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THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE

Introduction
Any language speaker knows something about his/her language, but it isdifficult for language
speaker to tell us what language is. This is according toHarris 1980. This make it evidence
that the access to the inner knowledge aboutthe language is not an easy task despite our
competence in language(s) and itsimportance for our mental and social life. Such a task
requires following certainsystems in order to discover, describe and analyze the underlying
rules that controlany language. This led to the emergence of language theory or model which
issentence to test like any other theory.
The reasons of studying language
First, is to discover about the world around us and it is considered to be acontinuum for our
natural desire to know more about ourselves. Second, theimportance of linguistics (which is
known as the study of language) which has awide variety of practical applications in our
everyday life issues in one of itsbranches known as applied linguistics. Such as language
teaching, forensiclinguistics (It is used in the criminal investigations), speech therapy,
naturallanguage

processing

by

computers

and

translation.

The

third

reason

is

learninglanguage in order to control their speaking and writing more effectively. As well asto
be aware of what is known as critical language study ( the use of language toachieve certain
goals which can be against our will as the language used byadvertisers, politicians, and
employers).

What is language?
There are three different interesting views on what is language is? (SILLInternational, 1999)
1-

Communicative view of language: The communicative or functional view


of language is the view that language is a vehicle for the expression of
functional meaning. The semantic and communicative dimensions of
language are more emphasized than the grammatical characteristics,
although these are also included.

2-

The structural view of language: The structural view of language is that


language is a system of structurally related elements for the transmission of
meaning. These elements are usually described as

phonological units (phonemes)

grammatical units (phrases, clauses, sentences)

grammatical operations (adding, shifting, joining or transforming


elements)

3-

lexical items (function words and structure words)

The interactional view of language: The interactional view of language sees


language primarily as the means for establishing and maintaining
interpersonal relationships and for performing social transactions between
individuals.
The word language involves many aspects of human and animal
communication(such as the language of bees, body language etc).

Verbal communication:
It describes language as a mechanism for conveying meaning which
operatesindependently of other means of human communication (e.g. gesture) and
differfrom animal communication.

Non-verbal communication:
It includes body movement, facial expression and other non-verbal phenomena
arepart of the complex progress of human communication.
Semiotic theory :
This theory elaborated what language description can involve as it includes
culturaland social behavior (such as the choice of the clothes, or the architectural
design)which considered as a signifying practices and analyzed as same as verbal language.

Linguistic discipline:
Linguistics is usually known as the science of language. One way to understandthe
difference is to contrasts the scientific study of language with the humanisticapproach, since
the goals and methods of these two kinds of study are so different.
2 2. 3- 3. Most of the traditional approaches to language have been humanistic in the
sensethat establishing human values has been its goal (Dinneen1967:5).Finally, it should be
evidence that the traditional approach of description hasproved to be dissatisfactory to the
linguists because of the deficiencies in itsmethod that led to a lack of precision. Consequently,
language has been treated asa system of logic explicable in terms of mathematical principles;
as a computerprogram requires specific kind of input to yield an output after processing.Some
characteristics of language:According to the experience, in order to arrive at an accurate
description oflanguage there are several characteristics of language are to be considered.
Thesecharacteristics are as follows (ibid, p. 6-10): Language is soundThis statement point out
the primacy of the languages sounds over the otherrepresentations in writing which are
regarded as secondary phenomenon of speech.For instance, all traditional orthographies and
letters used in common alphabets,such as the familiar Roman alphabet, represents different
sounds in differentlanguages.Such a claim that language is sound, prove the fact that all
human beings producespeech sound with the same equipment (By the movement of the
speech organs).Language is linearThis is a fundamental feature of spoken language. That we
can represent languageby using symbols for each sound and arrange them in a linear
succession similar tothe sounds production order. This ordering of symbols could be left-toright (e.g.English) or right-to-left (e.g. Arabic) according to the language writing
system.Language is systematicAlthough stating that language linear which permit a
combination of symbolstogether but not all the possible combinations of symbols (sounds) is
possible. Thisis what makes language systematic, means it is describable in terms of
finitenumber of units that can combine only in a limited number of ways. Due to that, 3

4. terms such as sound system, grammatical system etc. emerged as part those termsused in
describing and comparing languages.Language is system of systemsEach language has
phonological (or sound) system and a grammatical system.Each one has its units and rules of
possible combination and order. Language is asystem of systems; all of which operates
simultaneously, but the distinctions wemake it for the sake of analysis, the units and
combinatory rules prober to each.Language is meaningfulIt is principally through the
acquisition of language that the child becomes aneffective member of the community, and the
leaders in a community preserve andadvance their leadership largely through their ability to

communicate with peoplethrough language.Language is arbitraryThis refers to the idea that


the conditions required for the existence of more thanone language: that there be no direct
necessary connection between the nature ofthings or ideas language deals with and the
linguistic units and combinations bywhich these things or ideas are expressed.Language is
conventionalThe use and formation of linguistic units is so regular that these units almost
seemto be employed according to agreement among the speakers. So language can besaid to
be conventional as a consequence of this apparent agreement.Language is a system of
contrastsWhat makes single speakers habit valid for the speech of a community is
thatlanguage is a system of differences.Language is creative 4

5... 5
Octavia amat can-em Octavia loves dog- Obj. marker 6 Analytic (or isolating): In
languages like Chinese where words are simple units without any affixation syntactic
relationships are signaled entirely by word order. For example in Mandarin Chinese Ta chin
fan le He eat meal past He ate a meal 6. (V)

1-, S V O Jim caught the


Qasu-iir-sar -vig -ssar -si -ngit -luinar -narTried not cause-to-be place for suitable find not
completely someone-puq.Third person singularSomeone did not find a completely suitable
resting place.2- Genealogical approach: 7 Agglutinative (or affixing): In languages like
Turkish Japanese and Swahili. In Turkish for instance the word evlerden Ev ler den House pl.
from From the houses 7. Word order in synthetic languages dont change the meaning since
the relationshipcan be shown by words endings such as in Canem Octavia amatHere canem dog
is still the object of the verb amat loves.

In the UK, and The Endangered Language Fund in the USA. Contact details for these
andsimilar organizations are given in Crystal (2000: Appendix). 9

10. Chinese, Russian, Arabic and other major languages have all had an impact on
minoritylanguages throughout their history, and continue to do so. The responsibility for
languagepreservation and revitalization is a shared one. (David Crystal, 2003:21)

Language components:As long as language is a complex system of communication linguists


role is todescribe this system and analyze the relationships exist between its

variouscomponents. Such as the following language components: Sound meaning


GrammarFigure 1: Language Components 10

11. In order to analyze or describe any language we need these three components toworks
together (not independently) to arrive at an adequate analysis or description.Each box have
further subdivisions (or levels) which works as complementary forone another, Sound
phonology

Grammar

syntax

morphology

meaning

semanticsDuality

(or

double

articulation):There are two level of simultaneous organize together to form human


language.This is what called duality (or double articulation), a. Physical level: where we can
produce individual sounds (e.g. n, b and i). Such individual sounds do not make sense (form
meaning) separately so this lead us to the next level. b. Combinational level: here we can have
combination such as bin which is a result of turning those discrete sounds into a meaningful
word.So, one level leads us to a distinct sounds and another to a distinct meanings.
Thisduality of levels is considered to be one of the economical features of humanlanguage
because a combination of limited set of discrete sounds can result in aproduction of a large
number of sound combinations (e.g. words) which aredistinct in meaning ( George Yule
2006:12).Language use 11

12. The Autonomy of language:Autonomy system is a way of describing or analyzing


languages in terms of theirinternal relationships and contrasts. This system is extensively
abstract one whichis obviously in contrast with the concept of language in use (the actual use
oflanguage).The linguistic theories presented the distinction between those concepts.
Forexample in the early nineteenth century the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussureproposed
the two concepts langue (or language) and parole (or speech).Saussure concepts have been
reproduced later in 1960s by the American linguistNoam Chomsky as, competence (our
internal knowledge about a language) andperformance (the actual production of speech).
Chomsky argued that linguistictheory should be based on competence rather than
performance (Chomsky 1965:3).A few decades later descriptive linguists and the modern
schools of linguistics uselargely to ignore competence and to focus on performance what led
to theemergence of what is called the study of language in social context.The study of
language in social contextCriticism of Saussurean tradition of linguisticsThe anthropologist
Bronislaw Malinowski criticized the Saussuean tradition oflinguistics as follow,First,
language in this tradition is looked at basically as a vehicle for informationcommunication
and ignored its other functions such as its use for negotiation andmaintaining social
relationships.Second, this tradition claimed that language study is exclusively study of
linguisticform not meaning.Context of situationAccording to Malinowski and many other

anthropologists utterances are onlycomprehensible in a context of life of which they form a


part. This result later inwhat is known as London School of linguistics. This concept has been
developed 12

13. later by Michael Halliday to be extended as a formal model shows how languageand
context are interlinked to produce meaning.Under the concept of communicative competence
(relative to Chomskyscompetence) Dell Hymes proposed the notion of the ethnography of
speakingwhich includes questions as who (the speaker), whom(the person being spoken
to),where (the context in which the speech is produced), why (the communicativegoals of the
speaker) and so on. This comes under a linguistic branch calledsociolinguistics which
interests in the study of the relationship between languageand society.ConclusionAfter
looking in details (for some extend) at these different concepts in order tocome at a precise
knowledge (conclusion) about what is the nature of language bylooking at what is language
In which we have viewed language from threedifferent angles according to the
communicative, structural and interactional pointof view. Then through some of the
characteristics of language proposed byDinneen1967 we approximately knew some aspects
which can help together indefining what language is linguistically. In our second aspect of
this paper wecome across another concept which is a language (What is a language?)
whichI think it differ from the previous one in that it refers to specific language (whetherthis
language is one of the human languages e.g. English, Arabic, French etc. orlanguage of
specific field types of machine languages, animal languages if there isany and so on).
Whereas, the former concept language is an open one and mayinclude in it all those
concepts which are involved in the later (a language). Herewe have come across five attempts
to define what a language is in relation to someviews such as the naturalism, sociolinguistics,
dualism etc. then there is anexplanation for the different approaches used in language
classification(typological and genealogical approaches) and their different subdivisions.
Inaddition, each approach revealed some kind of limitation to be considered as auniversal way
of classification for all the languages of the world. In this sectionalso some aspects have been
discussed concerning the social and political criteria,languages speakers classification and
language minority. Finally, the last section 13

14. is about, language structure and language use which provides us with the inter-relations
between three components: sounds, grammar and meaning (with theirsubdivisions) to form a
language. Then we discover the duality (or doublearticulation) of language where two levels
acts together to form a human language.In the next part of this section we have been shown
the distinction between theabstract view of language analysis (in the Saussurean tradition and

Chomskysview) and the movement towards the analysis of language in use (in
descriptiveand modern schools of linguistics). The context of situation is the last concept
inour attempt to discover the essence nature of language where Malinowski, Hallidayand
Hymes show us some of their participations in one of the branches oflinguistics that is known
as sociolinguistics where language is studied in relation tothe society. Their work led us to the
conclusion that language cannot be studied inisolation of the society who speaks
it.References-David Graddol, Jenny Cheshire and Joan Swann, 2002, Describing
language,Open University press, Buckingham, Philadelphia.-Francis P. Dinneen, 1967, An
introduction to general linguistics, GeorgetownUniversity, U. S.-George Yule, 2006, The
study of language, Cambridge University Press, U. S.,New York.- David Crystal, 2003,
English as a global language, Cambridge University Press,U. S., New York.-Peter Stockwell
(ed.) & R.L. Trask, 2007, Language and linguistics: The keyconcepts, Routledge, USA and
Canada.-Trevor

Pateman,

1987,

Language

in

Mind

and

Language

in

Society,

OxfordUniversity Press. 14

http://www.sil.org/lingualinks/languagelearning/prepareforlanguagelearning/
TheInteractionalViewOfLanguage.htmExtracted from Richards and Rodgers 1986,-Richards,
Jack C. and Theodore S. Rodgers. 1986. Approaches and methods inlanguage teaching: A
description and analysis. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press. 167pp. By Ahmed Sosal A.
15

http://www.sil.org/lingualinks/languagelearning/prepareforlanguagelearning/

TheStructuralViewOfLanguage.htm

http://www.sil.org/lingualinks/languagelearning/prepareforlanguagelearning/
TheCommunicativeViewOfLanguage.htm 15. - The interactional, communicational and
structural views of language, SILLInternational, 1999, retrieved from, www.sil.org

16. Supervisor Dr. Maha Abdu AldawiDepartment of Linguistics University of Khartoum


October 2011 16