words… combined

Whoa. Siri has its work cut out for it.

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If someone asked me what a language is, I would probably start by telling them what language is not, as Pinker does. It is not thought; it is a way of expressing thought. As we learn more about connections between language and other forms of expressing thought (i.e. multimedia, film) this should hold true. When we think about the rules of language, for instance, lexical categories (finite) and their combinatorial nature (infinite), I assume we can apply them for other forms of expression. In music there are only so many notes you can play on any given instrument, but there are endless possibilities with which you can play those notes in a song. I haven’t gone further than basic googling, but it seems that childhood musical development is concurrent (or they at least have some overlap) to language development. I wonder if music is also structure dependent like language.

When Jackendoff writes “the little star besides the big star”, his spatial structure model seems intuitively clear. Although when he draws out the physical structure of a big star and a little star, I wonder if drawing two celebrities of unequal fame would also suffice. There are parts of all of the other structures that make sense, but as a whole the new terminology makes them more difficult. I never really thought before about the way that plural suffixes have three different types of sounds (s,z,uhz), or how syllables have a nuclei which makes up the bulk of the word. I still have a hard time following how he maps the different structures out, but the structure itself provides a useful framework.

I’ve only taken one class on linguistics and it was the last requirement I needed for my Anthropology minor. It focused on social uses of language, although we started off by going over syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. We also discussed things that I assume we won’t be using here like haptics (use of touch in communication) and proxemics (location in communication), although their implementation can alter our perception of meaning. What’s interesting is that although we spent a lot of class time going over the ebonics debate and how descriptivist’s would agree that it is sophisticated, but we never went over Chomsky. His ideas seem to be integral to the idea of linguistic relativity. Jackendoff even mentions his merge rule (although he doesn’t say whether we should give it creedence), where any word or phrase can be combined with any other word or phrase (I suspect this rule governs how startups choose their company names and Dada art). How far did Chomsky take this rule?

Lastly, here’s Rick and Morty’s take on a universe where grammar evolved to have ‘shm’ as the prefix for everything (I wasn’t sure how to weld it to an examplet in the reading, but I know it belongs here):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pAMdn9oSPE

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Linguistics and Symbolic Systems. 2015.

Ray Jackendoff, Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2003.

Steven Pinker, Linguistics as a Window to Understanding the Brain. 2012.