Qi Wang Week 5

From the reading Linguistic, Language, and symbolic cognition (Irvin), generally, the “natural language” is defined as human languages acquired from the community where they were born in or live in. Language is an inherent talent, a unique characteristic of humans that distinguishes humans from other species. It is composed of different elements: words, grammar relations, and meaning. How the features work is not like a separate layer; rather, they work coordinately with reflectivity. Because the words are not blank, there are already syntactic features adding in it (Irvine). 

Moreover, it also discussed “Universal Grammar” in both readings and the video. Chomsky’s Universal Grammar theory believes that language ability is determined by human genes and is innate. No matter what language you speak or where you are on the earth, as long as you are a human being, you have a unique and universally applicable grammar in your mind. All human languages can be abstracted into such grammar. It also explains why children can learn languages fast from a very young age, even with poor input. However, I have a question here, if the universal grammar is an inborn gift, why people find it is harder to study a second language in adulthood, even adults’ brains are more developed than children? Does it mean this gift will disappear in adulthood? 

Besides, based on Chomsky’s theory, through the recursive semiotic system rules, all human language combinations can be generated from the basic words, including existing sentences and potentially infinite sentences. I am wondering that if contextual meaning contributes to this infinite potential of language? There is an example at the end of the reading: He is as cold as ice (Irvin). Even the words are the same, but it has a different meaning under different conditions. As for me, in different situations, even these sentences have exactly the same words, I won’t consider them the same sentences. 

In the video, the professor mentioned one hypothesis: the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which demonstrates languages can influence people’s perception and understanding of the world. I think it indicates the relationship between languages and our way of thinking. The book Metaphors We Live By talked about a fascinating language phenomenon, which is a metaphor (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson). For example, time is like money, which is a simile. Time is money, this is a metaphor. The author of this book believes that metaphor is not only a rhetoric but also our way of thinking. When we say that time is money, it is not only a rhetoric, but also reflects our thinking. We would say spend time, save time, waste time, and also say spend money, save money, waste money. Time and money are almost in the same mode of thinking here. Therefore, language is a better way to understand the brain, just like a specific programming language should be understood when studying a system.

My sentence: They killed Kenny!


Martin Irvin, Linguistics, Language, and Symbolic Cognition: Key Concepts

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphor we live by. Chicago/London.