Month: July 2017

What is Language?

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We are all insiders to language, so for many purposes, we have the right to take this term for granted. For instance, we all know English. Yet, English is not spoken the same way In Glasgow as it is in say Jamaica. There are no single forms of speech or writing for ‘English’ instead there are many ‘Englishes’.

“We must, in reality, distinguish as many languages as there are individuals” (Hermann Paul, 1880).

Linguists are often asked just how many languages there are. The answer they give tends to centre on around 5000 to 6000. Definitions of languages can vary from one country to another.

“A language is a dialect with an army and a navy” (Max Wenreich, 1945).

It is best not to worry too much about what we call things; both dialect and language are terms applied to ways of speaking we perceive as different. So, in reality, how many languages are there?

In conclusion, everyone speaks language in a different way. It could be argued that every human being on earth has their own language, but the differences are small so communication is still possible. Language, therefore, is the general structure of words and sounds that are commonly understood by speakers of the language.

(203 Words)


Sounds in Language

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Words are made up of units of sound. English can be very distinct from other languages by the way the mouth is used to articulate a word.  A speaker of English can distinguish between a B and T in words such as ‘den’ and ‘ten’. They can also hear the vowels in words such as ‘pat’ or ‘pen’. These two previous words would be examples of using vowels in English, but English has words like ‘dead’ or ‘dared’ which include vowels sounds but not in the general sense of the vowel sound rules AEIO and U. The units of sound are now put into categories as short vowels or long vowels.

The words sounds and slices can be used to describe how a word such as ‘pat’ includes three sounds; the ‘P’ sound then ‘A’ and ‘T’. This word is then a slice of a sentence. The main factor is that a phrase with the words ‘those three oranges’ highlights where successive vowels and consonants can be heard with some with higher stresses on them.

Moreover, attention can be drawn to the use of the mouth and tongue when enunciating any word. English speakers have a distinct use of the mouth that enables them to say their vowels and consonants in words. There are sound differences even within English, but there are further differences if a native speaker wanted to learn Italian. Using an Italian word such as ‘babbo’ for daddy, the English person would say it in a normal English speaking way, but as with the Italian language, the vocal cords begin to vibrate before the mouth is opened. The crossover of languages shows the use of the same letter sounds which can be easily heard as other letters by other speakers of another language.

One final aspect of language is the movement of the lips and the posture of the tongue. Phrases like ‘three cleans’ or ‘two clues’ draw attention to the use of the lips and tongue. There is certain timing for both which is in the mouth position when carrying over from word to word or syllable to syllable.  This shows the main crux of language when talking about sound units; we are looking at the way the speaker constructs a voice utterance.

(372 Words)