As Irvine mentions in his presentation, language isn’t just a box of words to string together, but has built in rules for combining words into grammatical phrases, sentences, and complex sequences. Language is a system that is made of subsystems, and each of these subsystems/layers play an important role for the whole architecture. Let’s take a look at these different subsystems.
Phonology: The system of speech sounds in a language, and the human ability to make
spoken sounds in a language.
Morphology: Minimal meaning units as the first level mappingof spoken sounds and meaning
Lexicon: The “dictionary” or vocabulary of language: words understood as minimal
meaning units marked with syntactic (grammatical) and lexical functions
(word class function).
Syntax: Syntax(or more loosely, grammar) describes the rulesand constraintsfor
combining words in phrases and sentences (combinatorialrules) that speakers of
any natural language use to generate new sentences and to understand those
expressed by others.
Semantics: how speakers and auditors understand words
in a sentence unit
Pragmatics: The larger meaning situation, codes, knowledge, speech acts, and kinds of
discourse surrounding and presupposed by any individual expression.
The process of learning language is natural and we all are born with the ability to learn it. Let’s take the example of babies. From the research done there are three stages in which children develop their language skills.
The first one is learning sounds. In the first couple of months that a baby is born, they can make and hear different sounds in different languages. Babies learn which phonemes belong to the language they are learning and which don’t. The ability to recognize and produce those sounds is called “phonemic awareness,” which is important for children learning to read.
The second stage is learning words. At this stage, children essentially learn how the sounds in a language go together to make meaning. As Dr. Bainbridge explains, this is a significant step because everything we say is really just a stream of sounds. To make sense of those sounds, a child must be able to recognize where one word ends and another one begins. These are called “word boundaries.” However, children are not learning words, exactly. They are actually learning morphemes, which may or may not be words.
Stage three is learning sentences. During this stage, children learn how to create sentences. That means they can put words in the correct order.
Of course that the rates at which a language develops is affected by many factors, but what this shows is that since we are born, our brain is capable of learning a language, and then by studying it and learning the grammar we can develop more complex sentences.
It is more interesting to think about the process of learning more than one language, and study shows that the younger we are, the easier it is to learn more than one language. From my personal experience, I started learning English, when I was in the third grade. In order to really understand and learn a language and be fluent at it, there are 4 skills.
Practicing and repeating these different skills helped me to learn the language faster.
To conclude, language is a complex system made of all these different subsystems, and understanding each part, helps us to correctly use it in a meaningful way.
Bainbridge, Carol “How Do Children Learn Language?” from https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-do-children-learn-language-1449116. 4 December 2017
Irvine, Martin “Introduction to Linguistics and Symbolic Systems: Key Concepts”
Jackendoff, Ray Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2003.
Pinker,Steven “How Language Works.” Excerpt from: Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York, NY: William Morrow & Company, 1994: 83-123.