Linguistics 105 * Words and Sounds
Lecture Number One
A Survey of Linguistics



Why Linguistics is Important

A. Philosophical Concerns
1. The Innateness Hypothesis (Descartes) Why does only one species possess speech? Is it because that species is qualitatively different from other species, not another species but another kind of species? If so, that species is like God, apart from all other animals. Like God, it has special responsibilities.

2. The nature of the mind (conceptual categories and mental processes) How do we mean? What is meaning? How is it related to speech?

(1)fast car_______s fast
fast typist _______s fast
fast road _______? fast
fast buck _______? fast

(2) an occasional sailor walked by

(3) a criminal lawyer
a civil engineer
a moral philosopher

3. Conclusion: Semantics is the study of types of mental categories; how semantic categories are related to linguistic categories (words, sentences); how all are interrelated to produce the human mind.

B. Psychological Concerns: Can we prove innateness?

1. First- and Second-Language Acquisition

LANGUAGE LEARNABILITY. How do children master such a complex system as language in such a short period of time (between two and six years of age)? If they learn by repetition, why do they say things they have never heard?

ErrorNever
daddy go?*Is daddy?
mommy cookie?*Is that, *that mommy's?
good doggie*You are, *are a, *a good

ANIMAL COMMUNICATION. Can only humans learn to speak? If so, why? Chimpanzees share almost 99% of their genes with humans. Shouldn't they be able to speak in some language?

2. Language Processing
SPEECH ERRORS. Why do we make the kinds of errors in speaking that we do and not others which are logically just as possible. Do speech errors tell us something about why humans can speak?

ErrorTarget
He was turking Talkishtalking Turkish
Bucknell UniversaryBucknell University
Work is the curse of the
drinking man
Drinking is the curse of the
working man

3. Neurolinguistics
HEMISPHERIC SPECIALIZATION. Where and how is the language faculty controlled in the brain? Is there a language area which accounts genetically for innateness? Are linguistic universals inherited like handedness? 98% of us maintain language processing areas in the left hemisphere, which also controls the right side of the body. SPEECH THERAPY (dyslexia, aphasiology) should reveal the breakdown of language facility along componential boundaries.

4. Conclusion. Psycholinguistics examines speech performance to provide insight into which species can speak, how they do so, and how language is learned, stored and processed. It explores the ontology of language in the brain to determine the relation of language and the mind.

C. Sociological Interest: Basis of Culture, Society, and Political Power

1. The Nature of Culture and Society

LINGUISTIC RELATIVITY. Do linguistic structures affect cognitive structures, the way we think, the way we perceive the world (Von Humboldt, Whorf, Sapir meet Berlin & Kay)? Do people speaking languages with fewer words for color perceive fewer colors? To what extent does cultural context determine language?

Figure 1: Basic Color Terms in English, Shona and Bassa
English Do people speaking these languages perceive colors differently?
purple blue green yellow orange red
Shona cipswuka citema cicena cipswuka
Bassa hui zza

2. Dialects and Political Dominance.

BLACK ENGLISH is simply a dialect whose grammatical and sound rules differ from the standard. Many whites speak the same dialect in the South. Some rules which differ from those in the upper-class dialects: Phonology: Delete /r l/ except before vowels :

car(d) : cah(d)
help : hep

Syntax: Omit auxiliaries be and have where they are contracted in Standard American English:

He nice.
Dey mine,

but : He be bad someday(s) (habitual be) vs. He bad today (specific).

SEXISM IN LANGUAGE. Russian has gender and distinguishes male and female referents, e.g.

student student-ka
'male student' 'female student'

However, the feminine form is NOT used to refer to positions of authority, e.g. the feminine form of the word for 'secretary', sekretar'-a, is not used to refer to a woman who heads a party organization; only the masculine form is.

sekretar' sekretar'-a
'male secretary' 'female secretary'

However, the feminine form IS used if referring to an office secretary. The reason is that the feminine form may be regularly used to insult a male, for example, to call a male a (feminine) dura is worse than to call him a (masculine) durak.

3. Conclusion. Sociolinguistics and anthropological linguistics explores the way language is woven into culture and society.

D. Computational linguistics
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. Can a computer reproduce human speech and other intelligence?

STRONG AI HYPOTHESIS: computer can simulate cerebral processes
WEAK AI HYPOTHESIS: computer can do the same thing as brain

Conclusion. Computational linguistics (1) provides us with a way of testing linguistic hypotheses and possibly (2) a way of understanding linguistic processes.

E. Practical Applications

1. Voice recognition (courts, computers)
2. Speech synthesis (voice-response computers)
3. Speech pathology (aphasiology, language learning)
4. Foreign language teaching and learning

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©1997 | Robert Beard