and run are treated as

examples of polysemy.

Of course, it is possible for two forms to be distinguished via homonymy and for

one of the forms also to have various uses via polysemy. The words date (¼ a thing we can eat) and date (¼ a point in time) are homonyms. However, the “point in time” kind of date is polysemous in terms of a particular day and month (¼ on a letter), an arranged meeting time (¼ an appointment), a social meeting (¼ with someone we like), and even a person (¼ that person we like). So the question How was your date? could have a number of different interpretations.

Word play

These last three lexical relations are the basis of a lot of word play, usually for

humorous effect. In the nursery rhyme Mary had a little lamb, we think of a small

animal, but in the comic version Mary had a little lamb, some rice and vegetables, we

think of a small amount of meat. The polysemy of lamb allows the two interpret-

ations. It is recognizing the polysemy of leg and foot in the riddle What has four legs,

but only one foot? that leads to a solution (a bed).

We can make sense of another riddle Why are trees often mistaken for dogs? by

recognizing the homonymy in the answer: Because of their bark. Shakespeare used

homophones (sun/son) for word play in the first lines of the play Richard III:

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun of York.

And if you are asked the following question: Why is 6 afraid of 7?, you can understand

why the answer is funny (Because 789) by identifying the homophones.

Semantics 117

 

 

Metonymy

The relatedness of meaning found in polysemy is essentially based on similarity. The

head of a company is similar to the head of a person on top of and controlling the

body. There is another type of relationship between words, based simply on a close

connection in everyday experience. That close connection can be based on a

container–contents relation (bottle/water, can/juice), a whole–part relation (car/

wheels, house/roof) or a representative–symbol relationship (king/crown, the Presi-

dent/the White House). Using one of these words to refer to the other is an example of

metonymy.

It is our familiarity with metonymy that makes it possible for us to understand He

drank the whole bottle, although it sounds absurd literally (i.e. he drank the liquid, not

the glass object). We also accept The White House has announced . . . or Downing

Street protested . . . without being puzzled that buildings appear to be talking. We use

metonymy when we talk about filling up the car, answering the door, boiling a kettle,

giving someone a hand or needing some wheels.

Collocation

One final aspect of our knowledge of words, and how they are used, has nothing to do

with any of the factors considered so far. As mature speakers of a language, we all

know which words tend to occur with other words. If you ask a thousand people what

they think of when you say hammer, more than half will say nail. If you say table,

they’ll mostly say chair, and butter elicits bread, needle elicits thread and salt elicits

pepper. One way we seem to organize our knowledge of words is simply on the basis

of collocation, or frequently occurring together.

In recent years, the study of which words occur together, and their frequency of

co-occurrence, has received a lot more attention in corpus linguistics. A corpus is a

large collection of texts, spoken or written, typically stored as a database in a

computer. Those doing corpus linguistics can then use the database to find out how

often specific words or phrases occur and what types of collocations are most

common. Some of the most common collocations are actually everyday phrases

which may consist of several words frequently used together, as in I don’t know what

to do (six words), you know what I mean (five words) or they don’t want to (four

words).

One investigation looked at 84 occurrences of the phrase true feelings in a corpus.

A very small sample is shown here. After looking at the types of verbs (e.g. deny, try to

communicate) used with this phrase, the investigator noted that “English speakers use

the phrase with true feelings when they want to give the meaning of reluctance to

express deeply felt emotions” (Sinclair, 2003: 148).

118 The Study of Language

 

 

(1) more accustomed to denying our true feelings, avoiding reflection and self-

(2) We try to communicate our true feelings to those around us, and we are

(3) the ability to express our true feelings and creativity because we are

(4) we appease others, deny our true feelings, and conform, I suspected the

(5) more of us in there, of our true feelings, rather than just ranting on

Research of this type provides more evidence that our understanding of what

words and phrases mean is tied to the contexts in which they are typically used. We

will look at other aspects of the role of context in the interpretation of meaning in

Chapter 10.

Semantics 119

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 Using semantic features, how would you explain the oddness of these sentences?

(a) The television drank my water.

(b) His dog writes poetry.

2 How is the term “prototype” used in semantics?

3 Identify the semantic roles of the seven noun phrases in this sentence.

With her new golf club, Anne Marshall whacked the ball from the woods to the

grassy area near the hole and she suddenly felt invincible.

4 What is the basic lexical relation between each pair of words listed here?

(a) assemble/disassemble

(b) damp/moist

(c) deep/shallow

(c) dog/schnauzer

(d) furniture/table

(f) married/single

(g) move/run

(h) peace/piece

(i) pen/pen

5 Which of the following opposites are gradable, non-gradable, or reversive?

(a) absent/present

(b) appear/disappear

(c) fail/pass

(d) fair/unfair

(e) fill it/empty it

(f) high/low

6 Are these underlined words best described as examples of polysemy or metonymy?

(a) The pen is mightier than the sword.

(b) I had to park on the shoulder of the road.

(c) Yes, I love those. I ate a whole box on Sunday!

(d) The bookstore has some new titles in linguistics.

(e) Computer chips created an important new technology

(f) I’m going to sue your ass!

(g) I think that kind of music was called new wave.

TASKS

A What is the connection between an English doctor called Peter Mark Roget and the

study of lexical relations?

B In this chapter, we discussed metonymy, but not metaphor. What is the difference

between these two ways of using words?

C The adjective pairs listed here are antonyms with a “marked” and “unmarked”

member in each pair. Can you list the unmarked members and explain your choices?

big/small heavy/light

empty/full old/young

expensive/inexpensive possible/impossible

fast/slow short/tall

happy/unhappy strong/weak

120 The Study of Language

 

 

D Which of these pairs of words are converses (also known as reciprocal

antonymy)?

E Another less common relation between word meanings is known as transferred

epithet or hypallage. Why do we need to talk about this special type of meaning

relation in the analysis of the meaning of the phrases listed here? Can you think of

any other similar examples?

F A distinction is sometimes made between metonymy and synecdoche

(/sɪnɛkdəki/) as two ways of using words with non-literal meanings.

Can you identify the clear uses of synecdoche in the following underlined

examples?

(1) I read in a magazine that you shouldn’t wear pink if you’re a redhead.

(2) Some people expect the government to look after them from the cradle to the

grave.

(3) There has been a significant increase in reports of white-collar crime.

(4) I was surprised when five new faces turned up in my first class.

(5) If I don’t want to spend too much, I take a small amount of cash in my pocket

and leave the plastic at home.

(6) The Pentagon has announced plans to upgrade their cybersecurity.

(7) They have something on the menu called “Surf and Turf,” which consists of

both fish and steak on the same plate.

(8) We’ll never have progress as long as the greybeards remain in control.

(9) Every year the suits come down from the main office and explain to us why we

have to work harder and do more with less.

(10) Tehran has shown little interest in resuming stalled negotiations.

G We can pour water into a glass and we can fill a glass with water, but we can’t *fill

water into a glass or *pour a glass with water. Why not?

(i) By focusing on the meaning of the verbs and their themes (“the affected

objects”), try to find a semantic reason why some of the following sentences

are ungrammatical.

(1) (a) We loaded furniture into the van.

(b) We loaded the van with furniture.

a quiet cup of coffee a nude photo

a sleepless night one of my clever days

above/below enter/exit

asleep/awake follow/precede

brother/sister husband/wife

buy/sell older/younger

doctor/patient true/false

dry/wet

Semantics 121

 

 

(2) (a) They sprayed paint onto the wall.

(b) They sprayed the wall with paint.

(3) (a) I poured coffee into the cup.

(b) *I poured the cup with coffee.

(4) (a) *She filled tissues into her pocket.

(b) She filled her pocket with tissues.

(ii) Which of the following verbs can be used in both of the (a) and (b) structures

illustrated in examples (1)–(4): attach, cram, glue, ladle, pack, paste,

splash, spread?

H In English, the semantic role of instrument is often expressed in a prepositional

phrase (She opened the can with a knife. He stopped the ball with his hand.). In

other languages the instrument may be expressed via an affix, as in the

following examples from Lakhota, a Native American language spoken in North

and South Dakota.

(i) Can you identify the five affixes representing instruments in these examples

and describe the type of instrument associated with each affix?

(ii) Having identified the instrumental affixes, can you add the most appropriate

affix to each of these verbs?

nabláza “kick open”

nablécha “crush something by stepping on it”

pabláska “press out flat”

pachéka “push aside”

pahóho “loosen by pushing”

wabláza “cut open”

waghápa “cut the skin off something”

yaghápa “bite off”

yagnáya “tell a lie”

yuáka “pull something up, like a fish on a line”

yughápa “strip or pull off”

yughá “remove the outer husk from corn”

náchi “raise or lift up”

óna “push something onto something else”

xúgnaga “to speak evil of”

kchá “loosen by pulling”

bláza “tear something open with the teeth”

ghápa “kick the skin off something”

blécha “break with a knife”

bláya “spread out, like dough”

122 The Study of Language

 

 

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I One way to analyze the semantic structure of sentences is to start with the verb as

the central element and define the semantic roles required by that verb. (This is

sometimes called “theta assignment.”) For example, a verb like kill requires an agent

and a theme, as in The cat [agent] killed the mouse [theme]. Averb like give requires an

agent, a theme and a goal, as in The girl [agent] gave the flowers [theme] to her

mother [goal]. We can represent these observations in the following way:

KILL [Agent __________ Theme]

GIVE [Agent __________ Theme, Goal]

How would you define the set of semantic roles for the following verbs, using the

format illustrated? Are there required roles and optional roles?

(For background reading, see chapter 10 of Brinton and Brinton, 2010.)

II The words in the following list are all related in terms of the superordinate form

tableware. How would you go about determining what the prototype item of

“tableware” must be? Is a hierarchical diagram illustrating hyponymous relations

useful? Would it be helpful to list some (or all) of the words beside a scale from 5

(¼ “excellent example of tableware”) to 1 (¼ “not really an example of tableware”) and ask people to indicate their choices on the scale? Do you think that the word

with the highest score would indicate the prototype?

(For background reading, see chapter 1 of Ungerer and Schmid, 2006.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Cowie, A. (2009) Semantics Oxford University Press

Hurford, J., B. Heasley and M. Smith (2007) Semantics: A Coursebook (2nd edition) Cambridge

University Press

break kiss put taste

build like receive teach

die occupy send understand

eat offer sneeze want

fear open steal write

bowl flatware ladle soup spoon

crockery fork mug spoon

cup glass plate teaspoon

cutlery glassware platter tumbler

dish knife saucer wineglass

Semantics 123

 

 

More detailed treatments

Riemer, N. (2010) Introducing Semantics Cambridge University Press

Saeed, J. (2011) Semantics (3rd edition) Wiley-Blackwell

Conceptual and associative meaning

Aitchison, J. (2012) Words in the Mind (4th edition) Blackwell

Pinker, S. (2007) The Stuff of Thought (chapter 1) Viking

Semantic roles

Kroeger, P. (2005) Analyzing Grammar: An Introduction (chapter 4) Cambridge University Press

Lexical relations

Murphy, M. (2003) Semantic Relations and the Lexicon Cambridge University Press

Antonymy

Jones, S. (2002) Antonymy Routledge

Prototypes

Taylor, J. (2003) Linguistic Categorization (3rd edition) Oxford University Press

Metonymy

Allan, K. (2009) Metaphor and Metonymy Wiley-Blackwell

Collocation and corpus linguistics

Anderson, W. and J. Corbett (2009) Exploring English with Online Corpora: An Introduction

Palgrave Macmillan

McEnery, T. and A. Hardie (2011) Corpus Linguistics Cambridge University Press

Other references

Brinton, L. and D. Brinton (2010) The Linguistic Structure of Modern English (2nd edition)

John Benjamins

Sinclair, J. (2003) Reading Concordances Pearson

Ungerer, F. and H-J. Schmid (2006) An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics (2nd edition)

Pearson

124 The Study of Language

 

 

CHAPTER 10

Pragmatics

In the late 1960s, two elderly American tourists who had been touring Scotland

reported that, in their travels, they had come to a Scottish town in which there was a

great ruined cathedral. As they stood in the ruins, they saw a small boy and they asked him

when the cathedral had been so badly damaged. He replied in the war. Their immediate

interpretation, in the 1960s, was that he must be referring to the Second World War which

had ended only twenty years earlier. But then they thought that the ruins looked as if

they had been in their dilapidated state for much longer than that, so they asked the boy

which war he meant. He replied the war with the English, which, they eventually

discovered, had formally ended in 1745.

Brown (1998)

In the previous chapter, we focused on conceptual meaning and the relationships

between words. There are other aspects of meaning that depend more on context

and the communicative intentions of speakers. In Gill Brown’s story, the American

tourists and the Scottish boy seem to be using the word war with essentially the

same basic meaning. However, the boy was using the word to refer to something

the tourists didn’t expect, hence the initial misunderstanding. Communication clearly

depends on not only recognizing the meaning of words in an utterance, but also

recognizing what speakers mean by their utterances. The study of what speakers

mean, or “speaker meaning,” is called pragmatics.

 

 

Pragmatics

In many ways, pragmatics is the study of “invisible” meaning, or how we recognize

what is meant even when it isn’t actually said or written. In order for that to happen,

speakers (or writers) must be able to depend on a lot of shared assumptions and

expectations when they try to communicate. The investigation of those assumptions

and expectations provides us with some insights into how we understand more than

just the linguistic content of utterances. From the perspective of pragmatics, more is

always being communicated than is said.

There are lots of illustrations of this pragmatic principle. Driving by a parking garage,

you may see a large sign like the one in the picture (Figure 10.1). You read the sign,

knowing what each of the words means and what the sign as a whole means. However,

you don’t normally think that the sign is advertising a place where you can park your

“heated attendant.” (You take an attendant, you heat him/her up, and this is where you

can park him/her.) Alternatively, the sign may indicate a place where parking will be

carried out by attendants who have been heated. (Maybe they will be more cheerful.)

The words in the sign may allow these interpretations, but we would normally

understand that we can park a car in this place, that it’s a heated area, and that there will

Figure 10.1

126 The Study of Language

 

 

be an attendant to look after the car. So, how do we decide that the sign means this when

the sign doesn’t even have the word car on it? We must use the meanings of the words,

the context in which they occur, and some pre-existing knowledge of what would be a

likely message as we work toward a reasonable interpretation of what the producer of

the sign intended it to convey. Our interpretation of the “meaning” of the sign is not

based solely on the words, but on what we think the writer intended to communicate.

We can illustrate a similar process with our second example (Figure 10.2), taken

from a newspaper advertisement. If we only think about the meaning of the phrase as

a combination of the meanings of the words, using Furniture Sale as an analogy, we

might arrive at an interpretation in which someone is announcing the sale of some

very young children. Of course, we resist this possible interpretation and recognize

instead that it is advertising a sale of clothes for those young children. The word

clothes doesn’t appear in the message, but we can bring that idea to our interpretation

of the message as we work out what the advertiser intended us to understand. We are

actively involved in creating an interpretation of what we read and hear.

Context

In our discussion of the last two examples, we emphasized the influence of context.

There are different kinds of context. There is obviously the physical context, which

can be the location “out there” where we encounter words and phrases (e.g. the word

BANK on a wall of a building is understood as a financial institution). There is also the

linguistic context, also known as co-text. The co-text of a word is the set of other

words used in the same phrase or sentence. If the word bank is used with other words

like steep or overgrown, we have no problem deciding which type of bank is meant.

Figure 10.2

Pragmatics 127

 

 

Or, when someone says that she has to get to the bank to withdraw some cash, the co-

text tells us which type of bank is intended.

Deixis

There are some very common words in our language that can’t be interpreted at all if

we don’t know the context. These are words such as here and there, this or that, now

or then, yesterday, today or tomorrow, as well as pronouns such as you, me, she, him,

it, them. Some sentences of English are virtually impossible to understand if we don’t

know who is speaking, about whom, where and when. For example: You’ll have to

bring it back tomorrow because she isn’t here today.

Out of context, this sentence is really vague. It contains a large number of

expressions (you, it, tomorrow, she, here, today) that rely on knowledge of the local

context for their interpretation (i.e. that the delivery driver will have to return on

February 15th to 660 College Drive with the long box labeled “flowers, handle with

care” addressed to Lisa Landry). Expressions such as tomorrow and here are technic-

ally known as deictic (/daɪktɪk/) expressions, from the Greek word deixis, which

means “pointing” via language. We use deixis to point to people (him, them, those

things), places (here, there, after this) and times (now, then, next week).

Person deixis: me, you, him, her, us, them, that woman, those idiots

Spatial deixis: here, there, beside you, near that, above your head

Temporal deixis: now, then, last week, later, tomorrow, yesterday

All these deictic expressionshave tobe interpretedintermsofwhichperson,placeortime

thespeakerhasinmind.Wemakeabroaddistinctionbetweenwhatisclosetothespeaker

(this, here, now) and what is distant (that, there, then). We can also indicate whether

movement is away from the speaker (go) or toward the speaker (come). Just think about

telling someone to Go to bed versus Come to bed. Deixis can even be entertaining. The bar

owner who puts up a big sign that reads Free Beer Tomorrow (to get you to return to the

bar) can always claim that you are just one day too early for the free drink.

Reference

In discussing deixis, we assumed that the use of words to refer to people, places and

times was a simple matter. However, words themselves don’t refer to anything. People

refer. We have to define reference as an act by which a speaker (or writer) uses

language to enable a listener (or reader) to identify something. To perform an act of

reference, we can use proper nouns (Chomsky, Jennifer, Whiskas), other nouns in

phrases (a writer, my friend, the cat) or pronouns (he, she, it). We sometimes assume

that these words identify someone or something uniquely, but it is more accurate to

say that, for each word or phrase, there is a “range of reference.” The words Jennifer

128 The Study of Language

 

 

or friend or she can be used to refer to many entities in the world. As we observed

earlier, an expression such as the war doesn’t directly identify anything by itself,

because its reference depends on who is using it.

We can also refer to things when we’re not sure what to call them. We can use

expressions such as the blue thing and that icky stuff and we can even invent names.

For instance, there was a man who always drove his motorcycle fast and loud through

my neighborhood and was locally referred to as Mr. Kawasaki. In this case, a brand

name for a motorcycle is being used to refer to a person.

Inference

As in the “Mr. Kawasaki” example, a successful act of reference depends more on the

listener/reader’s ability to recognize what the speaker/writer means than on the

listener’s “dictionary” knowledge of a word that is used. For example, in a restaurant,

one waiter can ask another, Where’s the spinach salad sitting? and receive the reply,

He’s sitting by the door. If you’re studying linguistics, you might ask someone, Can

I look at your Chomsky? and get the response, Sure, it’s on the shelf over there. And when

you hear that Jennifer is wearing Calvin Klein, you avoid imagining someone called

Calvin draped over poor Jennifer and recognize that they’re talking about her clothing.

These examples make it clear that we can use names associated with things

(salad) to refer to people, and use names of people (Chomsky, Calvin Klein) to refer

to things. The key process here is called inference. An inference is additional infor-

mation used by the listener to create a connection between what is said and what

must be meant. In the Chomsky example, the listener has to operate with the infer-

ence: “if X is the name of the writer of a book, then X can be used to identify a copy of

a book by that writer.” Similar types of inferences are necessary to understand

someone who says that Picasso is in the museum, We saw Shakespeare in London,

Mozart was playing in the background and The bride wore Giorgio Armani.

Anaphora

We usually make a distinction between how we introduce new referents (a puppy)

and how we refer back to them (the puppy, it).

We saw a funny home video about a boy washing a puppy in a small bath.

The puppy started struggling and shaking and the boy got really wet.

When he let go, it jumped out of the bath and ran away.

In this type of referential relationship, the second (or subsequent) referring expression

is an example of anaphora (“referring back”). The first mention is called the

antecedent. So, in our example, a boy, a puppy and a small bath are antecedents

and The puppy, the boy, he, it and the bath are anaphoric expressions.

Pragmatics 129

 

 

There is a much less common pattern, called cataphora, which reverses the

antecedent–anaphora relationship by beginning with a pronoun (It), then later

revealing more specific information. This device is more common in stories, as in

this beginning: It suddenly appeared on the path a little ahead of me, staring in my

direction and sniffing the air. An enormous grizzly bear was checking me out.

Anaphora is, however, the more common pattern and can be defined as subse-

quent reference to an already introduced entity. Mostly we use anaphora in texts to

maintain reference. The connection between an antecedent and an anaphoric expres-

sion is created by use of a pronoun (it), or a phrase with the plus the antecedent noun

(the puppy), or another noun that is related to the antecedent in some way (The little

dog ran out of the room). The connection between antecedents and anaphoric expres-

sions is often based on inference, as in these examples:

We found a house to rent, but the kitchen was very small.

I got on a bus and asked the driver if it went near the downtown area.

In the first example, we must make an inference like “if X is a house, then X has a

kitchen” in order to interpret the connection between antecedent a house and ana-

phoric expression the kitchen. In the second example, we must make an inference like

“if X is a bus, then X has a driver” in order to make the connection between a bus and

the driver. In some cases, the antecedent can be a verb, as in: The victim was shot

twice, but the gun was never recovered. Here the inference is that any “shooting” event

must involve a gun.

We have used the term “inference” here to describe what the listener (or reader)

does. When we talk about an assumption made by the speaker (or writer), we usually

talk about a “presupposition.”

Presupposition

When we use a referring expression like this, he or Jennifer, we usually assume that

our listeners can recognize which referent is intended. In a more general way, we

design our linguistic messages on the basis of large-scale assumptions about what our

listeners already know. Some of these assumptions may be mistaken, of course, but

mostly they’re appropriate. What a speaker (or writer) assumes is true or known by a

listener (or reader) can be described as a presupposition.

If someone tells you Your brother is waiting outside, there is an obvious presup-

position that you have a brother. If you are asked Why did you arrive late?, there is a

presupposition that you did arrive late. And if you are asked the question When did

you stop smoking?, there are at least two presuppositions involved. In asking this

question, the speaker presupposes that you used to smoke and that you no longer do

so. Questions like this, with built-in presuppositions, are very useful devices for

interrogators or trial lawyers. If the defendant is asked by the prosecutor, Okay,

130 The Study of Language

 

 

Mr. Buckingham, how fast were you going when you went through the red light?, there

is a presupposition that Mr. Buckingham did in fact go through the red light. If he

simply answers the How fast part of the question, by giving a speed, he is behaving as

if the presupposition is correct.

One of the tests used to check for the presuppositions underlying sentences involves

negating a sentence with a particular presupposition and checking if the presupposition

remains true. Whether you say My car is a wreck or the negative version My car is not a

wreck, the underlying presupposition (I have a car) remains true despite the fact that the

two sentences have opposite meanings. This is called the “constancy under negation”

test for identifying a presupposition. If someone says, I used to regret marrying him, but

I don’t regret marrying him now, the presupposition (I married him) remains constant

even though the verb regret changes from affirmative to negative.

Speech acts

We have been considering ways in which we interpret the meaning of an utterance in

terms of whatthe speaker intended toconvey. We have not yetconsidered the factthatwe

usually know how the speakerintends usto“take” (or “interpret the function of”) whatis

said. In very general terms, we can usually recognize the type of “action” performed by a

speaker with the utterance. We use the term speech act to describe actions such as

“requesting,” “commanding,” “questioning” or “informing.” We can define a speech act

as the action performed by a speaker with an utterance. If you say, I’ll be there at six, you

are not just speaking, you seem to be performing the speech act of “promising.”

Direct and indirect speech acts

We usually use certain syntactic structures with the functions listed beside them in

Table 10.1.

When an interrogative structure such as Did you . . .?, Are they . . .? or Can we . . .?

is used with the function of a question, it is described as a direct speech act. For

example, when we don’t know something and we ask someone to provide the infor-

mation, we produce a direct speech act such as Can you ride a bicycle?.

Compare that utterance with Can you pass the salt?. In this second example, we

are not really asking a question about someone’s ability. In fact, we don’t normally

Table 10.1

Structures Functions

Did you eat the pizza? Interrogative Question

Eat the pizza (please)! Imperative Command (Request)

You ate the pizza. Declarative Statement

Pragmatics 131

 

 

use this structure as a question at all. We normally use it to make a request. That

is, we are using a structure associated with the function of a question, but in this

case with the function of a request. This is an example of an indirect speech

act. Whenever one of the structures in the set above is used to perform a function

other than the one listed beside it on the same line, the result is an indirect

speech act.

The utterance You left the door open has a declarative structure and, as a direct

speech act, would be used to make a statement. However, if you say this to someone

who has just come in (and it’s cold outside), you would probably want that person to

close the door. You aren’t using the imperative structure. You are using a declarative

structure to make a request. It’s another indirect speech act.

It is possible to have strange effects if one person fails to recognize another

person’s indirect speech act. Consider the following scene. A visitor to a city, carrying

his luggage, looking lost, stops a passer-by.

visitor: Excuse me. Do you know where the Ambassador Hotel is?

passer-by: Oh sure, I know where it is. (and walks away)

In this scene, the visitor uses a form normally associated with a question (Do you

know . . .?), and the passer-by answers that question literally (I know . . .). That is, the

passer-by is acting as if the utterance was a direct speech act instead of an indirect

speech act used as a request for directions.

The main reason we use indirect speech acts seems to be that actions such as

requests, presented in an indirect way (Could you open that door for me?), are

generally more polite in our society than direct speech acts (Open that door for

me!). Exactly why they are more polite is based on some complex assumptions.

Politeness

We can think of politeness in general terms as having to do with ideas like being

tactful, modest and nice to other people. In the study of linguistic politeness, the most

relevant concept is “face.” Your face, in pragmatics, is your public self-image. This is

the emotional and social sense of self that everyone has and expects everyone else to

recognize. Politeness can be defined as showing awareness and consideration of

another person’s face.

If you say something that represents a threat to another person’s self-image, that

is called a face-threatening act. For example, if you use a direct speech act to get

someone to do something (Give me that paper!), you are behaving as if you have more

social power than the other person. If you don’t actually have that social power (e.g.

you’re not a military officer or prison warden), then you are performing a face-

threatening act. An indirect speech act, in the form associated with a question (Could

you pass me that paper?), removes the assumption of social power. You’re only asking

132 The Study of Language

 

 

if it’s possible. This makes your request less threatening to the other person’s face.

Whenever you say something that lessens the possible threat to another’s face, it can

be described as a face-saving act.

Negative and positive face

We have both a negative face and a positive face. (Note that “negative” doesn’t mean

“bad” here, it’s simply the opposite of “positive.”) Negative face is the need to be

independent and free from imposition. Positive face is the need to be connected, to

belong, to be a member of the group. So, a face-saving act that emphasizes a person’s

negative face will show concern about imposition (I’m sorry to bother you . . .; I know

you’re busy, but . . .). A face-saving act that emphasizes a person’s positive face will

show solidarity and draw attention to a common goal (Let’s do this together . . .; You

and I have the same problem, so . . .).

Ideas about the appropriate language to mark politeness differ substantially from

one culture to the next. If you have grown up in a culture that has directness as a

valued way of showing solidarity, and you use direct speech acts (Give me that chair!)

to people whose culture is more oriented to indirectness and avoiding direct impos-

ition, then you will be considered impolite. You, in turn, may think of the others as

vague and unsure of whether they really want something or are just asking about it

(Are you using this chair?). In either case, it is the pragmatics that is misunderstood

and, unfortunately, more will often be communicated than is said.

Understanding how successful communication works is actually a process of

interpreting not just what speakers say, but what they “intend to mean.” We’ll explore

other aspects of this process in Chapter 11.

Pragmatics 133

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 What kinds of deictic expressions (e.g. We ¼ person deixis) are used here? (a) We went there last summer.

(b) I’m busy now so you can’t stay here. Come back later.

2 What are the anaphoric expressions in this sentence?

Dr. Foster gave Andy some medicine after he told her about his headaches

and she advised him to take the pills three times a day until the pain

went away.

3 What kind of inference is involved in interpreting each of these utterances?

(a) teacher: You can borrow my Shakespeare.

(b) waiter: The ham sandwich left without paying.

(c) nurse: The hernia in room 5 wants to talk to the doctor.

(d) dentist: My eleven-thirty canceled so I had an early lunch.

4 What is one obvious presupposition of a speaker who says:

(a) Your clock isn’t working.

(b) Where did he find the money?

(c) We regret buying that car.

(d) The king of France is bald.

5 Someone stands between you and the TV set you’re watching, so you decide to say

one of the following. Identify which would be direct or indirect speech acts.

6 In these examples, is the speaker appealing to positive or negative face?

(a) If you’re free, there’s going to be a party at Yuri’s place on Saturday.

(b) Let’s go to the party at Yuri’s place on Saturday. Everyone’s invited.

TASKS

A What do you think is meant by the statement: “A context is a psychological

construct” (Sperber and Wilson, 1995)?

B Why is the concept of “deictic projection” necessary for the analysis of the

following deictic expressions?

(1) On a telephone answering machine: I am not here now

(2) On a map/directory: you are here

(3) Watching a horse race: Oh, no. I’m in last place.

(4) In a car that won’t start: Maybe I’m out of gas.

(5) Pointing to an empty chair in class: Where is she today?

(a) Move! (c) Could you please sit down?

(b) You’re in the way. (d) Please get out of the way.

134 The Study of Language

 

 

C What is metapragmatics? What aspects of the following utterance illustrate

metapragmatic awareness?

I know that Justin said, “I’ll help you, darling,” but he wasn’t actually promising

anything, I’m sure.

D Which of these utterances contain “performative verbs” and how did you decide?

(1) I apologize.

(2) He said he was sorry.

(3) I bet you $20.

(4) She won the bet.

(5) I drive a Mercedes.

(6) You must have a lot of money.

E Using these examples, and any others you think are appropriate, try to decide if

euphemisms and proverbs should be studied as part of pragmatics. Are they, for

example, similar to indirect speech acts?

(1) She’s got a bun in the oven.

(2) He’s gone to a better place.

(3) Unfortunately, there was some collateral damage.

(4) The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

(5) If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

(6) People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

F The following phrases were all on signs advertising sales. What is being sold in

each case and (if you know) what other words would you add to the description to

make it clearer? What is the underlying structure of each phrase? For example,

Furniture Sale might have the structure: “someone is selling furniture.” Would the

same structure be appropriate for Garage Sale and the others?

G Deictic expressions are not the only examples of vague language that require a

pragmatic interpretation. All the following expressions are vague in some way. Can

you analyze them into the categories in the chart below, which is based on

Overstreet (2011: 298)? Can you add other examples?

Back-to-School Sale Dollar Sale One Cent Sale

Bake Sale Foundation Sale Plant Sale

Big Screen Sale Furniture Sale Sidewalk Sale

Clearance Sale Garage Sale Spring Sale

Close-out Sale Labor Day Sale Tent Sale

Colorful White Sale Liquidation Sale Yard Sale

and all that maybe sometimes

and everything now and again sort of blue

and stuff like that occasionally thingmajig

Pragmatics 135

 

 

Approximators (¼ “not exactly”): _________________________ General extenders (¼ “there is more”): _____________________ Vague nouns (¼ “inherently vague”): ______________________ Vague amounts (¼ “how many/much?”): ___________________ Vague frequency (¼ “how often?”): ________________________ Vague possibility (¼ “how likely?”): _______________________

H Certain types of question–answer jokes or riddles seem to depend for their effect

on the reanalysis of a presupposition in the question after the answer is given.

For example, in the question What two things can you never eat before breakfast?,

the phrase two things invites an interpretation that presupposes two “specific

things,” such as individual food items, as objects of the verb eat. When you hear

the answer Lunch and dinner, you have to replace the first presupposition with

another assuming two “general things,” not individual food items, as objects of

the verb eat.

Can you identify the reanalyzed presuppositions involved in the following

jokes (from Ritchie, 2002)?

(1) Q: Why do birds fly south in the winter?

A: Because it’s too far to walk.

(2) Q: Do you believe in clubs for young people?

A: Only when kindness fails.

(3) Q: Did you know that in New York someone is knocked down by a car every ten

minutes?

A: No, but I imagine he must be getting really tired of it.

(4) In a clothing store, a customer asks a salesperson:

Q: Can I try on that dress in the window?

A: Well, maybe it would be better to use the dressing room.

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I Let’s imagine you were in a situation where you had to ask your parents if you could

go out to a dance and you received one of these two responses. Do you think that

these responses have the same or different “meanings”?

Next, consider this situation, described in Tannen (1986: 67):

A Greek woman explained how she and her father (and later her husband)

communicated. If she wanted to do something, like go to a dance, she had to ask

“Yes, of course, go.” “If you want, you can go.”

around seven possibly thingy

heaps of probably tons of

loads of sevenish whatsisname

136 The Study of Language

 

 

her father for permission. He never said no. But she could tell from the way he said

yes whether or not he meant it. If he said something like “Yes, of course, go,” then

she knew he thought it was a good idea. If he said something like “If you want, you

can go,” then she understood that he didn’t think it was a good idea, and she

wouldn’t go.

Why do you think “he never said no” (when he was communicating “No”)?

How would you analyze the two speech acts reported as responses in this

passage?

Are you familiar with any other comparable situations where “more is communi-

cated than is said”?

(For background reading, see Tannen, 1986.)

II What counts as polite behavior can differ substantially from one group or culture to

the next. Below are some basic descriptions from Lakoff (1990) of three types of

politeness, called distance politeness, deference politeness and camaraderie

politeness. As you read these descriptions, try to decide which type you are most

familiar with and whether you have encountered the others on any occasion. What

kind of language do you think is characteristic of these different types of

politeness?

Distance politeness is the civilized human analogue to the territorial strategies of

other animals. An animal sets up physical boundary markers (the dog and the

hydrant) to signal its fellows: My turf, stay out. We, being symbol-using creatures,

create symbolic fences.

Distancing cultures weave remoteness into their language.

Another culture might avoid the danger of conflict by adopting a strategy

of deferential politeness. If a participant decides that whatever is to happen in a

conversation – both what is said and it is to mean – is up to the other person,

conflict can easily be avoided.

Where distance politeness more or less assumes equality between participants,

deference works by debasing one or both.

While distance politeness has been characteristic of the middle and upper

classes in most of Europe for a very long time, deference has been typical in many

Asian societies. But it is also the preferred model of interaction for women in the

majority of societies, either always or only when talking to men.

A third strategy (camaraderie) that has recently emerged in this culture makes a

different assumption: that interaction and connection are good in themselves, that

openness is the greatest sign of courtesy.

In a camaraderie system, the appearance of openness and niceness is to be

sought above all else. There is no holding back, nothing is too terrible to say.

(For background reading, see chapter 2 of Lakoff, 1990.)

Pragmatics 137

 

 

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Cutting J. (2008) Pragmatics and Discourse (2nd edition) Routledge

Yule, G. (1996) Pragmatics Oxford University Press

More detailed treatments

Birner, B. (2012) Introduction to Pragmatics Wiley-Blackwell

Grundy, P. (2008) Doing Pragmatics (3rd edition) Hodder

Context and co-text

Malmkjaer, K. and J. Williams (eds.) (1998) Context in Language Learning and Language

Understanding Cambridge University Press

Widdowson, H. (2004) Text, Context, Pretext (chapter 4) Blackwell

Reference and deixis

Cruse, A. (2011) Meaning in Language (part 4) (3rd edition) Oxford University Press

Levinson, S. (2006) “Deixis” In L. Horn and G. Ward (eds.) The Handbook of Pragmatics

(97–121) Blackwell

Anaphora

Garnham, A. (2001) Mental Models and the Interpretation of Anaphora (chapter 4) Psychology

Press

Presupposition

Levinson, S. (1983) Pragmatics (chapter 4) Cambridge University Press

Marmaridou, S. (2010) “Presupposition” In L. Cummings (ed.) The Pragmatics Encyclopedia

(349–353) Routledge

Speech acts

Thomas, J. (1995) Meaning in Interaction (chapter 2) Longman

Politeness and face

Brown, P. and S. Levinson (1987) Politeness Cambridge University Press

Mills, S. (2003) Gender and Politeness Cambridge University Press

Other references

Lakoff, R. (1990) Talking Power Basic Books

Overstreet, M. (2011) “Vagueness and hedging” In G. Andersen and K. Aijmer (eds.) Pragmatics

of Society (293–317) De Gruyter

Ritchie, G. (2002) The Linguistic Analysis of Jokes Routledge

Sperber, D. and D. Wilson (1995) Relevance (2nd edition) Blackwell

Tannen, D. (1986) That’s Not What I Meant! William Morrow

138 The Study of Language

 

 

CHAPTER 11

Discourse analysis

There’s two types of favors, the big favor and the small favor. You can measure the size

of the favor by the pause that a person takes after they ask you to “Do me a favor.”

Small favor – small pause. “Can you do me a favor, hand me that pencil.” No pause at all.

Big favors are, “Could you do me a favor . . .” Eight seconds go by. “Yeah? What?”

“. . . well.” The longer it takes them to get to it, the bigger the pain it’s going to be.

Humans are the only species that do favors. Animals don’t do favors. A lizard doesn’t go

up to a cockroach and say, “Could you do me a favor and hold still, I’d like to eat you alive.”

That’s a big favor even with no pause.

Seinfeld (1993)

In the study of language, some of the most interesting observations are made, not

in terms of the components of language, but in terms of the way language is used,

even how pauses are used, as in Jerry Seinfeld’s commentary. We have already

considered some of the features of language in use when we discussed pragmatics

in Chapter 10. We were, in effect, asking how it is that language-users successfully

interpret what other language-users intend to convey. When we carry this

investigation further and ask how we make sense of what we read, how we can

recognize well-constructed texts as opposed to those that are jumbled or incoherent,

how we understand speakers who communicate more than they say, and how we

successfully take part in that complex activity called conversation, we are

undertaking what is known as discourse analysis.

 

 

Discourse

The word “discourse” is usually defined as “language beyond the sentence” and

so the analysis of discourse is typically concerned with the study of language in

texts and conversation. In many of the preceding chapters, when we were concen-

trating on linguistic description, we were concerned with the accurate representa-

tion of the forms and structures. However, as language-users, we are capable of

more than simply recognizing correct versus incorrect forms and structures. We

can cope with fragments in newspaper headlines such as Trains collide, two die,

and know that what happened in the first part was the cause of what happened

in the second part. We can also make sense of notices like No shoes, no service,

on shop windows in summer, understanding that a conditional relation exists

between the two parts (“If you are wearing no shoes, you will receive no service”).

We have the ability to create complex discourse interpretations of fragmentary

linguistic messages.

Interpreting discourse

We can even cope with texts, written in English, which we couldn’t produce ourselves

and which appear to break a lot of the rules of the English language. Yet we can build

an interpretation. The following example, provided by Eric Nelson, is from an

essay by a student learning English and contains all kinds of errors, yet it can be

understood.

My Town

My natal was in a small town, very close to Riyadh capital of Saudi Arabia.

The distant between my town and Riyadh 7 miles exactly. The name of this Alma-

sani that means in English Factories. It takes this name from the peopl’s carrer. In

my childhood I remmeber the people live. It was very simple. Most the people was

farmer.

This example may serve to illustrate a simple point about the way we react to

language that contains ungrammatical forms. Rather than simply reject the text as

ungrammatical, we try to make sense of it. That is, we attempt to arrive at a

reasonable interpretation of what the writer intended to convey. (Most people say

they understand the “My Town” text quite easily.)

It is this effort to interpret (or to be interpreted), and how we accomplish it, that

are the key elements investigated in the study of discourse. To arrive at an interpret-

ation, and to make our messages interpretable, we certainly rely on what we know

about linguistic form and structure. But, as language-users, we have more knowledge

than that.

140 The Study of Language

 

 

Cohesion

We know, for example, that texts must have a certain structure that depends on factors

quite different from those required in the structure of a single sentence. Some of those

factors are described in terms of cohesion, or the ties and connections that exist

within texts. A number of those types of cohesive ties can be identified in the

following paragraph.

My father once bought a Lincoln convertible. He did it by saving every penny he could.

That car would be worth a fortune nowadays. However, he sold it to help pay for my

college education. Sometimes I think I’d rather have the convertible.

There are connections here in the use of words to maintain reference to the same

people and things throughout: father – he – he – he; my – my – I; Lincoln – it. There are

connections between phrases such as: a Lincoln convertible – that car – the convert-

ible. There are more general connections created by terms that share a common

element of meaning, such as “money” (bought – saving – penny – worth a fortune –

sold – pay) and “time” (once – nowadays – sometimes). There is also a connector

(However) that marks the relationship of what follows to what went before. The verb

tenses in the first four sentences are all in the past, creating a connection between

those events, and a different time is indicated by the present tense of the final

sentence.

Analysis of these cohesive ties within a text gives us some insight into how

writers structure what they want to say. An appropriate number of cohesive ties

may be a crucial factor in our judgments on whether something is well written

or not. It has also been noted that the conventions of cohesive structure differ

from one language to the next, one source of difficulty encountered in translat-

ing texts.

However, by itself, cohesion would not be sufficient to enable us to make sense of

what we read. It is quite easy to create a highly cohesive text that has a lot of

connections between the sentences, but is very difficult to interpret. Note that the

following text has a series of connections in Lincoln – the car, red – that color, her –

she, and letters – a letter.

My father bought a Lincoln convertible. The car driven by the police was red. That color

doesn’t suit her. She consists of three letters. However, a letter isn’t as fast as a

telephone call.

It becomes clear from this type of example that the “connectedness” we experience

in our interpretation of normal texts is not simply based on connections between

words. There must be another factor that helps us distinguish connected texts

that make sense from those that do not. This factor is usually described as

“coherence.”

Discourse analysis 141

 

 

Coherence

The key to the concept of coherence (“everything fitting together well”) is not something

that exists in words or structures, but something that exists in people. It is people who

“make sense” of what they read and hear. They try to arrive at an interpretation that is in

line with their experience of the way the world is. Indeed, our ability to make sense of

what we read is probably only a small part of that general ability we have to make sense

of what we perceive or experience in the world. You may have tried quite hard to make

the last example fit some situation that accommodated all the details (involving a red car,

a woman and a letter) into a single coherent interpretation. In doing so, you would

necessarily be involved in a process of filling in a lot of gaps that exist in the text. You

would have to create meaningful connections that are not actually expressed by the

words and sentences. This process is not restricted to trying to understand “odd” texts. In

one way or another, it seems to be involved in our interpretation of all discourse.

It is certainly present in the interpretation of casual conversation. We are continu-

ally taking part in conversational interactions where a great deal of what is meant is

not actually present in what is said. Perhaps it is the ease with which we ordinarily

anticipate each other’s intentions that makes this whole complex process seem so

unremarkable. Here is a good example, adapted from Widdowson (1978).

her: That’s the telephone

him: I’m in the bath

her: O.K.

There are certainly no cohesive ties within this fragment of discourse. How does each

of these people manage to make sense of what the other says? They do use the

information contained in the sentences expressed, but there must be something else

involved in the interpretation. It has been suggested that exchanges of this type are

best understood in terms of the conventional actions performed by the speakers in

such interactions. Drawing on concepts derived from the study of speech acts (intro-

duced in Chapter 10), we can characterize the brief conversation in the following way.

She makes a request of him to perform action.

He states reason why he cannot comply with request.

She undertakes to perform action.

If this is a reasonable analysis of what took place in the conversation, then it is clear

that language-users must have a lot of knowledge of how conversation works that is

not simply “linguistic” knowledge.

Speech events

In exploring what it is we know about taking part in conversation, or any other speech

event (e.g. debate, interview, various types of discussions), we quickly realize that

142 The Study of Language

 

 

there is enormous variation in what people say and do in different circumstances. In

order to begin to describe the sources of that variation, we would have to take account

of a number of criteria. For example, we would have to specify the roles of speaker

and hearer (or hearers) and their relationship(s), whether they were friends,

strangers, men, women, young, old, of equal or unequal status, and many other

factors. All of these factors will have an influence on what is said and how it is said.

We would have to describe what the topic of conversation was and in what setting it

took place. Some of the effects of these factors on the way language is used are

explored in greater detail in Chapters 19 and 20. Yet, even when we have described

all these factors, we will still not have analyzed the actual structure of the conversa-

tion itself. As language-users, in a particular culture, we clearly have quite sophisti-

cated knowledge of how conversation works.

Conversation analysis

In simple terms, English conversation can be described as an activity in which, for the

most part, two or more people take turns at speaking. Typically, only one person

speaks at a time and there tends to be an avoidance of silence between speaking turns.

(This is not true in all situations or societies.) If more than one participant tries to talk

at the same time, one of them usually stops, as in the following example, where

A stops until B has finished.

A:

B:

A: Yes but you knew where he was going

(A small square bracket [ is conventionally used to indicate a place where simultan-

eous or overlapping speech occurs.)

For the most part, participants wait until one speaker indicates that he or she has

finished, usually by signaling a completion point. Speakers can mark their turns as

complete in a number of ways: by asking a question, for example, or by pausing at the

end of a completed syntactic structure like a phrase or sentence. Other participants

can indicate that they want to take the speaking turn, also in a number of ways. They

can start to make short sounds, usually repeated, while the speaker is talking, and

often use body shifts or facial expressions to signal that they have something to say.

Turn-taking

There are different expectations of conversational style and different strategies of

participation in conversation, which may result in slightly different conventions

of turn-taking. One strategy, which may be overused by “long-winded” speakers

or those who are used to “holding the floor,” is designed to avoid having

Didn’t you [know wh-

[But he must’ve been there by two

Discourse analysis 143

 

 

normal completion points occur. We all use this strategy to some extent, usually in

situations where we have to work out what we are trying to say while actually

saying it.

If the normal expectation is that completion points are marked by the end of a

sentence and a pause, then one way to “keep the turn” is to avoid having those two

markers occur together. That is, don’t pause at the end of sentences; make your

sentences run on by using connectors like and, and then, so, but; place your pauses

at points where the message is clearly incomplete; and preferably “fill” the pause with

a hesitation marker such as er, em, uh, ah.

In the following example, note how the pauses (marked by . . .) are placed before

and after verbs rather than at the end of sentences, making it difficult to get a clear

sense of what this person is saying until we hear the part after each pause.

A: that’s their favorite restaurant because they . . . enjoy French food and when they

were . . . in France they couldn’t believe it that . . . you know that they had . . . that

they had had better meals back home

In the next example, speaker X produces filled pauses (with em, er, you know) after

having almost lost the turn at his first brief hesitation.

X:

Y:

X: I mean his other . . . em his later films were much more . . . er really more in the

romantic style and that was more what what he was . . . you know . . . em best at

doing

Y: so when did he make that one

These types of strategies, by themselves, should not be considered undesirable or

domineering. They are present in the conversational speech of most people and they

are part of what makes conversation work. We recognize these subtle indicators as

ways of organizing our turns and negotiating the intricate business of social inter-

action via language. In fact, one of the most noticeable features of conversational

discourse in English is that it is generally very “co-operative.” This observation has

been formulated as a principle of conversation.

The co-operative principle

An underlying assumption in most conversational exchanges seems to be that

the participants are co-operating with each other. This principle, together with

four maxims that we expect our conversational partners to obey, was first

described by the philosopher Paul Grice (1975: 45). The co-operative principle

is presented in the following way, together with what are often called the “Gricean

maxims.”

well that film really was . . . [wasn’t what he was good at

[when di-

144 The Study of Language

 

 

Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it

occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are

engaged.

The Quantity maxim: Make your contribution as informative as is required, but not

more, or less, than is required.

The Quality maxim: Do not say that which you believe to be false or for which you

lack adequate evidence.

The Relation maxim: Be relevant.

The Manner maxim: Be clear, brief and orderly.

In simple terms, we expect our conversational partners to make succinct, honest,

relevant and clear contributions to the interaction and to signal to us in some way if

these maxims are not being followed in particular circumstances. It is certainly true

that, on occasion, we can experience conversational exchanges in which the co-

operative principle may not seem to be in operation. However, this general description

of the normal expectations we have in conversation helps to explain a number of

regular features in the way people say things. For example, during their lunch break,

one woman asks another how she likes the sandwich she is eating and receives the

following answer.

Oh, a sandwich is a sandwich.

In logical terms, this reply appears to have no communicative value since it states

something obvious, doesn’t seem to be informative at all and hence would appear to

be a tautology. Repeating a phrase that adds nothing would hardly count as an

appropriate answer to a question. However, if the woman is being co-operative and

adhering to the Quantity maxim about being “as informative as is required,” then the

listener must assume that her friend is communicating something. Given the oppor-

tunity to evaluate the sandwich, her friend has responded without an explicit evalu-

ation, thereby implying that she has no opinion, good or bad, to express. That is, her

friend has communicated that the sandwich isn’t worth talking about.

Hedges

We use certain types of expressions, called hedges, to show that we are con-

cerned about following the maxims while being co-operative participants in

conversation. Hedges can be defined as words or phrases used to indicate that

we’re not really sure that what we’re saying is sufficiently correct or complete.

We can use sort of or kind of as hedges on the accuracy of our statements, as in

descriptions such as His hair was kind of long or The book cover is sort of yellow.

These are examples of hedges on the Quality maxim. Other examples would

include the following expressions that people sometimes use as they begin a

conversational contribution.

Discourse analysis 145

 

 

As far as I know, . . .

Correct me if I’m wrong, but . . .

I’m not absolutely sure, but . . .z

We also take care to indicate that what we report is something we think or feel (not

know), is possible or likely (not certain), and may or could (not must) happen. Hence

the difference between saying Jackson is guilty and I think it’s possible that Jackson

may be guilty. In the first version, we will be assumed to have very good evidence for

the statement.

Implicatures

When we try to analyze how hedges work, we usually talk about speakers implying

something that is not said. Similarly, in considering what the woman meant by a

sandwich is a sandwich, we decided that she was implying that the sandwich wasn’t

worth talking about. With the co-operative principle and the maxims as guides,

we can start to work out how people actually decide that someone is “implying”

something in conversation. Consider the following example.

carol: Are you coming to the party tonight?

lara: I’ve got an exam tomorrow

On the face of it, Lara’s statement is not an answer to Carol’s question. Lara doesn’t

say Yes or No. Yet Carol will interpret the statement as meaning “No” or “Probably

not.” How can we account for this ability to grasp one meaning from a sentence that,

in a literal sense, means something else? It seems to depend on the assumption that

Lara is being relevant and informative, adhering to the maxims of Relation and

Quantity. (Try to imagine Carol’s reaction if Lara had said something like Roses are

red, you know.) Given that Lara’s original answer contains relevant information, Carol

can work out that “exam tomorrow” conventionally involves “study tonight,” and

“study tonight” precludes “party tonight.” Thus, Lara’s answer is not simply a

statement about tomorrow’s activities, it contains an implicature (an additional

conveyed meaning) concerning tonight’s activities.

Background knowledge

It is noticeable that, in order to analyze the conversational implicature involved in

Lara’s statement, we had to describe some background knowledge (about exams,

studying and partying) that must be shared by the conversational participants. Inves-

tigating how we use our background knowledge to arrive at interpretations of what

we hear and read is a critical part of doing discourse analysis.

The processes involved in using background knowledge can be illustrated in the

following exercise (from Sanford and Garrod, 1981). Begin with these sentences:

146 The Study of Language

 

 

John was on his way to school last Friday.

He was really worried about the math lesson.

Most readers report that they think John is probably a schoolboy. Since this piece of

information is not directly stated in the text, it must be an inference. Other inferences,

for different readers, are that John is walking or that he is on a bus. These inferences

are clearly derived from our conventional knowledge, in our culture, about “going to

school,” and no reader has ever suggested that John is swimming or on a boat, though

both are physically possible interpretations.

An interesting aspect of the reported inferences is that readers can quickly

abandon them if they do not fit in with some subsequent information.

Last week he had been unable to control the class.

On encountering this sentence, most readers decide that John must be a teacher and

that he is not very happy. Many report that he is probably driving a car to school.

It was unfair of the math teacher to leave him in charge.

Suddenly, John reverts to his schoolboy status, and the inference that he is a teacher is

quickly abandoned. The final sentence of the text contains a surprise.

After all, it is not a normal part of a janitor’s duties.

This type of text and manner of presentation, one sentence at a time, is rather

artificial, of course. Yet the exercise involved does provide us with some insight

into the ways in which we “build” interpretations of what we read by using more

information than is presented in the words on the page. We actually create

what the text is about, based on our expectations of what normally happens.

To describe this phenomenon, researchers often use the concept of a “schema” or

a “script.”

Schemas and scripts

A schema is a general term for a conventional knowledge structure that exists in

memory. We were using our conventional knowledge of what a school classroom is

like, or a “classroom schema,” as we tried to make sense of the previous example. We

have many schemas (or schemata) that are used in the interpretation of what we

experience and what we hear or read about. If you hear someone describe what

happened during a visit to a supermarket, you don’t have to be told what is in a

supermarket. You already have a “supermarket schema” (food displayed on shelves,

arranged in aisles, shopping carts and baskets, check-out counter, and other conven-

tional features) as part of your background knowledge.

Similar in many ways to a schema is a script. A script is essentially a dynamic

schema. That is, instead of the set of typical fixed features in a schema, a script has a

series of conventional actions that take place. You have a script for “Going to the

Discourse analysis 147

 

 

dentist” and another script for “Going to the movies.” We all have versions of an

“Eating in a restaurant” script, which we can activate to make sense of this text.

Trying not to be out of the office for long, Suzy went into the nearest place, sat down

and ordered an avocado sandwich. It was quite crowded, but the service was fast, so

she left a good tip. Back in the office, things were not going well.

On the basis of our restaurant script, we would be able to say a number of things

about the scene and events briefly described in this short text. For example, although

the text doesn’t have this information, we would assume that Suzy opened a door to

get into the restaurant, that there were tables there, that she ate the sandwich, then

she paid for it, and so on. The fact that information of this type can turn up in people’s

attempts to remember the text is further evidence of the existence of scripts. It is also a

good indication of the fact that our understanding of what we read doesn’t come

directly from what words and sentences are on the page, but the interpretations we

create, in our minds, of what we read.

Indeed, information is sometimes omitted from instructions on the assumption

that everybody knows the script. This instruction is from a bottle of cough syrup.

Fill measure cup to line and repeat every 2 to 3 hours.

No, you’ve not just to keep filling the measure cup every 2 to 3 hours. Nor have you to

rub the cough syrup on your neck or in your hair. You are expected to know the script

and drink the stuff from the measure cup every 2 or 3 hours.

Clearly, our understanding of what we read is not only based on what we see on

the page (language structures), but also on other things that we have in mind

(knowledge structures) as we go about making sense of discourse.

148 The Study of Language

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 How is the word “discourse” usually defined?

2 What is the basic difference between cohesion and coherence?

3 How do speakers mark completion points at the end of a turn?

4 What are hedges in discourse?

5 Which maxims do these speakers seem to be particularly careful about?

(a) I may be mistaken, but I thought I saw a wedding ring on his finger.

(b) I won’t bore you with all the details, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

6 In the study of discourse understanding, what are scripts?

TASKS

A In the analysis of discourse, what is “intertextuality”?

B In conversation analysis, what is the difference between a “preferred” response and

a “dispreferred” response? How would you characterize the responses by She in

these two examples?

(a) he: How about going for some coffee?

she: Oh . . . eh . . . I’d love to . . . but you see . . . I . . . I’m supposed to get this

thing finished . . . you know

(b) he: I think she’s really sexy.

she: Well . . . er . . . I’m not sure . . . you may be right . . . but you see . . . other

people probably don’t go for all that . . . you know . . . all that make-up . . .

so em sorry but I don’t think so

C The following extract is from a conversation between two women chatting

about people they both knew in high school (Overstreet, 1999: 112–113).

The phrase or something is used twice by Crystal in this extract. Is she

adhering to the Co-operative Principle and the Quality maxim or not? How did you

decide?

julie: I can’t remember any ge- guys in our grade that were gay.

crystal: Larry Brown an’ an’ John Murphy. I – huh I dunno, I heard John

Murphy was dressed – was like a transvestite or something.

julie: You’re kidding.

crystal: I – I dunno. That was a – an old rumor, I don’t even know if it was true.

julie: That’s funny.

crystal: Or cross-dresser or something

julie: Larry – Larry Brown is gay?

Discourse analysis 149

 

 

D (i) Identify the main cohesive ties in this first paragraph of a novel (Faulkner,

1929).

(ii) What do you think “they” were hitting?

Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.

They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence. Luster

was hunting in the grass by the flower tree. They took the flag out, and they were

hitting. Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the

other hit. They went on, and I went along the fence. Luster came away from the

flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and

I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass.

E This is a version of a story described in Widdowson (2007). When most people first

read this story, they find it confusing. Can you identify the source of this confusion

in terms of background knowledge or assumptions?

A man and his son were crossing the street one day when a car suddenly came

towards them and hit the boy, knocking him down. In less than ten minutes an

ambulance came and took the boy to the nearest hospital. As the boy was being

taken into the emergency room, one of the surgeons saw him and cried out, “Oh

no. This is my son!”

F (i) What is Critical Discourse Analysis?

(ii) How might the following text be analyzed using that approach? This text

originally appeared in the British newspaper the Sun (February 2, 1989) and is

cited in van Dijk (1996: 98) and Cameron (2001: 127).

BRITAIN INVADED BY ARMY OF ILLEGALS

Britain is being swamped by a tide of illegal immigrants so desperate for a job

that they will work for a pittance in our restaurants, cafés and nightclubs.

Immigration officers are being overwhelmed with work. Last year, 2191

“illegals” were nabbed and sent back home. But there were tens of thousands

more, slaving behind bars, cleaning hotel rooms and working in kitchens …

Illegals sneak in by:

� deceiving immigration officers when they are quizzed at airports � disappearing after their entry visas run out � forging work permits and other documents � running away from immigration detention centres

G (i) What is studied in “Stylistics”?

(ii) The following text (quoted in Verdonk, 2002: 7–8) appeared on the back cover

of a book of short stories by the writer Margaret Atwood. Which aspects of this

text would be discussed in a stylistic analysis?

150 The Study of Language

 

 

This splendid volume of short fiction testifies to Margaret Atwood’s startlingly

original voice, full of rare intensity and exceptional intelligence. Each of the

fourteen stories shimmers with feelings, each illuminates the unexplored interior

landscape of a woman’s mind. Here men and women still miscommunicate, still

remain separate in different rooms, different houses, or even different worlds.

With brilliant flashes of fantasy, humor, and unexpected violence, the stories

reveal the complexities of human relationships and bring to life characters who

touch us deeply, evoking terror and laughter, compassion and recognition – and

dramatically demonstrate why Margaret Atwood is one of the most important

writers in English today.

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I In the study of discourse, a distinction is often made between “new information”

(treated as new for the reader or listener) and “given information” (treated as

already known by the reader or listener). Read through the following recipe for

bread sauce and identify the ways in which given information is presented. (Try to

think carefully about carrying out the instructions in the Method section and how

many unmentioned things you are assumed to have and use.)

Method: Peel the onion and push cloves into it. Simmer gently with the milk and

butter for at least twenty minutes. Remove the onion, pour the milk over the

breadcrumbs. Let this stand to thicken and reheat before serving.

(For background reading, see chapter 5 of Brown and Yule, 1983.)

II According to Deborah Schiffrin. “the analysis of discourse markers is part of the

more general analysis of discourse coherence” (1987: 49). Looking at the use of

discourse markers (in bold) in the following extract from conversation, do you

think that they help to make this discourse more coherent? If any of them were

omitted, would it become less coherent? Given these examples, how would you

define discourse markers? Do you think the word like (used twice here) should be

treated as a discourse marker?

I believe in that. Whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen. I believe … that …

y’know it’s fate. It really is. Because eh my husband has a brother, that was killed

in an automobile accident, and at the same time there was another fellow, in

there, that walked away with not even a scratch on him. And I really fee- I don’t

feel y’can push fate, and I think a lot of people do. But I feel that you were put

Ingredients: 1 small onion 3 oz. fresh breadcrumbs

2 cloves 1 oz. butter

1 cup of milk Pepper and salt

Discourse analysis 151

 

 

here for so many, years or whatever the case is, and that’s how it was meant to

be. Because like when we got married, we were supposed t’get married uh like

about five months later. My husband got a notice t’go into the service and we

moved it up. And my father died the week … after we got married. While we were

on our honeymoon. And I just felt, that move was meant to be, because if not,

he wouldn’t have been there. So eh y’know it just s- seems that that’s how

things work.

(For background reading, see chapter 3 of Schiffrin, 1987.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Jones, R. (2012) Discourse Analysis: A Resource Book for Students Routledge

Widdowson, H. (2007) Discourse Analysis Oxford University Press

More detailed treatments

Coulthard, M. (2007) An Introduction to Discourse Analysis (2nd edition) Pearson

Paltridge, B. (2012) Discourse Analysis (2nd edition) Bloomsbury

Specifically on spoken discourse

Cameron, D. (2001) Working with Spoken Discourse Sage

Specifically on written discourse

Hoey, M. (2001) Textual Interaction: An Introduction to Written Discourse Analysis Routledge

Different approaches to discourse analysis

Schiffrin, D. (2003) Approaches to Discourse (2nd edition) Wiley

Conversation analysis

Have, P. (2007) Doing Conversation Analysis (2nd edition) Sage

Liddicoat, A. (2007) An Introduction to Conversation Analysis Continuum

The Gricean maxims

Chapman, S. (2005) Paul Grice: Philosopher and Linguist Palgrave Macmillan

Grice, P. (1989) Studies in the Way of Words Harvard University Press

Implicature

Davis, W. (1998) Implicature: Intention, Convention and Principle in the Failure of Gricean

Theory Cambridge University Press

Kasher, A. (2009) “Implicature” In S. Chapman and C. Routledge (eds.) Key Ideas in Linguistics

and the Philosophy of Language (86–92) Edinburgh University Press

Schemas and scripts

Brown, G. and G. Yule (1983) Discourse Analysis (chapter 7) Cambridge University Press

Other references

Faulkner, W. (1929) The Sound and the Fury Jonathan Cape

Grice, P. (1975) “Logic and conversation” In P. Cole and J. Morgan (eds.) Syntax and Semantics

3: Speech Acts (41–58) Academic Press

152 The Study of Language

 

 

Overstreet, M. (1999) Whales, Candlelight and Stuff Like That: General Extenders in English

Discourse Oxford University Press

Sanford, A and S. Garrod (1981) Understanding Written Language Wiley

Schiffrin, D. (1987) Discourse Markers Cambridge University Press

van Dijk, T. (1996) “Discourse, power and access” In C. Caldas-Coulthard and M. Coulthard

(eds.) Texts and Practices: Readings in Critical Discourse Analysis (84–104) Routledge

Verdonk, P. (2002) Stylistics Oxford University Press

Widdowson, H. (1978) Teaching Language as Communication Oxford University Press

Discourse analysis 153

 

 

CHAPTER 12

Language and the brain

I once had a patient who suffered a right hemisphere stroke and fell to the ground, unable

to walk because of a paralyzed left leg. She lay on the floor for two days, not because no

one came to her aid, but because she kept blithely reassuring her husband that she was fine,

that there was nothing wrong with her leg. Only on the third day did he bring her in for

treatment. When I asked her why she could not move her left leg, and held it up for her

to see, she said indifferently that it was someone else’s leg.

Flaherty (2004)

In the preceding chapters we have reviewed in some detail the various features of

language that people use to produce and understand linguistic messages. Where is

this ability to use language located? The obvious answer is “in the brain.” However, it

can’t be just anywhere in the brain. For example, it can’t be where damage was done

to the right hemisphere of the patient’s brain in Alice Flaherty’s description. The

woman could no longer recognize her own leg, but she could still talk about it. The

ability to talk was unimpaired and hence clearly located somewhere else in her brain.

 

 

Neurolinguistics

The study of the relationship between language and the brain is called

neurolinguistics. Although this is a relatively recent term, the field of study dates

back to the nineteenth century. Establishing the location of language in the brain was

an early challenge, but one event incidentally provided a clue.

In September 1848, near Cavendish, Vermont, a construction foreman called

Phineas P. Gage was in charge of a construction crew blasting away rocks to lay a

new stretch of railway line. As Mr. Gage pushed an iron tamping rod into the

blasting hole in a rock, some gunpowder accidentally exploded and sent the

three-and-a-half-foot long tamping rod up through his upper left cheek and out

from the top of his forehead. The rod landed about fifty yards away. Mr. Gage

suffered the type of injury from which, it was assumed, no one could recover.

However, a month later, he was up and about, with no apparent damage to his

senses or his speech.

The medical evidence was clear. A huge metal rod had gone through the front part

of Mr. Gage’s brain, but his language abilities were unaffected. He was a medical

marvel. The point of this rather amazing tale is that, while language may be located in

the brain, it clearly is not situated right at the front.

Language areas in the brain

Since that time, a number of discoveries have been made about the specific parts in

the brain that are related to language functions. We now know that the most

important parts are in areas around the left ear. In order to describe them in greater

detail, we need to look more closely at some of the gray matter. So, take a head,

remove hair, scalp, skull, then disconnect the brain stem (connecting the brain to the

spinal cord) and cut the corpus callosum (connecting the two hemispheres). If we

disregard a certain amount of other material, we will basically be left with two parts,

the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. If we put the right hemisphere aside

for now, and place the left hemisphere down so that we have a side view, we’ll

be looking at something close to the illustration in Figure 12.1 (adapted from

Geschwind, 1991).

The shaded areas in this illustration indicate the general locations of those

language functions involved in speaking and listening. We have come to know that

these areas exist largely through the examination, in autopsies, of the brains of

people who, in life, were known to have specific language disabilities. That is, we

have tried to determine where language abilities for normal users must be by finding

areas with specific damage in the brains of people who had identifiable language

disabilities.

Language and the brain 155

 

 

Broca’s area

The part shown as (1) in Figure 12.1 is technically described as the “anterior speech

cortex” or, more usually, as Broca’s area. Paul Broca, a French surgeon, reported in the

1860s that damage to this specific part of the brain was related to extreme difficulty in

producing spoken language. It was noted that damage to the corresponding area on the

right hemisphere had no such effect. This finding was first used to argue that language

ability must be located in the left hemisphere and since then has been treated as an

indication that Broca’s area is crucially involved in the generation of spoken language.

Wernicke’s area

The part shown as (2) in Figure 12.1 is the “posterior speech cortex,” or Wernicke’s

area. Carl Wernicke was a German doctor who, in the 1870s, reported that damage to

this part of the brain was found among patients who had speech comprehension

difficulties. This finding confirmed the left hemisphere location of language ability

and led to the view that Wernicke’s area is part of the brain crucially involved in the

understanding of speech.

3 4

1 2 Figure 12.1

156 The Study of Language

 

 

The motor cortex and the arcuate fasciculus

The part shown as (3) in Figure 12.1 is the motor cortex, an area that generally

controls movement of the muscles (for moving hands, feet, arms, etc.). Close to

Broca’s area is the part of the motor cortex that controls the articulatory muscles of

the face, jaw, tongue and larynx. Evidence that this area is involved in the physical

articulation of speech comes from work reported in the 1950s by two neurosurgeons,

Penfield and Roberts (1959). These researchers found that, by applying small

amounts of electrical current to specific areas of the brain, they could identify those

areas where the electrical stimulation would interfere with normal speech production.

The part shown as (4) in Figure 12.1 is a bundle of nerve fibers called the arcuate

fasciculus. This was also one of Wernicke’s discoveries and is now known to form a

crucial connection between Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas.

The localization view

Having identified these four components, it is tempting to conclude that specific

aspects of language ability can be accorded specific locations in the brain. This is

called the localization view and it has been used to suggest that the brain activity

involved in hearing a word, understanding it, then saying it, would follow a definite

pattern. The word is heard and comprehended via Wernicke’s area. This signal is then

transferred via the arcuate fasciculus to Broca’s area where preparations are made to

generate a spoken version of the word. A signal is then sent to part of the motor cortex

to physically articulate the word.

This is certainly an oversimplified version of what may actually take place, but

it is consistent with much of what we understand about simple language processing

in the brain. It is probably best to think of any proposal concerning processing

pathways in the brain as some form of metaphor that may turn out to be inadequate

once we learn more about how the brain functions. The “pathway” metaphor seems

quite appealing in an electronic age when we’re familiar with the process of sending

signals through electrical circuits. In an earlier age, dominated more by mechanical

technology, Sigmund Freud subtly employed a “steam engine” metaphor to account

for aspects of the brain’s activity when he wrote of the effects of repression

“building up pressure” to the point of “sudden release.” In an even earlier age,

Aristotle’s metaphor was of the brain as a cold sponge that functioned to keep the

blood cool.

In a sense, we are forced to use metaphors mainly because we cannot obtain

direct physical evidence of linguistic processes in the brain. Because we have no direct

access, we generally have to rely on what we can discover through indirect methods.

Most of these methods involve attempts to work out how the system is working from

clues picked up when the system has problems or malfunctions.

Language and the brain 157

 

 

Tongue tips and slips

We have all experienced difficulty, on some occasion(s), in getting brain and speech

production to work together smoothly. (Some days are worse than others, of course.)

Minor production difficulties of this sort may provide possible clues to how our

linguistic knowledge is organized within the brain.

The tip of the tongue phenomenon

There is, for example, the tip of the tongue phenomenon in which we feel that some

word is just eluding us, that we know the word, but it just won’t come to the surface.

Studies of this phenomenon have shown that speakers generally have an accurate

phonological outline of the word, can get the initial sound correct and mostly know

the number of syllables in the word. This experience also mainly occurs with uncom-

mon words and names. It suggests that our “word-storage” system may be partially

organized on the basis of some phonological information and that some words in the

store are more easily retrieved than others.

When we make mistakes in this retrieval process, there are often strong phono-

logical similarities between the target word we’re trying to say and the mistake we

actually produce. For example, speakers produced secant, sextet and sexton when

asked to name a particular type of navigational instrument (sextant). Other examples

are fire distinguisher (for “extinguisher”) and transcendental medication (instead of

“meditation”). Mistakes of this type are sometimes referred to as malapropisms after

a character called Mrs. Malaprop (in a play by Sheridan) who consistently produced

“near-misses” for words, with great comic effect. Another comic character in a TV

program who was known for his malapropisms was Archie Bunker, who once sug-

gested that We need a few laughs to break up the monogamy.

Slips of the tongue

Another type of speech error is commonly described as a slip of the tongue. This

produces expressions such as a long shory stort (instead of “make a long story

short”), use the door to open the key, and a fifty-pound dog of bag food. Slips of this

type are sometimes called spoonerisms after William Spooner, an Anglican clergy-

man at Oxford University, who was renowned for his tongue-slips. Most of the

slips attributed to him involve the interchange of two initial sounds, as when he

addressed a rural group as noble tons of soil, attempted to refer to the queen as

our queer old dean, described God as a shoving leopard to his flock, or in this

complaint to a student who had been absent from classes: You have hissed all my

mystery lectures.

158 The Study of Language

 

 

Slips of the brain

Other examples are often simply word substitutions as a similar, but inappropriate

word is used instead of the target. One British prime minister, having announced that

the world was in a depression, had to clarify that he had meant to say recession. In

talking about his relationship with a former president, one US president had to

quickly correct himself when he said: we’ve had some triumphs . . . made some

mistakes . . . we’ve had some sex . . . eh . . . setbacks.

Most everyday slips, however, are not as entertaining as these examples. They are

often simply the result of a sound being carried over from one word to the next, as in

black bloxes (for “black boxes”), or a sound used in one word in anticipation of its

occurrence in the next word, as in noman numeral (for “roman numeral”), or a tup of

tea (“cup”), or the most highly played player (“paid”). The last example is close to the

reversal type of slip, illustrated by shu flots, which may not make you beel fetter if

you’re suffering from a stick neff, and it’s always better to loop before you leak. The

last two examples involve the interchange of word-final sounds and are much less

common than word-initial slips.

It has been argued that slips of this type are never random, that they never

produce a phonologically unacceptable sequence, and that they indicate the exist-

ence of different stages in the articulation of linguistic expressions. Although the

slips are mostly treated as errors of articulation, it has been suggested that they

may actually result from slips of the brain as it tries to organize and generate

linguistic messages.

Slips of the ear

One other type of slip may provide some clues to how the brain tries to make sense of

the auditory signal it receives. These have been called slips of the ear and can result,

for example, in our hearing great ape and wondering why someone should be looking

for one in his office. (The speaker actually said “gray tape.”) Another example was

what sounded like gray day and interpreted initially as a comment on the weather, but

after some confusion was reinterpreted as grade A (the speaker was actually talking

about eggs, not the weather). A similar type of misunderstanding seems to be behind

the child’s report that in Sunday school, everyone was singing about a bear called

“Gladly” who was cross-eyed. The source of this slip turned out to be a line from a

religious song that went Gladly the cross I’d bear. It may also be the case that some

malapropisms (e.g. transcendental medication) originate as slips of the ear.

Some of these humorous examples of slips may give us a clue to the normal

workings of the human brain as it copes with language. However, some problems

with language production and comprehension are the result of much more serious

disorders in brain function.

Language and the brain 159

 

 

Aphasia

If you have experienced any of those “slips” on occasion, then you will have a small

hint of the types of experience that some unfortunate individuals have to live with

constantly. Those people suffer from different types of language disorders, generally

described as “aphasia.” Aphasia is defined as an impairment of language function

due to localized brain damage that leads to difficulty in understanding and/or produ-

cing linguistic forms.

The most common cause of aphasia is a stroke (when a blood vessel in the brain

is blocked or bursts), though traumatic head injuries from violence or an accident

may have similar effects. Those effects can range from mild to severe reduction in the

ability to use language. Someone who is aphasic often has interrelated language

disorders, in that difficulties in understanding can lead to difficulties in production,

for example. Consequently, the classification of different types of aphasia is usually

based on the primary symptoms of someone having difficulties with language.

Broca’s aphasia

The serious language disorder known as Broca’s aphasia (also called “motor

aphasia”) is characterized by a substantially reduced amount of speech, distorted

articulation and slow, often effortful speech. What is said often consists almost

entirely of lexical morphemes (mostly nouns, verbs and adjectives, as described in

Chapter 6). The frequent omission of functional morphemes (e.g. articles, prepos-

itions) and inflectional morphemes (e.g. plural -s, past tense -ed) has led to the

characterization of this type of aphasic speech as lacking grammatical forms, or

“agrammatic.” In agrammatic speech, the grammatical markers are missing.

An example of speech produced by someone whose aphasia was not severe is the

following answer to a question regarding what the speaker had for breakfast:

I eggs and eat and drink coffee breakfast

However, this type of disorder can be quite severe and result in speech with lots of

hesitations and really long pauses (marked by . . .):

my cheek . . . very annoyance . . . main is my shoulder . . . achin’ all round here.

Some patients can also have lots of difficulty in articulating single words, as in this

attempt to say “steamship”: a stail . . . you know what I mean . . . tal . . . stail. In

Broca’s aphasia, comprehension is typically much better than production.

Wernicke’s aphasia

The type of language disorder that results in difficulties in auditory comprehension

is sometimes called “sensory aphasia,” but is more commonly known as

160 The Study of Language

 

 

Wernicke’s aphasia. Someone suffering from this disorder can actually produce very

fluent speech which is, however, often difficult to make sense of. Very general terms

are used, even in response to specific requests for information, as in this sample:

I can’t talk all of the things I do, and part of the part I can go alright, but I can’t tell

from the other people.

Difficulty in finding the correct word, sometimes referred to as anomia, also

happens in Wernicke’s aphasia. To overcome their word-finding difficulties, speakers

use different strategies such as trying to describe objects or talking about their

purpose, as in the thing to put cigarettes in (for “ashtray”). In the following example

(from Lesser and Milroy, 1993), the speaker tries a range of strategies when he can’t

come up with the word (“kite”) for an object in a picture.

it’s blowing, on the right, and er there’s four letters in it, and I think it begins with a C –

goes – when you start it then goes right up in the air – I would I would have to keep

racking my brain how I would spell that word – that flies, that that doesn’t fly, you pull

it round, it goes up in the air

Conduction aphasia

One other, much less common, type of aphasia has been associated with damage to

the arcuate fasciculus and is called conduction aphasia. Individuals suffering from

this disorder sometimes mispronounce words, but typically do not have articulation

problems. They are fluent, but may have disrupted rhythm because of pauses and

hesitations. Comprehension of spoken words is normally good. However, the task of

repeating a word or phrase (spoken by someone else) creates major difficulty, with

forms such as vaysse and fosh being reported as attempted repetitions of the words

“base” and “wash.” What the speaker hears and understands can’t be transferred very

successfully to the speech production area.

It should be emphasized that many of these symptoms (e.g. word-finding diffi-

culty) can occur in all types of aphasia. They can also occur in more general disorders

resulting from brain disease, as in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Difficulties in

speaking can also be accompanied by difficulties in writing. Impairment of auditory

comprehension tends to be accompanied by reading difficulties. Language disorders

of the type we have described are almost always the result of injury to the left

hemisphere. This left hemisphere dominance for language has also been demon-

strated by another approach to the investigation of language and the brain.

Dichotic listening

An experimental technique that has demonstrated a left hemisphere dominance for

syllable and word processing is called the dichotic listening test. This technique uses

Language and the brain 161

 

 

the generally established fact that anything experienced on the right-hand side of the

body is processed in the left hemisphere, and anything on the left side is processed in

the right hemisphere. As illustrated in Flaherty’s (2004) description at the beginning

of this chapter, a stroke in the right hemisphere resulted in paralysis of the left leg. So,

a basic assumption would be that a signal coming in the right ear will go to the left

hemisphere and a signal coming in the left ear will go to the right hemisphere.

With this information, an experiment is possible in which a subject sits with a set

of earphones on and is given two different sound signals simultaneously, one through

each earphone. For example, through one earphone comes the syllable ga or the word

dog, and through the other earphone at exactly the same time comes da or cat. When

asked to say what was heard, the subject more often correctly identifies the sound

that came via the right ear. The process involved is best understood with the help of

Figure 12.2. (You’re looking at the back of this head.)

Left brain, right brain

In this process, the language signal received through the left ear is first sent to

the right hemisphere and then has to be sent to the left hemisphere (language

center) for processing. This non-direct route takes longer than a linguistic signal

received through the right ear, which goes directly to the left hemisphere.

LEFT RIGHT

“dog”

“dog”

“cat”

“cat”

Figure 12.2

162 The Study of Language

 

 

First signal to get processed wins because of what is generally known as the

right ear advantage for speech sounds.

In contrast, the right hemisphere appears to have primary responsibility for

processing a lot of other incoming signals that are non-linguistic. In the dichotic

listening test, it can be shown that non-verbal sounds (e.g. music, coughs, traffic

noises, birds singing) are recognized more often via the left ear, meaning they are

processed faster via the right hemisphere. So, among the specializations of the human

brain, the right hemisphere is first choice for non-language sounds (among other

things) and the left hemisphere specializes in language sounds (among other

things too).

These specializations may actually have more to do with the type of processing

rather than the type of material that is handled best by each of the two hemispheres.

The essential distinction seems to be between analytic processing, such as recogniz-

ing the smaller details of sounds, words and phrase structures in rapid sequence, done

with the “left brain,” and holistic processing, such as identifying more general

structures in language and experience, done with the “right brain.”

The critical period

The apparent specialization of the left hemisphere for language is usually described in

terms of lateral dominance or lateralization (one-sidedness). Since the human child

does not emerge from the womb as a fully articulate language-user, it is generally

thought that the lateralization process begins in early childhood. It coincides with the

period during which language acquisition takes place. During childhood, there is a

period when the human brain is most ready to receive input and learn a particular

language. This is sometimes called the “sensitive period” for language acquisition,

but is more generally known as the critical period.

Though there is increasing evidence that it may actually start earlier in the womb,

the general view is that the critical period for first language acquisition lasts from

birth until puberty. If a child does not acquire language during this period, for any one

of a number of reasons, then he or she will find it almost impossible to learn language

later on. In one unfortunate but well-documented case, we have gained some insight

into what happens when the critical period passes without adequate linguistic input.

Genie

In 1970, a girl who became known as “Genie” was admitted to a children’s hospital in

Los Angeles. She was thirteen years old and had spent most of her life tied to a chair in

a small closed room. Her father was intolerant of any kind of noise and had beaten her

whenever she made a sound as a child. There had been no radio or television, and

Genie’s only other human contact was with her mother who was forbidden to spend

Language and the brain 163

 

 

more than a few minutes with the child to feed her. Genie had spent her whole life in a

state of physical, sensory, social and emotional deprivation.

As might be expected, Genie was unable to use language when she was first

brought into care. However, within a short period of time, she began to respond to the

speech of others, to try to imitate sounds and to communicate. Her syntax remained

very simple. The fact that she went on to develop some speaking ability and under-

stand a fairly large number of English words provides some evidence against the

notion that language cannot be acquired at all after the critical period. Yet her

diminished capacity to develop grammatically complex speech does seem to support

the idea that part of the left hemisphere of the brain is open to accept a language

program during childhood and, if no program is provided, as in Genie’s case, then the

facility is closed down.

In Genie’s case, tests demonstrated that she had no left hemisphere language

facility. So, how was she able to learn any part of language, even in a limited way?

Those same tests appeared to indicate the quite remarkable fact that Genie was using

the right hemisphere of her brain for language functions. In dichotic listening tests,

she showed a very strong left ear advantage for verbal as well as non-verbal signals.

Such a finding, supported by other studies of right brain function, raises the possibil-

ity that our capacity for language is not limited to only one or two specific areas, but is

based on more complex connections extending throughout the whole brain.

When Genie was beginning to use speech, it was noted that she went through

some of the same early “stages” found in normal child language acquisition. In

Chapter 13, we will look at what these normal stages are.

164 The Study of Language

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 What is a more common name for the posterior speech cortex?

2 Is the use of fire distinguisher instead of fire extinguisher a spoonerism or a

malapropism?

3 What is aphasia?

4 Which type of aphasia is characterized by speech like this: speech . . . two times . . .

read . . . wr . . . ripe, er, rike, er, write . . . ?

5 What happens in a dichotic listening test?

6 What is the critical period?

TASKS

A We made no distinction between the left and right hemispheres in terms of shape

or size, assuming they were symmetrical. However, on closer inspection, there is

some asymmetry in the lateralization of the brain. What seems to be the main

source of this difference between the physiology of the two hemispheres? Should

this difference be treated as support for the “phrenology” model of human brain

organization?

B What is meant by the “bathtub effect” in descriptions of features of speech errors?

Do any examples of speech errors in this chapter illustrate this effect?

C In this chapter we focused on the left hemisphere and how it is affected by

impairments. What happens to the language of an individual after damage in the

right hemisphere?

D How would you go about analyzing the following extract from Radford et al. (2009)

as more likely to be indicative of agrammatism or paragrammatism? (The speaker

is trying to talk about a lady’s shoe.)

Now there there I remember. I have you there what I thought was the … a lady

one. Another. With a very short. Very very clever done. Do that the one two. Go.

But there’s the liver. And there is the new. And so on.

E The following extract from Buckingham and Kertesz (1976: 21) is discussed in

Obler and Gjerlow (1999: 59) as an illustration of “neologistic jargon aphasia.”

Can you identify any characteristics of this condition that show up in the language

used by this speaker? Is the syntax badly impaired? Are morphological features

such as inflections used normally or not? Does the speaker have word-finding

difficulties? Would you say that this aphasia is more likely to be associated with

Broca’s area or Wernicke’s area? (The speaker is responding to the question,

“Who is running the store now?”)

Language and the brain 165

 

 

I don’t know. Yes, the bick, uh, yes I would say that the mick daysis nosis or

chpickters. Course, I have also missed on the carfter teck. Do you know what that

is? I’ve, uh, token to ingish. They have been toast sosilly. They’d have been put to

myafa and made palis and, uh, myadakal senda you. That is me alordisdus. That

makes anacronous senda.

F What happens in “brain imaging” procedures such as CAT scans, fMRI scans and

PET scans that might help in the study of language and the brain?

G Using what you learned from the discussion of language areas in the brain,

try to match each description (A–D) below to one of the four diagrams (1–4) in

Figure 12.3, with a brief explanation of your choices. Each diagram is a simplified

representation of information from a PETscan showing how blood flow in the brain

is concentrated in different areas during different activities. More intense activity

is shown in a darker color.

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I One aphasia patient was asked to read aloud the written words on the left below

and, in each case, actually said the words on the right. Is there any pattern to be

A Hearing/processing words C Generating/creating words

B Speaking/articulating words D Seeing/Reading words

Figure 12.3

166 The Study of Language

 

 

found in these errors? Does this type of phenomenon provide any clues to the way

words may be stored and accessed in the brain?

(For background reading, see Allport, 1983, the source of these examples.)

II The story of Genie is full of remarkable episodes. The following extract is from

Rymer (1993), quoting Susan Curtiss, a linguist who worked with Genie for many

years. How would you explain events like this?

“Genie was the most powerful nonverbal communicator I’ve ever come across,”

Curtiss told me. “The most extreme example of this that comes to mind: Because

of her obsession, she would notice and covet anything plastic that anyone had.

One day we were walking – I think we were in Hollywood. I would act like an

idiot, sing operatically, to get her to release some of that tension she always had.

We reached the corner of this very busy intersection, and the light turned red,

and we stopped. Suddenly, I heard the sound – it’s a sound you can’t mistake – of

a purse being spilled. A woman in a car that had stopped at the intersection was

emptying her purse, and she got out of the car and ran over and gave it to Genie

and then ran back to the car. A plastic purse. Genie hadn’t said a word.”

(For background reading, see chapter 17 of Rymer, 1993.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Heilman, K. (2002) Matter of Mind (chapter 2) Oxford University Press

Obler, L. and K. Gjerlow (1999) Language and the Brain Cambridge University Press

More detailed treatments

Ingram, J. (2007) Neurolinguistics Cambridge University Press

Whitaker, H. (2010) Concise Encyclopedia of Brain and Language Elsevier

On Phineas Gage

Damasio, A. (1994) Descartes’ Error Putnam

Brain structure

Carter, R., S. Aldridge, M. Page and S. Parker (2009) The Human Brain Book DK Publishing

Springer, S. and G. Deutsch (2001) Left Brain, Right Brain (6th edition) W. H. Freeman

Slips

Bond, Z. (1999) Slips of the Ear Academic Press

Poulisse, N. (1999) Slips of the Tongue John Benjamins

ambition ! career commerce ! business anecdote ! narrator mishap ! accident applause ! audience parachute ! balloon apricot ! peach thermometer ! temperature arithmetic ! mathematics victory ! triumph

Language and the brain 167

 

 

Language disorders

Caplan, D. (1996) Language: Structure, Processing and Disorders MIT Press

Vinson, B. (2012) Language Disorders across the Lifespan (3rd edition) Thomson Delmar

Learning

Aphasia

Lesser, R. and L. Milroy (1993) Linguistics and Aphasia Longman

Spreen, O. and A. Risser (2003) Assessment of Aphasia Oxford University Press

Dichotic listening

Hugdahl, K. and R. Davidson (2004) The Asymmetrical Brain (441–476) MIT Press

The critical period

Singleton, D. and L. Ryan (2004) Language Acquisition: The Age Factor (2nd edition)

Multilingual Matters

Genie

Curtiss, S. (1977) Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-day Wild Child Academic Press

Rymer, R. (1993) Genie HarperCollins

Other references

Allport, G. (1983) “Language and cognition” In R. Harris (ed.) Approaches to Language (80–94)

Pergammon Press

Buckingham, H. and A. Kertesz (1976) Neologistic Jargon Aphasia Swets and Zeitlinger

Geschwind, N. (1991) “Specializations of the human brain” In W. Wang (ed.) The Emergence of

Language (72–87) W. H. Freeman

Penfield, W. and L. Roberts (1959) Speech and Brain Mechanisms Princeton University Press

Radford, A., M. Atkinson, D. Britain, H. Clahsen and A. Spencer (2009) Linguistics: An

Introduction (2nd edition) Cambridge University Press

168 The Study of Language

 

 

CHAPTER 13

First language acquisition

CHILD: Want other one spoon, Daddy.

FATHER: You mean, you want the other spoon.

CHILD: Yes, I want other one spoon, please Daddy.

FATHER: Can you say “the other spoon”?

CHILD: Other . . . one . . . spoon.

FATHER: Say “other.”

CHILD: Other.

FATHER: “Spoon.”

CHILD: Spoon.

FATHER: “Other spoon.”

CHILD: Other . . . spoon. Now give me other one spoon?

Braine (1971)

First language acquisition is remarkable for the speed with which it takes place.

Long before a child starts school, he or she has become an extremely sophisticated

language-user, operating a system for self-expression and communication that no

other creature, or computer, comes close to matching. In addition to the speed of

acquisition, the fact that it generally occurs, without overt instruction, for all

children, regardless of great differences in their circumstances, provides strong

support for the idea that there is an innate predisposition in the human infant to

acquire language. We can think of this as a special capacity for language with which

each newborn child is endowed. By itself, however, this inborn language capacity

is not enough.

 

 

Acquisition

The process of language acquisition has some basic requirements. During the first two

or three years of development, a child requires interaction with other language-users

in order to bring the general language capacity into contact with a particular language

such as English. We have already seen, in the case of Genie (Chapter 12), that a child

who does not hear or is not allowed to use language will learn no language. We have

also identified the importance of cultural transmission (Chapter 2), meaning that the

particular language a child learns is not genetically inherited, but is acquired in a

particular language-using environment.

The child must also be physically capable of sending and receiving sound signals

in a language. All infants make “cooing” and “babbling” noises during their first year,

but congenitally deaf infants stop after about six months. So, in order to speak a

language, a child must be able to hear that language being used. By itself, however,

hearing language sounds is not enough. One case, reported by Moskowitz (1991),

demonstrated that, with deaf parents who gave their normal-hearing son ample

exposure to television and radio programs, the boy did not acquire an ability to speak

or understand English. What he did learn very effectively, by the age of three, was the

use of American Sign Language, that is, the language he used to interact with his

parents. A crucial requirement appears to be the opportunity to interact with others

via language.

Input

Under normal circumstances, human infants are certainly helped in their language

acquisition by the typical behavior of older children and adults in the home environ-

ment who provide language samples, or input, for the child. Adults such as mom, dad

and the grandparents tend not to address the little creature before them as if they are

involved in normal adult-to-adult conversation. There is not much of this: Well, John

Junior, shall we invest in blue chip industrials, or would grain futures offer better short-

term prospects? However, there does seem to be a lot of this: Oh, goody, now Daddy

push choo choo?

The characteristically simplified speech style adopted by someone who spends a

lot of time interacting with a young child incorporates a lot of forms associated with

“baby talk.” These are either simplified words (tummy, nana) or alternative forms,

with repeated simple sounds and syllables, for things in the child’s environment

(choo-choo, poo-poo, pee-pee, wa-wa). This type of speech style is also characterized

by the frequent use of questions, often using exaggerated intonation, extra loudness

and a slower tempo with longer pauses. Sometimes described as “motherese” or

“child-directed speech,” this style is more generally known as “caregiver speech.”

170 The Study of Language

 

 

Caregiver speech

Built into a lot of caregiver speech is a type of conversational structure that seems

to assign an interactive role to the young child even before he or she becomes a

speaking participant. If we look at an extract from the speech of a mother to her child

(aged 1 year 11 months) as if it were a two-party conversation, then this type of

structuring becomes apparent. Notice how the mother reacts to the child’s actions

and vocalizations as if they were turns in the conversation. (This example is from

Brunner, 1983.)

mother: Look!

child: (touches pictures)

mother: What are those?

child: (vocalizes a babble string and smiles)

mother: Yes, there are rabbits.

child: (vocalizes, smiles looks up at mother)

mother: (laughs) Yes, rabbit.

child: (vocalizes, smiles)

mother: Yes. (laughs)

Caregiver speech is also characterized by simple sentence structures and a lot of

repetition and paraphrasing, with reference largely restricted to the here and now. If

the child is indeed in the process of working out a system of putting sounds and words

together, then these simplified models produced by the interacting adult may serve as

good clues to the basic structural organization involved.

The acquisition schedule

All normal children develop language at roughly the same time, along much the same

schedule. Since we could say the same thing for sitting up, crawling, standing,

walking, using the hands and many other physical activities, it would seem that the

language acquisition schedule has the same basis as the biologically determined

development of motor skills and the maturation of the infant’s brain.

We could think of the child as having the biological capacity to identify aspects of

linguistic input at different stages during the early years of life. Long before children

begin to talk, they have been actively processing what they hear. We can identify what

very young children are paying attention to by the way they increase or decrease

“sucking behavior” in response to speech sounds or turn their heads in the direction

of those sounds. At one month an infant is capable of distinguishing between [ba] and

[pa]. During the first three months, the child develops a range of crying styles, with

different patterns for different needs, produces big smiles in response to a speaking

face, and starts to create distinct vocalizations.

First language acquisition 171

 

 

Cooing

The earliest use of speech-like sounds has been described as cooing. During the

first few months of life, the child gradually becomes capable of producing

sequences of vowel-like sounds, particularly high vowels similar to [i] and [u].

By four months of age, the developing ability to bring the back of the tongue into

regular contact with the back of the palate allows the infant to create sounds

similar to the velar consonants [k] and [ɡ], hence the common description as

“cooing” or “gooing” for this type of production. Speech perception studies have

shown that by the time they are five months old, babies can already hear the

difference between the vowels [i] and [a] and discriminate between syllables like

[ba] and [ɡa].

Babbling

Between six and eight months, the child is sitting up and producing a number of

different vowels and consonants, as well as combinations such as ba-ba-ba and ga-

ga-ga. This type of sound production is described as babbling. In the later

babbling stage, around nine to ten months, there are recognizable intonation

patterns to the consonant and vowel combinations being produced, as well as

variation in the combinations such as ba-ba-da-da. Nasal sounds also become

more common and certain syllable sequences such as ma-ma-ma and da-da-da

are inevitably interpreted by parents as versions of “mama” and “dada” and

repeated back to the child.

As children begin to pull themselves into a standing position during the tenth

and eleventh months, they become capable of using their vocalizations to express

emotions and emphasis. This late babbling stage is characterized by more com-

plex syllable combinations (ma-da-ga-ba), a lot of sound-play and attempted

imitations. This “pre-language” use of sound provides the child with some experi-

ence of the social role of speech because adults tend to react to the babbling,

however incoherent, as if it is actually the child’s contribution to social

interaction.

One note of caution should be sounded at this point. Child language researchers

certainly report very carefully on the age of any child whose language they study.

However, they are also very careful to point out that there is substantial variation

among children in terms of the age at which particular features of linguistic develop-

ment occur. It is worth remembering that even a great thinker like Albert Einstein was

reported to have been very slow in developing spoken language skills. So, we should

always treat statements concerning development stages such as “by six months” or

“by the age of two” as general approximations and subject to variation in individual

children.

172 The Study of Language

 

 

The one-word stage

Between twelve and eighteen months, children begin to produce a variety of recog-

nizable single unit utterances. This period, traditionally called the one-word stage, is

characterized by speech in which single terms are uttered for everyday objects such as

“milk,” “cookie,” “cat,” “cup” and “spoon” (usually pronounced [pun]). Other forms

such as [ʌsæ] may occur in circumstances that suggest the child is producing a

version of What’s that, so the label “one-word” for this stage may be misleading

and a term such as “single-unit” would be more accurate. We sometimes use the term

holophrastic speech (meaning a single form functioning as a phrase or sentence) to

describe an utterance that could be analyzed as a word, a phrase, or a sentence.

While many of these holophrastic utterances seem to be used to name objects,

they may also be produced in circumstances that suggest the child is already

extending their use. An empty bed may elicit the name of a sister who normally

sleeps in the bed, even in the absence of the person named. During this stage, then,

the child may be able to refer to Karen and bed, but isn’t ready yet to put the forms

together in a more complex phrase. Well, it is a lot to expect from someone who can

only walk with a stagger and has to come down stairs backwards.

The two-word stage

Depending on what we count as an occurrence of two distinct words used together,

the two-word stage can begin around eighteen to twenty months, as the child’s

vocabulary moves beyond fifty words. By the time the child is two years old, a variety

of combinations, similar to baby chair, mommy eat, cat bad, will usually have

appeared. The adult interpretation of such combinations is, of course, very much tied

to the context of their utterance. The phrase baby chair may be taken as an expression

of possession (¼ this is baby’s chair), or as a request (¼ put baby in chair), or as a statement (¼ baby is in the chair), depending on different circumstances. Here are some other examples reported from the two-word stage:

Whatever it is that the child actually intends to communicate through such expres-

sions, the significant functional consequences are that the adults or, more often, older

children in the household behave as if communication is taking place. That is, the

child not only produces speech, but also receives feedback confirming that the

utterance worked as a contribution to the interaction. Moreover, by the age of two,

whether the child is producing 200 or 300 distinct “words,” he or she will be capable

big boat mama dress

doggie bark more milk

hit ball shoe off

First language acquisition 173

 

 

of understanding five times as many, and will typically be treated as an entertaining

conversational partner by the principal caregiver.

Telegraphic speech

Between two and two-and-a-half years old, the child begins producing a large number

of utterances that could be classified as “multiple-word” speech. The salient feature of

these utterances ceases to be the number of words, but the variation in word forms

that begins to appear. Before we investigate this development, we should note a stage

that is described as telegraphic speech. This is characterized by strings of words

(lexical morphemes) in phrases or sentences such as this shoe all wet, cat drink milk

and daddy go bye-bye. The child has clearly developed some sentence-building

capacity by this stage and can get the word order correct. While this type of

telegram-format speech is being produced, a number of grammatical inflections begin

to appear in some of the word forms and simple prepositions (in, on) are also used.

By the age of two-and-a-half, the child’s vocabulary is expanding rapidly and the

child is initiating more talk while increased physical activity includes running and

jumping. By three, the vocabulary has grown to hundreds of words and pronunciation

has become clearer. At this point, it is worth considering what kind of influence the

adults have in the development of the child’s speech.

The acquisition process

As the linguistic repertoire of the child increases, it is often assumed that the child is,

in some sense, being “taught” the language. This idea is not really supported by what

the child actually does. For the vast majority of children, no one provides any

instruction on how to speak the language. A more accurate view would have the

children actively constructing, from what is said to them and around them, possible

ways of using the language. The child’s linguistic production appears to be mostly a

matter of trying out constructions and testing whether they work or not.

It is simply not possible that the child is acquiring the language principally through

adult instruction. Certainly, children can be heard to repeat versions of what adults say

on occasion and they are clearly in the process of adopting a lot of vocabulary from the

speech they hear. However, adults simply do not produce many of the expressions that

turn up in children’s speech. Notice how, in the following extract (from Clark, 1993),

the child creates a totally new verb (to Woodstock) in the context.

noah (picking up a toy dog): This is Woodstock.

(He bobs the toy in Adam’s face)

adam: Hey Woodstock, don’t do that.

(Noah persists)

adam: I’m going home so you won’t Woodstock me.

174 The Study of Language

 

 

Learning through imitation?

Similar evidence against “imitation” as the basis of the child’s speech production has

been found in studies of the structures used by young children. They may repeat

single words or phrases, but not the sentence structures. In the following two

examples, the children were asked to repeat what the adult said (on the left).

It is likely that the children understand what the adults are saying in these examples.

They just have their own way of expressing what they understand.

Learning through correction?

It is also unlikely that adult “corrections” are a very effective determiner of how the

child speaks. A lot of very amusing conversational snippets, involving an adult’s

attempt to correct a child’s speech, seem to demonstrate the hopelessness of the task.

One example (other one spoon) was quoted at the beginning of the chapter. Even

when the correction is attempted in a more subtle manner, the child will continue to

use a personally constructed form, despite the adult’s repetition of what the correct

form should be. Note that in the following dialog (quoted in Cazden, 1972) the child, a

four-year-old, is neither imitating the adult’s speech nor accepting the adult’s

correction.

child: My teacher holded the baby rabbits and we patted them.

mother: Did you say your teacher held the baby rabbits?

child: Yes

mother: What did you say she did?

child: She holded the baby rabbits and we patted them.

mother: Did you say she held them tightly?

child: No, she holded them loosely.

One factor that seems to be important in the child’s acquisition process is the actual

use of sound and word combinations, either in interaction with others or in word play,

alone. One two-year-old, described in Weir (1966), was tape-recorded as he lay in bed

alone and could be heard playing with words and phrases, I go dis way . . . way bay . . .

baby do dis bib . . . all bib . . . bib . . . dere. Word play of this type seems to be an

important element in the development of the child’s linguistic repertoire. When we

look more closely at the child’s development beyond the telegraphic stage, we can

trace specific linguistic features that begin to turn up on a regular basis in the steady

stream of speech emerging from the little chatterbox.

The dogs are hungry ~ dog hungry

The owl who eats candy runs fast ~ owl eat a candy and he run fast.

First language acquisition 175

 

 

Developing morphology

By the time a child is two-and-a-half years old, he or she is going beyond tele-

graphic speech forms and incorporating some of the inflectional morphemes

that indicate the grammatical function of the nouns and verbs used. The first to

appear is usually the -ing form in expressions such as cat sitting and mommy

reading book.

The next morphological development is typically the marking of regular plurals

with the -s form, as in boys and cats. The acquisition of the plural marker is often

accompanied by a process of overgeneralization. The child overgeneralizes the

apparent rule of adding -s to form plurals and will talk about foots and mans.

When the alternative pronunciation of the plural morpheme used in houses (i.e.

ending in [-əz]) comes into use, it too is given an overgeneralized application and

forms such as boyses or footses can be heard. At the same time as this overgeneral-

ization is taking place, some children also begin using irregular plurals such as

men quite appropriately for a while, but then try out the general rule on the forms,

producing expressions like some mens and two feets, or even two feetses. Not long

after, the use of the possessive inflection -’s occurs in expressions such as girl’s dog

and Mummy’s book.

At about the same time, different forms of the verb “to be,” such as are and

was, begin to be used. The appearance of forms such as was and, at about the

same time, went and came should be noted. These are irregular past-tense forms

that we would not expect to hear before the more regular forms. However, they

do typically precede the appearance of the -ed inflection. Once the regular past-

tense forms (walked, played) begin appearing in the child’s speech, the irregular

forms may disappear for a while, replaced by overgeneralized versions such as

goed and comed. For a period, the -ed inflection may be added to everything,

producing such oddities as walkeded and wented. As with the plural forms, the

child works out (usually after the age of four) which forms are regular and which

are not. Finally, the regular -s marker on third person singular present tense verbs

appears. It occurs first with full verbs (comes, looks) and then with auxiliaries

(does, has).

Throughout this sequence there is a great deal of variability. Individual children

may produce “good” forms one day and “odd” forms the next. The evidence suggests

that the child is working out how to use the linguistic system while focused on

communication and interaction rather than correctness. For the child, the use of

forms such as goed and foots is simply a means of trying to say what he or she means

during a particular stage of development. Those embarrassed parents who insist that

the child didn’t hear such things at home are implicitly recognizing that “imitation” is

not the primary force in first language acquisition.

176 The Study of Language

 

 

Developing syntax

There have been numerous studies of the development of syntax in children’s

speech. We will look at the development of two structures that seem to be

acquired in a regular way by most English-speaking children. In the formation of

questions and the use of negatives, there appear to be three identifiable stages.

The ages at which children go through these stages can vary quite a bit, but the

general pattern seems to be that Stage 1 occurs between 18 and 26 months, Stage

2 between 22 and 30 months, and Stage 3 between 24 and 40 months. (The

overlap in the periods is a reflection of the different rates at which different

children normally develop.)

Forming questions

In forming questions, the child’s first stage has two procedures. Simply add a Wh-

form (Where, Who) to the beginning of the expression or utter the expression with a

rise in intonation towards the end, as in these examples:

In the second stage, more complex expressions can be formed, but the rising inton-

ation strategy continues to be used. It is noticeable that more Wh-forms, such as What

and Why come into use, as in these examples:

In the third stage, the required movement of the auxiliary in English questions (I can

have . . . ) Can I have . . .?) becomes evident in the child’s speech, but doesn’t automatically spread to all Wh-question types. In fact, some children beginning

school in their fifth or sixth year may still prefer to form Wh-questions (especially

with negatives) without the type of structure found in adult speech (e.g. Why kitty

can’t do it? instead of Why can’t kitty do it?). Apart from these problems with Wh-

questions and continuing trouble with the morphology of verbs (e.g. Did I caught it?

instead of Did I catch it?), Stage 3 questions are generally quite close to the adult

model, as in these examples:

Where kitty? Doggie?

Where horse go? Sit chair?

What book name? You want eat?

Why you smiling? See my doggie?

Can I have a piece? Did I caught it?

Will you help me? How that opened?

What did you do? Why kitty can’t stand up?

First language acquisition 177

 

 

Forming negatives

In the case of negatives, Stage 1 seems to involve a simple strategy of putting No or

Not at the beginning. In some cases (e.g. No you doing it), the negative may be used

for a denial (¼ You aren’t doing it), while in other circumstances, it may be used to express a desire (¼ I don’t want you to do it), but the utterance doesn’t change. At this stage, both no and not can be attached to nouns and verbs, as in these examples:

In the second stage, the additional negative forms don’t and can’t appear, and, with no

and not, are increasingly used in front of the verb rather than at the beginning of the

utterance. At this stage, children seem to be using the form don’t as a single unit, with

no connection to the alternative do not, probably because the contracted form of not

(n’t) is simply not heard as a distinct element in speech. Here are some examples:

The third stage sees the incorporation of other auxiliary forms such as didn’t and

won’t while the typical Stage 1 forms disappear. A very late acquisition is the negative

form isn’t, with the result that some Stage 2 forms (with not instead of isn’t) continue

to be used for quite a long time, as in the examples:

Thestudyofthe developinguse of negative forms has produced some delightfulexamples

of children operating their own rules for negative sentences. One famous example (from

McNeill, 1966) also shows the futility of overt adult “correction” of children’s speech.

child: Nobody don’t like me.

mother: No, say “nobody likes me.”

child: Nobody don’t like me.

(Eight repetitions of this dialog)

mother: No, now listen carefully; say “nobody likes me.”

child: Oh! Nobody don’t likes me.

Developing semantics

The anecdotes that parents retell about their child’s early speech (to the intense

embarrassment of the grown-up child) usually involve examples of the strange use

of words. Having been warned that flies bring germs into the house, one child was

no mitten not a teddy bear

no fall no sit there

He no bite you I don’t want it

That not touch You can’t dance

I didn’t caught it He not taking it

She won’t let go This not ice cream

178 The Study of Language

 

 

asked what “germs” were and the answer was “something the flies play with.” It is

not always possible to determine so precisely the meanings that children attach to the

words they use.

It seems that during the holophrastic stage many children use their limited

vocabulary to refer to a large number of unrelated objects. One child first used bow-

wow to refer to a dog and then to a fur piece with glass eyes, a set of cufflinks and even

a bath thermometer. The word bow-wow seemed to have a meaning like “object with

shiny bits.” Other children often extend bow-wow to refer to cats, cows and horses.

This process is called overextension and the most common pattern is for the

child to overextend the meaning of a word on the basis of similarities of shape, sound

and size, and, to a lesser extent, movement and texture. Thus the word ball is

extended to all kinds of round objects, including a lampshade, a doorknob and the

moon. Or, a tick-tock is initially used for a watch, but can also be used for a bathroom

scale with a round dial. On the basis of size, presumably, the word fly was first used

for the insect and then came to be used for specks of dirt and even crumbs of bread.

Apparently due to similarities of texture, the expression sizo was first used by one

child for scissors, and then extended to all metal objects. The semantic development

in a child’s use of words is usually a process of overextension initially, followed by

a gradual process of narrowing down the application of each term as more words

are learned.

Although overextension has been well documented in children’s speech produc-

tion, it isn’t necessarily used in speech comprehension. One two-year-old used apple,

in speaking, to refer to a number of other round objects like a tomato and a ball, but

had no difficulty picking out the apple, when asked, from a set of round objects

including a ball and a tomato.

One interesting feature of the young child’s semantics is the way certain lexical

relations are treated. In terms of hyponymy, the child will almost always use the

“middle” level term in a hyponymous set such as animal – dog – terrier. It would

seem more logical to learn the most general term (animal), but all evidence indicates

that children first use dog with an overextended meaning close to the meaning

of “animal.” This may be connected to a similar tendency in adults, when talking

to young children, to refer to flowers (not the more general plants, or the more

specific tulips).

Later developments

Some types of antonymous relations are acquired fairly late (after the age of five). In

one study, a large number of kindergarten children pointed to the same heavily laden

apple tree when asked Which tree has more apples? and also when asked Which tree

has less apples?. They just seem to think the correct response will be the larger one,

disregarding the difference between more and less. The distinctions between a

First language acquisition 179

 

 

number of other pairs such as before/after and buy/sell also seem to be later acquisi-

tions. The ability to produce certain types of complex structures and extended dis-

course are also much later developments.

Despite the fact that children are still in the process of acquiring a number of other

aspects of their first language through the later years of childhood, it is normally

assumed that, by the age of five, they have completed the greater part of the basic

language acquisition process. They have become accomplished users of a first lan-

guage. According to some, the child is then in a good position to start learning a

second (or foreign) language. However, most people don’t start trying to learn another

language until much later. The question that always arises is: if first language acqui-

sition was so straightforward and largely automatic, why is learning a second lan-

guage so difficult? We will try to answer that question in Chapter 14.

180 The Study of Language

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 Why are some of the infant’s first sounds described as “cooing”?

2 Can you describe four typical features of caregiver speech?

3 During which stage do children typically first produce syllable sequences similar to

mama and dada and how old are they?

4 At about what age do children typically begin producing varied syllable

combinations such as ma-da-ga-ba?

5 Which of these two utterances was produced by the older child and why?

(a) I not hurt him

(b) No the sun shining

6 What is the term used to describe the process involved when a child uses one word

like ball to refer to an apple, an egg, a grape and a ball?

TASKS

A The “sucking behavior” of infants was mentioned in this chapter in connection

with early speech perception. How can it be measured and what can we learn from

these measurements?

B The connection between the early development of motor skills and the

development of speech for an average child in an English-speaking environment

was described in detail by Lenneberg (1967: 128–130) and recently elaborated by

Iverson (2010). Can you complete the following chart by adding appropriate

descriptions of motor skills and speech skills at each age, showing how they

develop together? (Note that there are often two descriptive phrases for some

levels.)

Motor skills

can walk with support

can sit, bend forward, and reach for objects

can move easily on hands and feet

can lift head and hands from a lying position

can sit up with support

can grasp with thumb and fingers

puts objects such as toys or fingers in mouth while making sounds

can pull self into standing position

Speech skills

produces more consonant-like sounds as well as vowels

produces squealing, gurgling and cooing sounds

First language acquisition 181

 

 

produces sound play, bubbles and syllable combinations (e.g. [da da ba ba])

turns head to human speech sounds

produces longer vowels and babbling sounds, some like syllables (e.g. [da], [mu])

recognizes different sounds (e.g. [ba] versus [ɡa])

easily produces repeated syllables with different consonants (e.g. [ba da ma])

produces more vocalizations with regular rhythm of syllables (e.g. [ba ba ba])

C There is a typical sequence in the acquisition of some functional and inflectional

morphemes by English-speaking children. This sequence was documented in

Brown (1973) and is summarized in O’Grady (2005: 94).

Try to create a chart, with stages 1–10, showing the typical sequence of

acquisition of English morphemes (-ing), alongside appropriate examples (cat

sitting), using the following examples from children’s speech.

D What is meant by MLU (“Mean Length of Utterance”) in child language studies?

Can you work out the MLU of this small sample of utterances?

Motor skills Speech skills

4 months _____________________ _____________________

_____________________

5 months _____________________ _____________________

_____________________

6 months _____________________ _____________________

8 months _____________________ _____________________

_____________________

10 months ____________________ _____________________

_____________________

12 months ____________________ _____________________

a cat it comes on bed

boys it opened she knows

cats it went away that on top

cat sitting Karen’s bed the dog

he came mommy reading book this is no

he walked mommy’s book you are look

in bag not in that

no big box no eating that

daddy eat red apple that mommy’s book.

daddy eats apples

182 The Study of Language

 

 

E The following examples are from the speech of three children. Identify which child

is at the earliest stage, which is next in order, and which is at the most advanced

stage. Describe those features in the examples from each child’s speech that

support your ordering.

child x: You want eat?

I can’t see my book.

Why you waking me up?

child y: Where those dogs goed?

You didn’t eat supper.

Does lions walk?

child z: No picture in there.

Where momma boot?

Have some?

F Do boys and girls develop language differently in the early stages? Have any

differences been documented in how they speak and how they are spoken to?

G There are two distinct theoretical perspectives on how first language acquisition

takes place, generally labeled the “rational” perspective and the “empirical”

perspective. We can characterize each perspective with a number of tenets or

principles, as illustrated in the following statements. Divide these statements into

two sets, one representing the rational perspective and the other representing the

empirical perspective. Which perspective do you prefer?

Acquisition proceeds in a piecemeal fashion, building on what is already acquired.

Acquisition takes places along a predetermined path.

Children begin life with some knowledge of the possible units of language.

Children learn to say things unrelated to input.

General learning mechanisms account for language learning.

It takes time to integrate new linguistic information with existing knowledge.

Language learning is independent of other kinds of learning.

New linguistic knowledge is acquired very quickly.

Speech is perceived from the start as distinct from any other physical stimuli.

There are only a few fixed possibilities of language structures to learn.

There are many possible language structures to be learned.

There is no initial distinction between speech and any other physical stimuli.

There is no pre-programmed knowledge of language.

What children learn to say is directly related to input.

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I In our discussion of developing semantics, we focused mainly on the use of nouns.

In the following examples, a young child (age shown as year; month) seems to be

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using verbs in a way that is not based on typical adult uses and hence unlikely to be

“imitations.” Is there any consistent pattern in these examples? Can you suggest an

explanation for this child’s choice of words for the kinds of actions being described?

(2; 3) I come it closer so it won’t fall (¼ bring it closer) (2; 6) Mommy, can you stay this open? (¼ keep this open) (2; 8) Daddy, go me round (¼ make me go round) (2; 9) I’m gonna fall this on her (¼ drop this on her) (2;11) How would you flat it? (¼ flatten it) (3; 1) I’m singing him (¼ making him sing) (For background reading, see chapter 6 of Clark, 2009)

II Which of these three metaphors of first language acquisition (from Valian, 1999)

would you agree with and why?

According to the copy metaphor, “the child gradually aligns her speech with

that of her language community” and “the focus is on an active role for input.”

According to the hypothesis testing metaphor, “the child forms and tests

hypotheses about what structures exist in the language” and “the child is not

copying the input.”

According to the trigger metaphor, “the child neither copies the input nor

evaluates it” and “a given piece of input triggers the correct parametric value,”

assuming the child has innate knowledge of a small set of possible parametric

values.

(For background reading, see Valian, 1999)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Apel, K. and J. Masterson (2012) Beyond Baby Talk (Revised edition) Three Rivers Press

O’Grady, W. (2005) How Children Learn Language Cambridge University Press

More detailed treatments

Clark, E. (2009) First Language Acquisition (2nd edition) Cambridge University Press

Lust, B. (2006) Child Language Cambridge University Press

Speech perception in infants

Jusczyk, P. (1997) The Discovery of Spoken Language MIT Press

Babbling

Oller, D. (2000) The Emergence of the Speech Capacity Lawrence Erlbaum

The one-word stage

Rodgon, M. (2009) Single-Word Usage, Cognitive Development and the Beginnings of

Combinatorial Speech Cambridge University Press

184 The Study of Language

 

 

Morphological development

Moskowitz, B. (1991) “The acquisition of language” In W. Wang (ed.) The Emergence of

Language (131–149) W. H. Freeman

Syntactic development

O’Grady, W. (1997) Syntactic Development University of Chicago Press

Semantic development

Bloom, P. (2002) How Children Learn the Meanings of Words MIT Press

Rational and empirical perspectives (in that order)

Pinker, S. (1994) The Language Instinct William Morrow

Tomasello, M. (2003) Constructing a Language Harvard University Press

Other references

Brown, R. (1973) A First Language Harvard University Press

Bruner, J. (1983) Child’s Talk: Learning to Use Language Norton

Cazden, C. (1972) Child Language and Education Holt

Clark, E. (1993) The Lexicon in Acquisition Cambridge University Press

Iverson, J. (2010) “Developing language in a developing body: the relationship between motor

development and language development” Journal of Child Language 37: 229–261

Lenneberg, E. (1967) Biological Foundations of Language John Wiley

McNeill, D. (1966) “Developmental psycholinguistics” In F. Smith and G. Miller (eds.) The

Genesis of Language (15–84) MIT Press

Valian, V. (1999) “Input and language acquisition” In W. Ritchie and T. Bhatia (eds.) Handbook

of Child Language Acquisition (497–530) Academic Press

Weir, R. (1966) “Questions on the learning of phonology” In F. Smith and G. Miller (eds.) The

Genesis of Language (153–168) MIT Press

First language acquisition 185

 

 

CHAPTER 14

Second language acquisition/learning

“Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One too may eat of the

chocolate.”

“And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.

I knew the word, so I raised my hand, saying, “The rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.”

“A rabbit?” The teacher, assuming I’d used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers

on top of her head, wriggling them as though they were ears. “You mean one of these?

A rabbit rabbit?”

“Well, sure,” I said. “He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he

have a basket and foods.”

The teacher sighed and shook her head. As far as she was concerned, I had just explained

everything that was wrong with my country. “No, no,” she said. “Here in France the

chocolate is brought by a big bell that flies in from Rome.”

I called for a time-out. “But how do the bell know where you live?”

“Well,” she said, “how does a rabbit?”

Sedaris (2000)

Some children grow up in a social environment where more than one language is

used and are able to acquire a second language in circumstances similar to those of

first language acquisition. Those fortunate individuals are bilingual (see Chapter 18).

However, most of us are not exposed to a second language until much later and,

like David Sedaris, our ability to use a second language, even after years of study,

rarely matches ability in our first language.

 

 

Second language learning

Thereissomethingofanenigmain thissituation, sincethereisapparently noothersystem

of “knowledge” that we can learn better at two or three years of age than at thirteen or

thirty. A numberof reasonshave been suggested toaccountfor this enigma,and a number

of different approaches have been proposed to help learners become as effective commu-

nicating in a foreign or second language (L2) as they are in their first language (L1).

A distinction is sometimes made between learning in a “foreign language” setting

(learning a language that is not generally spoken in the surrounding community) and

a “second language” setting (learning a language that is spoken in the surrounding

community). That is, Japanese students in an English class in Japan are learning

English as a foreign language (EFL) and, if those same students were in an English

class in the USA, they would be learning English as a second language (ESL). In either

case, they are simply trying to learn another language, so the expression second

language learning is used more generally to describe both situations.

Acquisition and learning

A more significant distinction is made between acquisition and learning. The term

acquisition is used to refer to the gradual development of ability in a language by

using it naturally in communicative situations with others who know the language.

Acquisition normally takes place without a teacher. The term learning, however,

applies to a more conscious process of accumulating knowledge of the features of a

language, such as pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar, typically in an institu-

tional setting, with teachers. (Mathematics, for example, is learned, not acquired.)

Activities associated with learning have traditionally been used in second lan-

guage teaching in schools and have a tendency, when successful, to result in more

knowledge “about” the language (as demonstrated in tests) than fluency in actually

using the language (as demonstrated in social interaction). Activities associated with

acquisition are those experienced by the young child and, by analogy, those who

“pick up” a second language from long periods spent in interaction, constantly using

the language, with native speakers of the language. Native speakers are those who

speak the language as their L1. Those individuals whose L2 exposure is primarily a

learning type of experience tend not to develop the same kind of general proficiency

as those who have had more of an acquisition type of experience.

Acquisition barriers

For most people, the experience with an L2 is fundamentally different from their

L1 experience and it is hardly conducive to acquisition. They usually encounter the

L2 during their teenage or adult years, in a few hours each week of school time

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(rather than via the constant interaction experienced as a child), with a lot of other

things going on (young children have little else to do). They also have developed an

unconscious commitment to the sounds and structures of an already known language

that has been in use for most of their daily communicative requirements for many

years. Despite the fact that insufficient time, focus and incentive undermine many L2

learning attempts, there are some individuals who seem to be able to overcome the

difficulties and develop an ability to use the L2 quite effectively, though not usually

sounding like a native speaker.

However, even in ideal acquisition situations, very few adults seem to reach

native-like proficiency in using an L2. There are individuals who can achieve great

expertise in the written language, but not the spoken language. One example is Joseph

Conrad (1857–1924), who wrote novels in English that became classics of English

literature, but whose English speech retained the strong Polish accent of his L1. This

might suggest that some features of an L2, such as vocabulary and grammar, are

easier to learn than others, such as pronunciation. Indeed, without early experience

using the sounds and intonation of the L2, even highly fluent and proficient adult

learners are likely to be perceived as having an “accent” of some kind.

The age factor

This type of observation is sometimes taken as evidence that, after the critical period

for language acquisition has passed, around the time of puberty, it becomes very

difficult to acquire another language fully (see Chapter 12). We might think of this

process in terms of our inherent capacity for language being strongly taken over by

features of the L1, with a resulting loss of flexibility or openness to receive the features

of another language. Given the example of Joseph Conrad and many others, we might

note that the dominance of the L1 is particularly strong in terms of pronunciation.

Against this view, it has been demonstrated that students in their early teens are

quicker and more effective L2 learners in the classroom than, for example, seven-year-

olds. It may be, of course, that the effective learning of an L2 (even with a trace of an

accent) requires a combination of factors. The optimum age for learning may be

during the years from about ten to sixteen when the flexibility of our inherent capacity

for language has not been completely lost, and the maturation of cognitive skills

allows a more effective analysis of the regular features of the L2 being learned.

Affective factors

Yet even during this proposed optimum age for L2 learning, there may exist an

acquisition barrier of quite a different kind. Teenagers are typically much more

self-conscious than younger children. If there is a strong element of unwillingness

or embarrassment in attempting to produce the different sounds of another language,

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then it may override whatever physical and cognitive abilities there are. If this self-

consciousness is accompanied by a lack of empathy with the other culture (for

example, feeling no identification with its speakers or their customs), then the subtle

effects of not really wanting to sound like a Russian or a German or an American may

strongly inhibit the learning process.

This type of emotional reaction, or “affect,” may also be caused by dull textbooks,

unpleasant classroom surroundings or an exhausting schedule of study and/or work.

All these negative feelings or experiences are affective factors that can create a barrier

to acquisition. Basically, if we are stressed, uncomfortable, self-conscious or unmoti-

vated, we are unlikely to learn very much. In contrast, learners who have other

personality traits, such as self-confidence, low anxiety and a positive self-image, seem

better able to overcome difficulties encountered in the learning space.

Children are generally less constrained by affective factors. Descriptions of L2

acquisition in childhood are full of instances where young children quickly overcome

their inhibitions as they try to use new words and phrases. Adults can sometimes

overcome their inhibitions too. In one intriguing study, a group of adult L2 learners

volunteered to have their self-consciousness levels reduced by having their alcohol

levels gradually increased. Up to a certain point, the pronunciation of the L2 notice-

ably improved, but after a certain number of drinks, as we might expect, pronunci-

ations deteriorated rapidly. Courses introducing “French with cognac” or “Russian

with vodka” may provide a partial solution, but the inhibitions are likely to return

with sobriety.

Focus on teaching method

Despite all these barriers, the need for instruction in other languages has led to a

variety of educational approaches and methods aimed at fostering L2 learning. As

long ago as 1483, William Caxton used his newly established printing press to

produce a book of Right good lernyng for to lerne shortly frenssh and englyssh. He

was not the first to compile exercise material for L2 learners and his phrase-book

format with customary greetings (Syre, god you kepe. I haue not seen you in longe

tyme) has many modern counterparts. More recent approaches designed to promote

L2 learning have tended to reflect different theoretical views on how an L2 might best

be learned.

The grammar–translation method

The most traditional approach is to treat L2 learning in the same way as any other

academic subject. Vocabulary lists and sets of grammar rules are used to define the

target of learning, memorization is encouraged, and written language rather than

spoken language is emphasized. This method has its roots in the traditional teaching

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of Latin and is described as the grammar–translation method. This label has actually

been applied to the approach by its detractors, who have pointed out that its emphasis

on learning about the L2 often leaves students quite ignorant of how the language

might be used in everyday conversation. Although this method clearly produced

many successful L2 users over the centuries, it has been noted that students can

leave school, having achieved high grades in French class via this method, yet find

themselves at a loss when confronted by the way the French in France actually use

their language.

The audiolingual method

A very different approach, emphasizing the spoken language, became popular in the

middle of the twentieth century. It involved a systematic presentation of the structures

of the L2, moving from the simple to the more complex, in the form of drills that the

student had to repeat. This approach, called the audiolingual method, was strongly

influenced by a belief that the fluent use of a language was essentially a set of “habits”

that could be developed with a lot of practice. Much of this practice involved hours

spent in a language laboratory repeating oral drills. Versions of this approach are still

used in language teaching, but its critics have pointed out that isolated practice in

drilling language patterns bears no resemblance to the interactional nature of actual

spoken language use. Moreover, it can be incredibly boring.

Communicative approaches

More recent revisions of the L2 learning experience can best be described as

communicative approaches. They are partially a reaction against the artificiality of

“pattern-practice” and also against the belief that consciously learning the grammar

rules of a language will result in an ability to use the language. Although there are

different versions of how to create communicative experiences for L2 learners, they

are all based on a belief that the functions of language (what it is used for) should be

emphasized rather than the forms of the language (correct grammatical or phono-

logical structures). Classroom lessons are likely to be organized around concepts such

as “asking for things” in different social settings, rather than “the forms of the past

tense” in different sentences. These changes have coincided with attempts to provide

more appropriate materials for L2 learning that has a specific purpose, as in “English

for medicine” or “Japanese for business.”

Focus on the learner

The most fundamental change in the area of L2 learning in recent years has been a

shift from concern with the teacher, the textbook and the method to an interest in the

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learner and the acquisition process. For example, one radical feature of most commu-

nicative approaches is the toleration of “errors” produced by students. Traditionally,

“errors” were regarded negatively and they had to be avoided or eradicated. The

more recent acceptance of such errors in learners’ use of the L2 is based on a

fundamental shift in perspective from the more traditional view of how L2 learning

takes place.

Rather than consider a Spanish (L1) speaker’s production of in the room there are

three womens as simply a failure to learn correct English (which can be remedied

through extra practice of the correct form), we can look at this utterance as an

indication of the natural L2 acquisition process in action. An “error,” then, is not

something that hinders a student’s progress, but is probably a clue to the active

learning progress being made by the student as he or she tries out ways of communi-

cating in the new language. Just as children acquiring their L1 produce certain types

of ungrammatical forms at times, so we might expect the L2 learner to produce similar

forms at certain stages (see Chapter 13). The example of womens might be seen as a

type of overgeneralization (of -s as the plural marker), used by the learner based on

the most common way of making plural forms in English.

Transfer

Of course, some errors may be due to “transfer” (also called “crosslinguistic

influence”). Transfer means using sounds, expressions or structures from the L1

when performing in the L2. For example, a Spanish (L1) speaker who produces take

it from the side inferior may be trying to use the Spanish adjective inferior (¼ lower in English) and placing it after the noun, as is typical in Spanish constructions. If

the L1 and L2 have similar features (e.g. marking plural on the ends of nouns), then

the learner may be able to benefit from the positive transfer of L1 knowledge to the

L2. On the other hand, transferring an L1 feature that is really different from the L2

(e.g. putting the adjective after the noun) results in negative transfer and it may

make the L2 expression difficult to understand. The impact of negative transfer on

communicative success tends to be greater when the L1 and L2 are really different

types of languages, making the task of becoming proficient in English more

demanding for Chinese than for German speakers. We should remember that

negative transfer (sometimes called “interference”) is more common in the early

stages of L2 learning and often decreases as the learner develops greater familiarity

with the L2.

Interlanguage

On close inspection, the language produced by L2 learners contains a large number of

“errors” that seem to have no connection to the forms of either the L1 or L2. For

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example, the Spanish L1 speaker who says in English She name is Maria is producing

a form that is not used by adult speakers of English, does not occur in English L1

acquisition by children, and is not based on a structure in Spanish. Evidence of this

sort suggests that there is some in-between system used in the L2 acquisition process

that certainly contains aspects of the L1 and L2, but which is an inherently variable

system with rules of its own. This system is called an interlanguage and it is now

considered to be the basis of all L2 production.

If some learners develop a fairly fixed repertoire of L2 expressions, containing

many forms that do not match the target language, and seem not to be progressing

any further, their interlanguage is said to have “fossilized.” The process of

fossilization in L2 pronunciation seems to be the most likely basis of what is

perceived as a foreign accent. However, an interlanguage is not designed to fossilize.

It will naturally develop and become a more effective means of L2 communication

given appropriate conditions. Discovering just what count as the appropriate condi-

tions for successful L2 learning is an ongoing area of investigation.

Motivation

There are several factors that combine in a profile of a successful L2 learner.

Obviously, the motivation to learn is important. Many learners have an

instrumental motivation. That is, they want to learn the L2 in order to achieve

some other goal, such as completing a school graduation requirement or being able

to read scientific publications, but they are not really planning on engaging in much

social interaction using the L2. In contrast, those learners with an integrative

motivation want to learn the L2 for social purposes, in order to take part in the

social life of a community using that language and to become an accepted member

of that community.

It is also worth noting that those who experience some success in L2 communi-

cation are among the most motivated to learn. So, motivation may be as much a result

of success as a cause. A language-learning situation that provides support and

encourages students to try to use whatever L2 skills they have in order to communi-

cate successfully must consequently be more helpful than one that dwells on errors,

corrections and a failure to be perfectly accurate. Indeed, the learner who is willing to

guess, risks making mistakes, and tries to communicate in the L2 will tend, given the

opportunity, to be more successful. An important part of that opportunity is the

availability of “input.”

Input and output

The term input is used, as in L1 acquisition (see Chapter 13), to describe the language

that the learner is exposed to. To be beneficial for L2 learning, that input has to be

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comprehensible, because we can’t process what we don’t understand. Input can be

made comprehensible by being simpler in structure and vocabulary, as in the variety

of speech called foreigner talk. Native speakers of English may try to ask an inter-

national student How are you getting on in your studies?, but, if not understood, may

switch to English class, you like it? This type of foreigner talk may be beneficial, not

only for immediate communication, but also for providing the learner with compre-

hensible examples of the basic structure of the L2 as input.

As the learner’s interlanguage develops, however, there is a need for more

interaction and the kind of “negotiated input” that arises in conversation.

Negotiated input is L2 material that the learner can acquire in interaction through

requests for clarification while active attention is being focused on what is said. In the

following interaction (from Pica et al., 1991), notice how the learner, a non-native

speaker (NNS) of English, and the English native speaker (NS) negotiate meaning

together. The comprehensible input (i.e. using the word triangle to describe a shape)

is provided at a point where the learner needs it and is paying attention to the

meaning in context.

NS: like part of a triangle?

NNS: what is triangle?

NS: a triangle is a shape um it has three sides

NNS: a peak?

NS: three straight sides

NNS: a peak?

NS: yes it does look like a mountain peak, yes

NNS: only line only line?

NS: okay two of them, right? one on each side? a line on each side?

NNS: yes

NS: little lines on each side?

NNS: yes

NS: like a mountain?

NNS: yes

In this type of interaction, the learner experiences the benefits of both receiving input

(hearing the L2) and producing output (speaking the L2). The opportunity to produce

comprehensible output in meaningful interaction seems to be another important

element in the learner’s development of L2 ability, yet it is one of the most difficult

things to provide in large L2 classes.

Task-based learning

One solution has been to create different types of tasks and activities in which learners

have to interact with each other, usually in small groups or pairs, to exchange

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information or solve problems. The assumption in using tasks such as “describe a

way to get from A to B so that your partner can draw the route on a map” or “plan a

shopping trip with your partner by making a shopping list” is that students will

improve their ability, especially their fluency, by using the L2 in an activity that

focuses on getting meaning across and has a clear goal. Despite fears that learners

will simply learn each other’s “mistakes,” the results of such task-based learning

provide overwhelming evidence of more and better L2 use by more learners. The goal

of such activities is not that the learners will know more about the L2, but that they

will develop communicative competence in the L2.

Communicative competence

Communicative competence can be defined as the general ability to use language

accurately, appropriately and flexibly. The first component is grammatical compe-

tence, which involves the accurate use of words and structures. Concentration on

grammatical competence only, however, will not provide the learner with the ability

to interpret or produce L2 expressions appropriately.

The ability to use appropriate language is the second component, called

sociolinguistic competence. It enables the learner to know when to say Can

I have some water? versus Give me some water! according to the social context.

Much of what was discussed in terms of pragmatics (see Chapter 10) has to become

familiar in the cultural context of the L2 if the learner is to develop sociolinguistic

competence.

The third component is called strategic competence. This is the ability to organ-

ize a message effectively and to compensate, via strategies, for any difficulties. In L2

use, learners inevitably experience moments when there is a gap between communi-

cative intent and their ability to express that intent. Some learners may just stop

talking (bad idea), whereas others will try to express themselves using a

communication strategy (good idea). For example, a Dutch L1 speaker wanted to

refer to een hoefijzer in English, but didn’t know the English word. So, she used

a communication strategy. She created a way of referring to the object by using

vocabulary she already knew, saying the things that horses wear under their feet, the

iron things and the listener understood immediately what she meant (horseshoes).

This flexibility in L2 use is a key element in communicative success. In essence,

strategic competence is the ability to overcome potential communication problems in

interaction.

Applied linguistics

In attempting to investigate the complex nature of second language learning, we have

to appeal to ideas not only from linguistic analysis, but from other fields such as

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communication studies, education, psychology and sociology. This large-scale

endeavor is often described as applied linguistics. Unlike theoretical linguistics,

which often seems to have a primary focus on phonology, syntax and semantics,

often discussed in very abstract terms, applied linguistics is concerned with practical

issues involving language and its role in everyday life. Because it represents an

attempt to deal with a large range of real-world issues involving language (not only

L2 learning), applied linguistics has created connections with fields as diverse as

anthropology (see Chapter 20), neurolinguistics (Chapter 12), social psychology

(Chapter 19) and sign language studies (Chapter 15).

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STUDY QUESTIONS

1 Why do we say that mathematics is learned, not acquired?

2 What aspect of language learning do you think “the Joseph Conrad phenomenon”

refers to?

3 What are four typical barriers to acquiring an L2 as an adult compared to L1

acquisition as a child?

4 What is the difference between positive and negative transfer?

5 What happens when an interlanguage fossilizes?

6 What are the three components of communicative competence?

TASKS

A What is the difference between “input” and “intake” in L2 learning?

B What arguments are presented in support of “the output hypothesis” in L2 studies?

C What is meant by a “stylistic continuum” in the study of interlanguage?

D What is contrastive analysis and how might it help us understand the following

types of L2 errors in English produced by students whose L1 is Spanish?

(a) He must wear the tie black.

(b) My study is modernes languages.

(c) He no understand you.

(d) It was the same size as a ball of golf.

(e) We stayed at home because was raining.

(f) I eat usually eggs for breakfast.

E One feature of interlanguage grammars is the apparent existence of temporary rules

that don’t match the rules of either the L1 or the L2, as described in Gass and

Selinker (2008). The following examples are from a speaker whose L1 was Arabic.

Can you describe the rule(s) he seems to be using for the use of plural -s in English?

(a) How many brother you have?

(b) The streets are very wide.

(c) I finish in a few day.

(d) Here is a lot of animal in the houses.

(e) Many people live in villages.

(f) There are two horses in the picture.

(g) Both my friend from my town.

(h) Seven days in a week.

F Classroom activities in communicative language teaching create situations in

which L2 learners produce different types of communication strategies. Can you

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match each type of strategy (1–6) with one of the examples (a–f)? How would you

rank them from least to most effective?

(a) the color is dark and . . . the size is just as a hand . . . it is made of . . . la- leather

(talking about a glove)

(b) how do you say in English that word . . . we say in Spanish “bujia”

(talking about a candlestick)

(c) the man he play a . . . you know . . . it makes a [whistles] like that

(talking about a small musical pipe)

(d) the first you . . . like put together and you . . . do the next step . . . I can’t . . . I’m sorry

(talking about a plunge coffee maker)

(e) maybe is something like a rope

(talking about an electrical cord)

(f) the oval is the big one and the other part is what take to [demonstrates holding

the handle of a brush]

(talking about a Christmas tree stand)

G In recent studies of classroom second language learning, there has been a lot more

attention paid to how teachers provide feedback to students. (i) Using the descriptions of different types of feedback provided in (1)–(6), try to

analyze the teacher reactions presented in (a)–(f) as responses to the student

who said: I should be student now.

(ii) Do you think that any of these types of feedback would be more effective

or more beneficial than the others?

(a) You know, you have to include an article here and say “a student.”

(b) I’m sorry, could you say that again?

(c) No, say, “I should be studying now.”

(d) Do you mean that you want to be a student now?

(e) You’re saying you should be studying now?

(1) Clarification request: checking if the teacher has heard/understood the student

(2) Elicitation: trying to get the student to make another attempt or rephrase

without the perceived mistake

(3) Explicit correction: clearly changing the student utterance to correct a

perceived mistake

(4) Explicit mention of a rule: stating a rule that is involved in the correction of a

perceived mistake

(5) Recasts: reformulating the student’s utterance without the perceived mistake

(1) appeal for assistance (4) message abandonment

(2) approximation (5) mime or gesture

(3) circumlocution (6) sound imitation

Second language acquisition/learning 197

 

 

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I Which of the following statements do you agree with? What reasons would you

give to support your opinions?

(i) People with high IQs are good language learners.

(ii) Most mistakes in the L2 are due to interference from the L1.

(iii) L2 learners should not be allowed to hear mistakes or they will learn them.

(iv) Teachers should teach simple L2 structures before complex ones.

(v) Teachers should teach only one L2 grammatical rule at a time and practice it

thoroughly before introducing the next rule.

(For background reading, see chapter 7 of Lightbown and Spada, 2013.)

II “Communicative Language Teaching is premised on the assumption that learners

do not need to be taught grammar before they can communicate but will acquire it

naturally as part of the process of learning to communicate. In some versions of

Communicative Language Teaching, then, there is no place at all for the direct

teaching of grammar.” (Ellis, 1997)

(i) Do you believe that second language learning is possible with only a focus on

function (“communication”) and no focus on form (“grammar”)?

(ii) Why do you think that there are renewed calls for “form-focused instruction”

after many years of Communicative Language Teaching?

(For background reading, see chapter 9 of Ellis, 1997.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Ellis, R. (1997) Second Language Acquisition Oxford University Press

Lightbown, P. and N. Spada (2013) How Languages are Learned (4th edition) Oxford University

Press

More detailed treaments

Cook, V. (2008) Second Language Learning and Language Teaching (4th edition) Hodder

Education

Saville-Troike, M. (2012) Introducing Second Language Acquisition (2nd edition) Cambridge

University Press

Theoretical perspectives

Atkinson, M. (ed.) (2011) Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Routledge

Mitchell, R., F. Myles and E. Marsden (2013) Second Language Learning Theories (3rd edition)

Routledge

Translation

Bellos, D. (2011) Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything

Faber & Faber

198 The Study of Language

 

 

Bilingual acquisition

Yip, M. and S. Matthews (2007) The Bilingual Child Cambridge University Press

Comparing first and second language acquisition

Meisel, J. (2011) First and Second Language Acquisition: Parallels and Diffferences Cambridge

University Press

The effects of age

Dekeyser, R. and J. Larson-Hall (2005) “What does the critical period really mean?” In J. Kroll

and A. De Groot (eds.) Handbook of Bilingualism (88–108) Oxford University Press

Singleton, D. and L. Ryan (2004) Language Acquisition: The Age Factor (2nd edition)

Multilingual Matters

Focus on method

Richards, J. and T. Rodgers (2001) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (2nd edition)

Cambridge University Press

Focus on the learner

VanPatten, B. (2003) From Input to Output: A Teacher’s Guide to Second Language Acquisition

McGraw-Hill

Pronunciation with wine

Guiora, A., B. Beit-Hallahmi, R. Brannon, C. Dull and T. Scovel (1972) “The effects of

experimentally induced change in ego states on pronunciation ability in a second language:

an exploratory study” Comprehensive Psychiatry 13: 5–23

The horseshoe example

Kellerman, E., T. Ammerlan, T. Bongaerts and N. Poulisse (1990) “System and hierarchy in L2

compensatory strategies” In R. Scarcella, E. Anderson and S. Krashen (eds.) Developing

Communicative Competence in a Second Language (163–178) Newbury House

Task-based learning

Samuda, V. and M. Bygate (2008) Tasks in Second Language Learning Palgrave Macmillan

Willis, D. and J. Willis (2007) Doing Task-based Teaching Oxford University Press

Applied linguistics

Cook, G. (2003) Applied Linguistics Oxford University Press

Other references

Gass, S. and L. Selinker (2008) Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course (3rd

edition) Taylor and Francis

Pica, T., L. Holliday, N. Lewis, D. Berducci and J. Newman (1991) “Language learning through

interaction: what role does gender play?” Studies in Second Language Acquisition 11: 63–90

Second language acquisition/learning 199

 

 

CHAPTER 15

Gestures and sign languages

This old lady, in her nineties, but sharp as a pin, would sometimes fall into a peaceful reverie.

As she did so, she might have seemed to be knitting, her hands in constant complex motion.

But her daughter, also a signer, told me she was not knitting but thinking to herself, thinking

in Sign. And even in sleep, I was further informed, the old lady might sketch fragmentary

signs on the counterpane. She was dreaming in Sign.

Sacks (1989)

When we considered the process of language acquisition, we concentrated on the

fact that what is naturally acquired by most children is speech. Yet this is not the only

way that a first language can be acquired. Just as most children of English-speaking

or Spanish-speaking parents naturally acquire English or Spanish at a very early age,

so the deaf children of deaf parents naturally acquire Sign (or Sign Language). Later

in life, as Oliver Sacks observed, they may even use Sign when they “talk” in their

sleep. If those children grow up in American homes, they will typically acquire

American Sign Language, also known as Ameslan or ASL, as their version of Sign.

With a signing population of at least half a million, and perhaps as many as two

million, ASL is a widely used language in the United States. The size of this population

is quite remarkable since, until relatively recently, the use of ASL was discouraged in

most educational institutions for the deaf. In fact, historically, very few teachers of

the deaf learned ASL, or even considered it to be a “real” language at all. For many

people, Sign wasn’t language, it was “merely gestures.”

 

 

Gestures

Although both Sign and gestures involve the use of the hands (with other parts of the

body), they are rather different. Sign is like speech and is used instead of speaking.

Gestures are mostly used while speaking. Examples of gestures are making a down-

ward movement with one hand while talking about not doing very well in a class or

making a twisting motion with one hand as you describe trying to open a bottle or jar.

The gestures are just part of the way in which meaning is expressed and can be

observed while people are speaking and signing.

In the study of non-verbal behavior, a distinction can be drawn between gestures

and emblems. Emblems are signals such as “thumbs up” (¼ things are good) or “shush” (¼ keep quiet) that function like fixed phrases and do not depend on speech. Emblems are conventional and depend on social knowledge (e.g. what is and isn’t

considered offensive in a particular situation). In Britain, the use of two fingers (the

index and middle fingers together) raised in a V-shape traditionally represents one

emblem (¼ victory) when the back of the hand faces the sender and a quite different emblem (¼ I insult you in a very offensive way) when the back of the hand faces the receiver of the signal. It is important, when visiting different places, not to get the

local emblems mixed up.

Iconics

Within the set of gestures that accompany speech, we can distinguish between those

that echo, in some way, the content of the spoken message and those that indicate

something being referred to. Iconics are gestures that seem to be a reflection of

the meaning of what is said, as when we trace a square in the air with a finger

while saying I’m looking for a small box. By itself, an iconic gesture doesn’t “mean”

the same as what is said, but it may add “meaning.” In one particularly clear example

(from McNeill, 1992), a woman was moving her forearm up and down, with a closed

hand, as if holding a weapon, while she was saying and she chased him out again. The

communicated message, including the weapon (an umbrella), was accomplished

through speech and gesture combined.

Deictics

Another common group of gestures can be described as deictics. As noted in

Chapter 10, the term “deictic” means “pointing” and we often use gestures to point

to things or people while talking. We can use deictics in the current context, as when

we use a hand to indicate a table (with a cake on it) and ask someone Would you like

some cake?. We can also use the same gesture and the same table (with cake no longer

on it) when we later say That cake was delicious. In this case, the gesture and the

Gestures and sign languages 201

 

 

speech combine to accomplish successful reference to something that only exists in

shared memory rather than in the current physical space.

Beats

There are other gestures, such as those described as beats, which are short quick

movements of the hand or fingers. These gestures accompany the rhythm of talk and

are often used to emphasize parts of what is being said or to mark a change from

describing events in a story to commenting on those events. As with other gestures,

these hand movements accompany speech, but are not typically used as a way of

speaking. When hand movements are used in order to “speak,” we can describe them

as part of a sign language.

Types of sign languages

There are two general categories of language that involve the use of signs: alternate

sign languages and primary sign languages. By definition, an alternate sign lan-

guage is a system of hand signals developed by speakers for limited communication

in a specific context where speech cannot be used. These signals are sometimes

described as gestural communication to make it clear they are not the same as

languages. In some religious orders where there are rules of silence, restricted alter-

nate sign languages are used. The use of signs by monks in Benedictine monasteries

during periods of silence has been documented since the Middle Ages. Among

some Australian Aboriginal groups, there are periods (e.g. times of bereavement)

when speech is avoided completely and quite elaborate alternate sign languages are

used instead.

Less elaborate versions are to be found in some special working circumstances.

Bookmakers at British racecourses used a system of gestures called “tic-tac” to

communicate with each other (and not with the betting public) and whenever there

is discussion of commodity prices, the television news usually shows traders in

commodity exchanges signaling wildly to each other. In all these examples, the users

of alternate sign languages have another first language that they can speak.

In contrast, a primary sign language is the first language of a group of people

who do not use a spoken language with each other. British Sign Language (BSL) and

French Sign Language (Langue des Signes Française or LSF), as used for everyday

communication among members of the deaf communities of Britain and France, are

primary sign languages. Contrary to popular belief, these different primary sign

languages do not share identical signs and are not mutually intelligible. British Sign

Language is also very different from American Sign Language (ASL) which, for

historical reasons, has more in common with French Sign Language.

202 The Study of Language

 

 

We will focus our attention on ASL in order to describe some features of a primary

sign language, but first, we have to account for the fact that, until fairly recently, it

was not treated as a possible language at all.

Oralism

It was not until the 1960s that any serious consideration was given to the status of ASL

as a natural language, following the work of William Stokoe (1960). Before that, it

was genuinely believed by many well-intentioned teachers that the use of sign

language by deaf children (being too “easy”) would inhibit the acquisition of the

English language. Since spoken English was what those teachers believed the children

really needed, a teaching method generally known as oralism dominated deaf

education during most of the twentieth century. This method required that the

students practice English speech sounds and develop lip-reading skills. Despite its

resounding lack of success, the method was never seriously challenged, perhaps

because of an insidious belief among many during this period that, in educational

terms, most deaf children were not going to achieve very much anyway.

Whatever the reasons, the method produced few students who could speak intelli-

gible English (less than 10 percent) and even fewer who could lip-read (around

4 percent). While oralism was failing, the use of ASL was surreptitiously flourishing.

Many deaf children of hearing parents actually acquired the banned language at schools

for the deaf, not from the teachers, but from other children. Since only one in ten deaf

children had deaf parents from whom they acquired sign language, it would seem that

the cultural transmission of ASL has been mostly carried out from child to child.

Signed English

Substantial changes in deaf education have taken place in recent years, but there is

still an emphasis on the learning of English, written rather than spoken. As a result,

many institutions promote the learning of what is known as Signed English (also

called Manually Coded English or MCE). This is essentially a means of producing

signs that correspond to the words in an English sentence, in English word order. In

many ways, Signed English is designed to facilitate interaction between the deaf and

the hearing community. Its greatest advantage is that it seems to present a much less

formidable learning task for the hearing parent of a deaf child and provides the parent

with a communication system to use with the child.

Forsimilarreasons,hearingteachersindeafeducationcanmakeuseofSignedEnglish

when they sign at the same time as they speak. It is also easier for those hearing interpret-

ers who produce a simultaneous translation of public speeches or lectures for deaf

audiences. Many deaf people actually prefer interpreters to use Signed English because

theysaythereisahigherlikelihoodofunderstandingthemessage.Apparently,whensome

Gestures and sign languages 203

 

 

interpreters try to use ASL, the message seems to suffer, for the simple reason that, unless

they learned ASL in childhood, few hearing people are proficient at it.

Origins of ASL

It would be very surprising if ASL really was “a sort of gestured version of English,” as

some have claimed. Historically, ASL developed from the French Sign Language used

in a Paris school founded in the eighteenth century. Early in the nineteenth century, a

teacher from this school, named Laurent Clerc, was brought to the United States by an

American minister called Thomas Gallaudet who was trying to establish a school for

deaf children. Clerc not only taught deaf children, he also trained other teachers.

During the nineteenth century, this imported version of sign language, incorporating

features of indigenous natural sign languages used by the American deaf, evolved into

what became known as ASL. Such origins help to explain why users of ASL and users

of BSL (in Britain) do not share a common sign language.

The structure of signs

As a natural language functioning in the visual mode, ASL is designed for the eyes, not

the ears. In producing linguistic forms in ASL, signers use four key aspects of visual

information. These are described as the articulatory parameters of ASL in terms of

Figure 15.1

204 The Study of Language

 

 

shape, orientation, location and movement. We can describe these parameters in the

use of the common sign for Thank-You.

Shape and orientation

To describe the articulation of Thank-You in ASL, we start with the shape, or

configuration of the hand(s), used in forming the sign. The shape may differ in terms

of which fingers are used, whether the fingers are extended or bent, and the general

configurations of the hand(s). The configuration shown in Figure 15.1 is a “flat hand”

(not a “fist hand” or a “cupped hand”).

The orientation of the hand is “palm up” rather than “palm down” when signing

Thank-You. In other signs, the hand may be oriented in a number of other ways such

as the “flat hand, palm towards signer” form used to indicate Mine.

Location

Whatevertheshapeandorientationofthehand(s),therewillalsobealocation(orplaceof

articulation) in relation to the head and upper body of the signer. In Thank-You, the sign

begins near the mouth and is completed at chest level. Some signs can only be distin-

guished on the basis of location, as in the difference betweensigning Summer (above the

eyes) and Ugly (below the eyes) because hand shape, palm orientation and movement

are the same in both of these signs. In some two-handed signs (e.g. Medicine, Ship),

one hand acts as the base location while the other hand moves on or above it.

Movement

The movement element in Thank-You is “out and downward” toward the receiver.

The difference between faster and slower movement in signing also has an effect on

meaning. In a story recounted by Stokoe (2001), the director of public relations at

Gallaudet College (for the deaf) happened to notice two employees signing one day

about a former president who had been very ill. She saw a sign that she interpreted as

Dead and phoned the Washington Post, where an obituary for the ex-president

appeared the following day. Rather prematurely, as it turned out, for the same hand

movements, used fairly quickly in Dead, had actually been used by the signer with a

much slower rotation to communicate Dying. The difference in type of movement

creates a difference in meaning. Clearly, just as there are “slips of the ear” (Chapter 12),

there can also be “slips of the eye.”

Primes

The contrasting elements within these four general parameters can be analyzed into

sets of features or primes. We say that “flat hand” is a prime in terms of shape and

Gestures and sign languages 205

 

 

“palm up” is a prime in terms of orientation. Identifying each of these primes allows

us to create a complete feature analysis of every sign in much the same way as we can

analyze the phonological features of spoken language (see Chapter 4).

Facial expressions and finger-spelling

In addition to these parameters and primes, there are important functions served by

non-manual components such as head-movement, eye-movement and several spe-

cific types of facial expressions. Under normal circumstances, Thank-You is articu-

lated with a head nod and a smiling face. If a sentence is functioning as a question, it

is typically accompanied by a raising of the eyebrows, widened eyes, and a slight

leaning forward of the head.

Also, if a new term or name is encountered, signers can use finger-spelling,

which is a system of hand configurations conventionally used to represent the letters

of the alphabet.

From these brief descriptions, it is clear that ASL is a linguistic system designed

for the visual medium, in face-to-face interaction. The majority of signs are located

around the neck and head. If a sign is made near the chest or waist, it tends to be a

two-handed sign. One of the key differences between a system using the visual

medium and one using speech is that visual messages can incorporate a number of

distinct elements simultaneously. Spoken language production is linear, with one

sound signal following another in time. In the visual medium, while signs are also

produced linearly, multiple components can be produced at the same time in space.

The meaning of signs

The signs of ASL are sometimes mistakenly believed to be simple visual representa-

tions or “pictures,” and the whole language is thought to consist of a limited set of

primitive gestures that look like objects or mimic actions in pantomime. Such mis-

conceptions may persist because the hearing world rarely witnesses discussions

conducted in ASL, which can range over every topic, concrete and abstract, and

which bear little resemblance to any form of pantomime.

Interestingly, as non-users of ASL, when we are told that a sign is used to refer to a

particular object or action, we can often create some symbolic connection that makes

the relationship between sign and signified seem more transparent in some sense. We

may look at the sign for Thank-You and see it as some appropriately symbolic version

of the action of “thanking.”

However, most of the time, interpretation doesn’t work that way in the opposite

direction. We normally find it difficult to get the meaning of a sign simply on the basis

of what it looks like. Indeed, as when confronted with any unfamiliar language, we

206 The Study of Language

 

 

may not even be able to identify individual signs (words) in fluent signing. If we can’t

see the “words,” we are hardly likely to be able to identify the “pictures” needed for

their interpretation. Most everyday use of ASL signs by fluent ASL-users is not based

on identifying symbolic pictures, but on recognizing familiar linguistic forms that

have arbitrary status. As an experiment, try to decide what English word would be the

translation of the common sign illustrated here.

In use, this sign consists of rotating both hands together with the fingers interlocked

in front of the chest. Several different interpretations have been suggested for the source

image of this sign. In one, it represents the stripes on a flag, in another, it’s a mixing pot,

and in yet another it’s a coming together. To suggest that any of these images comes into

the mind of a signer who uses the sign in conversation to refer to America is as absurd as

proposing that in hearing the word America, an English speaker must be thinking about

Amerigo Vespucci, the sixteenth-century Italian whose name is reputed to be the source

of the modern word. The signs in ASL have their meanings within the system of signs,

not through reference to some pictorial image each time they are used.

Representing signs

The fact that a sign language exploits the visual medium in quite subtle ways makes it

difficult to represent accurately on the page. As Lou Fant (1977) has observed,

“strictly speaking, the only way to write Ameslan is to use motion pictures.” One of

the major problems is finding a way to incorporate those aspects of facial expression

that contribute to the message. A partial solution is to write one line of manually

signed words (in capital letters) and then, above this line, to indicate the nature and

extent of the facial expression (in some conventional way) that contributes to the

message. As illustrated here, the q in the transcription is used to show that the facial

expression indicated a question function throughout the signing of what would be

translated as Can I borrow the book?

Figure 15.2

Gestures and sign languages 207

 

 

______________ q

Me Borrow Book

Other subtle aspects of meaning can be conveyed by facial expression. In one study, it

was observed that a signer, in the middle of telling a story, produced the signed

message: Man Fish [continuous]. The “continuous” element is indicated by sweeping

repetitive movement of the hands as they form the verb Fish. The basic translation

would be: The man was fishing. However, ASL users translated it as The man was

fishing with relaxation and enjoyment. The source of this extra information was a

particular facial expression in which the lips were together and pushed out a little,

with the head slightly tilted. This non-manual signal was clearly capable of function-

ing as the equivalent of an adverb or preposition phrase in English and was an integral

part of the message. The notation mm was chosen as a way of incorporating this

element and so a more accurate transcription of the message might look like this:

_______________ mm

Man Fish [continuous]

ASL as a natural language

Investigations of ASL from a linguistic point of view are a relatively recent phenom-

enon. Yet it has become clear that any feature that is characteristically found in

spoken languages has a counterpart in ASL. All those defining properties of human

language described in Chapter 2 are present in ASL. There are equivalent levels of

phonology, morphology and syntax. For example, ASL uses Subject Verb Object (SVO)

word order like English, but normally puts adjectives after verbs, unlike English, but

in the same way as French.

Children acquiring ASL as their first language go through developmental stages

similar to children learning spoken language, though the production of signs seems to

begin earlier than the production of spoken words. In the hands of witty individuals,

ASL is used for a wide range of jokes and “sign-play.” There are different ASL dialects

in different regions and historical changes in the form of signs can be traced over the

past hundred years (older versions are preserved in old films).

In summary, ASL is a natural language that is quite remarkable for its endurance

in the face of decades of prejudice and misunderstanding. There is a joke among the

deaf that begins with the question: What is the greatest problem facing deaf people?

Perhaps increased knowledge of their language will bring about a change in the old

response to that question. The traditional answer was: Hearing people.

208 The Study of Language

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 In the study of non-verbal behavior, what are emblems?

2 What is the difference between “iconics” and “deictics” in the study of gestures?

3 What is an alternate sign language?

4 What is the major difference between ASL and Signed English?

5 Which articulatory parameters of ASL have “flat hand” and “palm up” as primes?

6 What would be the most likely English translation of:

(a) _________________ q

Happen Yesterday Night

(b) neg _____________ mm

Boy Not Walk [continuous]

TASKS

A In the chapter, we mentioned deictics or pointing gestures, but didn’t explore how

they are actually performed. Can you describe in detail the most common pointing

gesture? Are there any social constraints on its use? Are there other ways of

pointing, using other parts of the body?

B Is gesture tied to self-expression or is it tied to communication with a listener? For

example, do we gesture more when a listener is present in person or out of view

(e.g. during a phone call)? Do blind people gesture when they’re talking?

C What is the connection between deaf education and the invention of the

telephone?

D What made people have such a strong commitment to oralism despite its lack of

success?

E What is the basis of the distinction between “prelinguistic” and “postlinguistic”

hearing impairment?

F What is “dactylology” and what is the main difference between American and

British varieties?

G Unlike spoken language use where accompanying facial expressions seem to be

optional most of the time, ASL is a visual language and facial expressions are an

essential part of what is being communicated. What facial expressions would

conventionally be associated with signing the following sentences?

(1) Are you married?

(2) Where do you work?

(3) You like jazz, I’m surprised.

(4) If I miss the bus, I’ll be late for work.

Gestures and sign languages 209

 

 

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I Which of the following statements do you agree with and what reasons would you

give to support your opinion?

(i) A shrugging gesture always indicates “helplessness” of some kind.

(ii) The eyebrow flash is used everywhere as a greeting.

(iii) It is easier to learn foreign gestures than foreign words.

(iv) Brow lowering carries an implication of something negative whereas brow

raising implies something positive.

(v) If a person uses lots of hand movements, such as smoothing the hairor touching

the chin while speaking, it’s an indication that the person is telling a lie.

(For background reading, see Ekman, 1999.)

II According to Corballis, “there are good reasons to suppose that much of the

development of language over the past two million years took place through

manual gesture rather than vocalization” (2002: 98).

What do you think of the idea that the origins of language are to be found in

manual gestures and that the development of speech comes from the transfer of

manual gestures to oral gestures? Is it relevant that the hands of early humans

developed well before the capacity for speech? What about the fact that children

communicate non-verbally (e.g. pointing) before they produce speech?

(For background reading, see chapter 5 of Corballis, 2002.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Goldin-Meadow, S. (2003) Hearing Gesture Harvard University Press

Lucas, C. and C. Valli (2004) “American Sign Language” In E. Finegan and J. Rickford (eds.)

Language in the USA (230–244) Cambridge University Press

More detailed treatments

Kendon, A. (2004) Gesture Cambridge University Press

Valli, C., C. Lucas, K. Mulrooney and M. Villanueva (2011) Linguistics of American Sign

Language: An Introduction (5th edition) Gallaudet University Press

ASL courses

Humphries, T. and C. Padden (2003) Learning American Sign Language (plus DVD)

(2nd edition) Allyn and Bacon

Stewart, D., E. Stewart and J. Little (2006) American Sign Language the Easy Way (2nd edition)

Barron’s Educational

Australian and British Sign Languages

Johnston, T. and A. Schembri (2007) Australian Sign Language: An Introduction to Sign

Language Linguistics Cambridge University Press

210 The Study of Language

 

 

Sutton-Spence, R. and B. Woll (1999) The Linguistics of British Sign Language Cambridge

University Press

Finger-spelling

Padden, C. and D. Gunsauls (2003) “How the alphabet came to be used in a sign language” Sign

Language Studies 4: 10–33

Alternate sign languages

Kendon, A. (1988) Sign Languages of Aboriginal Australia Cambridge University Press

Umiker-Sebeok, D-J. and T. Sebeok (eds.) (1987) Monastic Sign Languages Mouton de Gruyter

Other references

Corballis, M. (2002) From Hand to Mouth Princeton University Press

Ekman, P. (1999) “Emotional and conversational nonverbal signals” In L. Messing and

R. Campbell (eds.) Gesture, Speech and Sign (45–55) Oxford University Press

Fant, L. (1977) Sign Language Joyce Media

McNeill, D. (1992) Hand and Mind University of Chicago Press

Stokoe, W. (1960) Sign Language Structure: An Outline of the Visual Communication Systems of

the American Deaf Studies in Linguistics, Occasional Papers 8, University of Buffalo

Stokoe, W. (2001) Language in Hand Gallaudet University Press

Gestures and sign languages 211

 

 

CHAPTER 16

Written language

The five-year-old child whose skills in symbolic representation are displayed here

seems to be already familiar with some of the basic elements of writing. The

sequence of letters goes from left to right, each letter is distinct from the next and

generally well formed, and each word is separated from the next by larger spaces.

The occasional spelling “mistake,” a traditional problem in written English, cannot

disguise the fact that this child has already learned how to write.

Figure 16.1

 

 

Writing

We can define writing as the symbolic representation of language through the use of

graphic signs. Unlike speech, it is a system that is not simply acquired, but has to be

learned through sustained conscious effort. Not all languages have a written form

and, even among people whose language has a well-established writing system, there

are large numbers of individuals who cannot use the system.

In terms of human development, writing is a relatively recent phenomenon. We

may be able to trace human attempts to represent information visually back to cave

drawings made at least 20,000 years ago, or to clay tokens from about 10,000 years

ago, which appear to have been an early attempt at bookkeeping, but these artifacts

are best described as ancient precursors of writing. The earliest writing for which we

have clear evidence is known as “cuneiform,” marked on clay tablets about 5,000

years ago. About 3,000 years ago, inscriptions were being used in an ancient script

that has a more obvious connection to writing systems in use today. We know that we

must have lost a lot of earlier inscriptions on perishable material, but working from

the surviving inscriptions, we can trace the development of one writing tradition,

lasting a few thousand years, with which humans have sought to create a more

permanent record of what was going on.

Pictograms

Cave drawings may serve to record some event (e.g. Humans 3, Buffaloes 1), but they

are not usually thought of as any type of specifically linguistic message. They are

usually treated as part of a tradition of pictorial art. When some of the “pictures” came

to represent particular images in a consistent way, we can begin to describe the

product as a form of picture-writing, or pictograms. Modern pictograms, as in Figure

16.2, are language-independent and can be understood with the same conventional

meaning in a lot of different places where a number of different languages are spoken.

Ideograms

Whereas the images presented in Figure 16.2 continue to reflect the physical forms of

objects, we typically interpret them in a way that goes beyond simply recognizing

Figure 16.2

Written language 213

 

 

those objects. That is, the picture of a cup (with saucer) doesn’t just let us know that

there is a cup in this location, but also something to put in that cup and maybe

something to go with it (neither of which is included in the picture). We actually

interpret the images not as objects, but as symbols of the objects, with meanings

associated with the symbol that may not be tied to the object.

At some point in the early development of pictorial representation, a symbol such

as came into use for referring to the sun. An essential part of this use of a

representative symbol is that everyone should use a similar form to convey a roughly

similar meaning. In time, this picture might develop into a more fixed symbolic form,

such as , and come to be used for “heat” and “daytime,” as well as for “sun.” Note

that as the symbol extends from “sun” to “heat,” it is moving from something visible

to something conceptual (and no longer a simple picture). This type of symbol is then

considered to be part of a system of idea-writing, or ideograms. The distinction

between pictograms and ideograms is essentially a difference in the relationship

between the symbol and the entity it represents. The more “picture-like” forms are

pictograms and the more abstract derived forms are ideograms. A key property of both

pictograms and ideograms is that they do not represent words or sounds in a particu-

lar language.

It is generally thought that there were pictographic or ideographic origins for a

large number of symbols that turn up in later writing systems. For example, in

Egyptian hieroglyphics, the symbol was used to refer to a house and derived

from the diagram-like representation of the floor plan of a house. In Chinese writing,

the character was used for a river, and had its origins in the pictorial representa-

tion of a stream flowing between two banks. However, it is important to note that

neither the Egyptian nor the Chinese written symbols are actually “pictures” of a

house or a river. They are more abstract. When we create symbols in a writing system,

there is always an abstraction away from the physical world.

When the relationship between the symbol and the entity or idea becomes suffi-

ciently abstract, we can be more confident that the symbol is probably being used to

represent words in a language. In early Egyptian writing, the ideogram for water

was . Much later, the derived symbol came to be used for the actual word

meaning “water.” When symbols are used to represent words in a language, they are

described as examples of word-writing, or “logograms.”

Logograms

An early example of logographic writing is the system used by the Sumerians, living in

Mesopotamia, in the southern part of modern Iraq, around 5,000 years ago. Because

of the particular shapes used in their symbols, these inscriptions are more generally

described as cuneiform writing. The term cuneiform (from Latin cuneus, “wedge”)

means “wedge-shaped” and the inscriptions used by the Sumerians were produced by

214 The Study of Language

 

 

pressing a wedge-shaped implement into soft clay tablets that created a permanent

symbol when the clay hardened, resulting in forms such as:

The form of this symbol really gives no clue to what type of entity is being referred

to. The relationship between the written form and the object it represents has become

arbitrary and we have a clear example of word-writing or a logogram. The cuneiform

symbol above can be compared to a typical pictographic representation of the same

fishy entity:

We can also compare the ideogram for the sun, presented earlier as, with the

logogram used to refer to the same entity found in cuneiform writing: .

Modern logograms in English are forms such as $, 8, &, where each symbol

represents one word, as is also the case with @, now one of the most commonly

used logograms (in email addresses). A more elaborate writing system that is based,

to a certain extent, on the use of logograms can be found in China. Many Chinese

written symbols, or characters, are used as representations of the meaning of words,

or parts of words, and not of the sounds of spoken language. In some treatments, this

type of writing is technically described as “morphographic,” because the symbols

have come to be used for morphemes rather than words. (See Chapter 6 for the

distinction between words and morphemes.) One of the advantages of such a system

is that two speakers of very different dialects of Chinese, who might have great

difficulty understanding each other’s spoken forms, can both read the same written

text. Chinese writing, with the longest continuous history of use as a writing system

(i.e. 3,000 years), clearly has many other advantages for its users.

One major disadvantage is that quite a large number of different written symbols

are required within this type of writing system, although the official “list of modern

Chinese characters for everyday use” is limited to 2,500 characters. (Other lists

contain up to 50,000 characters.) Remembering large numbers of different composite

word-symbols, however, does seem to present a substantial memory load, and the

history of most other writing systems illustrates a development away from logo-

graphic writing. To accomplish this, some principled method is needed to go from

symbols representing words (i.e. a logographic system) to a set of symbols that

represent sounds (i.e. a phonographic system).

Phonographic writing

The development from pictographic representation to logographic writing, even

among the Sumerians, did not take place without some symbols being used in a

similar way if certain words had similar sounds (not meanings). Following Gelb

(1963), we can observe this process taking place as the physical shape in the form

of an arrow ( ) was first used in representations of the word for “arrow” (ti),

then later adopted for the more abstract concept “life” (ti), simply because both words

sounded the same. Similarly, the symbol ( ) for a physical object “reed” (gi) is

Written language 215

 

 

taken over for the abstract concept “reimbursement” (gi) on the basis of similar

pronunciations. In this development, the symbols are adopted to represent the sounds

of the words, also known as phonographic writing.

The rebus principle

This general pattern of using existing symbols to represent the sounds of words in a

language is often described in terms of a process known as the rebus principle. In this

process, the symbol for one entity is taken over as the symbol for the sound of the

spoken word (or part of it) used to refer to that entity. That symbol then comes to be

used whenever that sound occurs in any words.

We can create an example, working with the sound of the English word eye. We

can imagine how the pictographic representation could have developed

into the logogram . This logogram is pronounced as eye and, with the rebus

principle at work, you could then refer to yourself as (“I”), to one of your friends

as (“Crosseye”), combine the form with the logogram for “deaf” to produce

“defy,” with the logogram for “boat” to produce “bow-tie,” and so on.

A similar process is taking place in contemporary English texting where the

symbol “2” is used, not only as a number, but as the sound of other words or parts

of words, in messages such as the one on the left below (“(I) need to speak to you

tonight”). In this message, the letter “u” also illustrates the process of rebus writing,

having become the symbol for the sound of the spoken word “you,” as also illustrated

in the other example, with “c” and “8” also representing sounds.

nd2spk2u2nite cul8r

Let’s take another, non-English, example, in which an ideogram ( ) becomes the

logogram , for the word pronounced ba (meaning “boat”). We can then produce a

symbol for the word pronounced baba (meaning “father”) which would be .

One symbol can thus be used in many different ways, with a range of meanings. What

this process accomplishes is a sizeable reduction in the number of symbols needed in

a writing system.

Syllabic writing

In the last example, the symbol that is used for the pronunciation of parts of a word

represents a unit (ba) that consists of a consonant sound (b) and a vowel sound (a).

This unit is one type of syllable, described in Chapter 4. When a writing system

employs a set of symbols, each one representing the pronunciation of a syllable, it is

described as syllabic writing.

There are no purely syllabic writing systems in use today, but modern Japanese

can be written with a set of single symbols representing spoken syllables, called

216 The Study of Language

 

 

“hiragana,” and is consequently often described as having a (partially) syllabic

writing system, or a syllabary.

In the early nineteenth century, a Cherokee named Sequoyah, living in North

Carolina, invented a syllabic writing system that was widely used within the Cherokee

community to create written messages from the spoken language. Papers with writing

were described as “talking leaves.” In the Cherokee examples below, we can see that

the written symbol in each case does not correspond to a single consonant (C) or a

single vowel (V), but to a syllable (CV).

(“ge”) (“ho”) (“sa”)

(“gu”) (“hu”) (“si”)

Both the ancient Egyptian and the Sumerian writing systems evolved to the point

where some of the earlier logographic symbols were being used to represent spoken

syllables. However, it is not until the time of the Phoenicians, inhabiting what is

modern Lebanon between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago, that we find the full use of a

syllabic writing system. Many of the symbols that the Phoenicians used were taken

from earlier Egyptian writing. The Egyptian form (meaning “house”) was adopted

in a slightly reoriented form as . After being used logographically for the word

pronounced beth (still meaning “house”), the symbol came to represent other syl-

lables beginning with a b sound. Similarly, the Egyptian form (meaning

“water”) turns up as and is used for syllables beginning with an m sound.

So, a word that might be pronounced as muba could be written as , and

the pronunciation bima could be written as . Note that the direction of writing

is from right to left, as it still is in the writing system of languages such as Arabic. By

about 3,000 years ago, the Phoenicians had stopped using logograms and had a fully

developed syllabic writing system.

Alphabetic writing

If you have a set of symbols being used to represent syllables beginning with, for

example, a b sound or an m sound, then you are actually very close to a situation in

which the symbols can be used to represent single sound types in a language. This is,

in effect, the basis of alphabetic writing. In principle, an alphabet is a set of written

symbols, each one representing a single type of sound or phoneme. The situation just

described is what occurred in the development of the writing systems of Semitic

languages such as Arabic and Hebrew. Words written in these languages, in everyday

use, largely consist of symbols for the consonant sounds in the word, with the

appropriate vowel sounds being supplied by the reader (or rdr).

This type of writing system is sometimes called a consonantal alphabet. The

early version of Semitic alphabetic script, originating in the writing system of the

Phoenicians, is the basic source of most other alphabets to be found in the world.

Written language 217

 

 

Modified versions can be traced to the East into Iranian, Indian and South-East Asian

writing systems and to the West through Greek. The basic order of letter symbols in

the first “A-B-C-D. . .” was created about three thousand years ago by the Phoenicians

and continues to be used as our primary ordering device for lists in everything from

dictionaries to telephone directories to grades for academic performance.

The early Greeks took the alphabetizing process a stage further by using separ-

ate symbols to represent the vowel sounds as distinct entities, and so created a

remodeled system with vowel symbols. This change resulted in the Phoenician

consonant “alep” becoming a symbol for a vowel sound as A (“alpha”) to go with

existing symbols for consonant sounds such as B (“beta”), giving us single-sound

writing or an “alphabet.” In fact, for some writers, it is the Greeks who should be

given credit for taking the inherently syllabic system from the Phoenicians and

creating a writing system with the single-symbol to single-sound correspondence

fully realized.

From the Greeks, this revised alphabet passed to the rest of Western Europe

through the Romans. As a result, we talk about the Roman alphabet as the writing

system used for English. Another line of development took the same basic Greek

writing system into Eastern Europe where Slavic languages were spoken. The modi-

fied version, called the Cyrillic alphabet (after St. Cyril, a ninth century Christian

missionary), is the basis of the writing system used in Russia today.

The actual form of a number of letters in modern European alphabets can be

traced from their origins in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The examples in Figure 16.3 are

based on Davies (1987).

Written English

If indeed the origins of the alphabetic writing system were based on a correspondence

between a single symbol and a single sound type, then one might reasonably ask why

Figure 16.3

218 The Study of Language

 

 

there is such a frequent mismatch between the forms of written English (“you know”)

and the sounds of spoken English (“yu no” or /ju noʊ/). Other languages (Italian,

Spanish) have writing systems that hold much more closely to the one-sound-one-

symbol principle of alphabetic writing. English is not always so consistent. As we

noted in Chapter 3, there is a lot of variation in how each sound of contemporary

spoken English is represented in writing. The vowel sound represented by /i/ is

written in various ways, as shown in the first two columns on the left below,

and the consonant sound represented by /ʃ/ has various spellings, as in the other

two columns.

English orthography

As we have just seen, English orthography (or spelling) is subject to a lot of variation.

Notice how often a single phoneme in the two lists is actually represented by more

than one letter. Part of the reason for this is that the English language is full of words

borrowed, often with their spelling, from other languages, as in ph for /f/ in the Greek

borrowings alphabet and orthography, where two letters are used for a single sound.

A combination of two letters consistently used for a single sound, as in ph /f/ and sh

/ʃ/ is called a digraph.

The English writing system is alphabetic in a very loose sense. Some reasons for

this irregular correspondence between sound and symbolic representation may be

found in a number of historical influences on the form of written English. The spelling

of written English was largely fixed in the form that was used when printing was

introduced into fifteenth-century England. At that time, there were a number of

conventions regarding the written representation of words that had been derived

from forms used in writing other languages, notably Latin and French. For example,

qu replaced older English cw in words like queen. Moreover, many of the early

printers were native Flemish speakers and could not make consistently accurate

decisions about English pronunciations, hence the change from Old English gast to

ghost, with h derived from the Flemish version (gheest).

Perhaps more important is the fact that, since the fifteenth century, the pronunci-

ation of spoken English has undergone substantial changes. For example, although

we no longer pronounce the initial k sound or the internal gh sound, we still

include letters indicating the older pronunciation in our contemporary spelling of

the word knight. These are sometimes called “silent letters.” They also violate the

i (critique) ee (queen) s (sugar) ch (champagne)

ie (belief) eo (people) ss (tissue) ce (ocean)

ei (receipt) ey (key) ssi (mission) ci (delicious)

ea (meat) e (scene) sh (Danish) ti (nation)

Written language 219

 

 

one-sound-one-symbol principle of pure alphabetic writing, but not with as much

effect as the silent final -e of so many English words. Not only do we have to learn that

this letter is not pronounced, we also have to know the patterns of influence it has on

the preceding vowel, as in the different pronunciations of a in the pair hat/hate and o

in not/note.

If we then add in the fact that a large number of older written English words were

actually “recreated” by sixteenth-century spelling reformers to bring their written

forms more into line with what were supposed, sometimes erroneously, to be their

Latin origins (e.g. dette became debt, doute became doubt, iland became island), then

the sources of the mismatch between written and spoken forms begin to become clear.

In Chapter 17, we will look more closely at other aspects of the historical development

of English and other ways in which languages change.

220 The Study of Language

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 Why is one early writing system called “cuneiform?”

2 What is the basic difference between a logographic writing system and a

phonographic writing system?

3 What happens in the process of change based on the rebus principle?

4 Is the text message “cu@9” an example of logographic or alphabetic writing?

5 What is the name given to the writing system used for Russian?

6 Where will you find the writing system with the longest history of continuous use?

TASKS

A What is boustrophedon writing and during which period was it used?

B What kind of writing systems are known as abjads and abugidas and what is the

basic difference between them?

C What kind of writing system is Hangul, where is it used and how are forms written

on the page?

D What kind of writing is used in texting? How would you describe the writing

conventions (pictographic, ideographic, logographic, syllabic or alphabetic) that

are used in the following text messages?

E In contemporary usage, written language is not simply spoken language written

down. There are many differences between the way we create written texts and the

way we have conversations, for example. Based on their corpus research, Biber

et al. (1999) described a number of “lexical bundles,” that is, sequences of four or

more words that regularly occur together, some in speech and others in writing.

(i) Can you reorganize the following lexical bundles into two groups, one containing

expressions that are typical of informal spoken English and the other containing

expressions more typical of written English in an educational setting?

xlnt msg (“excellent message”) swdyt (“So, what do you think?”)

btw (“by the way”) ne1 (“anyone”)

b42moro (“before tomorrow”) cul8r;-) (“see you later, wink”)

as a result of … it has been suggested that …

do you want me to … it is possible to …

have a look at … on the other hand …

I don’t know what … that’s a good idea …

I think I have … the fact that the …

in the case of … there’s a lot of …

it has nothing to do with … what’s the matter with …

Written language 221

 

 

(ii) More generally, which version, spoken English or written English, do you

think has more nouns, more verbs, more adjectives or more pronouns? (iii) Why do you think this pattern exists?

F Consider the following examples and try to decide in which cases “X” is a symbol

with a function, but without meaning, or one with an identifiable general meaning,

or one with a very specific meaning. Can any of the uses be considered logographic?

(1) The twenty-fourth letter of the English alphabet is X.

(2) On the map was a large X and the words “You are here.”

(3) Most of the older men were illiterate at that time and put X where their signature

was required.

a b c d

Figure 16.4

222 The Study of Language

 

 

(4) Indicate your choice by putting X next to only one of the following options.

(5) He wrote X – Y ¼ 6 on the blackboard. (6) There was an image of a dog with a large X across it.

(7) The teacher put X beside one of my sentences and I don’t know why.

(8) We can’t take the children with us to see that film because it’s rated X.

(9) The witness known as Ms. X testified that she had heard several gunshots.

(10) Aren’t there two X chromosomes in the cells of females?

(11) At the bottom of the letter, after her signature, she put X three times.

(12) In the XXth century, Britain’s collapsing empire brought new immigrants.

G The accompanying illustration is described in Jensen (1969) as a letter from a

young woman of the Yukagirs who live in northern Siberia. The woman (c) is

sending the letter to “her departing sweetheart” (b). What do you think the letter is

communicating? Who are the other figures? What kind of “writing” is this?

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I According to Florian Coulmas (2003: 201), “the present distribution of scripts

testifies to the close link between writing systems and religion.” Do you think that

the spread of different religions (more than anything else) accounts for the different

forms of writing used in the world today? What kind of evidence would you use to

argue for or against this idea?

(For background reading, see chapter 10 of Coulmas, 2003.)

II Pictograms may be language-independent, but they do not seem to be culture-

independent. In order to interpret many pictographic and ideographic

representations, we have to be familiar with cultural assumptions about what the

symbols “mean.”

(i) As a simple exercise, show the twelve symbols illustrated below

to some friends and ask them if they know what each one means.

(People may say they have never seen them before, but they should be

encouraged to guess.)

(ii) Next, provide them with the following list of “official meanings” and ask them

to decide which symbol goes with which meaning.

(iii) Can you describe what kinds of cultural assumptions are involved in the

interpretation of these symbols?

(The symbols are from Ur, 2009.)

(a) agitate (e) lock (i) open door or lid

(b) blood donors (f) lost child (j) press, interview room

(c) dry, heat (g) registration (k) protection and safety equipment

(d) keep frozen (h) telegrams (l) turning basin maneuvring (boats)

Written language 223

 

 

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Hudson, G. (2000) Essential Introductory Linguistics (chapters 20–21) Blackwell

Robinson, A. (2007) The Story of Writing (2nd edition) Thames & Hudson

More detailed treatments

Coulmas, F. (2003) Writing Systems Cambridge University Press

Rogers, H. (2005) Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach Blackwell

A comprehensive review

Daniels, P. and W. Bright (1996) The World’s Writing Systems Oxford University Press

Precursors of writing

Schmandt-Besserat, D. (1996) How Writing Came About University of Texas Press

Ancient languages

Woodard, R. (2003) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages Cambridge

University Press

Cuneiform

Glassner, J. (2003) The Invention of Cuneiform Johns Hopkins University Press

Egyptian

Allen, J. (2000) Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs

Cambridge University Press

Ancient Greek

Jeffery, L. (1990) The Local Scripts of Archaic Greece Clarendon Press

The alphabet

Man, J. (2000) Alpha Beta Wiley

1 2 3 4

5 6 7 8

9 10 11 12

Figure 16.5

224 The Study of Language

 

 

Written English

Cook, V. (2004) The English Writing System Hodder Arnold

The “ghost” story

Crystal, D. (2012) Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling (chapter 19) Profile Books

Other references

Biber, D., S. Johansson, G. Leech, S. Conrad and E. Finegan (1999) Longman Grammar of

Spoken and Written English Longman

Davies, W. (1987) Egyptian Hieroglyphics British Museum / University of California Press

Gelb, I. (1963) A Study of Writing University of Chicago Press

Jensen, H. (1969) Sign, Symbol and Script (3rd edition) George Allen and Unwin

Ur, P. (2009) Grammar Practice Activities (2nd edition) Cambridge University Press

Written language 225

 

 

CHAPTER 17

Language history and change

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum,

si þin nama gehalgod.

Tobecume þin rice.

Gewurþe þin willa on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.

Urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us to dæg.

And forgyf us ure gyltas,

swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum.

And ne gelæd þu us in costnunge,

ac alys us of yfele.

The Lord’s Prayer (circa 1000)

This barely recognizable version of the Lord’s Prayer from about a thousand years

ago provides a rather clear indication that the language of the “Englisc” has gone

through substantial changes to become the English we use today. Investigating the

features of older languages, and the ways in which they developed into modern

languages, involves us in the study of language history and change, also known as

philology. In the nineteenth century, philology dominated the study of language and

one result was the creation of “family trees” to show how languages were related.

Before all of that could happen, however, there had to be the discovery that a variety

of languages spoken in different parts of the world were actually members of the

same family.

 

 

Family trees

In 1786, a British government official in India called Sir William Jones made the

following observation about Sanskrit, the ancient language of Indian law:

The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more

perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined

than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs

and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident.

(Cited in Lehmann, 1967: 10)

Sir William went on to suggest, in a way that was quite revolutionary for its time,

that languages from very different geographical areas must have some common

ancestor. It was clear, however, that this common ancestor could not be described

from any existing records, but had to be hypothesized on the basis of similar features

existing in records of languages that were believed to be descendants.

During the nineteenth century, a term came into use to describe that common

ancestor. It incorporated the notion that this was the original form (Proto) of a

language that was the source of modern languages in the Indian sub-continent (Indo)

and in Europe (European). With Proto-Indo-European established as a long ago

“great-great-grandmother,” scholars set out to identify the branches of the Indo-

European family tree, tracing the lineage of many modern languages. Figure 17.1

shows a small selection of the Indo-European languages in their family branches.

Indo-European

Indo-European is the language family with the largest population and distribution in

the world, but it isn’t the only one. There are about thirty such language families

containing a large number of different individual languages. According to one

Indo-European

Balto-Slavic Indo-Iranian

Germanic Celtic Italic Hellenic Baltic Slavic Indic Iranian

(Latin) (Greek) (Sanskrit)

Latvian Danish Breton Czech Bengali LithuanianEnglish Gaelic Polish Hindi

German Irish Russian Punjabi Swedish Welsh

French Italian

Portuguese Spanish Ukrainian Urdu

Greek Kurdish Pashto Persian Tajiki

Figure 17.1

Language history and change 227

 

 

reputable source (Ethnologue, 2013), there are actually 7,105 known languages in the

world. Many of these languages are in danger of extinction while a few are expanding.

In terms of number of speakers, Chinese has the most native speakers (over 1 billion),

while Spanish (over 400 million) and English (over 330 million) are more widely used

in different parts of the world.

Looking at the Indo-European family tree, we might be puzzled initially by the

idea that all these diverse languages are related. After all, two modern languages such

as Italian and Hindi would seem to have nothing in common. One way to get a clearer

picture of how they are related is through looking at records of an older generation,

like Latin and Sanskrit, from which the modern languages evolved. For example, if we

use familiar letters to write out the words for father and brother in Sanskrit, Latin and

Ancient Greek, some common features become apparent.

While these forms have rather clear similarities, it is extremely unlikely that exactly

the same words will be found throughout the languages. However, the fact that close

similarities occur (especially in the probable pronunciations of the words) is good

evidence for proposing a family connection.

Cognates

The process we have just used to establish a possiblefamilyconnection between different

languages involved looking at what are called “cognates.” Within groups of related

languages, we can often find close similarities in particular sets of words. A cognate of

a word in one language (e.g. English) is a word in another language (e.g. German) that

has a similar form and is or was used with a similar meaning. The English words mother,

father and friend are cognates of the German words Mutter, Vater and Freund. On the

basis of these cognates, we would imagine that Modern English and Modern German

probably have a common ancestor in what has been labeled the Germanic branch of

Indo-European. By the same process, we can look at similar sets in Spanish (madre,

padre, amigo) and Italian (madre, padre, amico) and conclude that these cognates are

good evidence of a common ancestor in the Italic branch of Indo-European.

Comparative reconstruction

Using information from sets of cognates from different (but apparently related)

languages, we can embark on a procedure called comparative reconstruction. The

Sanskrit Latin Ancient Greek

pitar pater patēr (“father”)

bhrātar frāter phrāter (“brother”)

228 The Study of Language

 

 

aim of this procedure is to reconstruct what must have been the original or “proto”

form in the common ancestral language. In carrying out this procedure, those working

on the history of languages operate on the basis of some general principles, two of

which are presented here.

General principles

The majority principle is very straightforward. If, in a cognate set, three words begin

with a [p] sound and one word begins with a [b] sound, then our best guess is that the

majority have retained the original sound (i.e. [p]).

The most natural development principle is based on the fact that certain types of

sound change are very common whereas others are extremely unlikely. The direction

of change described in each case (1)–(4) has been commonly observed, but the

reverse has not.

(1) Final vowels often disappear (vino ! vin) (2) Voiceless sounds become voiced, often between vowels (muta ! muda) (3) Stops become fricatives (ripa ! riva) (4) Consonants become voiceless at the end of words (rizu ! ris)

Sound reconstruction

If we were faced with some examples from three languages, as shown below, we

could make a start on comparative reconstruction by deciding what was the most

likely form of the initial sound in the original source of all three.

Since the written forms can often be misleading, we check that the initial sounds of

the words in languages A and B are all [k] sounds, while in language C the initial

sounds are all [ʃ] sounds.

On the evidence presented, the majority principle would suggest that the initial

sound [k] in languages A and B is older than the [ʃ] sound in language C. Moreover,

the [k] sound is a stop consonant and the [ʃ] sound is a fricative. According to one part

of the “most natural development principle,” change tends to occur in the direction of

Languages

A B C

cantare cantar chanter (“sing”)

catena cadena chaîne (“chain”)

caro caro cher (“dear”)

cavallo caballo cheval (“horse”)

Language history and change 229

 

 

stops becoming fricatives, so the [k] sound is more likely to have been the original.

Through this type of procedure we have started on the comparative reconstruction of

the common origins of some words in Italian (A), Spanish (B) and French (C). In this

case, we have a way of checking our reconstruction because the common origin for

these three languages is known to be Latin. When we check the Latin cognates of the

words listed, we find cantare, catena, carus and caballus, confirming that [k] was the

initial sound.

Word reconstruction

Looking at a non-Indo-European set of examples, we can imagine receiving the

following data from a linguist recently returned from an expedition to a remote region

of the Amazon. The examples are a set of cognates from three related languages, but

what would the proto-forms have looked like?

Using the majority principle, we can suggest that the older forms will most likely be

based on language 2 or language 3. If this is correct, then the consonant changes must

have been [p] ! [b], [t] ! [d] and [k] ! [ɡ] in order to produce the later forms in language 1. There is a pattern in these changes that follows one part of the “most

natural development principle,” i.e. voiceless sounds become voiced between vowels.

So, the words in languages 2 and 3 must be older forms than those in language 1.

Which of the two lists, 2 or 3, contains the older forms? Remembering one other

“most natural development” type of sound change (i.e. final vowels often disappear),

we can propose that the words in language 3 have consistently lost the final vowels

still present in the words of language 2. Our best guess, then, is that the forms listed

for language 2 are closest to what must have been the original proto-forms.

The history of English

The reconstruction of proto-forms is an attempt to determine what a language must

have been like before any written records. However, even when we have written

records from an older period of a language such as English, they may not bear any

Languages

1 2 3 Protoforms

mube mupe mup __________(“stream”)

abadi apati apat __________(“rock”)

agana akana akan __________(“knife”)

enugu enuku enuk __________(“diamond”)

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resemblance to the written form of the language found today. The version of the

Lord’s Prayer quoted at the beginning of this chapter provides a good illustration of

this point. Even some of the letters seem quite alien. The older letters þ (called

“thorn”) and ð (“eth”) were both replaced by “th” (as in þu ! thou, eorðan ! earth), and æ (“ash”) simply became “a” (as in to dæg ! today). To see how one language has undergone substantial changes through time, we can take a brief look at the

history of English, which is traditionally divided into four periods.

Old English: before 1100

Middle English: 1100 to 1500

Early Modern English: 1500 to 1700

Modern English: after 1700

Old English

The primary sources for what developed as the English language were the Germanic

languages spoken by a group of tribes from northern Europe who moved into the

British Isles in the fifth century. In one early account, these tribes of Angles, Saxons

and Jutes were described as “God’s wrath toward Britain.” It is from the names of the

first two that we have the term Anglo-Saxons to describe these people, and from

the name of the first tribe that we get the word for their language Englisc and their

new home Engla-land.

From this early version of Englisc, now called Old English, we have many of the

most basic terms in the language: mann (“man”), wīf (“woman”), cild (“child”), hūs (“house”), mete (“food”), etan (“eat”), drincan (“drink”) and feohtan (“fight”). These

pagan settlers also gave us some weekday names, commemorating their gods Woden

and Thor. However, they did not remain pagan for long. From the sixth to the eighth

century, there was an extended period during which these Anglo-Saxons were con-

verted to Christianity and a number of terms from Latin (the language of the religion)

came into English at that time. The origins of the contemporary English words angel,

bishop, candle, church, martyr, priest and school all date from this period.

From the eighth century through the ninth and tenth centuries, another group of

northern Europeans came first to plunder and then to settle in parts of the coastal

regions of Britain. They were the Vikings and it is from their language, Old Norse, that

the original forms of give, law, leg, skin, sky, take and they were adopted. It is from

their winter festival jól that we have Yule as a term for the Christmas season.

Middle English

The event that marks the end of the Old English period, and the beginning of the

Middle English period, is the arrival of the Norman French in England, after their

victory at Hastings under William the Conqueror in 1066. These French-speaking

Language history and change 231

 

 

invaders became the ruling class, so that the language of the nobility, government,

law and civilized life in England for the next two hundred years was French. It is the

source of words like army, court, defense, faith, prison and tax.

Yet the language of the peasants remained English. The peasants worked on the

land and reared sheep, cows and swine (words from Old English) while the upper

classes talked about mutton, beef and pork (words of French origin). Hence the

different terms in Modern English to refer to these creatures “on the hoof” as opposed

to “on the plate.”

Throughout this period, French (or, more accurately, an English version of

French) was the prestige language and Chaucer tells us that one of his Canterbury

pilgrims could speak it.

She was cleped Madame Eglentyne

Ful wel she song the service dyvyne,

Entuned in her nose ful semely,

And Frenche she spak ful faire and fetisly.

This is an example of Middle English from the late fourteenth century. It had changed

substantially from Old English, but other changes were yet to take place. Most

significantly, the vowel sounds of Chaucer’s time were very different from those we

hear in similar words today. Chaucer lived in a “hoos,” with his “weef,” and “hay”

might drink a bottle of “weena” with “heer” by the light of the “mona.”

In the two hundred years, from 1400 to 1600, that separated Chaucer and

Shakespeare, the sounds of English underwent a substantial change known as the

“Great Vowel Shift.” The effects of this general raising of long vowel sounds (such as

long [o] moving up to long [u], as in mōna ! moon) made the pronunciation of Early Modern English, beginning around 1500, significantly different from earlier periods.

The introduction of printing in 1476 brought about significant changes, but because

the printers tended to standardize existing pronunciations in the spelling of words

(e.g. knee, gnaw), later pronunciation changes are often not reflected in the way

Modern English (after 1700) is written.

Influences from the outside, such as the borrowed words from Norman French or

Old Norse that we have already noted, are examples of external change in the

language. Other types of changes, especially sound changes, which don’t seem to be

caused by outside factors, are the result of processes of internal change.

Sound changes

In a number of changes from Middle to Modern English, some sounds disappeared

from the pronunciation of certain words, in a process simply described as sound loss.

The initial [h] of many Old English words was lost, as in hlud ! loud and hlaford ! lord. Some words lost sounds, but kept the spelling, resulting in the “silent letters” of

232 The Study of Language

 

 

contemporary written English. Word-initial velar stops [k] and [ɡ] are no longer

pronounced before nasals [n], but we still write the words knee and gnaw with the

remnants of earlier pronunciations.

Another example is a velar fricative [x] that was used in the pronunciation of the

older form niht as [nɪxt] (closer to the modern German pronunciation of Nacht), but is

absent in the contemporary form night, pronounced as [naɪt]. A remnant of this type

of sound is still present in some dialects, as at the end of the Scottish word loch, but it

is no longer a consonant in Modern English speech.

Metathesis

The sound change known as metathesis involves a reversal in position of two sounds

in a word. This type of reversal is illustrated in the changed versions of these words

from their earlier forms.

The cowboy who pronounces the expression pretty good as something close to purty

good is producing a similar example of metathesis as a dialect variant within Modern

English. In some American English dialects, the form aks, as in I aksed him already,

can still be heard instead of ask.

The reversal of position in metathesis can sometimes occur between non-

adjoining sounds. The Spanish word palabra is derived from the Latin parabola

through the reversal in position of the [l] and [r] sounds. The pattern is exemplified

in the following set.

Epenthesis

Another type of sound change, known as epenthesis, involves the addition of a sound

to the middle of a word.

The addition of a [p] sound after the nasal [m], as in empty, can also be heard in some

speakers’ pronunciation of something as “sumpthing.” Anyone who pronounces the

acsian ! ask frist ! first brinnan ! beornan (burn) bridd ! bird hros ! horse wæps ! wasp

Latin Spanish

miraculum ! milagro (“miracle”) parabola ! palabra (“word”) periculum ! peligro (“danger”)

æmtig ! empty spinel ! spindle timr ! timber

Language history and change 233

 

 

word film as if it were “filum,” or arithmetic as “arithametic,” is producing examples

of epenthesis in Modern English.

Prothesis

One other type of sound change worth noting, though not found in English, involves

the addition of a sound to the beginning of a word and is called prothesis. It is a

common feature in the evolution of some forms from Latin to Spanish.

Spanish speakers who are starting to learn English as a second language will some-

times put a prothetic vowel at the beginning of some English words, with the result

that words like strange and story may sound like “estrange” and “estory.”

Syntactic changes

Some noticeable differences between the structure of sentences in Old and Modern

English involve word order. In Old English texts, we find the Subject-Verb-Object

order most common in Modern English, but we can also find a number of different

orders that are no longer used. For example, the subject could follow the verb, as in

ferde he (“he traveled”), and the object could be placed before the verb, as in he hine

geseah (“he saw him”), or at the beginning of the sentence, as in him man ne sealde

(“no man gave [any] to him”).

In the last example, the use of the negative also differs from Modern English, since

the sequence *not gave (ne sealde) is no longer grammatical. A “double negative”

construction was also possible, as in the following example, where both ne (“not”)

and næfre (“never”) are used with the same verb. We would now say You never gave

rather than *You not gave never.

Loss of inflections

However, the most sweeping change in the form of English sentences was the loss of a

large number of inflectional suffixes from many parts of speech. Notice that, in the

previous examples, the forms sealde (“he gave”) and sealdest (“you gave”) are

schola ! escuela (“school”) scribere ! escribir (“to write”) spiritus ! espı́ritu (“spirit”) sperare ! esperar (“to hope”)

and ne sealdest þū me næfre ān ticcen

and not gave you me never a kid

234 The Study of Language

 

 

differentiated by inflectional suffixes (-e, -est) that are no longer used in Modern

English. Nouns, adjectives, articles and pronouns all had different inflectional forms

according to their grammatical function in the sentence.

Semantic changes

The most obvious way in which Modern English differs from Old English is in

the number of borrowed words that have come into the language since the Old

English period. (For more on borrowing, see Chapter 5). Less obviously, many

words have ceased to be used. Since we no longer carry swords (most of us, at

least), the word foin, meaning “the thrust of a sword,” is no longer heard.

A common Old English word for “man” was were, but it has fallen out of use,

except in horror films where the compound werewolf occasionally appears.

A number of expressions such as lo, verily or egad are immediately recognized as

belonging to a much earlier period, along with certain medieval-sounding names

such as Bertha, Egbert and Percival.

Broadening of meaning

Another process is described as broadening of meaning, as in the change from holy

day as a religious feast to the very general break from work called a holiday. We have

broadened the use of foda (fodder for animals) to talk about all kinds of food. Old

English words such as luflic (“loving”) and hræd (“quick”) not only went through

sound changes, they also developed more complex evaluative meanings (“wonderful”

and “preferentially”), as in their modern uses: That’s a lovely idea, but I’d rather have

dinner at home tonight. Another example is the modern use of the word dog. We use it

very generally to refer to all breeds, but in its older form (Old English docga), it was

only used for one particular breed.

Narrowing of meaning

The reverse process, called narrowing, has overtaken the Old English word hund,

once used for any kind of dog, but now, as hound, used only for some specific

breeds. Another example is mete, once used for any kind of food, which has in

its modern form meat become restricted to only some specific types. The Old

English version of the word wife could be used to refer to any woman, but has

narrowed in its application nowadays to only married women. A different kind

of narrowing can lead to a negative meaning for some words, such as vulgar

(which used to mean simply “ordinary”) and naughty (which used to mean

“having nothing”).

Language history and change 235

 

 

Diachronic and synchronic variation

None of these changes happened overnight. They were gradual and probably difficult

to discern while they were in progress. Although some changes can be linked to major

social changes caused by wars, invasions and other upheavals, the most pervasive

source of change in language seems to be in the continual process of cultural

transmission. Each new generation has to find a way of using the language of the

previous generation. In this unending process whereby each individual child has to

“recreate” the language of the community, there is an unavoidable propensity to pick

up some elements exactly and others only approximately. There is also the occasional

desire to be different. Given this tenuous transmission process, it should be expected

that languages will not remain stable and that change and variation are inevitable.

In this chapter, we have concentrated on variation in language viewed diachron-

ically, that is, from the historical perspective of change through time. The type of

variation that can be viewed synchronically, that is, in terms of differences within

one language in different places and among different groups at the same time, is the

subject of Chapters 18 and 19.

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STUDY QUESTIONS

1 How would you group the following languages into pairs which are closely related

from a historical point of view: Bengali, Breton, Czech, English, French, Kurdish,

Pashto, Portuguese, Swedish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Welsh?

2 What are cognates?

3 On the basis of the following data, what are the most likely proto-forms?

4 Which of the following words are likely to be from Old English and which from

French: bacon, beef, calf, deer, ox, pig, veal, venison?

5 What types of sound changes are illustrated by the following pairs?

6 The Old English verb steorfan (“to die, from any cause”) is the source of the

Modern English verb starve (“to die, from lack of food”). What is the technical term

used to describe this type of meaning change?

TASKS

A We can often trace the roots of several different words in Modern English back

to a single Indo-European form. Using what you learned in this chapter, can you

complete the following chart, using the words provided, to illustrate several

English word histories?

corage, coraticum, cord, cordialis, heorte, herton, kardia, kardiakos, kerd

Languages

1 2 3

cosa chose cosa ____________ (“thing”)

capo chef cabo ____________ (“head”)

capra chèvre cabra ____________ (“goat”)

(a) thridda ! third (b) scribere ! escribir (c) glimsian ! glimpse (d) hring ! ring (e) slummer ! slumber (f) beorht ! bright

Indo-European

Greek Latin Germanic

Old French Old English

(cardiac) (courage) (cordial) (heart)

Language history and change 237

 

 

B Which of these languages cannot be included in the Indo-European family tree? To

which other language families do they belong?

Catalan, Chamorro, Faroese, Georgian, Hebrew, Hungarian, Marathi, Serbian,

Tamil, Turkish

C A Danish linguist, Rasmus Rask, and a German writer more famous for fairy tales,

Jacob Grimm, both working in the early nineteenth century, are credited with the

original insights that became known as “Grimm’s Law.”

What is Grimm’s Law and how does it account for the different initial sounds in

pairs of cognates such as these from French and English (deux/two, trois/three) and

these from Latin and English (pater/father, canis/hound, genus/kin)?

D What happens in the process of change known as “grammaticalization”? Can you

find out how the grammaticalization process made it possible for the English verb

forms go and will to be used in sentences such as I’m gonna be late and I’ll be at

work until six?

E Describe what happened in any documented case of “language death.”

F During the late eighteenth century when Captain Cook’s voyages in the Pacific

brought him to Hawai‘i, he and his crew were surprised to discover that many

Hawaiian words were similar to those they had learned from other Pacific

island groups thousands of miles away. This similarity is now known to be a

result of a number of Pacific languages having a common ancestor, called

Proto-Polynesian.

(i) In the following chart, based on Kikusawa (2005), there are examples from five

Polynesian languages. Can you work out the most likely forms of Proto-

Polynesian based on these cognates? (The symbol ‘, as in wa‘a, represents a

consonant called a glottal stop /ʔ/, described in Chapter 3.)

(ii) Given the regular differences between the forms in Tongan and Hawaiian, can

you work out the most likely Hawaiian cognates of these Tongan words?

Tongan Samoan Rapanui Māori Hawaiian Proto-forms

“eye” mata mata mata mata maka _________

“canoe” vaka va‘a vaka waka wa‘a _________

“water” vai vai vai wai wai _________

“sea” tahi tai vaikava tai kai _________

“seaweed” limu limu rimu rimu limu _________

“sky” langi lagi rangi rangi lani _________

“lice” kutu ‘utu kutu kutu ‘uku _________

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G These four versions of the same biblical event (Matthew 27: 73) are presented in

Campbell (2013) as a way of illustrating some changes in the history of English.

Can you describe the changes in vocabulary and grammar?

(i) Modern English (1961)

Shortly afterwards the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you are

another of them; your accent gives you away!”

(ii) Early Modern English (1611)

And after a while came vnto him they that stood by, and saide to Peter, Surely

thou also art one of them, for thy speech bewrayeth thee.

(iii) Middle English (1395)

And a litil aftir, thei that stooden camen, and seiden to Petir, treuli thou art of

hem; for thi speche makith thee knowun.

(iv) Old English (1050)

þa æfter lytlum fyrste genēalæton þa ðe þær stodon, cwædon to petre. Soðlice þu eart of hym, þyn spræc þe gesweotolað.

(Literally: “then after little first approached they that there stood, said to Peter.

Truly thou art of them, thy speech thee makes clear.”)

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I A nineteenth-century scholar named Curtius (quoted in Aitchison, 2013) described

a major goal of historical linguistics in the following way:

A principal goal of this science is to reconstruct the full, pure forms of an

original stage from the variously disfigured and mutilated forms which are

attested in the individual languages.

Tongan Hawaiian

“forbidden” tapu __________

“blood’ toto __________

“fish” ika __________

“sleep” mohe __________

“hot” vela __________

“nine” hiva __________

“south” tonga __________

“name” hingoa __________

“axe” toki __________

“man” tangata __________

Language history and change 239

 

 

Do you agree that languages decay and become worse (“disfigured and mutilated”)

through time? What kind of evidence would you use to argue for or against this

point of view?

(For background reading, see chapter 16 of Aitchison, 2013.)

II Using what you have learned about comparative reconstruction, try to recreate the

most likely proto-forms for these cognates (from Sihler, 2000: 140).

(For background reading, see sections 96 to 102 of Sihler, 2000.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Aitchison, J. (2013) Language Change: Progress or Decay? (4th edition) Cambridge University Press

Schendl, H. (2001) Historical Linguistics Oxford University Press

More detailed treatments

Campbell, L. (2013) Historical Linguistics: An Introduction (3rd edition) MIT Press

Janson, T. (2002) Speak: A Short History of Languages Oxford University Press

Language families

Austin, P. (ed.) (2008) One Thousand Languages University of California Press

Pereltsvaig, A. (2012) Languages of the World Cambridge University Press

Indo-European

Fortson, B. (2010) Indo-European Language and Culture (2nd edition) Wiley-Blackwell

Mallory, J. and D. Adams (2006) The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-

Indo-European World Oxford University Press

Language change

Labov, W. (2001) Principles of Linguistic Change, volume 2: Social Factors Blackwell

McMahon, A. (1994) Understanding Language Change Cambridge University Press

History of the English language

Barber, C., J. Beal and P. Shaw (2012) The English Language: A Historical Introduction (Canto

edition) Cambridge University Press

Lerer, S. (2007) Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language Columbia University Press

Languages

A B Proto-forms

kewo (“red”) čel (“red”) ____________

kuti (“tree”) kut (“wood”) ____________

like (“heavy”) lič (“morose”) ____________

waki (“sister”) wač (“sister”) ____________

wapo (“hand”) lap (“hand”) ____________

woli (“beam”) lol (“roof”) ____________

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Old, Middle and Early Modern English

Baker, P. (2012) Introduction to Old English (3rd edition) Wiley-Blackwell

Horobin, S. and J. Smith (2002) An Introduction to Middle English Oxford University Press

Nevalainen, T. (2006) An Introduction to Early Modern English Edinburgh University Press

On Sir William Jones

Cannon, G. (1990) The Life and Mind of Oriental Jones Cambridge University Press

Broadening and narrowing of meaning

Minkova, D. and R. Stockwell (2009) English Words: History and Structure (2nd edition)

Cambridge University Press

On “lovely” and “rather”

Adamson, S. (2000) “A lovely little example” In O. Fischer, A. Rosenbach and D. Stein (eds.)

Pathways of Change: Grammaticalization in English (39–66) John Benjamins

Rissanen, M. (2008) “From ‘quickly’ to ‘fairly’: on the history of rather” English Language and

Linguistics 12: 345–359

Other references

Ethnologue (2013) (17th edition) SIL International

Kikusawa, R. (2005) “Comparative linguistics: a bridge that connects us to languages and

people of the past” In P. Lassettre (ed.) Language in Hawai‘i and the Pacific (415–433)

Pearson

Lehmann, W. (ed.) (1967) A Reader in Nineteenth Century Historical Indo-European Linguistics

Indiana University Press

Sihler, A. (2000) Language History: An Introduction John Benjamins

Language history and change 241

 

 

CHAPTER 18

Regional variation in language

Yesterday, I toll my dad, “Buy chocolate kine now, bumbye somebody going egg our

house you know, cuz you so chang.” He sed, “Sucking kine mo’ bettah cuz lass mo’ long.

Da kids going appreciate cuz . . .” And befo’ he could start his “Back in my days story” I jus

sed, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I undahstand,” cuz I nevah like hea da story again ah about how

he nevah have candy wen he wuz small and how wuz one TREAT fo’ eat da orange

peel wit sugar on top. Da orange PEEL you know. Not da actual orange, but da orange PEEL.

Strong emphasis on PEEL cuz dey wuz POOR.

Tonouchi (2001)

Throughout this book, we have been talking about languages such as English,

Spanish or Swahili as if there was a single variety of each in everyday use. That is,

we have largely ignored the fact that every language has a lot of variation, especially

in the way it is spoken. If we just look at English, we find widespread variation in

the way it is spoken in different countries such as Australia, Britain and the USA.

We can also find a range of varieties in different parts of those countries, with Lee

Tonouchi’s account of “Trick-O-Treat” in Hawai‘i as just one example. In this

chapter, we investigate aspects of language variation based on where that language

is used, as a way of doing linguistic geography. First, we should identify the

particular variety that we have normally assumed when we referred to a language

as English, Spanish or Swahili.

 

 

The standard language

When we talked about the words and structures of a language in earlier chapters,

we were concentrating on the features of only one variety, usually called the

standard language. This is actually an idealized variety, because it has no specific

region. It is the variety associated with administrative, commercial and educational

centers, regardless of region. If we think of Standard English, it is the version we

believe is found in printed English in newspapers and books, is widely used in the

mass media and is taught in most schools. It is the variety we normally try to teach

to those who want to learn English as a second or foreign language. It is clearly

associated with education and broadcasting in public contexts and is more easily

described in terms of the written language (i.e. vocabulary, spelling, grammar) than

the spoken language.

If we are thinking of that general variety used in mainstream public broadcasting

in the United States, we can refer more specifically to Standard American English or,

in Britain, to Standard British English. In other parts of the world, we can talk about

other recognized varieties such as Standard Australian English, Standard Canadian

English or Standard Indian English.

Accent and dialect

Whether we think we speak a standard variety of English or not, we all speak with

an accent. It is a myth that some speakers have accents while others do not. We

might feel that some speakers have very distinct or easily recognized types of

accent while others may have more subtle or less noticeable accents, but every

language-user speaks with an accent. Technically, the term “accent” is restricted to

the description of aspects of pronunciation that identify where an individual

speaker is from, regionally or socially. It is different from the term dialect, which

is used to describe features of grammar and vocabulary as well as aspects of

pronunciation.

We recognize that the sentence You don’t know what you’re talking about will

generally “look” the same whether spoken with an American accent or a Scottish

accent. Both speakers will be using forms associated with Standard English, but

have different pronunciations. However, this next sentence – Ye dinnae ken whit

yer haverin’ aboot – has the same meaning as the first, but has been written out in

an approximation of what a person who speaks one dialect of Scottish English

might say. There are differences in pronunciation (e.g. whit, aboot), but there are

also examples of different vocabulary (e.g. ken, haverin’) and a different grammat-

ical form (dinnae).

Regional variation in language 243

 

 

Variation in grammar

While differences in vocabulary are often easily recognized, dialect variations in the

meaning of grammatical constructions are less frequently documented. In the following

example (from Trudgill, 1983) two British English speaking visitors (B and C) and a

local Irish English speaker (A) are involved in a conversation in Donegal, Ireland.

A: How long are youse here?

B: Till after Easter.

(Speaker A looks puzzled.)

C: We came on Sunday.

A: Ah. Youse’re here a while then.

It seems that the construction How long are youse here?, in speaker A’s dialect, is used

with a meaning close to the structure “How long have you been here?” referring to past

time. Speaker B, however, answers as if the question was referring to future time (“How

long are you going to be here?”). When speaker C answers with a past time response (We

came on Sunday), speaker A acknowledges it and repeats his use of a present tense

(Youse’re here) to refer to past time. Note that the dialect form youse (¼ “you” plural) seems to be understood by the visitors though it is unlikely to be part of their own dialect.

Dialectology

Despite occasional difficulties, there is a general impression of mutual intelligibility

among many speakers of different dialects of English. This is one of the criteria used in

the study of dialects, or dialectology, to distinguish between two different dialects of

the same language (whose speakers can usually understand each other) and two

different languages (whose speakers can’t usually understand each other). This is

not the only, or the most reliable, way of identifying dialects, but it is helpful in

establishing the fact that each different dialect, like each language, is equally worthy

of analysis. It is important to recognize, from a linguistic point of view, that none of the

varieties of a language is inherently “better” than any other. They are simply different.

From a social point of view, however, some varieties do become more prestigious.

In fact, the variety that develops as the standard language has usually been one

socially prestigious dialect, originally associated with a center of economic and

political power (e.g. London for British English and Paris for French). Yet there always

continue to be other varieties of a language spoken in different regions.

Regional dialects

The existence of different regional dialects is widely recognized and often the source

of some humor for those living in different regions. In the United States, people from

244 The Study of Language

 

 

the Brooklyn area of New York may joke about a Southerner’s definition of sex by

telling you that sex is fo’ less than tin, in their best imitation of someone from the

Southern states. In return, Southerners can wonder aloud about what a tree guy is in

Brooklyn, since they have heard Brooklyn speakers refer to doze tree guys. Some

regional dialects clearly have stereotyped pronunciations associated with them.

Going beyond stereotypes, those involved in the serious investigation of

regional dialects have devoted a lot of survey research to the identification of

consistent features of speech found in one geographical area compared to another.

These dialect surveys often involve a lot of attention to detail and operate with very

specific criteria in identifying acceptable informants. After all, it is important to

know if the person whose speech you are recording really is a typical representative

of the region’s dialect.

Consequently, the informants in the dialect surveys of the twentieth century

tended to be NORMS or “non-mobile, older, rural, male speakers.” Such speakers

were selected because they were less likely to have influences from outside the region

in their speech. One unfortunate consequence of using such criteria is that the

resulting dialect description tends to be more accurate of a period well before the

time of investigation. Nevertheless, the detailed information obtained has provided

the basis for a number of Linguistic Atlases of whole countries (e.g. England) and

regions (e.g. the Upper Midwest area of the United States).

Isoglosses and dialect boundaries

We can look at some examples of regional variation found in a survey that resulted in

the Linguistic Atlas of the Upper Midwest of the United States. One of the aims of a

survey of this type is to find a number of significant differences in the speech of those

living in different areas and to be able to chart where the boundaries are, in dialect

terms, between those areas. If it is found, for example, that the vast majority of

informants in one area say they carry things home from the store in a paper bag

while the majority in another area say they use a paper sack, then it is usually possible

to draw a line across a map separating the two areas, as shown in Figure 18.1. This

line is called an isogloss and represents a boundary between the areas with regard to

that one particular linguistic item.

If a very similar distribution is found for other items, such as a preference for pail

to the north and bucket to the south, then other isoglosses can be drawn on the map.

When a number of isoglosses come together in this way, a more solid line, indicating a

dialect boundary, can be drawn.

In Figure 18.1, a small circle indicates where paper bag was used and a plus sign

shows where paper sack was used. The broken line between the two areas represents

an isogloss that roughly coincides with lines separating several other linguistic

features. Using this dialect boundary information, we find that in the Upper Midwest

Regional variation in language 245

 

 

of the USA there is a Northern dialect area that includes Minnesota, North Dakota,

most of South Dakota and Northern Iowa. The rest of Iowa and Nebraska show

characteristics of the Midland dialect. Some of the noticeable pronunciation and

vocabulary differences are illustrated here.

So, if an American English (male) speaker pronounces the word greasy as [ɡrizi] and

asks for a bucket to carry water, then he is not likely to have grown up and spent most

of his life in Minnesota. While making this general claim, we shouldn’t forget that,

although the characteristic forms listed here were found in the speech of a large

percentage of those interviewed in the dialect survey, they won’t necessarily be used

by all speakers currently living in the region.

The dialect continuum

Another note of caution is required with regard to dialect boundaries. The drawing of

isoglosses and dialect boundaries is quite useful in establishing a broad view of

regional dialects, but it tends to obscure the fact that, at most dialect boundary areas,

one dialect or language variety merges into another. Keeping this in mind, we can

view regional variation as existing along a dialect continuum rather than as having

sharp breaks from one region to the next.

Paper bag Paper sack

MinnesotaNorth Dakota

South Dakota

Nebraska Iowa

Isogloss

+ + + +

+ + + +

+ +

+ +

+ + +

+

+

++

++ +

+

+++

+

++ ++

+ + + +

+

+ +

+

+

++ ++

+

Figure 18.1

(“taught”) (“roof”) (“creek”) (“greasy”)

Northern: [ɔ] [ʊ] [ɪ] [s]

Midland: [ɑ] [u] [i] [z]

Northern: paper bag pail kerosene slippery get sick

Midland: paper sack bucket coal oil slick take sick

246 The Study of Language

 

 

A very similar type of continuum can occur with related languages existing on

either side of a political border. As you travel from Holland into Germany, you will

find concentrations of Dutch speakers giving way to areas near the border where

“Dutch” may sound more like “Deutsch” because the Dutch dialects and the German

dialects are less clearly differentiated. Then, as you travel into Germany, greater

concentrations of distinctly German speakers occur.

Speakers who move back and forth across this border area, using different

varieties with some ease, may be described as bidialectal (i.e. “speaking two dia-

lects”). Most of us grow up with some form of bidialectalism, speaking one dialect “in

the street” among family and friends, and having to learn another dialect “in school.”

However, in some places, there are two different languages involved and the people

who know both languages are described as bilingual.

Bilingualism

In many countries, regional variation is not simply a matter of two (or more) dialects

of a single language, but can involve two (or more) quite distinct and different

languages. Canada, for example, is an officially bilingual country, with both French

and English as official languages. This recognition of the linguistic rights of the

country’s French speakers, largely in Quebec, did not come about without a lot of

political upheaval. For most of its history, Canada was essentially an English-speaking

country, with a French-speaking minority group. In such a situation, bilingualism at

the level of the individual tends to be a feature of the minority group. In this form of

bilingualism, a member of a minority group grows up in one linguistic community,

mainly speaking one language (e.g. Welsh in Britain or Spanish in the United States),

but learns another language (e.g. English) in order to take part in the larger dominant

linguistic community.

Indeed, many members of linguistic minorities can live their entire lives without

seeing their native language in the public domain. Sometimes political activism can

change that. It was only after English notices and signs were frequently defaced, or

replaced by scribbled Welsh-language versions, that bilingual (English–Welsh) signs

came into widespread use in Wales. Many henoed never expected to see their first

language on public signs in Wales, as illustrated in Figure 18.2, though they may

wonder why everyone is being warned about them.

Individual bilingualism, however, doesn’t have to be the result of political dom-

inance by a group using a different language. It can simply be the result of having two

parents who speak different languages. If a child simultaneously acquires the French

spoken by her mother and the English spoken by her father, then the distinction

between the two languages may not even be noticed by the child. There will simply be

two ways of talking according to the person being talked to. However, even in this

Regional variation in language 247

 

 

type of bilingualism, one language tends eventually to become the dominant one,

with the other in a subordinate role.

Diglossia

A rather special situation involving two distinct varieties of a language, called

diglossia, exists in some countries. In diglossia, there is a “low” variety, acquired

locally and used for everyday affairs, and a “high” or special variety, learned in school

and used for important matters. A type of diglossia exists in Arabic-speaking countries

where the high variety (Classical Arabic) is used in formal lectures, serious political

events and especially in religious discussions. The low variety is the local version of

Figure 18.2

248 The Study of Language

 

 

the language, such as Egyptian Arabic or Lebanese Arabic. Through a long period in

European history, a diglossic situation existed with Latin as the high variety and one

of the local languages of Europe (early versions of modern Italian, French and

Spanish) as the low variety or “vernacular.”

Language planning

Perhaps because bilingualism in contemporary Europe and North America tends to be

found mostly among minority groups, many countries are often assumed to be

monolingual. For many of those residents who are only capable of speaking one

language (English), the United States would indeed seem to be a monolingual coun-

try. For others, it clearly is not, because they live in large communities where English

is not the first language of the home. As one example, the majority of the population

in San Antonio, Texas, will be more likely to listen to radio broadcasts in Spanish than

in English. This simple fact has quite large repercussions in terms of the organization

of local representative government and the educational system. Should elementary

school teaching take place in Spanish or English?

Consider a similar question in the context of Guatemala, a country in Central

America, where there are twenty-six Mayan languages spoken, as well as Spanish.

If, in this situation, Spanish is selected as the language of education, are all those

Mayan speakers put at an early educational disadvantage within the society?

Questions of this type require answers on the basis of some type of language

planning. Government, legal and educational organizations in many countries

have to plan which variety or varieties of the languages spoken in the country are

to be used for official business. In Israel, despite the fact that it was not the most

widely used language among the population, Hebrew was chosen as the official

government language. In India, the choice was Hindi, yet in many non-Hindi-

speaking regions, there were riots against this decision. There were “National

Language Wars” in the Philippines before different groups could agree on the name

of the national language (Filipino).

The process of language planning may be seen in a better light when the full series

of stages is implemented over a number of years. The adoption of Swahili as the

national language of Tanzania in East Africa may serve as a good example. There still

exist a large number of other languages, as well as the colonial vestiges of English, but

the educational, legal and government systems have gradually introduced Swahili as

the official language. The process of “selection” (choosing an official language) is

followed by “codification,” in which basic grammars, dictionaries and written models

are used to establish the standard variety. The process of “elaboration” follows, with

the standard variety being developed for use in all aspects of social life and the

appearance of a body of literary work written in the standard. The process of

“implementation” is largely a matter of government attempts to encourage use of

Regional variation in language 249

 

 

the standard, and “acceptance” is the final stage when a substantial majority of the

population use the standard and think of it as the national language, playing a part in

not only social, but also national identity.

Pidgins

In some areas, the standard chosen may be a variety that originally had no native

speakers in the country. For example, in Papua New Guinea, with more than eight

hundred different languages, a lot of official business is conducted in Tok Pisin. This

language is now used by over a million people, but it began many years earlier as a

kind of impromptu language called a pidgin. A variety of a language described as a

pidgin is often discussed as a “contact” language that developed for some practical

purpose, such as trading, among groups of people who had a lot of contact, but who

did not know each other’s languages. As such, it would have no native speakers. The

origin of the term “pidgin” is thought to be from a Chinese version of the English word

“business.”

A pidgin is described as an “English Pidgin” if English is the lexifier language,

that is, the main source of words adopted in the pidgin. It doesn’t mean that those

words will have the same pronunciation or meaning as in the source. For example,

the word gras has its origins in the English word “grass,” but in Tok Pisin it also

came to be used for “hair.” It is part of mausgras (“moustache”) and gras bilong fes

(“beard”).

There are several English pidgins still used today. They are characterized by an

absence of any complex grammatical morphology and a somewhat limited vocabu-

lary. Inflectional suffixes such as -s (plural) and -’s (possessive) are required on nouns

in Standard English, but are rare in English pidgins, while structures like tu buk (“two

books”) and di gyal place (“the girl’s place”) are common. Functional morphemes

often take the place of inflectional morphemes found in the source language. For

example, instead of changing the form of you to your, as in the English phrase your

book, English-based pidgins use a form like bilong, and change the word order to

produce phrases like buk bilong yu, as well as gras bilong fes.

The syntax of pidgins can be quite unlike the languages from which terms

were borrowed and modified, as can be seen in this example from an earlier stage

of Tok Pisin.

“Your head will soon get well again”

There are believed to be between six and twelve million people still using pidgin

languages and between ten and seventeen million using descendants from pidgins

called “creoles.”

Baimbai hed bilongyu i-arrait gain

by and by head belong you he alright again

250 The Study of Language

 

 

Creoles

When a Pidgin develops beyond its role as a trade or contact language and becomes

the first language of a social community, it is described as a creole. Tok Pisin is now a

creole. The first language of a large number of people in Hawai‘i is also a creole and,

though still locally referred to as “Pidgin,” is more accurately described as “Hawai‘i

Creole English.”A creole initially develops as the first language of children growing up

in a pidgin-using community and becomes more complex as it serves more communi-

cative purposes. Thus, unlike pidgins, creoles have large numbers of native speakers

and are not restricted at all in their uses. A French creole is spoken by the majority of

the population in Haiti and English creoles are used in Jamaica and Sierra Leone.

The separate vocabulary elements of a pidgin can become grammatical elements

in a creole. The form baimbai yu go (“by and by you go”) in early Tok Pisin gradually

shortened to bai yu go, and finally to yu bigo, with a grammatical structure not unlike

that of its English translation equivalent, “you will go.”

The post-creole continuum

In many contemporary situations where creoles evolved, there is usually evidence of

another process at work. Just as there was development from a pidgin to a creole,

known as creolization, there is now often a retreat from the use of the creole by those

who have greater contact with a standard variety of the language. Where education

and greater social prestige are associated with a “higher” variety (e.g. British English

in Jamaica), a number of speakers will tend to use fewer creole forms and structures.

This process, known as decreolization, leads at one extreme to a variety that is closer

to the external standard model and leaves, at the other extreme, a basic variety with

more local creole features. Between these two extremes may be a range of slightly

different varieties, some with many and some with fewer creole features. This range

of varieties, evolving after (¼ “post”) the creole has come into existence, is called the post-creole continuum.

So, in Jamaica, one speaker may say a fi mi buk dat, using the basic creole variety,

another may put it as iz mi buk, using a variety with fewer creole features, and yet

another may choose it’s my book, using a variety with only some pronunciation

features of the creole, or a “creole accent.” It is also very common for speakers to

be able to use a range of varieties in different situations.

We would predict that these differences would be tied very much to social values

and social identity. In the course of discussing language varieties in terms of regional

differences, we have excluded, in a rather artificial way, the complex social factors

that are also at work in determining language variation. In Chapter 19, we’ll investi-

gate the influence of a number of these social variables.

Regional variation in language 251

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 Which variety of English would you say is being used in the introductory

quotation from Lee Tonouchi?

2 What is the difference between an accent and a dialect?

3 In this example from Irish English (How long are youse here?), is the speaker

referring to future time or past time?

4 What is one disadvantage of using NORMS in dialect surveys?

5 What does an isogloss represent in a linguistic atlas?

6 In what specific way is a creole different from a pidgin?

TASKS

A In which areas of the British Isles would we find a Brummie accent,

a Geordie accent, a speaker of Scouse, the use of bairns (¼ “children”), boyo (¼ “man”), fink (¼ “think”) and Would you be after wanting some tea? (¼ “Do you want some tea?”)?

B Although speakers of American English and British English can usually

understand each other, there are some differences in vocabulary use that

occasionally cause confusion. Can you put the following words in the

appropriate spaces below?

angry, bill, biscuit, bonnet, boot, candy, check, cookie, cot, crib, crisps, diaper,

dummy, estate agent, flashlight, garbage, gas, hood, jumper, mad, nappy,

pacifier, pants, petrol, potato chips, real, really, realtor, rubbish, sneakers,

sweater, sweets, torch, trainers, trousers, trunk, vest, waistcoat

American

English

British

English

Example:Wouldyoulikeachocolate______withyourcoffee? cookie biscuit

(1) He should wear a white shirt and dark ________. ______ ______

(2) It’s really dark outside, you’ll need a ________. ______ ______

(3) I bought some new ________ in order to go running. ______ ______

(4) It’s all ________, so just throw it all away. ______ ______

(5) The small child had a ________ in its mouth. ______ ______

(6) Eating a lot of ________ is bad for your teeth. ______ ______

(7) (In a restaurant) Can we have the ________, please? ______ ______

(8) Do you want some ________ with your sandwich? ______ ______

(9) You’d better bring a _______ because it’s quite chilly. ______ ______

252 The Study of Language

 

 

C Two pioneers of dialectology were Georg Wenker and Jules Gilliéron. In what ways

were their methods different and which method became the model for later dialect

studies?

D Consider the following statements about Standard English and try to decide

whether you agree or disagree with them, providing a reason in each case for your

decision.

(1) Standard English is not a language.

(2) Standard English is an accent.

(3) Standard English is a speech style.

(4) Standard English is a set of rules for correct usage.

E In the study of pidgins, what is meant by a “substrate” and a “superstrate”

language? Which of the two is likely to be the source of intonation, syntax and

vocabulary?

F The following examples are based on Romaine (1989), quoted in Holmes (2013).

Using what you learned about Tok Pisin, can you complete the translations of these

examples with the following English words and phrases: bird’s feather, bird’s wing,

cat’s fur, eyebrow, hair, weed?

G The following example of Hawai‘i Creole English (from Lum, 1990, quoted in

Nichols, 2004) has some characteristic forms and structures. How would you

analyze the use of da, had, one, stay and wen in this extract?

Had one nudda guy in one tee-shirt was sitting at da table next to us was

watching da Bag Man too. He was eating one plate lunch and afterwards, he wen

take his plate ovah to da Bag Man. Still had little bit everyting on top, even had

bar-ba-que meat left.

“Bra,” da guy tell, “you like help me finish? I stay full awready.”

gras antap long ai gras bilong pisin gras nogut

gras bilong hed gras bilong pusi han bilong pisin

(10) What does a gallon of ________ cost these days? ______ ______

(11) The ________ thinks the house will sell quickly. ______ ______

(12) He was wearing a yellow ________ under his jacket. ______ ______

(13) It didn’t bother me, but it made John ________. ______ ______

(14) In most cars, the spare wheel is in the ________, and

not under the ________.

______

______

______

______

(15) After I change the baby’s ________, I usually put her

down in her ________ for a nap.

______

______

______

______

Regional variation in language 253

 

 

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I Peter Trudgill has noted that “increased geographical mobility during the course of

the twentieth century led to the disappearance of many dialects and dialect forms

through a process we can call dialect levelling – the levelling out of differences

between one dialect and another” (2000: 155).

Do you think that “dialect levelling” is continuing in the geographical area you

are most familiar with? Does this mean that there will eventually be only

one dialect? What other forces might be at work that would cause new dialects

to emerge?

(For background reading, see chapter 8 of Trudgill, 2000.)

II English is not the official language of the United States, but some insist that it

should be. What are the arguments for and against the “English-Only Movement”?

(For background reading, see Wiley, 2004.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Crystal, D. (2003) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (chapter 20) (2nd

edition) Cambridge University Press

Kretzschmar. W. (2004) “Regional dialects” In E. Finegan and J. Rickford (eds.) Language in the

USA (39–57) Cambridge University Press

More detailed treatments

Chambers, J. and P. Trudgill (1998) Dialectology (2nd edition) Cambridge University Press

Wardhaugh, R. (2009) An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (6th edition) Blackwell

American English dialects

Wolfram, W. and B. Ward (eds.) (2006) American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast

Blackwell

British English dialects

Hughes, A., P. Trudgill and D. Watt (2012) English Accents and Dialects (5th edition) Hodder

Education

Other varieties of English

Melchers, G. and P. Shaw (2011) World Englishes (2nd edition) Hodder Education

Trudgill, P. and J. Hannah (2013) International English (5th edition) Routledge

Bilingualism

Grosjean, F. (2010) Bilingual Harvard University Press

Myers-Scotton, C. (2005) Multiple Voices Wiley

Language planning

Spolsky, B. (2009) Language Management Cambridge University Press

254 The Study of Language

 

 

Pidgins and creoles

Nichols, J. (2004) “Creole languages: forging new identities” In E. Finegan and J. Rickford

(eds.) Language in the USA (133–152) Cambridge University Press

Siegel, J. (2008) The Emergence of Pidgin and Creole Languages Oxford University Press

The Dutch–German dialect continuum

Barbour, S. and P. Stevenson (1990) Variation in German Cambridge University Press

Tok Pisin (baimbai)

Sankoff, G. and S. Laberge (1974) “On the acquisition of native speakers by a language” In

D. DeCamp and I. Hancock (eds.) Pidgins and Creoles (73–84) Georgetown University Press

Smith, G. (2008) Growing up with Tok Pisin: Contact, Creolization and Change in Papua New

Guinea’s National Language Battlebridge

Hawai‘i Creole English

Drager, K. (2012) “Pidgin and Hawai‘i English: an overview” International Journal of Language,

Translation and Intercultural Communication 1: 61–73

Sakoda. K. and J. Siegel (2003) Pidgin Grammar Bess Press

Other references

Holmes, J. (2013) An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (4th edition) Pearson Education

Lum, D. (1990) Pass On, No Pass Back Bamboo Ridge Press

Romaine, S. (1989) Pidgin and Creole Languages Longman

Trudgill, P. (1983) On Dialect Blackwell

Trudgill, P. (2000) Sociolinguistics (4th edition) Penguin

Wiley, T. (2004) “Language planning, language policy, and the English-Only movement” In

E. Finegan and J. Rickford (eds.) Language in the USA (319–338) Cambridge University

Press

Regional variation in language 255

 

 

CHAPTER 19

Social variation in language

Neither shake thy head, feet, or legges. Rowle not thine eyes. Lift not one of thine eye-browes higher than thine other. Wry not thy mouth. Take heed that with they spettle thou bedew not his face with whom thou speakest, and to that end, approach not too nigh him.

Hawkins (1646)

In the preceding chapter, we focused on variation in language use found in

different geographical areas. However, not everyone in a single geographical area

speaks in the same way in every situation. We recognize that certain uses of

language, such as slang, are more likely to be found in the speech of some individuals

in society and not others. We are also aware of the fact that people who live in

the same region, but who differ in terms of education and economic status, often

speak in quite different ways. Indeed, these differences may be used, implicitly or

explicitly, as indications of membership in different social groups or speech

communities. A speech community is a group of people who share a set of norms and

expectations regarding the use of language. The study of the linguistic features

that have social relevance for participants in those speech communities is called

“sociolinguistics.”

 

 

Sociolinguistics

The term sociolinguistics is used generally for the study of the relationship between

language and society. This is a broad area of investigation that developed through the

interaction of linguistics with a number of other academic disciplines that look at

language in its social context such as anthropology, sociology and social psychology.

We use all these connections when we try to analyze language from a social perspective.

Social dialects

Whereas the traditional study of regional dialects tended to concentrate on the speech

of people in rural areas, as noted in Chapter 18, the study of social dialects has been

mainly concerned with speakers in towns and cities. In the social study of dialect, it is

social class that is mainly used to define groups of speakers as having something in

common. The two main groups are generally identified as “middle class,” those who

have more years of education and perform non-manual work, and “working-class,”

those who have fewer years of education and perform manual work of some kind. So,

when we refer to “working-class speech,” we are talking about a social dialect. The

terms “upper” and “lower” are used to subdivide the groups, mainly on an economic

basis, making “upper-middle-class speech” another type of social dialect or sociolect.

As in all dialect studies, only certain features of language use are treated as

relevant in the analysis of social dialects. These features are pronunciations, words

or structures that are regularly used in one form by working-class speakers and in

another form by middle-class speakers. In Edinburgh, Scotland, for example, the word

home is regularly pronounced as [heɪm], as if rhyming with fame, among lower-

working-class speakers, and as [hom], as if rhyming with foam, among middle-class

speakers. It’s a small difference in pronunciation, but it’s an indicator of social status.

A more familiar example might be the verb ain’t, as in I ain’t finished yet, which is

used more often in working-class speech than in middle-class speech.

When we look for other examples of language use that might be characteristic of a

social dialect, we treat class as the social variable and the pronunciation or word as the

linguisticvariable. We canthen investigate anysystematic variation in usagebycounting

how often speakers in each class use each version of the linguistic variable. This is rarely

an all-or-nothing situation, so we usually find that one group uses a certain form more or

less than another and not that only one group or the other uses the form exclusively.

Education and occupation

Although the unique circumstances of every life result in each of us having an

individual way of speaking, a personal dialect or idiolect, we generally tend to sound

like others with whom we share similar educational backgrounds and/or occupations.

Social variation in language 257

 

 

Among those who leave the educational system at an early age, there is a general

pattern of using certain forms that are relatively infrequent in the speech of those who

go on to complete college. Expressions such as those contained in Them boys throwed

somethin’ or It wasn’t us what done it are generally associated with speakers who

have spent less time in education. Those who spend more time in the educational

system tend to have more features in their spoken language that derive from a lot of

time spent with the written language, so that threw is more likely than throwed and

who occurs more often than what in references to people.

As adults, the outcome of our time in the educational system is usually reflected

in our occupation and socio-economic status. The way bank executives, as opposed

to window cleaners, talk to each other usually provides linguistic evidence for the

significance of these social variables. In the 1960s, sociolinguist William Labov

combined elements from place of occupation and socio-economic status by looking

at pronunciation differences among salespeople in three New York City department

stores (see Labov, 2006). They were Saks Fifth Avenue (with expensive items, upper-

middle-class status), Macy’s (medium priced, middle-class status) and Klein’s (with

cheaper items, working-class status). Labov went into each of these stores and asked

salespeople specific questions, such as Where are the women’s shoes?, in order to elicit

answers with the expression fourth floor. This expression contains two opportunities

for the pronunciation (or not) of postvocalic /r/, that is, the /r/ sound after a vowel.

In the department stores, there was a regular pattern in the answers. The higher

the socio-economic status of the store, the more /r/ sounds were produced, and the

lower the status, the fewer /r/ sounds were produced by those who worked there. So,

the frequency of this linguistic variable (r) marked the speech as upper middle class,

middle class or working class.

In a British study conducted in Reading, about 40 miles west of London, Trudgill

(1974) found that the social value associated with the same variable (r) was quite

different. Middle-class speakers in Reading pronounced fewer /r/ sounds than

working-class speakers. In this particular city, upper-middle-class speakers didn’t

seem to pronounce postvocalic /r/ at all. They said things like Oh, that’s mahvellous,

dahling!. The results of these two studies are shown in Table 19.1 (from Romaine,

2000).

Table 19.1 Percentages of groups pronouncing postvocalic /r/

Social class New York City Reading

upper middle class 32 0

lower middle class 20 28

upper working class 12 44

lower working class 0 49

258 The Study of Language

 

 

Social markers

As shown in Table 19.1, the significance of the linguistic variable (r) can be virtually

the opposite in terms of social status in two different places, yet in both places the

patterns illustrate how the use of this particular speech sound functions as a social

marker. That is, having this feature occur frequently in your speech (or not) marks

you as a member of a particular social group, whether you realize it or not.

There are other pronunciation features that function as social markers. One

feature that seems to be a fairly stable indication of lower class and less education,

throughout the English-speaking world, is the final pronunciation of -ing with [n]

rather than [ŋ] at the end of words such as sitting and thinking. Pronunciations represented by sittin’ and thinkin’ are typically associated with working-class speech.

Another social marker is called “[h]-dropping,” which makes the words at and hat

sound the same. It occurs at the beginning of words and can result in utterances that

sound like I’m so ’ungry I could eat an ’orse. In contemporary English, this feature is

associated with lower class and less education. It seems to have had a similar

association as a social marker for Charles Dickens, writing in the middle of the

nineteenth century. He used it as a way of indicating that the character Uriah Heep,

in the novel David Copperfield, was from a lower class, as in this example (from

Mugglestone, 1995).

“I am well aware that I am the umblest person going,” said Uriah Heep, modestly;

“ . . . My mother is likewise a very umble person. We live in a numble abode, Master

Copperfield, but we have much to be thankful for. My father’s former calling was

umble.”

Speech style and style-shifting

In his department store study, Labov included another subtle element that allowed

him not only to investigate the type of social stratification illustrated in Table 19.1, but

also speech style as a social feature of language use. The most basic distinction in

speech style is between formal uses and informal uses. Formal style is when we pay

more careful attention to how we’re speaking and informal style is when we pay

less attention. They are sometimes described as “careful style” and “casual style.”

A change from one to the other by an individual is called style-shifting.

When Labov initially asked the salespeople where certain items were, he assumed

they were answering in an informal manner. After they answered his question, Labov

then pretended not to have heard and said, “Excuse me?” in order to elicit a repetition

of the same expression, which was pronounced with more attention to being clear.

This was taken as a representative sample of the speaker’s more careful style. When

speakers repeated the phrase fourth floor, the frequency of postvocalic /r/ increased in

Social variation in language 259

 

 

all groups. The most significant increase in frequency was among the Macy’s group.

In a finding that has been confirmed in other studies, middle-class speakers are much

more likely to shift their style of speaking significantly in the direction of the upper

middle class when they are using a careful style.

It is possible to use more elaborate elicitation procedures to create more gradation

in the category of style. Asking someone to read a short text out loud will result in

more attention to speech than simply asking them to answer some questions in an

interview. Asking that same individual to read out loud a list of individual words

taken from the text will result in even more careful pronunciation of those words and

hence a more formal version of the individual’s speech style.

When Labov analyzed the way New Yorkers performed in these elicitation pro-

cedures, he found a general overall increase in postvocalic /r/ in all groups as the task

required more attention to speech. Among the lower-middle-class speakers, the

increase was so great in the pronunciation of the word lists that their frequency

of postvocalic /r/ was actually higher than among upper-middle-class speakers. As

other studies have confirmed, when speakers in a middle-status group try to use

a prestige form associated with a higher-status group in a formal situation, they have

a tendency to overuse the form. This pattern has also been observed in studies of

“hypercorrection” (see Chapter 7), where speakers can produce different forms or odd

pronunciations as they shift their speech style to try to “speak better.”

Prestige

In discussing style-shifting, we introduced the idea of a “prestige” form as a way of

explaining the direction in which certain individuals change their speech. When that

change is in the direction of a form that is more frequent in the speech of those

perceived to have higher social status, we are dealing with overt prestige, or status

that is generally recognized as “better” or more positively valued in the larger

community.

There is, however, another phenomenon called covert prestige. This “hidden”

status of a speech style as having positive value may explain why certain groups do

not exhibit style-shifting to the same extent as other groups. For example, we might

ask why many lower-working-class speakers do not change their speech style from

casual to careful as radically as lower-middle-class speakers. The answer may be that

they value the features that mark them as members of their own social group. They

may value group solidarity (i.e. sounding like those around them) more than upward

mobility (i.e. sounding like those above them).

Among younger speakers in the middle class, there is often covert prestige

attached to many features of pronunciation and grammar (I ain’t doin’ nuttin’ rather

than I’m not doing anything) that are more often associated with the speech of lower-

status groups.

260 The Study of Language

 

 

Speech accommodation

As we look closely at variation in speech style, we can see that it is not only based on

speakers’ social class and attention to speech, but is also influenced by their percep-

tion of their listeners. This type of variation is sometimes described in terms of

“audience design,” but is more generally known as speech accommodation,

defined as our ability to modify our speech style toward or away from the perceived

style of the person(s) we’re talking to.

Convergence

We can adopt a speech style that attempts to reduce social distance, described as

convergence, and use forms that are similar to those used by the person we’re talking

to. In the following examples (from Holmes, 2013), a teenage boy is asking to see some

holiday photographs. In the first example, he is talking to his friend, and in the second

example, he is talking to his friend’s mother. The request is essentially the same, but

the style is different as the speaker converges with the speech style of the other.

C’mon Tony, gizzalook, gizzalook.

Excuse me. Could I have a look at your photos too, Mrs. Hall?

Divergence

While we may want or try to sound like others in some social interactions to empha-

size social closeness, there are other times when we may prefer to create the opposite

effect. When a speech style is used to emphasize social distance between speakers,

the process is called divergence. We can make our speech style diverge from

another’s by using forms that are distinctly different. In the third line of the following

example, the Scottish teenager shifts to a speech style with features that differ

substantially from the first line (while essentially saying the same thing).

Teenager: I can’t do it, sir.

Teacher: Oh, come on. If I can do it, you can too.

Teenager: Look, I cannae dae it so . . .

The sudden divergence in style seems to be triggered not only by a need to add

emphasis to his repeated statement, but also by the “We’re the same” claim of his

teacher. This teenager is using speech style to mark that they are not the same.

Register

Another influence on speech style that is tied to social identity derives from register.

A register is a conventional way of using language that is appropriate in a specific

Social variation in language 261

 

 

context, which may be identified as situational (e.g. in church), occupational (e.g.

among lawyers) or topical (e.g. talking about language). We can recognize specific

features that occur in the religious register (Ye shall be blessed by Him in times of

tribulation), the legal register (The plaintiff is ready to take the witness stand) and

even the linguistics register (In the morphology of this dialect there are fewer inflec-

tional suffixes).

Jargon

One of the defining features of a register is the use of jargon, which is special

technical vocabulary, typically nouns (e.g. plaintiff, suffix), associated with a specific

area of work or interest. In social terms, jargon helps to create and maintain connec-

tions among those who see themselves as “insiders” in some way and to exclude

“outsiders.” In many ways, it is the learning of the appropriate jargon of a profession

that qualifies an individual as a valid professional within that area of expertise. This

exclusive effect of specialized jargon, as in the medical register (e.g. Zanoxyn is a

nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug for arthritis, bursitis and tendonitis), often leads

to complaints about what may seem like “jargonitis.”

Slang

Whereas jargon is specialized vocabulary used by those inside established social

groups, often defined by professional status (e.g. legal jargon), slang is more typically

used among those who are outside established higher-status groups. Slang, or “collo-

quial speech,” describes words or phrases that are used instead of more everyday

terms among younger speakers and other groups with special interests. The word

bucks (for dollars or money) has been a slang expression for more than a hundred

years in the United States, but the addition of mega- (“a lot of”) in megabucks is a

more recent innovation, along with dead presidents (whose pictures are on paper

money) and benjamins (from Benjamin Franklin, on $100 bills).

Like clothing and music, slang is an aspect of social life that is subject to fashion,

especially among adolescents. It can be used by those inside a group who share ideas

and attitudes as a way of distinguishing themselves from others. As a marker of group

identity during a limited stage of life such as early adolescence, slang expressions can

“grow old” rather quickly. Older forms for “really good” such as groovy, hip and super

were replaced by awesome, rad and wicked which gave way to dope, kickass and phat.

A hunk (“physically attractive man”) became a hottie and, instead of something being

the pits (“really bad”), the next generation thought it was a bummer, harsh!, or said,

That’s sucky!. The difference in slang use between groups divided into older and

younger speakers provides some of the clearest support for the idea that age is another

important factor involved in the study of social variation in language use.

262 The Study of Language

 

 

Taboo terms

However, the use of slang can vary within the younger social group, as illustrated by

the use of obscenities or taboo terms. Taboo terms are words and phrases that people

avoid for reasons related to religion, politeness and prohibited behavior. They are

often swear words, typically “bleeped” in public broadcasting (What the bleep are you

doing, you little bleep!) or “starred” in print (S**t! You stupid f***ing a**hole!).

In a study of the linguistic differences among “Jocks” (higher status) and “Burn-

outs” (lower status) in Detroit high schools, Eckert (2000) reported the regular use of

taboo words among the “Burnouts,” both males and females. However, among the

higher status group (the “Jocks”) males used taboo words only with other males,

while females didn’t seem to use them at all. Social class divisions, at least in the use

of slang, are already well established during adolescence.

African American English

In much of the preceding discussion, we have been reviewing research on social

variation based mainly on examples from British English and what we might call

“European” American English. Labeling one general social variety according to the

historical origins of the speakers allows us to put it in contrast with another major

variety called African American English (AAE). Also known as Black English or

Ebonics, AAE is a variety used by many (not all) African Americans in many different

regions of the USA. It has a number of characteristic features that, taken together,

form a distinct set of social markers.

In much the same way as large geographical barriers, such as oceans, rivers and

mountains separating groups of people, foster linguistic differences in regional dia-

lects, social barriers such as discrimination and segregation serve to create marked

differences between social dialects. In the case of AAE, those different features have

often been stigmatized as “bad” language, following a regular pattern whereby the

social practices, especially speech, of dominated groups are treated as “abnormal” by

those dominant groups who have decided that they are in charge of defining

“normal.” Although AAE speakers continue to experience the effects of discrimin-

ation, their social dialect often has covert prestige among younger members of other

social groups, particularly with regard to popular music, and certain features of AAE

may be used in expressions of social identity by many who are not African American.

Vernacular language

The form of AAE that has been most studied is usually described as African Ameri-

can Vernacular English (AAVE). The term “vernacular” has been used since the

Middle Ages, first to describe early local versions of the European languages that

Social variation in language 263

 

 

eventually became French, Italian and Spanish (low prestige) in contrast to Latin

(high prestige), then to characterize any non-standard spoken version of a language

used by lower status groups. So, the vernacular is a general expression for a kind of

social dialect, typically spoken by a lower-status group, which is treated as “non-

standard” because of marked differences from the “standard” language. (See Chapter

18 for more on the concept of the standard language.). As the vernacular language of

African Americans, AAVE shares a number of features with other non-standard

varieties, such as “Chicano English,” spoken in some Hispanic American commu-

nities. Varieties of what has been called “Asian American English” are also character-

ized by some of the pronunciation features described in studies of this vernacular.

The sounds of a vernacular

A pervasive phonological feature in AAVE and other English vernaculars is the

tendency to reduce final consonant clusters, so that words ending in two consonants

(left hand) are often pronounced as if there is only one (lef han). This can affect the

pronunciation of past tense -ed forms in certain contexts, with expressions such as

iced tea and I passed the test sounding like ice tea and I pass the tess. This characteris-

tic is shared with many pidgins and creoles, as described in Chapter 18, and has led to

the suggestion that AAVE may have initially come into being in a way similar to other

English creoles.

Initial dental consonants (think, that) are frequently pronounced as alveolar stops

(tink, dat), with the result that the definite article (the) is heard as [də], as in You da

man!. Other morphological features, such as possessive -’s (John’s girlfriend) and

third person singular -s (she loves him), are not typically used (John girlfriend, she love

him). Also, when a phrase contains an obvious indication of plural number, the

plural -s marker (guys, friends) is usually not included (two guy, one of my friend).

The grammar of a vernacular

It is typically in aspects of grammar that AAVE and other vernaculars are most

stigmatized as being “illogical” or “sloppy.” One frequently criticized element is the

double negative construction, as in He don’t know nothin or I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

Because the negative is expressed twice, these structures have been condemned as

“illogical” (since one negative supposedly cancels the other). Yet this feature of AAVE

can be found in many other English dialects and in other languages such as French: il

ne sait rien (literally, “he not knows nothing”). It was also common in Old English: Ic

naht singan ne cu∂e (literally, “I not sing not could”). There is nothing inherently

illogical about these structures, which can extend to multiple negatives, allowing

greater emphasis on the negative aspect of the message, as in He don’t never do

nothin.

264 The Study of Language

 

 

The “sloppy” criticism focuses on the frequent absence of forms of the verb “to

be” (are, is) in AAVE expressions such as You crazy or She workin now. It may be more

accurate to say that wherever are and is can be contracted in the casual style of other

varieties (You’re crazy, She’s working), they are not articulated in AAVE. Formal styles

of Standard English require are and is in such expressions, but many regional varieties

do not. Nor do many other languages such as Arabic and Russian require forms of “to

be” in similar contexts. This aspect of the structure of AAVE speech can’t be “sloppy”

any more than it would be “sloppy” in the everyday talk of Arabic or Russian

speakers.

While AAVE speakers don’t include the auxiliary verb is in structures such as She

workin now, to describe what is happening currently, they can use be (not is), as in

She be workin downtown now, as a way of expressing habitual action, as shown in

Table 19.2. That is, the presence or absence of be distinguishes between what is a

recurring activity or state and what is currently happening. To talk about a habitual

action that started or happened in the past, AAVE uses bin (typically stressed), not

was, as in She bin workin there. In effect, the use of habitual be or bin, and the

absence of forms of “to be” in present state expressions, are all consistent features in

the grammar of AAVE. The negative versions of these verbs are formed with don’t (not

doesn’t) and the verb is not used with a contracted negative. So, in AAVE, She don’t be

workin is grammatical, whereas *She doesn’t be workin and *She ben’t workin would

be considered ungrammatical.

In this discussion, we have focused on the linguistic features of social dialects of

different groups. Yet those groups are not only distinguished by the basic language

they use, but by more general factors such as beliefs and assumptions about the world

and their experience of it. This is usually discussed in terms of “culture,” the subject

of Chapter 20.

Table 19.2 AAVE structures

Activity or state AAVE structures

current (¼ now) he busy he playin ball

recurring or habitual (¼ usually) he be busy he be playin ball

started or happened earlier (¼ from the past) he bin busy he bin playin ball

Social variation in language 265

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

1 How would you define a “speech community”?

2 What is the difference between jargon and slang?

3 Why did Labov try to elicit answers with the expression fourth floor?

4 In what way can the pronunciation of -ing be a social marker?

5 What is meant by a “register”?

6 In AAVE, what is communicated by be in He don’t be smokin now?

TASKS

A How does “micro-sociolinguistics” differ from “macro-sociolinguistics”?

B In the study of social dialects, what is “the observer’s paradox” and how can it be

overcome?

C What is the difference between style-shifting and code-switching?

D What is the origin of the term “Ebonics” and how has its meaning changed?

E Variation in language use according to social status is evident in those languages

that have a system of honorifics. What are honorifics and in which languages are

they most commonly used?

Using what you discover about honorifics, try to decide which speaker (A or B,

C or D) in these two dialogues has superior status within the business organization

in which they both work (from Shibatani, 2001: 556).

(1) A:

B:

(2) C:

D:

F According to Fought (2003), Chicano English is spoken in the south-western region

of the USA (from Texas to California), mainly by individuals of Mexican-American

heritage. Consider the following statements about Chicano English and try to

decide whether you agree or disagree with them, providing a reason in each case

for your decision.

(1) Chicano English is a dialect of American English.

(2) Chicano English is another term for “Spanglish.”

Konban nomi ni ikoo ka

tonight drink to go question

Ee, iki-masyoo

yes, go-honorific

Konban nomi ni iki-masyoo ka

tonight drink to go-honorific question

Un, ikoo

yes, let’s go

266 The Study of Language

 

 

(3) Chicano English is simply ungrammatical or “broken” English, as exemplified

by sentences such as Everybody knew the Cowboys was gonna win again and

She don’t know Brenda.

(4) Chicano English is the second language learner’s English of people from

countries where Spanish is spoken.

(5) There are no native speakers of Chicano English.

G The information in Table 19.3, adapted from Cheshire (2007: 164),

represents the distribution of some expressions called general extenders in the

speech of teenagers (fourteen to fifteen years old) in three different English

towns. Examples of general extenders are in the left column of the table and

illustrated in these sentences: I like watching sport and stuff, I cook

occasionally on weekends and things and I think they must’ve broken up

or something.

The numbers in the table represent how often each form is used

(per 10,000 words) by middle-class and working-class groups of teenagers in

each town.

(i) What are the three most common general extenders used by these teenagers

overall?

(ii) Which social class uses the most general extenders?

(iii) Which of the adjunctive general extenders (those beginning with and) is most

typical of middle-class speech and which one is most typical of working-class

speech?

(iv) In which town is this class difference in speech most noticeable?

(v) What are the three most common general extenders in use where you

live?

Table 19.3 Sociolinguistic distribution of general extenders

Reading Milton Keynes Hull

middle

class

working

class

middle

class

working

class

middle

class

working

class

and that 4 49 9 44 10 66

and all that 4 14 2 4 1 4

and stuff 36 6 45 5 62 18

and things 32 0 35 0 12 5

and everything 21 16 22 18 30 31

or something 72 20 30 17 23 9

Social variation in language 267

 

 

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I According to Brown and Attardo (2005: 114):

If children move to an area before the age of nine, they are able to “pick up” the

local dialect, which their parents do not.

Do you think this statement is true of both regional dialect and social dialect? When

and how do you think people develop their social dialects?

(For background reading, see chapter 6 of Brown and Attardo, 2005.)

II From a linguistic point of view, there are no good or bad varieties of a language.

However, there is a social process called “language subordination” whereby some

varieties are treated as having less value than others. Can you describe how this

process works in any social situation you are familiar with?

(For background reading, see Lippi-Green, 2011.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Crystal, D. (2003) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (2nd edition)

(chapter 21) Cambridge University Press

Spolsky, B. (1998) Sociolinguistics Oxford University Press

More detailed treatments

Holmes, J. (2013) An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (4th edition) Pearson

Romaine, S. (2000) Language in Society (2nd edition) Oxford University Press

Speech style

Eckert, P. and J. Rickford (eds.) (2001) Style and Sociolinguistic Variation Cambridge

University Press

Speech accommodation

Giles, H. (2001) “Speech accommodation” In R. Mesthrie (ed.) Concise Encyclopedia of

Sociolinguistics (193–197) Elsevier

Register

Biber, D. and S. Conrad (2009) Register, Genre and Style Cambridge University Press

Downes, W. (2001) “Register” In R. Mesthrie (ed.) Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics

(259–262) Elsevier

Slang and adolescent speech

Eble, C. (2004) “Slang” In E. Finegan and J. Rickford (eds.) Language in the USA (375–386)

Cambridge University Press

268 The Study of Language

 

 

Eckert, P. (2004) “Adolescent language” In E. Finegan and J. Rickford (eds.) Language in the

USA (361–374) Cambridge University Press

African American English

Green, L. (2002) African American English Cambridge University Press

Smitherman, G. (2000) Talkin that Talk Routledge

Other references

Brown, S. and S. Attardo (2005) Understanding Language Structure, Interaction and Variation

(2nd edition) University of Michigan Press

Cheshire, J. (2007) “Discourse variation, grammaticalisation and stuff like that” Journal of

Sociolinguistics 11: 155–193

Eckert, P. (2000) Linguistic Variation as Social Practice Blackwell

Fought, C. (2003) Chicano English in Context Palgrave Macmillan

Labov, W. (2006) The Social Stratification of English in New York City (2nd edition) Cambridge

University Press

Lippi-Green, R. (2011) English with an Accent (2nd edition) Routledge

Mugglestone, L. (1995) Talking proper: The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol Clarendon Press

Shibatani, M. (2001) “Honorifics” In R. Mesthrie (ed.) Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics

(552–559) Elsevier

Trudgill, P. (1974) The Social Differentiation of English in Norwich Cambridge University Press

Social variation in language 269

 

 

CHAPTER 20

Language and culture

The Quakers rejected the use of you as a polite form of address, and preferred thou, which

to them signaled intimacy and equality. By refusing to use you because they took it as a

deferential form of address, the Quakers provoked hostility from others who regarded their

behavior as a sign of contempt. The repercussions of such deviant usage were severe for

some Quakers such as Richard Davis, who reported that when he addressed the lady of the

house in which he worked as thou, “she took a stick and gave me such a blow upon my

bare head, that made it swell and sore for a considerable time. She was so disturbed by it,

that she swore she would kill me.”

Romaine (2000)

The type of sociolinguistic variation described in Chapter 19 is sometimes

attributed to cultural differences. It is not unusual to find aspects of language

identified as characteristic features of African American culture or European culture

or Japanese culture. This approach to the study of language originates in the work

of anthropologists who have used language as a source of information in the general

study of “culture.”

 

 

Culture

We use the term culture to refer to all the ideas and assumptions about the nature of

things and people that we learn when we become members of social groups. It can be

defined as “socially acquired knowledge.” This is the kind of knowledge that, like our

first language, we initially acquire without conscious awareness. We develop aware-

ness of our knowledge, and hence of our culture, only after having developed

language. The particular language we learn through the process of cultural transmis-

sion provides us, at least initially, with a ready-made system of categorizing the world

around us and our experience of it.

With the words we acquire, we learn to recognize the types of category distinc-

tions that are relevant in our social world. Young children may not initially think of

“dog” and “horse” as different types of entities and refer to both as bow-wow. As they

develop a more elaborated conceptual system along with English as their first lan-

guage, they learn to categorize distinct types of creatures as a dog or a horse. In native

cultures of the Pacific, there were no horses and, not surprisingly, there were no words

for them. In order to use words such as dog or horse, snow or snowflake, father or

uncle, week or weekend, we must have a conceptual system that includes these

people, things and ideas as distinct and identifiable categories.

Categories

Although there is a lot of variation among all the individual “dogs” in our experience,

we can use the word dog to talk about any one of them as a member of the category.

A category is a group with certain features in common and we can think of the

vocabulary we learn as an inherited set of category labels. These are the words for

referring to concepts that people in our social world have typically needed to talk about.

It is tempting to believe that there is a fixed relationship between the set of words

we have learned (our categories) and the way external reality is organized. However,

evidence from the world’s languages would suggest that the organization of external

reality actually varies to some extent according to the language being used to talk

about it. Some languages may have lots of different expressions for types of “rain” or

kinds of “coconut” and other languages may have only one or two. Although the Dani

of New Guinea can see all colors of the spectrum, they only use names for two of them,

equivalents of “black” and “white.” The Inuit of Greenland have names for those two,

plus red, green and yellow. English has names for those five colors, plus blue, brown,

purple, pink, orange and gray. It seems that languages used by groups with more

technology have more color terms. Observing this difference between the number of

basic color terms in languages, we can say that there are conceptual distinctions that

are lexicalized (“expressed as a single word”) in one language and not in another.

Language and culture 271

 

 

Kinship terms

Some of the clearest examples of lexicalized categories are words used to refer to

people who are members of the same family, or kinship terms. All languages have

kinship terms (e.g. brother, mother, grandmother), but they don’t all put family

members into categories in the same way. In some languages, the equivalent of the

word father is used not only for “male parent,” but also for “male parent’s

brother.” In English, we use the word uncle for this other type of individual. We

have lexicalized the distinction between the two concepts. Yet we also use the same

word (uncle) for “female parent’s brother.” That distinction isn’t lexicalized in

English, but it is in other languages. In Watam (spoken in Papua New Guinea),

the English word uncle would be translated as either aes (father’s brother) or

akwae (mother’s brother). Speakers of Mopan Maya (in Belize, Central America)

lexicalize a distinction based on a different conceptual arrangement. Each of the

following words (from Danziger, 2001) is, and is not, a translation of the English

word uncle.

It would seem that a distinction in age among “uncles” is important in Mopan Mayan

culture. Other distinctions among relatives can also be lexicalized differently in the

world’s languages. For example, in Norwegian, the distinction between “male

parent’s mother” (farmor) and “female parent’s mother” (mormor) is lexicalized,

but in English the word grandmother is generally used for both.

Time concepts

To take a more abstract example, when we learn a word such as week or weekend, we

are inheriting a conceptual system that operates with amounts of time as common

categories. Having words for units of time such as “two days” or “seven days” shows

that we can think of time (i.e. something abstract, with no physical existence) in

amounts, using noun phrases, in the same way as “two people” or “seven books” (i.e.

something physical). In another world view, time may not be treated in this way. In

the Hopi language, spoken in Arizona, there were traditionally no terms equivalent to

most of our time words and phrases (two hours, thirty minutes) because our terms

express concepts from a culture operating on “clock time.” Perhaps for a similar

reason there was no term for a unit of seven days. There was no “week,” nor was

there a term for “Saturday and Sunday” combined as a unit of time. Though it may

seem difficult to imagine when we view another culture from the perspective of our

own, there really was no “weekend.”

suku’un: older brother and parent’s younger brother

tataa’: parent’s older brother and grandfather

272 The Study of Language

 

 

Linguistic relativity

In these examples, we have treated differences in language use as evidence of

different ways of talking about external reality. This is often discussed in terms of

linguistic relativity because it seems that the structure of our language, with its

predetermined categories, must have an influence on how we perceive the world. In

its weak version, this idea simply captures the fact that we not only talk, but to a

certain extent probably also think about the world of experience, using the categories

provided by our language. Our first language seems to have a definite role in shaping

“habitual thought,” that is, the way we think about things as we go about our daily

lives, without analyzing how we’re thinking.

There is a stronger version of this idea, called linguistic determinism, which

holds that “language determines thought.” If language does indeed determine thought,

then we will only be able to think in the categories provided by our language. For

example, English speakers use one word for “snow,” and generally see all that white

stuff as one thing. In contrast, so the argument goes, Eskimos look out at all the white

stuff and see it as many different things because they have lots of different words for

“snow.” So, the category system inherent in the language determines how the speaker

interprets and articulates experience. We will return to the topic of “snow,” but the

proposal just described provides a good example of an approach to analyzing the

connection between language and culture that dates back to the eighteenth century.

The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis

The general analytic perspective we are considering is part of what became known as

the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis during the middle of the twentieth century. At a time

when American linguistics was still mainly carried out by scholars with strong

backgrounds in anthropology, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf produced argu-

ments that the languages of native Americans, such as the Hopi, led them to view

the world differently from those who spoke European languages. We have already

noted a difference between Hopi and English in the treatment of time. According to

Whorf, the Hopi perceive the world differently from other tribes (including the

English-speaking tribe) because their language leads them to do so. In the grammar

of Hopi, there is a distinction between “animate” and “inanimate,” and among the set

of entities categorized as “animate” are clouds and stones. Whorf claimed that the

Hopi believe that clouds and stones are living entities and that it is their language that

leads them to believe this. English does not mark in its grammar that clouds and

stones are “animate,” so English speakers do not see the world in the same way as the

Hopi. In Whorf’s words, “We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native

languages” (see Carroll, Levinson and Lee, 2012).

Language and culture 273

 

 

Against the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis

It is important to remember that Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf did not actually

write a book or even an article together advocating the hypothesis that bears their

names. In fact, there is now some doubt that the theoretical point of view attributed to

them was as deterministic as their detractors have argued. Nevertheless, a number of

arguments have been presented against the linguistic thinking that supported some of

the opinions expressed, especially those of Whorf. Following Sampson (1980), let us

imagine a tribe with a language in which differences in sex are marked grammatically,

so that the terms used for females, such as girl and woman, have special markings in

the language. On close inspection, we find that these “feminine” markings are also

used with the words for stone and door. Are we forced to conclude that this tribe

believes that stones and doors are female entities in the same way as girls and

women? This tribe is not an obscure group. They use the expressions la femme

(“the woman”), la pierre (“the stone”) and la porte (“the door”). It is the tribe that

lives in France. Should we conclude that French speakers believe that stones and

doors are “female” in the same way as women?

The problem with the conclusions invited in both the Hopi and French cases is

that there is a confusion between linguistic classification (“animate,” “feminine”) and

biological classification (“living,” “female”). There is frequently a correspondence in

languages between these classifications, but there does not have to be. Moreover, the

linguistic forms do not force us to ignore biological distinctions. While the Hopi

language has a particular linguistic classification for the word stone, it does not mean

that Hopi truck drivers worry about killing living creatures if they run over some

stones while driving.

Snow

Returning to “snow” in cold places, we should first replace “Eskimo” with more

accurate terms for the people, Inuit, and their language, Inuktitut. According to Martin

(1986), the Inuit of West Greenland have only two basic words for “snow” (qanik,

“snow in the air,” and aput, “snow on the ground”). So, from one point of view, we

could say that in this language there are really only two words for snow. However, in

the same way as speakers of other languages, the Inuit are able to create, from these

two basic elements, a large number of common expressions for different snow-related

phenomena. Thus it may be more accurate to say they have lots of phrases, rather

than words, for referring to snow. Yet there seems to be no compelling reason to

suppose that those expressions are controlling vision or thought among their users.

Some expressions will occur frequently in the context of habitual experiences, but it is

the human who is thinking about the experience and determining what will be

expressed, not the language.

274 The Study of Language

 

 

Non-lexicalized categories

English does lexicalize some conceptual distinctions in the area of “snow,” with

sleet, slush and snowflake as examples. We might also include avalanche and

blizzard. However, English speakers can also create phrases and other complex

expressions, by manipulating their language, to refer to fresh snow, powdery snow,

spring snow or the dirty stuff that is piled up on the side of the street after the snow-

plouw has gone through. These may be categories of snow for English speakers, but

they are non-lexicalized (“not expressed as a single word”). English speakers can

express category variation by making a distinction using lexicalized categories (It’s

more like slush than snow outside) and also by indicating special reference using

non-lexicalized distinctions (We decorated the windows with some fake plastic snow

stuff), but most of them will have a very different view of “snow” from the average

speaker of Inuktitut.

We inherit a language used to report knowledge, so we would expect that

language to influence the organization of our knowledge in some way. However,

we also inherit the ability to manipulate and be creative with that language in order

to express our perceptions. When the Hopi borrowed the word santi (“Sunday”)

from English-speaking missionaries, they used it to refer to the period beginning

with one santi and ending with the next santi, essentially developing their own

concept of our “week.” If thinking and perception were totally determined by

language, then the concept of language change would be impossible. If a young

Hopi girl had no word in her language for the object known to us as a computer,

would she fail to perceive the object? Would she be unable to think about it? What

the Hopi girl can do when she encounters a new entity is change her language to

accommodate the need to refer to the new entity. The human manipulates the

language, not the other way round.

Cognitive categories

As a way of analyzing cognition, or how people think, we can look at language

structure for clues, not for causes. The fact that Hopi speakers inherit a language

system in which clouds have “animate” as a feature may tell us something about a

traditional belief system, or way of thinking, that is part of their culture and not ours.

In the Yagua language, spoken in Peru, the set of entities with “animate” as a feature

includes the moon, rocks and pineapples, as well as people. In the traditions of the

Yagua, all these entities are treated as valued objects, so that their cultural interpret-

ation of the feature “animate” may be closer to the concept “having special import-

ance in life” rather than the concept “having life,” as in the cultural interpretation of

most English speakers.

Language and culture 275

 

 

Classifiers

We know about the classification of words in languages like Yagua because of

grammatical markers called classifiers that indicate the type or “class” of noun

involved. For example, in Swahili (spoken in East Africa), different prefixes

are used as classifiers on nouns for humans (wa-), non-humans (mi-) and arti-

facts (vi-), as in watoto (“children”), mimea (“plants”) and visu (“knives”). In

fact, we can recognize a conceptual distinction between raw materials (miti,

“trees”) and artifacts made from them (viti, “chairs”) simply through the classi-

fiers used.

Classifiers are often used in connection with numbers to indicate the type of thing

being counted. In the following Japanese examples, the classifiers are associated with

objects conceptualized in terms of their shape as “long thin things” (hon), “flat thin

things” (mai) or “small round things” (ko).

banana ni-hon (“two bananas”)

syatu ni-mai (“two shirts”)

ringo ni-ko (“two apples”)

The closest English comes to using classifiers is when we talk about a “unit of”

certain types of things. There is a distinction in English between things treated

as countable (shirt, word, chair) and those treated as non-countable (clothing,

information, furniture). It is ungrammatical in English to use a/an or the plural

with non-countable nouns (i.e. *a clothing, *an information, *two furnitures). To

avoid these ungrammatical forms, we use classifier-type expressions such as “item

of” or “piece of,” as in an item of clothing, a bit of information and two pieces

of furniture. The equivalent nouns in many other languages are treated as

“countable,” so the existence of a grammatical class of “non-countable entities”

is evidence of a type of cognitive categorization underlying the expression of

quantity in English.

Social categories

Words such as uncle or grandmother, discussed earlier, provide examples of social

categories. These are categories of social organization that we can use to say how we

are connected or related to others. We can provide technical definitions (e.g. “male

parent’s brother”), but in many situations a word such as uncle is used for a much

larger number of people, including close friends, who are outside the class of individ-

uals covered by the technical definition. The word brother is similarly used among

many groups for someone who is not a family member. We can use these words as a

means of social categorization, that is, marking individuals as members of a group

defined by social connections.

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Address terms

When a man on the street asks another, Brother, can you spare a dollar?, the word

brother is being used as an address term (a word or phrase for the person being

talked or written to). By claiming the kind of closeness in relationship associated

with a family member, the speaker’s choice of address term is an attempt to create

solidarity (i.e. being the same in social status), perhaps leading to a willingness to

hand over some cash. He could have begun his request with Sir instead, indicating

an unequal relationship of power (i.e. being different in social status) and, since he

is the one who is clearly higher in status, perhaps Sir has the ability to hand over

some cash.

More typically, an interaction based on an unequal relationship will feature

address terms using a title (Doctor) or title plus last name (Professor Buckingham)

for the one with higher status, and first name only for the one with lower status, as

in: Professor Buckingham, can I ask a question? ~ Yes, Jennifer, what is it? More

equal relationships have address terms that indicate similar status of the partici-

pants, such as first names or nicknames: Bucky, ready for some more coffee? ~

Thanks, Jenny.

In many languages, there is a choice between pronouns used for addressees who

are socially close versus distant. This is known as the T/V distinction, as in the

French pronouns tu (close) and vous (distant). A similar type of social categorization

is found in German (du/Sie) and Spanish (tú/usted). In each of these distinctions, as

in older English usage (thou/you), the plural form is used to indicate that the speakers

do not really have a close relationship. Traditionally, these forms could be used to

mark a power relationship. The higher status or more powerful speaker could use tu

or thou to a lower-status addressee, but not vice versa, as the Quaker Richard Davis

discovered to his detriment (described in this chapter’s opening quotation). Lower-

status individuals had to use the vous forms when addressing those of higher status.

This usage is described as non-reciprocal, but the reciprocal use (both speakers using

the same form) of the tu forms has generally increased in Europe among younger

speakers, such as students, who may not know each other really well, but who find

themselves in the same situation.

In English, people without special titles are addressed as Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms.

Only the women’s address terms include information about their social status. In fact,

one address term for a woman indicates that she is the wife of a particular man as in

Mrs. Dexter Smith (or just Mrs. Smith). Dexter is never addressed as Mr. (Betsy)

Cuddlesworth. When the original system was put in place, women were identified

socially through their relationship to a man, either as wife or daughter. These address

terms continue to function as social category labels, identifying women, but not men,

as married or not. Awoman using Ms. as part of her address term is indicating that her

social categorization is not based on her marital status.

Language and culture 277

 

 

Gender

The observation that address terms for men and women are different leads us to a

consideration of the most fundamental difference in social categorization, the one

based on “gender.” We have already noted the difference between two uses of the

word gender in Chapter 7. Biological (or “natural”) gender is the distinction in sex

between the “male” and “female” of each species. Grammatical gender is the distinc-

tion between “masculine” and “feminine,” which is used to classify nouns in lan-

guages such as Spanish (el sol, la luna). A third use is for social gender, which is the

distinction we make when we use words like “man” and “woman” to classify individ-

uals in terms of their social roles.

Although the biological distinction (“male, female”) underlies the social distinc-

tions (“father, mother”), there is a great deal about the social roles of individuals as

men or women that is unrelated to biology. It is in the sense of social gender, through

the process of learning how to become a “boy” or a “girl,” that we inherit a gendered

culture. This process can be as simple as learning which category should wear pink

versus blue, or as complex as understanding how one category was excluded (by

having no vote) from the process of representative government for such a long time.

Becoming a social gender also involves becoming familiar with gendered language use.

Gendered words

In Sidamo, spoken in Ethiopia, there are some words used only by men and some

used only by women, so that the translation of “milk” would be ado by a man, but

gurda by a woman. In Japanese, when referring to themselves (“I”), men have

traditionally used boku and women watashi or atashi. In Portuguese, saying “thank

you” is obrigado if you’re a man and obrigada if you’re a woman.

These examples simply illustrate that there can be differences between the words

used by men and women in a variety of languages. There are other examples, used to

talk about men and women, which seem to imply that the words for men are

“normal” and the words for women are “special additions.” Pairs such as hero–

heroine or actor–actress illustrate the derivation of terms for the woman’s role from

the man’s. Marking this type of difference has decreased in contemporary American

English as firemen and policemen have become firefighters and police officers, but

there is still a strong tendency to treat forms for the man (his) as the normal means of

reference when speaking generally: Each student is required to buy his own dictionary.

However, alternatives that include both genders (his or her), or avoid gendered usage

(their) are becoming more common. Other terms, such as career woman and working

mother (rarely “career man” or “working father”) continue the pattern of special

terms for women, not men.

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Gendered structures

When we reviewed social variation (Chapter 19), noting the differences between

working-class and middle-class speech, we largely ignored gender differences. Yet

within each social class, there is substantial variation according to gender. Generally

speaking, whenever there is a higher- versus lower-prestige variable (e.g. talking/

talkin’ or I saw it/I seen it), women are more likely to use the higher-prestige forms.

The difference is most noticeable among middle-class speakers. In one study of

double negatives (e.g. I don’t want none) in lower-middle-class speech, substantially

more men (32%) than women (1%) used the structure. This regular pattern of

difference is sometimes explained in terms of women’s socialization to be more

careful, to be aware of social status, and to be more sensitive to how others may

judge them. An alternative explanation appeals to the socialization of men to be

strong, tough and independent. Forms which are non-standard or associated with

working-class speech may be preferred by men because of their association with

manual work, strength and toughness. And tough guys also have deep voices.

Gendered speech

In general, men have longer vocal tracts, larger larynxes and thicker vocal folds than

women. The result is that men typically speak in a lower pitch range (80–200 Herz)

than women (120–400 Herz). The term pitch is used to describe the effect of vibration

in the vocal folds, with slower vibration making voices sound lower and rapid

vibration making voices sound higher. Although “normal speaking” takes place with

substantial overlap in the pitch ranges of men and women, there is a tendency to

exaggerate the differences in many contexts in order to sound more “like a man” or

more “like a woman.”

Among women speaking contemporary American English, there is also generally

more use of pitch movement, that is, more rising and falling intonation. The use of

rising intonation (↑) at the end of statements (It happened near San Diego ↑, in

southern California ↑), the more frequent use of hedges (sort of, kind of) and tag

questions (It’s kind of cold in here, isn’t it?) have all been identified as characteristic of

women’s speech. Tag questions are short questions consisting of an auxiliary (don’t,

isn’t) and a pronoun (it, you), added to the end of a statement (I hate it when it rains

all day, don’t you?). They are used more often by women when expressing opinions.

These features of women’s speech all seem to be ways of inviting agreement with an

idea rather than asserting it. Men tend to use more assertive forms and “strong”

language (It’s too damn cold in here!). Other researchers have pointed to a preference

among women, in same-gender groups, for indirect speech acts (Could I see that

photo?) rather than the direct speech acts (Gimme that photo) heard more often from

men in same-gender groups.

Language and culture 279

 

 

Same-gender talk

It is important to pay attention to the concept of “same-gender” talk because much of

our socialization takes place in such groups. By the time we are three years old, we

have established a preference for talking to same-gender others. By the age of five, boys

are actively excluding girls from their activities and commenting negatively on boys

who associate with girls. Throughout childhood, boys socialize in larger groups, often

in competitive activities, establishing and maintaining hierarchical relationships (I’m

Spiderman and you have to follow me). Girls socialize in smaller groups, more often in

co-operative activities, establishing reciprocal relationships and exchanging roles (You

can be the doctor now and I’ll be ill). In many societies, this same-gender socialization

is reinforced through separate educational experiences. Not surprisingly then, there are

differences in the way each gender approaches interaction with the other.

Gendered interaction

Many of the features already identified in women’s speech (e.g. frequent question-

type forms) facilitate the exchange of turns, allowing others to speak, with the effect

that interaction becomes a shared activity. Interaction among men appears to be

organized in a more hierarchical way, with the right to speak or “having the floor”

being treated as the goal. Men generally take longer turns at speaking and, in many

social contexts (e.g. religious events), may be the only ones allowed to talk.

One effect of these different styles is that certain features become very salient in

cross-gender interactions. For example, in same-gender discussions, there is little

difference in the number of times speakers interrupt each other. However, in cross-

gender interactions, men are much more likely to interrupt women, with 96 percent of

interruptions made by men in one study involving American students.

In same-gender conversations, women produce more back-channels as indicators

of listening and paying attention. The term back-channels describes the use of words

(yeah, really?) or sounds (hmm, oh) by listeners while someone else is speaking. Men

not only produce fewer back-channels, but appear to treat them, when produced by

others, as indications of agreement. In cross-gender interaction, the absence of back-

channels from men tends to make women think the men are not paying attention to

them. The more frequent production of back-channels by women leads men to think

that the women are agreeing with what they’re saying.

These different interactional styles serve to add conversations between men and

women to the list of areas of “cross-cultural communication.” If we are to avoid

miscommunication in any cross-cultural context, we must all be prepared to try to

understand the impact of the cultures we inherit and, through the creativity with

language that we are also given, to find new ways of articulating those cultures before

we pass them on.

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STUDY QUESTIONS

1 What is one common definition of “culture” in the study of language?

2 What are kinship terms?

3 What is meant by “linguistic determinism”?

4 Why is this sentence ungrammatical?

*She gave me a good advice.

5 Is the following sentence more likely to be spoken by a woman or a man, and why?

I think that golf on television is kind of boring, don’t you?

6 In the Australian language Dyirbal, there are grammatical markers that distinguish

different cognitive categories represented by X and Y here.

X: “men, kangaroos, boomerangs”

Y: “women, fire, dangerous things”

(i) If you learn that in Dyirbal, “the sun is the wife of the moon,” in which

category would place “sun” and “moon”?

(ii) What is the technical term for grammatical markers of this type?

TASKS

A What is the difference between “cross-cultural”, “intercultural” and

“multicultural” communication?

B We noted some differences across languages in the number of words used to

describe colors. What is the “basic color term hierarchy”?

C We briefly considered a distinction that English makes between “countable” and

“non-countable.”

(i) Can you assign the following words to three sets, labeled “countable,” “non-

countable” and “both countable and non-countable”?

(ii) Which phrases referring to a “unit of” are typically used with the non-

countable nouns (e.g. a round of applause)?

applause, business, cash, chocolate, courage, crash, equipment, hair, lesson,

luck, mistake, mountain, noise, paper, party, rain, research, rubbish, salmon,

sand, shopping, tennis, theft, underwear

D According to Foley (1997), kinship terminology in Watam (a language spoken in

Papua New Guinea) is rather different from English. The word aes is used for both

father and father’s brother while aem is used for both mother and mother’s sister.

Language and culture 281

 

 

The words akwae and namkwae are used for mother’s brother and father’s sister

respectively.

(i) Using this information, can you complete the following comparative chart?

(ii) What would be the problems involved in translating the English words aunt

and uncle into Watam?

(iii) How do English speakers make a distinction when they’re talking about their

father’s brother versus their mother’s brother or their father’s sister versus

their mother’s sister?

E When a number is used with a noun in Ponapean (a language spoken in the

western Pacific), an appropriate classifier is also used, as described in Lynch

(1998). Some classifiers used as suffixes are -men (“animate things”), -pwoat (“long

things”), -mwut (“heaps of things”), -sop (“stalks of things”) and -dip (“slices of

things”). Examples of numerals are sili- (“three”) and pah- (“four”). Can you

complete these noun phrases with appropriate endings?

Example: pwutak reirei silimen (“three tall boys”)

(1) sehu _______________________ (“four stalks of sugarcane”)

(2) dipen mei ___________________ (“four slices of breadfruit”)

(3) mwutin dippw ________________ (“four piles of grass”)

(4) nahi pwihk __________________ (“my three pigs”)

(5) tuhke _______________________ (“a tree”)

F How can we avoid “genderizing” when completing utterances such as these?

(1) Everybody came in ________ own car.

(2) Someone called, but ______ didn’t leave ______ name.

(3) A friend of mine told me _____ had met Brad Pitt in New Orleans.

(4) Every student must bring ______ dictionary to class.

(5) You won’t be the first or last man or woman who gets ______ involved in a

holiday romance.

(6) Nicole has a new baby and ______ cries a lot at night.

(7) My professor promised ____ would write me a letter of recommendation.

(8) I got an email from someone called Chris who said that ______ was looking

forward to meeting me.

English Kinship category Watam

mother female parent ________

________ female parent’s sister ________

________ male parent’s sister ________

________ male parent ________

________ male parent’s brother ________

________ female parent’s brother ________

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G Many languages contain “evidentials,” which are markers that indicate how sure

the speaker is about the truth or reliability of the information being communicated.

Some of these evidential markers can be found in the following examples from

Quechua, a language spoken in Peru and other countries in the Andes region of

South America (adapted from Weber, 1986).

(i) Can you identify the three evidential markers being used in the following

examples?

(ii) What do you think are the three levels of reliability being expressed here?

(1)

(2)

(3)

(4)

(5)

(6)

(7)

(8)

(9)

(10)

Ima-shi kaykan chaychaw rikaykamunki

what there is there go see

(= “Go and see what’s there”)

Chay-ta musya-yka-chi

that know I

(= “I don’t know anything about that”)

Qam-pis maqa-ma-shka-nki-mi

you also hit me past

(= “I felt you hit me”)

Wañu -nqa-paq-chi

die -it future

(= “Perhaps it will die”)

Chawra utkupa murullanta-shi tarimun

so cotton just seed she found

(= “So she found only cotton seed”)

Wañu -nqa-paq-mi

die -it future

(= “I’m sure that it will die”)

Qam-pis maqa-ma-shka-nki-chi

you also -hit me past

(= “You may be one of a group of people who hit me”)

Wañu -nqa-paq-shi

die it future

(= “I was told that it will die”)

Noqa aywa-yka-chi qam-paq-qa

I going I you-topic

(= “You might have thought I was going for you, but I’m not”)

Qam-pis maqa-ma-shka-nki-shi

you also hit me past

(= “Someone has informed me that you hit me [when I was drunk]”)

Language and culture 283

 

 

DISCUSSION TOPICS/PROJECTS

I Why do you think there continue to be frequent references to the idea that

“Eskimos have a hundred words for snow”? How would you try to convince

someone who thinks this is a fact that it is best treated as a myth?

(For background reading, see chapter 19 of Pullum, 1991.)

II Is there a difference between “interruption” and “overlap” in conversation?

What do you think is meant by the distinction between “report talk” and

“rapport talk”? Should we distinguish between “fast-talking” and “slow-talking”

styles rather than attribute certain features of interaction to men

versus women?

(For background reading, see chapter 7 of Tannen, 1990.)

FURTHER READING

Basic treatments

Kramsch, C. (1998) Language and Culture Oxford University Press

Duranti, A. (2001) Key Terms in Language and Culture Blackwell

More detailed treatmentss

Foley, W. (1997) Anthropological Linguistics: An Introduction Blackwell

Danesi, M. (2012) Linguistic Anthropology: A Brief Introduction Canadian Scholars Press

Culture

Kuper, A. (1999) Culture: The Anthropologists’ Account Harvard University Press

Categories

Taylor, J. (2003) Linguistic Categorization (3rd edition) Oxford University Press

Color terms

Deutscher, G. (2010) Through the Language Glass Metropolitan Books

Linguistic relativity

Boroditsky, L. (2003) “Linguistic relativity” In L. Nadel (ed.) Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science

(917–921) Nature Publishing Group

Leavitt, J. (2011) Linguistic Relativities Cambridge University Press

The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis

Carroll, J., S. Levinson and P. Lee (eds.) (2012) Language, Thought and Reality: Selected

Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (2nd edition) MIT Press

Cognitive categories

Evans, V. (2007) A Glossary of Cognitive Linguistics Edinburgh University Press

Ungerer, F. and H-J. Schmid (2006) An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics (2nd edition)

(chapter 1) Longman

Classifiers

Aikhenvald, A. (2000) Classifiers Oxford University Press

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Social categories

Mesthrie, R., J. Swann, A. Deumert and W. Leap (2009) Introducing Sociolinguistics (2nd

edition) John Benjamins

Developing social gender

Maccoby, E. (1998) The Two Sexes Harvard University Press

Gender and language

Coates, J. (2004) Women, Men and Language (3rd edition) Longman

Eckert, P. and S. McConnell-Ginet (2013) Language and Gender (2nd edition) Cambridge

University Press

Jule, A. (2008) A Beginner’s Guide to Language and Gender Multilingual Matters

Sources of examples

(Dyirbal) Lakoff, G. (1987) Women, Fire and Dangerous Things University of Chicago Press

(Hopi) Malotki, E. (1983) Hopi Time Walter de Gruyter

(Inuit) Martin, L. (1986) “Eskimo words for snow: a case study in the genesis and decay of an

anthropological example” American Anthropologist 88: 418–423

(Japanese) Frawley, W. (1992) Linguistic Semantics Lawrence Erlbaum

(Mopan Maya) Danziger, E. (2001) Relatively Speaking Oxford University Press

(Ponapean) Lynch, J. (1998) Pacific Languages University of Hawai‘i Press

(Quechua) Weber, D. (1986) “Information perspective, profile and patterns in Quechua” In

W. Chafe and J. Nichols (eds.) Evidentiality: The Linguistic Coding of Epistemology

(137–155) Ablex

(Sidamo) Hudson, G. (2000) Essential Introductory Linguistics Blackwell

(Swahili) Hinnebusch, T. (1987) “Swahili” In T. Shopen (ed.) Languages and Their Status

(209–294) University of Pennsylvania Press

(Watam) Foley, W. (1997) Anthropological Linguistics Blackwell

Other references

Pullum, G. (1991) The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax University of Chicago Press

Sampson, G. (1980) Schools of Linguistics Stanford University Press

Tannen, D. (1990) You Just Don’t Understand William Morrow

Language and culture 285

 

 

Glossary

AAVE: African American Vernacular English

accent: aspects of pronunciation that identify

where a speaker is from, in contrast to

dialect

acoustic phonetics: the study of the physical

properties of speech as sound waves

acquisition: the gradual development of

ability in a first or second language by

using it naturally in communicative

situations

acronym: a new word formed from the initial

letters of other words (e.g. NASA)

active voice: the form of the verb used to say

what the subject does (e.g. He stole it)

address term: a word or phrase for the person

being talked or written to

adjective (Adj): a word such as happy or

strange used with a noun to provide more

information

adverb (Adv): a word such as slowly or really

used with a verb or adjective to provide

more information

affective factors: emotional reactions such as

self-consciousness or negative feelings that

may influence learning

affix: a bound morpheme such as un- or -ed

added to a word (e.g. undressed)

affricate: a consonant produced by stopping

then releasing the airflow through a narrow

opening (e.g. the first and last sounds in

church)

African American English (AAE): a social

dialect used by many African Americans in

different regions of the USA

African American Vernacular English

(AAVE): the casual speech style used by

many African Americans as a vernacular

agent: the semantic role of the noun phrase

identifying the one who performs the

action of the verb in an event (The boy

kicked the ball)

agrammatic speech: the type of speech

without grammatical markers, often

associated with Broca’s aphasia

agreement: the grammatical connection

between two parts of a sentence, as in the

connection between a subject (Cathy) and

the form of a verb (loves chocolate)

allomorph: one of a closely related set of

morphs

allophone: one of a closely related set of

speech sounds or phones

alphabet (alphabetic writing): a way of

writing in which one symbol represents

one sound segment

alternate sign language: a system of hand

signals used in a specific context where

speech cannot be used (by people who can

speak), in contrast to a primary sign

language

alveolar ridge: the rough bony ridge

immediately behind the upper front teeth

alveolar: a consonant produced with the

front part of the tongue on the alveolar

ridge (e.g. the first and last sounds in dot)

Ameslan (or ASL): American Sign Language

analogy: a process of forming a new word to

be similar in some way to an existing word

 

 

anaphora (anaphoric expressions): use of

pronouns (it) and noun phrases with the

(the puppy) to refer back to something

already mentioned

anomia: a language disorder in which it is

difficult to find words, often associated

with Wernicke’s aphasia

antecedent: the first mention of someone

or something later referred to via

anaphora

antonymy: the lexical relation in which

words have opposite meanings (“Shallow”

is an antonym of “deep”)

aphasia: an impairment of language function

die to localized brain damage that leads to

difficulty in understanding and/or

producing language

applied linguistics: the study of a large range

of practical issues involving language in

general and second language learning in

particular

arbitrariness: a property of language

describing the fact that there is no natural

connection between a linguistic form and

its meaning

arcuate fasciculus: a bundle of nerve fibers

connecting Broca’s area and Wernicke’s

area in the left hemisphere of the brain

article (Art): a word such as a, an or the used

with a noun

articulatory parameters: the four key aspects

of visual information used in the

description of signs (shape, orientation,

location and movement)

articulatory phonetics: the study of how

speech sounds are produced

ASL (or Ameslan): American Sign Language

aspiration: a puff of air that sometimes

accompanies the pronunciation of a stop

assimilation: the process whereby a feature of

one sound becomes part of another during

speech production

associative meaning: the type of meaning

that people might connect with the use of

words (e.g. needle ¼ “painful”) that is not part of conceptual meaning

audiolingual method: a mid-twentieth-

century approach to language teaching,

with repetitive drills used to develop

fluent spoken language as a set

of habits

auditory phonetics: the study of the

perception of speech sounds by the ear,

also called “perceptual phonetics”

auxiliary verb (Aux): a verb such as will

used with another verb

babbling: the use of syllable sequences

(ba-ba) and combinations (ma-ga) by

young children in their first year

back-channels: the use of words (yeah) and

sounds (hmm) by listeners while someone

else is speaking

backformation: the process of reducing a

word such as a noun to a shorter version

and using it as a new word such as a verb

(e.g. babysit from babysitter)

background knowledge: information that is

not in a text, but is used from memory by a

reader to understand the text

beats: gestures involving short quick

movements of the hands or fingers that go

along with the rhythm of talk

bidialectal: being capable of speaking two

dialects

bilabial: a consonant produced by using both

lips (e.g. the first and last sounds in pub)

bilingual: a term used to describe a native

speaker of two languages or a country with

two official languages, in contrast to

monolingual

bilingualism: the state of having two

languages

blending: the process of combining the

beginning of one word and the end of

another word to form a new word (e.g.

brunch from breakfast and lunch)

borrowing: the process of taking words from

other languages

Glossary 287

 

 

bound morpheme: a morpheme such as un-

or -ed that cannot stand alone and must be

attached to another form (e.g. undressed)

bow-wow theory: the idea that early human

speech developed from imitations of

natural sounds in the environment

broadening: a semantic change in which a

word is used with a more general meaning

(e.g. foda (animal fodder) ! food (any kind)), in contrast to narrowing

Broca’s aphasia: a language disorder in

which speech production is typically

reduced, distorted, slow and missing

grammatical markers

Broca’s area: a part of the brain in the left

hemisphere involved in speech production

calque: a type of borrowing in which each

element of a word is translated into the

borrowing language (e.g. gratte-ciel “scrape

sky” for skyscraper)

caregiver speech: speech addressed to young

children by the adult(s) or older children

who are looking after them

cataphora: similar to anaphora, but reversing

the antecedent–anaphora relationship,

often beginning with a pronoun and a

descriptive noun phrase later

category: a group with certain features in

common

characters: forms used in Chinese writing

classifiers: grammatical markers that indicate

the type or “class” of a noun

clipping: the process of reducing a word of

more than one syllable to a shorter form

(e.g. ad from advertisement)

closed syllable: a syllable that ends with a

consonant or (coda)

coarticulation: the process of making one

sound virtually at the same time as the next

sound

coda: the part of a syllable after the vowel

cognates: words in different languages that

have a similar form and meaning (e.g.

English friend and German Freund)

cognitive category: a category used in the

organization of how we think

coherence: the connections that readers and

listeners create in their minds to arrive at a

meaningful interpretation of texts

cohesion: the ties and connections between

words that exist within texts

cohesive ties: the individual connections

between words and phrases in a text

co-hyponyms: words in hyponymy that

share the same superordinate (“Daffodil”

and “rose” are co-hyponyms of “flower”)

coinage: the invention of new words (e.g.

xerox)

collocation: a relationship between words

that frequently occur together (e.g. salt and

pepper)

communication strategy: a way of

overcoming a gap between communicative

intent and a limited ability to express

that intent, as part of strategic

competence

communicative approaches: approaches to

language teaching that are based on

learning through using language rather

than learning about language

communicative competence: the general

ability to use language accurately,

appropriately and flexibly

communicative signals: behavior used

intentionally to provide information

comparative reconstruction: the creation of

the original form of an ancestor language

on the basis of comparable forms in

languages that are descendants

complementizer (C): word such as that

introducing a complement phrase

complement phrase (CP): a structure such as

that Mary helped George used to complete a

construction beginning with a structure

such as Cathy knew

completion point: in conversation, the end of

a turn, usually marked by a pause at the

end of a phrase or sentence

288 Glossary

 

 

compounding: the process of combining

two (or more) words to form a new word

(e.g. waterbed)

conceptual meaning: the basic components

of meaning conveyed by the literal use

of words

conduction aphasia: a language disorder

associated with damage to the arcuate

fasciculus in which repeating words or

phrases is difficult

conjunction: a word such as and or because

used to make connections between words,

phrases and sentences

consonant: a speech sound produced by

restricting the airflow in some way

consonantal alphabet: a way of writing in

which each symbol represents a consonant

sound

consonant cluster: two or more consonants

in sequence

constituent analysis: a grammatical analysis

of how small constituents (or components)

go together to form larger constituents in

sentences

context: either the physical context or the

linguistic context (co-text) in which

words are used

convergence: adopting a speech style that

attempts to reduce social distance by using

forms that are similar to those used by the

person being talked to, as a type of speech

accommodation, in contrast to divergence

conversation analysis: the study of turn-

taking in conversation

conversion: the process of changing the

function of a word, such as a noun to a

verb, as a way of forming new words, also

known as “category change” or “functional

shift” (e.g. vacation in They’re vacationing

in Florida)

cooing: the earliest use of speech-like sounds

by an infant in the first few months

co-operative principle: an underlying

assumption of conversation that you will

“make your conversational contribution

such as is required, at the stage at which it

occurs, by the accepted purpose or

direction of the talk exchange in which you

are engaged”

corpus linguistics: the study of language in

use by analyzing the occurrence and

frequency of forms in a large collection of

texts typically stored in a computer

co-text: the set of other words used in the

same phrase or sentence, also called the

linguistic context

countable: type of noun that can be used

in English with a/an and the plural

(e.g. a cup, two cups), in contrast to

non-countable

covert prestige: the status of a speech style

or feature as having positive value, but

which is “hidden” or not valued similarly

among the larger community, in contrast to

overt prestige

creole: a variety of a language that developed

from a pidgin and is used as a first

language by a population of native speakers

creolization: the process of development

from a pidgin to a creole, in contrast to

decreolization

critical period: the time from birth to puberty

during which normal first language

acquisition can take place

cultural transmission: the process whereby

knowledge of a language is passed from

one generation to the next

culture: socially acquired knowledge

cuneiform: a way of writing created by

pressing a wedge-shaped implement into

soft clay

decreolization: the process whereby a creole

is used with fewer distinct creole features

as it becomes more like a standard variety,

in contrast to creolization

deep structure: the underlying structure of

sentences as represented by phrase

structure rules

Glossary 289

 

 

deictics: gestures used to point at things or

people

deixis (deictic expressions): using words

such as this or here as a way of “pointing”

with language

dental: a consonant produced with the

tongue tip behind the upper front teeth

(e.g. the first sound in that)

derivation: the process of forming new words

by adding affixes

derivational morpheme: a bound

morpheme such as -ish used to make new

words or words of a different grammatical

category (e.g. boyish), in contrast to an

inflectional morpheme

descriptive approach: an approach to

grammar that is based on a description of

the structures actually used in a language,

not what should be used, in contrast to the

prescriptive approach

diachronic variation: differences resulting

from change over a period of time, in

contrast to synchronic variation

dialect: aspects of the grammar, vocabulary

and pronunciation of a variety of a

language, in contrast to accent

dialect boundary: a line representing a set of

isoglosses, used to separate one dialect

area from another

dialect continuum: the gradual merging of

one regional variety of a language into

another

dialectology: the study of dialects

dichotic listening: an experiment in which a

listener hears two different sounds

simultaneously, each through a different

earphone

diglossia: a situation where there is a “high”

or special variety of a language used in

formal situations (e.g. Classical Arabic),

and a “low” variety used locally and

informally (e.g. Lebanese Arabic)

digraph: a combination of letters used in

writing for a single sound (e.g. “ph” for /f/)

diphthong: a sound combination that begins

with a vowel and ends with a glide (e.g.

boy)

direct speech act: an action in which the form

used (e.g. interrogative) directly matches

the function (e.g. question) performed by a

speaker with an utterance, in contrast to

an indirect speech act

discourse analysis: the study of language

beyond the sentence, in text and

conversation

displacement: a property of language that

allows users to talk about things and

events not present in the immediate

environment

divergence: adopting a speech style that

emphasizes social distance by using forms

that are different from those used by the

person being talked to, as a form of speech

accommodation, in contrast to

convergence

duality: a property of language whereby

linguistic forms have two simultaneous

levels of sound production and meaning,

also called “double articulation”

Early Modern English: the form of English in

use between 1500 and 1700

elision: the process of leaving out a sound

segment in the pronunciation of a word

emblems: non-verbal signals such as

“thumbs up” (¼ things are good) that function like fixed phrases with

conventional interpretations

epenthesis: a sound change involving

the addition of a sound to a word

(e.g. timr ! timber) eponym: a word derived from the name of a

person or place (e.g. sandwich)

etymology: the study of the origin and history

of words

experiencer: the semantic role of the noun

phrase identifying the entity that has the

feeling, perception or state described by the

verb (e.g. The boy feels sad)

290 Glossary

 

 

external change: influences from the outside

that cause changes in a language, in

contrast to internal change

face: a person’s public self-image as described

in the study of politeness

face-saving act: saying something that

reduces a possible threat to another

person’s self-image

face-threatening act: saying something that

represents a threat to another person’s

self-image

filled pause: a break in the flow of speech,

using sounds such as em and er

finger-spelling: a system of hand

configurations used to represent the letters

of the alphabet in sign language

fixed reference: a property of a

communication system whereby each

signal is fixed as relating to one particular

object or occasion

flap: a sound produced with the tongue tip

briefly touching the alveolar ridge

foreigner talk: a way of using a language with

non-native speakers that is simpler in

structure and vocabulary

fossilization: the process whereby an

interlanguage, containing many non-L2

features, stops developing toward more

accurate forms of the L2

free morpheme: a morpheme that can stand

by itself as a single word

fricative: a consonant produced by almost

blocking the airflow (e.g. the first and last

sounds in five)

functional morpheme: a free morpheme that

is used as a function word, such as a

conjunction (and) or a preposition (in)

gender: a term used in three ways:

(1) a biological distinction between male

and female, also called natural gender;

(2) a distinction between classes of nouns

as masculine, feminine (or neuter),

also called grammatical gender;

(3) a distinction between the social roles

of men and women, also called social

gender

generative grammar: a set of rules defining

the possible sentences in a language

gestures: use of the hands, typically while

speaking

glides: sounds produced with the tongue in

motion to or from a vowel sound, also

called “semi-vowels” or “approximants”

(e.g. the first sounds in wet, yes)

glossolalia: also known as “speaking in

tongues,” the production of sounds and

syllables in a stream of speech that seems

to have no communicative purpose

glottal: a sound produced in the space

between the vocal folds (e.g. the first

sound in hat)

glottal stop: a sound produced when the air

passing through the glottis is stopped

completely then released

glottis: the space between the vocal folds

goal: the semantic role of the noun phrase

identifying where an entity moves to (e.g.

The boy walked to the window)

gradable antonyms: words with opposite

meanings along a scale (e.g. big–small)

grammar: the analysis of the structure of

phrases and sentences

grammar–translation method: the

traditional form of language teaching,

with vocabulary lists and sets of grammar

rules

grammatical competence: the ability to use

words and structures accurately as part of

communicative competence

grammatical gender: a grammatical category

designating the class of a noun as

masculine or feminine (or neuter), in

contrast to other types of gender

hedge: a word or phrase used to indicate that

you are not really sure that what you are

saying is sufficiently correct or complete

hierarchical organization: the analysis of

constituents in a sentence showing which

Glossary 291

 

 

constituents are higher than and contain

other constituents

holophrastic (utterance): a single form

functioning as a phrase or sentence in the

early speech of young children

homonyms: two words with the same form

that are unrelated in meaning (e.g. mole

(on skin) – mole (small animal))

homophones: two or more words with

different forms and the same pronunciation

(e.g. to–too–two)

hypocorism: a word-formation process in

which a longer word is reduced to a shorter

form with -y or -ie at the end (e.g. telly,

movie)

hyponymy: the lexical relation in which the

meaning of one word is included in the

meaning of another (e.g. “Daffodil” is a

hyponym of “flower”)

iconics: gestures that seem to echo or imitate

the meaning of what is said

ideogram (ideographic writing): a way of

writing in which each symbol represents a

concept

idiolect: the personal dialect of an individual

speaker

implicature: an additional meaning conveyed

by a speaker adhering to the co-operative

principle

indirect speech act: an action in which the

form used (e.g. interrogative) does not

directly match the function (e.g. request)

performed by a speaker with an utterance,

in contrast to a direct speech act

inference: additional information used by a

listener/reader to create a connection

between what is said and what must be

meant

infix: a morpheme that is inserted in the

middle of a word (e.g. -rn- in srnal)

inflectional morpheme: a bound morpheme

used to indicate the grammatical function

of a word, also called an “inflection”

(e.g. dogs, walked)

informative signals: behavior that provides

information, usually unintentionally

innateness hypothesis: the idea that humans

are genetically equipped to acquire

language

input: the language that an acquirer/learner is

exposed to, in contrast to output

instrument: the semantic role of the noun

phrase identifying the entity that is used to

perform the action of the verb (e.g. The boy

cut the rope with a razor)

instrumental motivation: the desire to learn

an L2, not to join the community of

L2-users, but to achieve some other goal, in

contrast to integrative motivation

integrative motivation: the desire to learn an

L2 in order to take part in the social life of

the community of L2-users, in contrast to

instrumental motivation

interdental: a consonant produced with the

tongue tip between the upper and lower

teeth (e.g. the first sound in that)

interlanguage: the interim system of L2

learners, which has some features of the L1

and L2 plus some that are independent of

the L1 and the L2

internal change: change in a language that is

not caused by outside influence, in contrast

to external change

isogloss: a line on a map separating two areas

in which a particular linguistic feature is

significantly different, used in the study of

dialect

jargon: special technical vocabulary

associated with a specific activity or topic

as part of a register

kinship terms: words used to refer to people

who are members of the same family that

indicate their relationship with other

members

L1: first language, acquired as a child

L2: second language

labeled and bracketed sentences: a type of

analysis in which constituents in a

292 Glossary

 

 

sentence are marked off by brackets

with labels describing each type of

constituent

labiodental: a consonant produced with the

upper teeth and the lower lip (e.g. the first

sounds in very funny)

language planning: choosing and developing

an official language or languages for use in

government and education

larynx: the part of the throat that contains the

vocal folds, also called the voice box

lateralization (lateralized): divided into a

left side and a right side, with control of

functions on one side or the other (used in

describing the human brain)

learning: the conscious process of

accumulating knowledge, in contrast to

acquisition

lexicalized: expressed as a single word, in

contrast to non-lexicalized

lexical morpheme: a free morpheme that is a

content word such as a noun or verb

lexical relations: the relationships of

meaning, such as synonymy, between

words

lexical rules: rules stating which words can

be used for constituents generated by

phrase structure rules

lexifier (language): the main source

(language) of words in a pidgin

linguistic context: the set of other words used

in the same phrase or sentence, also called

co-text

linguistic determinism: the idea that we can

only think in the categories provided by

our language, in contrast to linguistic

relativity

linguistic geography: the study of language

variation based on where different varieties

of the language are used

linguistic relativity: the idea that, to some

extent, we think about the world using

categories provided by our language, in

contrast to linguistic determinism

linguistic variable: a feature of language use

that distinguishes one group of speakers

from another

liquid: a sound produced by letting air flow

around the sides of the tongue (e.g. the first

sound in lip)

loan-translation: a type of borrowing in

which each element of a word is translated

into the borrowing language, also called

calque

localization view: the belief that specific

aspects of linguistic ability have specific

locations in the brain

location (in semantics): the semantic role of

the noun phrase identifying where an

entity is (e.g. The boy is sitting in the

classroom)

location (in sign language): an articulatory

parameter of ASL identifying the place

where hands are positioned in relation to

the head and upper body of the signer

logogram (logographic writing): a way of

writing in which each symbol represents

a word

majority principle: in comparative

reconstruction, the choice of the form that

occurs more often than any other form in

the set of descendant languages

malapropism: a speech error in which one

word is used instead of another with a

similar beginning, end and number of

syllables (e.g. medication used instead of

“meditation”)

manner maxim: the assumption in

conversation that we will “be clear, brief

and orderly”

maxim: one of four assumptions in

conversation connected to the

co-operative principle

metathesis: a sound change involving the

reversal in position of two sounds

(e.g. hros ! horse) metonymy: a word used in place of another

with which it is closely connected in

Glossary 293

 

 

everyday experience (e.g. He drank the

whole bottle (¼ the liquid)) Middle English: the form of English in use

between 1100 and 1500

minimal pair (set): two (or more) words that

are identical in form except for a contrast

in one phoneme in the same position in

each word (e.g. bad, mad)

Modern English: the form of English in use

since 1700

monolingual: having, or being able to

use, only one language, in contrast to

bilingual

morph: an actual form used as part of a word,

representing one version of a morpheme

morpheme: a minimal unit of meaning or

grammatical function

morphology: the analysis of the structure of

words

most natural development principle: in

comparative reconstruction, the choice of

older versus newer forms on the basis of

commonly observed types of sound change

motor cortex: a part of the brain that controls

muscle movement

movement: an articulatory parameter in

ASL describing the type of motion used in

forming signs

movement rules: rules that are used to move

constituents in structures derived from

phrase structure rules. They have a

special rewrite arrow: ) narrowing: a semantic change in which a

word is used with a less general meaning

(e.g. mete (any type of food) ! meat (only animal flesh)), in contrast to broadening

nasal: a sound produced through the nose

(e.g. the first sounds in my name)

nasalization: pronunciation of a sound with

air flowing through the nose, typically

before a nasal consonant

natural class: a set of sounds with phonetic

features in common, such as /p/, /t/ and

/k/ in English, which are all voiceless stops

natural gender: a distinction based on the

biological categories of male, female

or neither, in contrast to other types of

gender

negative face: the need to be independent and

free from imposition, in contrast to

positive face

negative transfer: the use of a feature from

the L1 (that is really different from the L2)

while performing in the L2, in contrast to

positive transfer

negotiated input: L2 material that an

acquirer/learner is exposed to when active

attention is drawn to that material during

interaction in the L2

neologism: a new word

neurolinguistics: the study of the

relationship between language and the

brain

non-countable: type of noun that is not used

in English with a/an or the plural (e.g.

*a furniture, *two furnitures), in contrast

to countable

non-gradable antonyms: words which are

direct opposites (e.g. alive–dead)

non-lexicalized: not expressed as a single

word, in contrast to lexicalized

NORMS: “non-mobile, older, rural, male

speakers” selected as informants in dialect

surveys

noun (N): a word such as boy, bicycle or

freedom used to describe a person, thing or

idea

noun phrase (NP): a phrase such as the boy

or an old bicycle, containing a noun plus

other constituents

nucleus: the vowel in a syllable

number: the grammatical category of nouns

as singular or plural

Old English: the form of English in use

before 1100.

one-word stage: the period in L1 acquisition

when children can produce single terms

for objects

294 Glossary

 

 

onomatopoeia (onomatopoeic): words

containing sounds similar to the noises

they describe (e.g. bang, cuckoo)

onset: the part of the syllable before the

vowel

open syllable: a syllable that ends with a

vowel (or nucleus) and has no coda

oralism: a method designed to teach deaf

students to speak and read lips rather than

use sign language

orientation: the way the hand is positioned as

an articulatory parameter of ASL

orthography: the spelling system of a

language

output: the language produced by an

acquirer/learner, in contrast to input

overextension: in L1 acquisition, using a

word to refer to more objects than is usual

in the language (ball used to refer to the

moon)

overgeneralization: in L1 acquisition, using

an inflectional morpheme on more words

than is usual in the language (e.g. two

foots)

overt prestige: status that is generally

recognized as “better” or more positively

valued in the larger community, in contrast

to covert prestige

palate: the hard part of the roof of the mouth

palatal: a consonant produced by raising

the tongue to the palate, also called

“alveo-palatal” (e.g. the first sounds in ship

and yacht)

passive voice: the form of the verb used

to say what happens to the subject

(e.g. The car was stolen)

person: the grammatical category

distinguishing first person (involving the

speaker, me), second person (involving the

hearer, you) and third person (involving

any others, she, them)

person deixis: using words such as him or

them as a way of “pointing” to a person

with language

pharyngeal: a sound produced in the

pharynx

pharynx: the area inside the throat above the

larynx

philology: the study of language history and

change

phone: a physically produced speech sound,

representing one version of a phoneme

phoneme: the smallest meaning-

distinguishing sound unit in the abstract

representation of the sounds of a language

phonetic alphabet: a set of symbols, each one

representing a distinct sound segment

phonetics: the study of the characteristics of

speech sounds

phonographic writing: written symbols used

to represent sounds of a language, either

syllables or phonemes

phonology: the study of the systems and

patterns of speech sounds in languages

phonotactics: constraints on the permissible

combination of sounds in a language

phrase structure rules: rules stating that the

structure of a phrase of a specific type

consists of one or more constituents in a

particular order

physical context: the situation, time or place

in which words are used

pitch: the effect of vibration in the vocal

folds, making voices sound lower, higher,

rising or falling

pictogram (pictographic writing): a way of

writing in which a picture/drawing of an

object is used to represent the object

pidgin: a variety of a language that developed

for a practical purpose such as trade, but

which has no native speakers, in contrast

to a creole

politeness: showing awareness and

consideration of another person’s public

self-image

polysemy: a word having two or more related

meanings (e.g. foot, of person, of bed, of

mountain)

Glossary 295

 

 

pooh-pooh theory: the idea that early human

speech developed from the instinctive

sounds people make in emotional

circumstances

positive face: the need to be connected, to

belong, to be a member of a group, in

contrast to negative face

positive transfer: the use of a feature from the

L1 that is similar to the L2 while performing

in the L2, in contrast to negative transfer

post-creole continuum: the range of varieties

that evolves in communities where a

creole is spoken, usually as a result of

decreolization

postvocalic: used after a vowel

pragmatics: the study of speaker meaning

and how more is communicated than is

said

prefix: a bound morpheme added to the

beginning of a word (e.g. unhappy)

preposition (Prep): a word such as in or with

used with a noun phrase

prepositional phrase (PP): a phrase such as

with a dog, consisting of a preposition plus

a noun phrase

prescriptive approach: an approach to

grammar that has rules for the proper use

of the language, traditionally based on

Latin grammar, in contrast to the

descriptive approach

prestige: higher status

presupposition: an assumption by a speaker/

writer about what is true or already known

by the listener/reader

primary sign language: a sign language that

is the first language of a group of people

who are typically deaf and do not use a

spoken language (e.g. ASL), in contrast to

an alternate sign language

primes: the sets of features that form

contrasting elements within the

articulatory parameters of ASL

productivity: a property of language

that allows users to create new

expressions, also called “creativity” or

“open-endedness”

pronoun (Pro): a word such as it or them

used in place of a noun phrase

proper noun (PN): a noun such as Cathy,

with an initial capital letter, used as the

name of someone or something

prothesis: a sound change involving the

addition of a sound to the beginning of a

word (e.g. spiritus ! espı́ritu) Proto-Indo-European: the hypothesized

original form of a language that was the

source of many languages in India and

Europe

prototype: the most characteristic instance of

a category (e.g. “Robin” is the prototype of

“bird”)

quality maxim: the assumption in

conversation that you will “not say that

which you believe to be false or for which

you lack adequate evidence”

quantity maxim: the assumption in

conversation that you will “make your

contribution as informative as is required,

but not more, or less, than is required”

rebus principle: a process used in writing in

which a pictorial representation of an

object is used to indicate the sound of the

word for that object

recursion: the repeated application of a rule

in generating structures

reduplication: the process of repeating all or

part of a form

reference: an act by which a speaker/writer

uses language to enable a listener/reader to

identify someone or something

reflexivity: a special property of human

language that allows language to be used to

think and talk about language itself

register: a conventional way of using

language that is appropriate in a

specific situation, occupation or topic,

characterized by the use of special

jargon

296 Glossary

 

 

relation maxim: the assumption in

conversation that you will “be relevant”

reversives: antonyms in which the meaning

of one is the reverse action of the other

(e.g. dress–undress)

rhyme: the part of the syllable containing the

vowel plus any following consonant(s),

also called “rime”

right ear advantage: the fact that humans

typically hear speech sounds more readily

via the right ear

Sapir–Whorf hypothesis: the general idea

that differences in language structure cause

people to view the world differently, from

the names of two American linguists,

Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf

schwa: a mid central vowel /ə/, often used in

an unstressed syllable (e.g. afford, oven)

schema: a conventional knowledge structure

in memory for specific things, such as a

supermarket (food is displayed on shelves,

arranged in aisles, etc.)

script: a conventional knowledge structure in

memory for the series of actions involved

in events such as “Going to the dentist”

second language (L2) learning: the process

of developing ability in another language,

after L1 acquisition

segment: an individual sound used in

language

semantic features: basic elements such as

“human,” included as plus (þhuman) or minus (−human), used in an analysis of the

components of word meaning

semantic role: the part played by a noun

phrase, such as agent, in the event

described by the sentence

semantics: the study of the meaning of words,

phrases and sentences

shape: the configuration of the hand(s) as an

articulatory parameter of ASL

Signed English: using English sentences with

signs instead of words, also called

Manually Coded English or MCE

Sign language (or Sign): a communication

system using the hands (with the face and

other parts of the body)

slang: words or phrases used instead of more

conventional forms by those who are

typically outside established higher status

groups (e.g. bucks for dollars)

slip of the ear: a processing error in which

one word or phrase is heard as another, as

in hearing great ape when the utterance

was “gray tape”

slip of the tongue: a speech error in which a

sound or word is produced in the wrong

place, as in black bloxes (instead of “black

boxes”)

social category: a category in which group

members are defined by social connections

social dialect: a variety of a language with

features that differ according to the social

status (e.g. middle class or working class)

of the speaker

social gender: a distinction between

individuals in terms of their social roles as

women and men, in contrast to other types

of gender

social marker: a linguistic feature that marks

the speaker as a member of a particular

social group

social variable: a factor such as working

class or middle class that is used to identify

one group of speakers as different from

another

sociolect: social dialect, a variety of a

language that is strongly associated with

one social group (e.g. working-class

speech)

sociolinguistic competence: the ability to use

language appropriately according to the

social context as part of communicative

competence

sociolinguistics: the study of the relationship

between language and society

sound loss: a sound change in which a

particular sound is no longer used in a

Glossary 297

 

 

language (e.g. the velar fricative [x], in

Scottish loch, but not in Modern English).

source: the semantic role of the noun phrase

identifying where an entity moves from

(e.g. The boy ran from the house)

speech accommodation: modifying speech

style toward (convergence) or away from

(divergence) the perceived style of the

person being talked to

speech act: an action such as “promising”

performed by a speaker with an utterance,

either as a direct speech act or an indirect

speech act

speech community: a group of people who

share a set of norms and expectations

regarding the use of language

speech style: a way of speaking that is either

formal/careful or informal/casual

standard language: the variety of a language

treated as the official language and used in

public broadcasting, publishing and

education

stem: the base form to which affixes are

attached in the formation of words

stop: a consonant produced by stopping the

airflow, then letting it go, also called

“plosive” (e.g. the first and last sounds in cat)

strategic competence: the ability to use

language to organize effective messages

and to overcome potential communication

problems as part of communicative

competence

structural ambiguity: a situation in which a

single phrase or sentence has two (or

more) different underlying structures and

interpretations

structural analysis: the investigation of the

distribution of grammatical forms in a

language

style-shifting: changing speech style from

formal to informal or vice versa

spatial deixis: using words such as here or

there as a way of “pointing” to a location

with language

spoonerism: a slip of the tongue in which two

parts of words or two words are switched,

as in a dog of bag food (for “a bag of dog

food”)

subject: the grammatical function of the noun

phrase typically used to refer to someone

or something performing the action of the

verb (e.g. The boy stole it)

suffix: a bound morpheme added to the end

of a word (e.g. fainted, illness)

superordinate: the higher level term in

hyponymy (e.g. flower–daffodil)

surface structure: the structure of individual

sentences after the application of

movement rules to deep structure

syllabic writing (syllabary): a way of

writing in which each symbol represents

a syllable

syllable: a unit of sound consisting of a vowel

and optional consonants before or after

the vowel

synchronic variation: differences in language

form found in different places at the same

time, in contrast to diachronic variation

synonymy: the lexical relation in which two

or more words have very closely related

meanings (e.g. “Conceal” is a synonym of

“hide”)

syntax (syntactic structures): (the analysis

of) the structure of phrases and sentences

taboo terms: words or phrases that are

avoided in formal speech, but are used in

swearing, for example (e.g. fuck, shit)

tag questions: short questions consisting of

an auxiliary (e.g. don’t) and a pronoun

(e.g. you), added to the end of a statement

(e.g. I hate it when it rains all day, don’t

you?)

task-based learning: using activities

involving information exchange and

problem solving as a way of developing

ability in language

tautology: an expression (often a saying) that

seems simply to repeat an element with no

298 Glossary

 

 

apparent meaning (e.g. Boys will be boys.

A sandwich is a sandwich)

telegraphic speech: strings of words (lexical

morphemes without inflectional

morphemes) in phrases (daddy go bye-

bye) produced by two-year-old children

temporal deixis: using words such as now or

tomorrow as a way of “pointing” to a time

with language

tense: the grammatical category

distinguishing forms of the verb as present

tense and past tense

theme: the semantic role of the noun phrase

used to identify the entity involved in or

affected by the action of the verb in an

event (e.g. The boy kicked the ball)

tip of the tongue phenomenon: the

experience of knowing a word, but being

unable to access it and bring it to the

surface in order to say it

traditional grammar: the description of the

structure of phrases and sentences based

on established categories used in the

analysis of Latin and Greek

transfer: using sounds, expressions and

structures from the L1 while performing in

an L2

tree diagram: a diagram with branches

showing the hierarchical organization of

structures

turn: in conversation, the unit of talk by one

speaker, ended by the beginning of the next

speaker’s unit of talk

turn-taking: the way in which each speaker

takes a turn in conversation

T/V distinction: the difference between

pronouns such as tu (socially close) and

vous (socially distant) in French, used as

address terms

two-word stage: a period beginning at

around 18–20 months when children

produce two terms together as an utterance

(baby chair)

uvula: the small appendage at the end of the

velum

uvular: a sound produced with the back of the

tongue near the uvula

velar: a consonant produced by raising the

back of the tongue to the velum (e.g. the

first and last sounds in geek)

velum: the soft area at the back of the roof of

the mouth, also called the “soft palate”

verb (V): a word such as go, drown or know

used to describe an action, event or state

verb phrase (VP): a phrase such as saw a

dog, containing a verb and other

constituents

vernacular: a social dialect with low prestige

spoken by a lower-status group, with

marked differences from the standard

language

vocal folds (or vocal cords): thin strips of

muscle in the larynx which can be open, in

voiceless sounds, or close together,

creating vibration in voiced sounds

voiced sounds: speech sounds produced with

vibration of the vocal folds

voiceless sounds: speech sounds produced

without vibration of the vocal folds

vowel: a sound produced through the vocal

folds without constriction of the airflow in

the mouth

Wernicke’s aphasia: a language disorder in

which comprehension is typically slow

while speech is fluent, but vague and

missing content words

Wernicke’s area: a part of the brain in the left

hemisphere involved in language

comprehension

writing: the symbolic representation

of language through the use of

graphic signs

Glossary 299

 

 

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Index

AAE. see African American English

AAVE. see African American Vernacular English

abjads, 221

abugidas, 221

accent, 34, 243, 286

acoustic phonetics, 27, 286

acquisition, 170, 187, 286

acquisition barriers, 187

acquisition process, 174

acquisition schedule, 171

acronym, 56, 286

active voice, 82, 107, 286

Adam, 2

Adam’s apple, 27

address term, 277, 286

adjective, 81, 90, 286

adjunctive general extenders, 267

adverb, 81, 90, 286

adverb position, 90

affect, 189

affective factors, 189, 286

affix, 57, 67, 122, 286

affricate, 30, 286

African American English (AAE), 263, 286

African American Vernacular English (AAVE),

263, 265, 286

agent, 112, 286

agrammatic, 160, 286

agrammatism, 165

agreement, 81, 286

“all and only criterion,” 95

allomorph, 70, 73, 286

allophone, 42, 286

alphabet, 217, 286

alphabetic writing, 40, 286

alternate sign language, 202, 286

alveolar, 28, 30, 286

alveolar ridge, 28, 31–32, 286

Alzheimer’s disease, 161

American English, 32, 50, 114, 233, 252, 279

American Sign Language (ASL), 17, 200, 202, 287

Ameslan, 200, 286

Amuzgo, 91

analogy, 58, 286

analytic processing, 163

anaphora, 129, 287

Angles, 231

Anglo-Saxons, 231

angma, 29

animal communication, 12

animate, 111

anomia, 161, 287

antecedent, 129, 287

anterior speech cortex, 156

antonymy, 114, 120, 287

aphasia, 160, 287

applied linguistics, 195, 287

approximators, 136

Arabic, 42, 217, 249, 265

arbitrariness, 13, 22, 287

arcuate fasciculus, 157, 161, 287

arrow П, 98

article, 81, 95, 287

articulatory parameters, 204, 287

articulatory phonetics, 27

ash, 231

Asian American English, 264

ASL see American Sign Language

aspect, 89

aspiration, 42, 287

assimilation, 45, 287

associative meaning, 110, 287

asterisk, 80, 95

audience design, 261

audiolingual method, 190, 287

auditory phonetics, 27, 287

Australian English, 54

auxiliary verb (Aux), 101, 279, 287

 

 

babbling, 172, 287

Babel, 2, 8

baby talk, 170

back vowel, 32–33

back-channels, 280, 287

backformation, 54, 287

background knowledge, 146, 150, 287

bathtub effect, 165

beats, 202, 287

bee communication, 13–14

bidialectal, 247, 287

bilabial, 28, 30, 287

bilingual, 186, 247, 287

bilingualism, 247, 287

biological classification, 274

biological gender, 278

bi-pedal (on two feet) locomotion, 4

Black English, 263

blending, 53, 287

body language, 22

bonobo, 20

borrowing, 52, 287

bound morpheme, 67, 288

bound stem, 67

boustrophedon writing, 221

bow-wow theory, 3, 288

brackets, 86

brain, 6, 154

brain imaging, 166

brain stem, 155

Brazilian Portuguese, 52

British English, 54, 114, 252

British Sign Language (BSL), 202

broadening, 235, 288

Broca’s aphasia, 160, 288

Broca’s area, 156, 288

Brummie accent, 252

calque, 52, 288

camaraderie politeness, 137

Canada, 247

Captain Kirk’s infinitive, 84

careful style, 259

caregiver speech, 170, 288

caron, 36

casual style, 259

CAT scan, 166

cataphora, 130, 288

categorization, 116

category, 271, 288

category change, 55

cave drawings, 213

Caxton, William, 189

central vowel, 33

characters, 215, 288

Chaucer, 232

Cherokee, 217

Chicano English, 264, 266

child-directed speech, 170

chimpanzees, 17, 24

Chinese, 52

Chinese writing, 214–215

cicadas, 14

circumfix, 61

clarification request, 197

classifier, 276, 282, 288

Clerc, Laurent, 204

Clever Hans, 22

clipping, 54, 288

closed class of words, 67

closed syllable, 43, 288

coarticulation effects, 44, 288

coda, 43, 46, 288

code-switching, 266

cognate, 228, 230, 238, 288

cognitive category, 275, 288

coherence, 142, 288

cohesion, 141, 288

cohesive ties, 141, 150, 288

co-hyponyms, 115, 288

coinage, 56, 288

collocation, 118, 288

colloquial speech, 262

color term, 271, 281

command, 131

communication, 12

communication strategy, 194, 196, 288

communicative approaches, 190, 288

communicative competence, 194, 288

Communicative Language Teaching, 198

communicative signals, 12, 288

comparative (adjective), 68

comparative reconstruction, 228–229, 240, 288

competence, 104

complement phrase, 105, 288

complementary pairs, 114

complementizer, 105, 288

completion point, 143–144, 288

compounding, 53, 289

comprehensible input, 193

conceptual meaning, 110, 289

conditioned response, 19

Index 313

 

 

conduction aphasia, 161, 289

conjunction, 81, 289

connectors, 144

Conrad, Joseph, 188

consonant, 28, 289

consonant chart, 31

consonant cluster, 44, 46–47, 264, 289

consonantal alphabet, 217, 289

constancy under negation, 131

constituent, 85

constituent analysis, 85, 289

contact language, 250

context, 127, 133, 289

contracted negative, 265

contrastive analysis, 196

conventional knowledge, 147

convergence, 261, 289

conversation, 142, 145

conversation analysis, 143, 289

converses, 121

conversion, 55, 289

cooing, 172, 289

co-operative principle, 144, 289

corpus callosum, 155

corpus linguistics, 118, 289

corpus research, 221

correction, 175

co-text, 127, 289

countable, 276, 281, 289

covert prestige, 260, 263, 289

creativity, 14

creole, 251, 289

creolization, 251, 289

critical discourse analysis, 150

critical period, 163, 188, 289

cross-cultural communication, 280–281

cross-gender interaction, 280

crosslinguistic influence, 191

cultural transmission, 15, 170, 289

culture, 271, 289

cuneiform, 214, 289

curly brackets, 99

Cyrillic alphabet, 218

dactylology, 209

Dani, 271

Darwin, Charles, 1

deaf, 200

deaf education, 203

declarative, 131

decreolization, 251, 289

deep structure, 96, 101, 289

deference politeness, 137

deictic projection, 134

deictics, 201, 290

deixis (deictic), 127, 290

dementia, 161

dental, 29–30, 42, 290

derivation, 57, 290

derivational morpheme, 67–68, 70, 290

descriptive approach, 84, 290

design features, 23

determiner, 89

developing morphology, 176

developing semantics, 178

developing syntax, 177

diachronic variation, 236, 290

diacritics, 47

dialect, 243, 290

dialect boundary, 245, 290

dialect continuum, 246, 290

dialect levelling, 254

dialect surveys, 245

dialectology, 244, 253, 290

dichotic listening, 161, 290

Dickens, Charles, 259

dictionary, 117

diglossia, 248, 290

digraph, 219, 290

diphthong, 33, 290

direct speech act, 131, 279, 290

discourse, 140

discourse analysis, 139, 290

discourse markers, 151

displacement, 13, 290

dispreferred response, 149

distance politeness, 137

ditransitive, 89

divergence, 261, 290

divine source, 2

double articulation, 16

double negative, 234, 264, 279

duality, 16, 290

Dutch, 50, 52, 247

Dyirbal, 281

Early Modern English, 231–232, 239, 290

Ebonics, 263, 266

education, 258

Egyptian, 2

314 Index

 

 

Egyptian hieroglyphics, 214, 218

elicitation, 197

elicitation procedures, 260

elision, 46, 290

embedded structure, 104

emblems, 201, 290

empirical perspective, 183

enclitic, 74

English as a foreign language (EFL), 187

English as a second language (ESL), 187

English Creole, 251

English Pidgins, 250

English-Only Movement, 254

epenthesis, 233, 290

eponym, 56, 290

errors, 191

Eskimo, 274

eth, 29, 231

etymology, 51, 290

euphemisms, 135

evidentials, 283

Ewe, 104

experiencer, 112, 290

external change, 232, 291

eye contact, 22

eyebrow flashes, 22

face, 132, 291

face-saving act, 133, 291

face-threatening act, 132, 291

facial expression, 206–207, 209

family trees, 226

feature analysis, 41

features (phonological), 41

features (semantic), 111

feedback, 197

feminine, 82, 278

Filipino, 249

filled pause, 144, 291

finger-spelling, 206, 291

first language (L1), 187

first language acquisition, 169

first person, 82

fixed reference, 15, 291

flap, 32, 42, 291

Flemish, 219

floor, 143, 280

fMRI scan, 166

foreign accent, 192

foreigner talk, 193, 291

forensic phonetics, 37

formal style, 259

form-focused instruction, 198

forming negatives, 178

forming questions, 177

fossilization, 192, 291

FOXP2 gene, 9

free morpheme, 66, 291

French, 34, 52, 83, 232, 264, 274, 277

French Creole, 251

French Sign Language (Langue des Signes Française

or LSF), 202

fricative, 30, 229, 291

front vowel, 32–33

functional morpheme, 67, 160, 291

functional shift, 55

future tense, 92

Gaelic, 87, 91, 105

Gallaudet, Thomas, 204

Ganda, 71

gender, 82, 278, 291

gender class, 82

gendered culture, 278

gendered interaction, 280

gendered speech, 279

gendered structures, 279

gendered words, 278

genderizing, 282

general extenders, 136, 267

generative grammar, 95, 291

Genesis, 2

genetic source, 6

Genie, 2, 163, 167

Geordie accent, 252

German, 52, 60, 83, 228, 247, 277

Germanic, 228, 231

gestures, 201, 209, 291

Gilliéron, Jules, 253

given information, 151

glide, 31, 33, 44, 291

glossolalia, 12, 291

glottal, 30, 291

glottal stop, 31, 42, 47, 291

glottis, 32, 291

goal, 113, 291

gradable antonyms, 114, 291

grammar, 80, 291

grammar school, 80

grammar–translation method, 190, 291

Index 315

 

 

grammatical categories, 80

grammatical competence, 194, 291

grammatical gender, 82, 278, 291

grammaticalization, 238

Great Vowel Shift, 232

Greek, 80, 219, 228

Greeks, 218

Grice, Paul, 144

Gricean maxims, 144

Grimm’s Law, 238

habitual action, 265

haček, 36 Hangul, 221

Hawai‘i Creole English, 251

Hawaiian, 47, 238

h-dropping, 259

Hebrew, 217, 249

hedge, 145, 279, 291

Heimlich maneuver, 8

helping verbs, 101

Herodotus, 2

hesitation marker, 144

hierarchical organization, 87, 291

high variety, 248

high vowel, 32

Hindi, 249

hiragana, 217

Hispanic American, 264

history of English, 230

Hmong, 53, 61

holistic processing, 163

holophrastic, 173, 292

homonym, 116–117, 292

homophone, 116–117, 292

honorifics, 266

Hopi, 272–275

Hungarian, 52, 74

hypallage, 121

hypercorrection, 89, 260

hypocorism, 54, 292

hyponymy, 115, 292

iconics, 201, 292

ideogram, 214, 292

idiolect, 257, 292

Ilocano, 71

imperative, 131

implicature, 146, 292

indirect speech act, 132–133, 135, 279, 292

Indo-European, 227, 237

Indonesian, 61

inference, 128, 130, 147, 292

infinitive, 84

infix, 57, 72, 292

inflectional morpheme, 68–69, 160, 292

inflections, 68

informal style, 259

informative signals, 12, 292

initialisms, 60

innateness hypothesis, 7, 9, 292

input, 170–171, 192, 292

instinct, 15

instrument, 112, 122, 292

instrumental motivation, 192, 292

intake, 196

integrative motivation, 192, 292

interaction, 170, 172

intercultural communication, 281

interdental, 29, 292

interference, 191

interjections, 3

interlanguage, 192, 196, 292

internal change, 232, 292

International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), 27

interrogative, 101, 131

interruption, 280

intertextuality, 149

intonation, 279

intransitive, 89

Inuit, 271, 274

Inuktitut, 274–275

IPA. see International Phonetic Alphabet

Irish English, 244

isogloss, 245, 292

Italian, 228

Italic branch, 228

Jamaica, 251

Japanese, 44, 52, 91, 216, 276, 278

jargon, 262, 292

Jespersen, Otto, 3, 8

jokes, 136

Jones, William, 227

Jutes, 231

Kanuri, 70

Kanzi, 20

Khmu, 57

kinship terms, 272, 281, 292

316 Index

 

 

knowledge structure, 147

Koko, 18

L1 (first language), 292

L2 (second language), 292

labeled and bracketed sentences, 86, 292

labeled brackets, 86

labiodental, 28, 30, 293

Labov, William, 258

Ladefoged, Peter, 35

Lakhota, 122

Lana, 19

language acquisition, 163, 183

language death, 238

language disorders, 160

language gene, 7, 9

language planning, 249, 293

language subordination, 268

language typology, 91

larynx, 5, 27, 279, 293

lateralization, 6, 163, 293

Latin, 80, 84, 91, 220, 228, 230–231, 233–234

Latin grammar, 83–84

lax vowels, 37

learning, 187, 293

learning through correction, 175

learning through imitation, 175

left brain, 163

left hemisphere, 155, 161–162, 164

lemur, 15

lexical ambiguity, 96

lexical bundles, 221

lexical conditioning, 73

lexical morpheme, 67, 69, 160, 293

lexical relations, 113, 120, 293

lexical rules, 100, 293

lexicalized, 271, 275, 293

lexifier language, 250, 293

linguistic atlas, 245

linguistic classification, 274

linguistic context, 127, 293

linguistic determinism, 273, 293

linguistic etiquette, 84

linguistic geography, 242, 293

linguistic minorities, 247

linguistic politeness, 132

linguistic relativity, 273, 293

linguistic variable, 257, 293

lip-reading, 203

lips, 4

liquid, 31, 44, 293

loan-translation, 52, 293

localization view, 157, 293

location (in semantics), 113, 293

location (in Sign Language), 205, 293

logogram, 215–216, 222, 293

loss of inflections, 234

low variety, 248

low vowel, 32

macro-sociolinguistics, 266

majority principle, 229, 293

malapropism, 158, 293

manner maxim, 145, 293

manner of articulation, 29

manual gestures, 5

Manually Coded English (MCE), 203

Māori, 238

marked, 120

Marx, Groucho, 96

masculine, 82, 278

maxim, 144, 293

Mayan, 249

mean length of utterance (MLU), 182

meaning of signs, 206

metaphor, 120

metapragmatics, 135

metathesis, 233, 293

metonymy, 118, 120, 293

micro-sociolinguistics, 266

mid vowel, 32

middle-class speech, 257

Middle English, 231, 239, 294

minimal pair, 42, 294

minimal set, 43, 294

modal verbs, 101

Modern English, 231–232, 294

monolingual, 249, 294

Mopan Maya, 272

morph, 69, 294

morpheme, 66, 294

morphographic, 215

morphological conditioning, 73

morphological development, 176

morphology, 66, 294

most natural development principle, 294

motherese, 170

moths, 15

motivation, 192

motor aphasia, 160

Index 317

 

 

motor cortex, 6, 157, 294

motor skills, 181

mouth, 5

movement, 205, 294

movement rules, 101, 107, 294

multicultural communication, 281

naming, 6

narrowing, 235, 294

nasal, 31, 45–46, 294

nasalization, 45, 294

native speaker (NS), 187, 193

natural class, 41, 294

natural gender, 82, 278, 294

natural sounds, 2

Neanderthal, 4

negative face, 133, 294

negative test, 114

negative transfer, 191, 294

negotiated input, 193, 294

neologism, 51, 294

neologistic jargon aphasia, 165

neurolinguistics, 155, 294

neuter, 83

new information, 151

newspaper headlines, 140

Nim, 19

non-countable, 276, 281, 294

non-gradable antonyms, 114, 294

non-lexicalized, 275, 294

non-native speaker (NNS), 193

non-reciprocal use, 277

non-standard, 264

non-verbal behavior, 201

non-verbal sounds, 163

Norman French, 231

NORMS, 245, 294

Norwegian, 272

noun, 81, 85, 95, 294

noun phrase, 85–87, 95, 294

nucleus, 43, 294

number, 82, 294

object, 91

observer’s paradox, 266

obstruent, 36

occupation, 258

Old English, 231, 239, 264, 294

Old Norse, 231

one-word stage, 173, 294

onomatopoeia, 3, 14, 295

onset, 43, 295

ontogeny, 8

open class of words, 67

open syllable, 43, 47, 295

open-endedness, 14

optimum age, 188

optional constituent, 98

oralism, 203, 209, 295

orangutan, 22

orientation, 205, 295

orthography, 219, 295

output, 193, 295

output hypothesis, 196

overextension, 179, 295

overgeneralization, 176, 191, 295

overlapping speech, 143

overt prestige, 260, 295

palatal, 29–30, 295

palate, 29, 295

paragrammatism, 165

parts of speech, 80

passive voice, 82, 107, 295

past participle, 68

past tense, 68

patient, 112

pause, 143–144

performance, 104

performative verbs, 135

person, 82, 295

person deixis, 128, 295

PET scan, 166

pharyngeal, 295

pharynx, 5, 295

pheromones, 15

philology, 226, 295

Phoenicians, 217

phone, 41, 295

phoneme, 40, 295

phonetic alphabet, 295

phonetics, 27, 295

phonographic writing, 216, 295

phonological conditioning, 73

phonological features, 41

phonological information, 158

phonology, 40, 295

phonotactics, 43–44, 295

phrasal verb, 55

phrase structure rules, 99–100, 295

phrenology, 165

Phrygian, 2

318 Index

 

 

phylogeny, 8

physical adaptation source, 4

physical context, 127, 295

pictogram, 213, 223, 295

pidgin, 250, 253, 295

pitch, 279, 295

pitch movement, 279

pitch range, 279

place of articulation, 28–29

playback experiments, 22

plural, 82

pointing gesture, 209

politeness, 132, 137, 295

polysemy, 117, 295

Ponapean, 282

pooh-pooh theory, 3, 296

portmanteau words, 60

Portuguese, 278

positive face, 133, 296

positive transfer, 191, 296

possessive inflection, 68

post-creole continuum, 251, 296

posterior speech cortex, 156

postlinguistic hearing impairment, 209

postposition, 77

postvocalic /r/, 258–259, 296

power relationship, 277

pragmatics, 126, 296

preferred response, 149

prefix, 57, 67–68, 296

pre-language, 172

prelinguistic hearing impairment, 209

preposition, 81, 84, 296

prepositional phrase, 86, 95, 98, 122, 296

prescriptive approach, 83, 296

present participle, 68

present tense, 68

prestige, 260, 279, 296

presupposition, 130, 136, 296

primary sign language, 202, 296

primes, 205, 296

printing, 219, 232

proclitic, 74

productivity, 14, 296

pronoun, 81, 85–86, 95, 277, 296

pronunciation differences, 258

proper noun, 81, 86, 95, 296

prothesis, 234, 296

proto-forms, 230

Proto-Indo-European, 227, 296

Proto-Polynesian, 238

prototype, 116, 123, 296

proverbs, 135

Psammetichus, 2

psychological construct, 134

quality maxim, 145, 296

quantity maxim, 145, 296

Quechua, 283

question, 101, 131

Rapanui, 238

rational perspective, 183

rebus principle, 216, 296

rebus writing, 216

recast, 197

reciprocal antonymy, 121

reciprocal use, 277

recursion, 23, 105, 296

reduplication, 71, 296

reference, 128, 130, 296

reflexivity, 12, 296

regional dialects, 244

register, 261, 296

relation maxim, 145, 297

representing signs, 207

request, 131

retroflex, 37

reversives, 114, 297

rhyme, 43, 297

rhythm, 48

riddles, 136

right brain, 163

right ear advantage, 163, 297

right hemisphere, 155, 162, 164–165

rising intonation, 279

Roget, Peter, 120

Roman alphabet, 218

round brackets, 98

rounded vowels, 37

Russian, 218, 265

same-gender talk, 280

Samoan, 74, 238

Sanskrit, 227–228

Sapir, Edward, 273

Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, 273, 297

Sarah, 18

Sarasvati, 2

Saxons, 231

schema, 147, 297

schwa, 34, 45, 297

Index 319

 

 

Scottish, 233

Scottish English, 243

Scouse, 252

script, 147, 297

second language (L2), 187

second language learning, 187, 297

second person, 82

segment, 47, 297

semantic changes, 235

semantic features, 111, 297

semantic role, 112, 123, 297

semantics, 109, 297

Semitic languages, 217

semi-vowels, 31

sensitive period, 163

sensory aphasia, 160

sentence, 87

sequence of acquisition, 182

Sequoyah, 217

Shakespeare, William, 232

shape, 205, 297

Sidamo, 278

Sign, 200, 297

Sign language, 200, 297

Signed English, 203, 297

signs advertising sales, 135

silent letters, 219

simultaneous translation, 203

singular, 82

slang, 262, 297

slash marks, 41

Slavic languages, 218

slip of the brain, 159

slip of the ear, 159, 297

slip of the eye, 205

slip of the tongue, 158, 297

social category, 276–277, 297

social dialect, 257, 297

social gender, 278, 297

social interaction source, 3

social marker, 259, 297

social roles, 278

social stratification, 259

social variable, 257, 297

socio-economic status, 258

sociolect, 257, 297

sociolinguistic competence, 194, 297

sociolinguistics, 257, 297

solidarity, 260

sonorant, 36

sound changes, 229, 232

sound combinations, 43

sound loss, 232, 297

sound reconstruction, 229

sound symbolism, 22

sound type, 41

source, 113, 298

Spanish, 48, 52, 83, 88, 228, 233–234, 249, 277

spatial deixis, 128, 298

speaker meaning, 125

speech accommodation, 261, 298

speech act, 131, 142, 298

speech community, 256, 298

speech errors, 165

speech event, 142

speech perception, 172, 181

speech skills, 181

speech style, 259, 298

spelling, 219

spelling reformers, 220

split infinitive, 84

spoken English, 221

spoonerism, 158, 298

square brackets, 28, 41

Standard American English, 243

Standard Australian English, 243

Standard British English, 243

Standard Canadian English, 243

Standard English, 243, 253

Standard Indian English, 243

standard language, 243, 298

statement, 131

stem, 67, 298

Stokoe, William, 203

stop, 29, 46, 229, 298

strategic competence, 194, 298

stress-timing, 48

structural ambiguity, 96, 298

structural analysis, 85, 91, 298

structure dependency, 106

style-shifting, 259–260, 266, 298

stylistic continuum, 196

stylistics, 150

subject, 91, 298

substrate, 253

sucking behavior, 171, 181

suffix, 57, 67–68, 298

Sumerians, 214

superlative (adjective), 68

superordinate, 115, 298

superstrate, 253

suppletion, 73

320 Index

 

 

suprasegmentals, 47

surface structure, 96, 101, 298

Swahili, 66, 74, 249, 276

swear words, 263

syllabary, 217, 298

syllabic consonants, 48

syllabic writing, 216, 298

syllable, 43, 298

syllable-timing, 48

synchronic variation, 236, 298

synecdoche, 121

synonym, 113, 298

syntactic analysis, 95

syntactic changes, 234

syntactic rules, 95

syntactic structure, 94, 298

syntax, 94, 298

T/V distinction, 277, 299

taboo terms, 263, 298

tag questions, 279, 298

Tagalog, 71, 75

Tamasheq, 75, 105

task-based learning, 194, 298

tautology, 145, 298

teaching method, 189

teeth, 4

telegraphic speech, 174, 299

teleological explanation, 8

temporal deixis, 128, 299

tense, 82, 107, 299

tense vowels, 37

test-frames, 85

texting, 216, 221

thematic roles, 112

theme, 112, 121, 299

theoretical linguistics, 195

theta, 29

theta assignment, 123

third person, 82

thorn, 231

tic-tac, 202

tilde, 45

time concepts, 272

tip of the tongue phenomenon, 158, 299

Tok Pisin, 250–251, 253

Tongan, 238

tongue, 5

tool-making source, 5

trachea, 27

traditional grammar, 80, 83, 299

transfer, 191, 299

transferred epithet, 121

transitive, 89

tree diagram, 97, 100, 299

Turkish, 77

turn, 143, 280, 299

turn-taking, 143, 299

two-handed signs, 205

two-word stage, 173, 299

Universal Grammar, 9

unmarked, 120

unrounded vowels, 37

upward mobility, 260

using language, 20

uvula, 34, 299

uvular, 34, 299

vague amounts, 136

vague frequency, 136

vague language, 135

vague nouns, 136

vague possibility, 136

variation in grammar, 244

velar, 29–30, 45, 299

velar fricative, 233

velum, 29, 31, 34, 299

verb, 81, 299

verb phrase, 86–87, 299

vernacular, 264, 299

vervet monkey, 14–15

Victor, the wild boy of Aveyron, 2

Vikings, 231

vocal folds, 5, 27, 32, 279, 299

vocalization, 6, 171

voiced, 27, 229, 299

voiceless, 27, 229, 299

voiceless stop, 44

von Frisch, Karl, 14

vowel, 32, 229, 299

vowel chart, 32

wanna-contraction, 104

Washoe, 17, 19

Watam, 272, 281

Webster, Noah, 58

wedge, 34

Welsh, 247

Wenker, George, 253

Wernicke’s aphasia, 161, 299

Wernicke’s area, 156, 299

Index 321

 

 

Whorf, Benjamin, 273

women’s speech, 279

word class, 80

word order, 101, 234

word play, 117

word reconstruction, 230

word storage, 158

working-class speech,

257

writing, 213, 299

written English, 221

Yagua, 275

Yerkish, 19–20

yo-he-ho, 3

Yukagirs, 223

zero-morph, 70

322 Index

 

  • Contents���������������
  • Preface��������������
    • In this new edition��������������������������
    • To the student���������������������
  • Chapter 1 The origins of language����������������������������������������
    • The divine source������������������������
    • The natural sound source�������������������������������
      • The “bow-wow” theory���������������������������
      • The “pooh-pooh” theory�����������������������������
    • The social interaction source������������������������������������
    • The physical adaptation source�������������������������������������
      • Teeth and lips���������������������
      • Mouth and tongue�����������������������
      • Larynx and pharynx�������������������������
    • The tool-making source�����������������������������
      • The human brain����������������������
    • The genetic source�������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • Music before language����������������������������
      • A hum versus a grunt���������������������������
      • Victor and Genie�����������������������
      • “Bow-wow´´ theory, etc.�������������������������������
      • The early sounds made by infants���������������������������������������
      • Social interaction�������������������������
      • Physical development���������������������������
      • Gesture��������������
      • Brain development������������������������
      • Tool-making������������������
      • Innateness�����������������
      • Against innateness�������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 2 Animals and human language�������������������������������������������
    • Communication��������������������
    • Properties of human language�����������������������������������
      • Displacement�������������������
      • Arbitrariness��������������������
      • Productivity�������������������
      • Cultural transmission����������������������������
      • Duality��������������
    • Talking to animals�������������������������
    • Chimpanzees and language�������������������������������
      • Washoe�������������
      • Sarah������������
      • Lana�����������
      • The controversy����������������������
      • Kanzi������������
    • Using language���������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • General properties of language�������������������������������������
      • Glossolalia������������������
      • Animal communication and consciousness���������������������������������������������
      • Bee communication������������������������
      • Lemur and vervet monkey communication��������������������������������������������
      • Individual chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos���������������������������������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 3 The sounds of language���������������������������������������
    • Phonetics����������������
    • Voiced and voiceless sounds����������������������������������
    • Place of articulation����������������������������
    • Consonants�����������������
      • Familiar symbols�����������������������
      • Unfamiliar symbols�������������������������
    • Consonants: manner of articulation�����������������������������������������
      • Stops������������
      • Fricatives�����������������
      • Affricates�����������������
      • Nasals�������������
      • Liquids��������������
      • Glides�������������
    • A consonant chart������������������������
      • Glottal stops and flaps������������������������������
    • Vowels�������������
    • Diphthongs�����������������
    • Subtle individual variation����������������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • On acoustic and auditory phonetics�����������������������������������������
      • On phonetic symbols��������������������������
      • Phonetic descriptions of other languages�����������������������������������������������
      • A phonetics dictionary�����������������������������
      • On pronunciation�����������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 4 The sound patterns of language�����������������������������������������������
    • Phonology����������������
    • Phonemes���������������
      • Natural classes����������������������
    • Phones and allophones����������������������������
    • Minimal pairs and sets�����������������������������
    • Phonotactics�������������������
    • Syllables����������������
      • Consonant clusters�������������������������
    • Coarticulation effects�����������������������������
      • Assimilation�������������������
    • Nasalization�������������������
      • Elision��������������
      • Normal speech��������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Bob Belviso translated�����������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • Syllables����������������
      • Phonotactics�������������������
      • Coarticulation���������������������
      • Assimilation and elision�������������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 5 Word formation�������������������������������
    • Neologisms�����������������
    • Etymology����������������
    • Borrowing����������������
      • Loan-translation�����������������������
    • Compounding������������������
      • Blending���������������
    • Clipping���������������
      • Hypocorisms������������������
      • Backformation��������������������
    • Conversion�����������������
    • Coinage��������������
      • Acronyms���������������
    • Derivation�����������������
      • Prefixes and suffixes����������������������������
      • Infixes��������������
    • Multiple processes�������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • Etymology����������������
      • Googling���������������
      • Borrowing����������������
      • Borrowing in Brazilian Portuguese����������������������������������������
      • Compounding������������������
      • Hypocorisms������������������
      • Conversion�����������������
      • Eponyms��������������
      • Derivation�����������������
      • Infixes��������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 6 Morphology���������������������������
    • Morphology�����������������
    • Morphemes����������������
    • Free and bound morphemes�������������������������������
      • Lexical and functional morphemes���������������������������������������
      • Derivational morphemes�����������������������������
      • Inflectional morphemes�����������������������������
    • Morphological description��������������������������������
      • Problems in morphological description��������������������������������������������
    • Morphs and allomorphs����������������������������
    • Other languages����������������������
      • Kanuri�������������
      • Ganda������������
      • Ilocano��������������
      • Tagalog��������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • Specifically on English morphology�����������������������������������������
      • Reduplication��������������������
      • Morphology exercises���������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 7 Grammar������������������������
    • English grammar����������������������
    • Traditional grammar��������������������������
      • The parts of speech��������������������������
      • Agreement����������������
      • Grammatical gender�������������������������
      • Traditional analysis���������������������������
    • The prescriptive approach��������������������������������
      • Captain Kirks infinitive�������������������������������
    • The descriptive approach�������������������������������
      • Structural analysis��������������������������
      • Constituent analysis���������������������������
      • Labeled and bracketed sentences��������������������������������������
      • Hierarchical organization��������������������������������
      • A Gaelic sentence������������������������
      • Why study grammar?�������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • Grammatical terms������������������������
      • On the prescriptive approach�����������������������������������
      • Constituent analysis���������������������������
      • Gaelic sentence structure��������������������������������
      • English grammar courses������������������������������
      • English reference grammars���������������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 8 Syntax�����������������������
    • Syntactic rules����������������������
      • A generative grammar���������������������������
    • Deep and surface structure���������������������������������
      • Structural ambiguity���������������������������
    • Tree diagrams��������������������
      • Tree diagram of an English sentence������������������������������������������
    • Symbols used in syntactic analysis�����������������������������������������
    • Phrase structure rules�����������������������������
    • Lexical rules��������������������
    • Movement rules���������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana����������������������������������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • Specifically on English syntax�������������������������������������
      • On generative grammar����������������������������
      • On structural ambiguity������������������������������
      • Tree diagrams��������������������
      • On Gaelic syntax�����������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 9 Semantics��������������������������
    • Meaning��������������
    • Semantic features������������������������
      • Words as containers of meaning�������������������������������������
    • Semantic roles���������������������
      • Agent and theme����������������������
      • Instrument and experiencer���������������������������������
      • Location, source and goal��������������������������������
    • Lexical relations������������������������
      • Synonymy���������������
      • Antonymy���������������
      • Hyponymy���������������
      • Prototypes�����������������
      • Homophones and homonyms������������������������������
      • Polysemy���������������
      • Word play����������������
      • Metonymy���������������
    • Collocation������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • Conceptual and associative meaning�����������������������������������������
      • Semantic roles���������������������
      • Lexical relations������������������������
      • Antonymy���������������
      • Prototypes�����������������
      • Metonymy���������������
      • Collocation and corpus linguistics�����������������������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 10 Pragmatics����������������������������
    • Pragmatics�����������������
    • Context��������������
      • Deixis�������������
    • Reference����������������
      • Inference����������������
      • Anaphora���������������
      • Presupposition���������������������
    • Speech acts������������������
      • Direct and indirect speech acts��������������������������������������
    • Politeness�����������������
      • Negative and positive face���������������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • Context and co-text��������������������������
      • Reference and deixis���������������������������
      • Anaphora���������������
      • Presupposition���������������������
      • Speech acts������������������
      • Politeness and face��������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 11 Discourse analysis������������������������������������
    • Discourse����������������
      • Interpreting discourse�����������������������������
      • Cohesion���������������
      • Coherence����������������
      • Speech events��������������������
    • Conversation analysis����������������������������
      • Turn-taking������������������
    • The co-operative principle���������������������������������
      • Hedges�������������
      • Implicatures�������������������
    • Background knowledge���������������������������
      • Schemas and scripts��������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • Specifically on spoken discourse���������������������������������������
      • Specifically on written discourse����������������������������������������
      • Different approaches to discourse analysis�������������������������������������������������
      • Conversation analysis����������������������������
      • The Gricean maxims�������������������������
      • Implicature������������������
      • Schemas and scripts��������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 12 Language and the brain����������������������������������������
    • Neurolinguistics�����������������������
    • Language areas in the brain����������������������������������
      • Brocas area������������������
      • Wernickes area���������������������
      • The motor cortex and the arcuate fasciculus��������������������������������������������������
      • The localization view����������������������������
    • Tongue tips and slips����������������������������
      • The tip of the tongue phenomenon���������������������������������������
      • Slips of the tongue��������������������������
      • Slips of the brain�������������������������
      • Slips of the ear�����������������������
    • Aphasia��������������
      • Brocas aphasia���������������������
      • Wernickes aphasia������������������������
      • Conduction aphasia�������������������������
    • Dichotic listening�������������������������
      • Left brain, right brain������������������������������
    • The critical period��������������������������
      • Genie������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • On Phineas Gage����������������������
      • Brain structure����������������������
      • Slips������������
      • Language disorders�������������������������
      • Aphasia��������������
      • Dichotic listening�������������������������
      • The critical period��������������������������
      • Genie������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 13 First language acquisition��������������������������������������������
    • Acquisition������������������
      • Input������������
      • Caregiver speech�����������������������
    • The acquisition schedule�������������������������������
      • Cooing�������������
      • Babbling���������������
      • The one-word stage�������������������������
      • The two-word stage�������������������������
      • Telegraphic speech�������������������������
    • The acquisition process������������������������������
      • Learning through imitation?����������������������������������
      • Learning through correction?�����������������������������������
    • Developing morphology����������������������������
    • Developing syntax������������������������
      • Forming questions������������������������
      • Forming negatives������������������������
    • Developing semantics���������������������������
      • Later developments�������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • Speech perception in infants�����������������������������������
      • Babbling���������������
      • The one-word stage�������������������������
      • Morphological development��������������������������������
      • Syntactic development����������������������������
      • Semantic development���������������������������
      • Rational and empirical perspectives (in that order)����������������������������������������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 14 Second language acquisition/learning������������������������������������������������������
    • Second language learning�������������������������������
      • Acquisition and learning�������������������������������
      • Acquisition barriers���������������������������
      • The age factor���������������������
      • Affective factors������������������������
    • Focus on teaching method�������������������������������
      • The grammar-translation method�������������������������������������
      • The audiolingual method������������������������������
      • Communicative approaches�������������������������������
    • Focus on the learner���������������������������
      • Transfer���������������
      • Interlanguage��������������������
      • Motivation�����������������
      • Input and output�����������������������
      • Task-based learning��������������������������
    • Communicative competence�������������������������������
    • Applied linguistics��������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treaments������������������������������
      • Theoretical perspectives�������������������������������
      • Translation������������������
      • Bilingual acquisition����������������������������
      • Comparing first and second language acquisition������������������������������������������������������
      • The effects of age�������������������������
      • Focus on method����������������������
      • Focus on the learner���������������������������
      • Pronunciation with wine������������������������������
      • The horseshoe example����������������������������
      • Task-based learning��������������������������
      • Applied linguistics��������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 15 Gestures and sign languages���������������������������������������������
    • Gestures���������������
      • Iconics��������������
      • Deictics���������������
      • Beats������������
    • Types of sign languages������������������������������
    • Oralism��������������
    • Signed English���������������������
    • Origins of ASL���������������������
    • The structure of signs�����������������������������
      • Shape and orientation����������������������������
      • Location���������������
      • Movement���������������
      • Primes�������������
      • Facial expressions and finger-spelling���������������������������������������������
    • The meaning of signs���������������������������
    • Representing signs�������������������������
    • ASL as a natural language��������������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • ASL courses������������������
      • Australian and British Sign Languages��������������������������������������������
      • Finger-spelling����������������������
      • Alternate sign languages�������������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 16 Written language����������������������������������
    • Writing��������������
      • Pictograms�����������������
      • Ideograms����������������
      • Logograms����������������
    • Phonographic writing���������������������������
      • The rebus principle��������������������������
    • Syllabic writing�����������������������
    • Alphabetic writing�������������������������
    • Written English����������������������
      • English orthography��������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • A comprehensive review�����������������������������
      • Precursors of writing����������������������������
      • Ancient languages������������������������
      • Cuneiform����������������
      • Egyptian���������������
      • Ancient Greek��������������������
      • The alphabet�������������������
      • Written English����������������������
      • The “ghost” story������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 17 Language history and change���������������������������������������������
    • Family trees�������������������
    • Indo-European��������������������
      • Cognates���������������
    • Comparative reconstruction���������������������������������
      • General principles�������������������������
      • Sound reconstruction���������������������������
      • Word reconstruction��������������������������
    • The history of English�����������������������������
      • Old English������������������
      • Middle English���������������������
    • Sound changes��������������������
      • Metathesis�����������������
      • Epenthesis�����������������
      • Prothesis����������������
    • Syntactic changes������������������������
      • Loss of inflections��������������������������
    • Semantic changes�����������������������
      • Broadening of meaning����������������������������
      • Narrowing of meaning���������������������������
    • Diachronic and synchronic variation������������������������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • Language families������������������������
      • Indo-European��������������������
      • Language change����������������������
      • History of the English language��������������������������������������
      • Old, Middle and Early Modern English�������������������������������������������
      • On Sir William Jones���������������������������
      • Broadening and narrowing of meaning������������������������������������������
      • On “lovely” and “rather”�������������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 18 Regional variation in language������������������������������������������������
    • The standard language����������������������������
    • Accent and dialect�������������������������
      • Variation in grammar���������������������������
    • Dialectology�������������������
      • Regional dialects������������������������
      • Isoglosses and dialect boundaries����������������������������������������
      • The dialect continuum����������������������������
    • Bilingualism�������������������
      • Diglossia����������������
    • Language planning������������������������
    • Pidgins��������������
    • Creoles��������������
      • The post-creole continuum��������������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • American English dialects��������������������������������
      • British English dialects�������������������������������
      • Other varieties of English���������������������������������
      • Bilingualism�������������������
      • Language planning������������������������
      • Pidgins and creoles��������������������������
      • The Dutch-German dialect continuum�����������������������������������������
      • Tok Pisin (baimbai)��������������������������
      • Hawai`i Creole English�����������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 19 Social variation in language����������������������������������������������
    • Sociolinguistics�����������������������
      • Social dialects����������������������
      • Education and occupation�������������������������������
      • Social markers���������������������
    • Speech style and style-shifting��������������������������������������
      • Prestige���������������
    • Speech accommodation���������������������������
      • Convergence������������������
      • Divergence�����������������
    • Register���������������
      • Jargon�������������
    • Slang������������
      • Taboo terms������������������
    • African American English�������������������������������
      • Vernacular language��������������������������
      • The sounds of a vernacular���������������������������������
      • The grammar of a vernacular����������������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatments�������������������������������
      • Speech style�������������������
      • Speech accommodation���������������������������
      • Register���������������
      • Slang and adolescent speech����������������������������������
      • African American English�������������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Chapter 20 Language and culture��������������������������������������
    • Culture��������������
    • Categories�����������������
      • Kinship terms��������������������
      • Time concepts��������������������
    • Linguistic relativity����������������������������
      • The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis���������������������������������
      • Against the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis�����������������������������������������
      • Snow�����������
      • Non-lexicalized categories���������������������������������
    • Cognitive categories���������������������������
      • Classifiers������������������
    • Social categories������������������������
      • Address terms��������������������
    • Gender�������������
      • Gendered words���������������������
      • Gendered structures��������������������������
      • Gendered speech����������������������
      • Same-gender talk�����������������������
      • Gendered interaction���������������������������
    • Study questions����������������������
    • Tasks������������
    • Discussion topics/projects���������������������������������
    • Further reading����������������������
      • Basic treatments�����������������������
      • More detailed treatmentss��������������������������������
      • Culture��������������
      • Categories�����������������
      • Color terms������������������
      • Linguistic relativity����������������������������
      • The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis���������������������������������
      • Cognitive categories���������������������������
      • Classifiers������������������
      • Social categories������������������������
      • Developing social gender�������������������������������
      • Gender and language��������������������������
      • Sources of examples��������������������������
      • Other references�����������������������
  • Glossary���������������
  • References�����������������
  • Index������������

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