What Is Language
What Is Language
At first sight, both questions seem so common, but beneath the surface these two and some more questions developed later in the video, make you think into deeper thoughts, especially for someone who is taking an introductory course on theoretical linguistics for the first time. The human Language series part 1” video is an extraordinary piece of art which shoots questions to develop issues as the nature of human language, the major revolutions in the field, the creativity inherent to the system of language, the relationship between form and meaning or language and thought, the universal grammar etc, explained by well-known linguists.
But is this all true? How simple can language be? Firstly, by “language” we don? t mean learning a foreign language as French or Japanese, but the extraordinary ability humans have to talk to one another. Language: is social system formed by smaller units that can be articulated by each person to communicate ideas, thoughts and feelings. “Language is the most human thing there is about being human”.
This is one of the main phrases that called my attention and struck me at all. All day long, from when we get up in the morning to when we go to bed, even when we dream, our minds are producing language in some way or another. We are linguistic beings, whether we are talking to ourselves, listening and speaking with others, or even receiving electronic or print media. In fact, this is quite a remarkable difference with animals that can communicate but do not have a language.
In the same way, human language has the ability to express abstract ideas, (Aronoff in the video) that is to say the ability to discuss the past, the future, real or imaginary things. The video clearly mentions the three major revolutions in Linguistics: 1) the realization that sound change is regular making it possible to reconstruct ancient languages and talk about language change in a precise way (about 200 years ago); 2) languages themselves are systematic and rule governed (about turn of the 20th century); 3) Chomsky? Syntactic Structures book, asking “what is a possible Human Language” meaning that there are abstract mental processes governing language. (1957). Chomsky goes further in his analysis when states his Universal Grammar that you inherit many of the principles and processes in your language to affirm that languages in the world are very much alike and that they appear to be different examples of the same kind of system.
An astounding experiment that shocked me was that of the marble in the box, how children answered correctly, since they are born with the concept. This shows how everything evolves, imagine how has language changed from the time this video was filmed up to now, bearing in mind all the worldwide means of communication, globalization. One of the things this video lacks is the fact that it has Chomsky as the main character, explaining much of his revolutionary theories, but could have incorporated other disciplines so as to connect Linguistics to them.
To sum up, watching and studying this meaningful documentary has enlightened me to understand in some way a bit of Linguistics, quite a huge field. Although the video only discusses different aspect in Linguistics investigation such as how we use language and how it functions inside the human mind, the striking similarities all languages possess instead of their differences, it does not provide you with real answers but leave it to the watchers. For example, Chomsky? famous phrase “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously” is presented with the following question: Does the form of a sentence depend on its meaning? And so on. Then some other questions are left in my head, such as Why hasn? t the social context been taken account in this documentary? Why do some languages appear to be more complex than others? Why have human beings evolved in a way that allows them to communicate as they do? I believe Language is as simple as it can be, but for those creatures who have evolved to use it. (Gleitman).
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 14 November 2016
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