Every Language Is Different But…
January 7, 2022
Every language is different, but all languages have basic parts of speech as well as rules for constructing phrases out of similar building blocks. In fact, there are fundamental underpinnings across all languages that make them logical for speakers and listeners to understand what is being said. Linguistic engineers that study even the most remote spoken languages agree that most native tongues are structurally similar in surprising ways. In English, an adjective comes before a noun, such as the name of the world’s most popular energy drink Red Bull. Nonetheless, the adjective comes after the noun in Italian where you would say Toro Rosso. Even American Sign Language (ASL), which is a non-verbal language used in deaf communities in the United States and Canada, a signer (or signing interpreter) can convey full, grammatical sentences with both tense and aspect by moving his or her hands and face.
Whether spoken, written, or signed, all languages must be able to be produced and comprehended, and it is this complexity that defines us as humans, allows for our social interactions, and brings order to our lives. Moreover, the world’s educational systems depend on our ability to effectively communicate with others through spoken and written words. Linguistics is the field of study devoted to language and linguists view language in an objective way by applying scientific method and rigorous research to substantiate theories about how humans acquire, use, and sometimes abuse language. Every human language has a lexicon, which is the sum total of all of the words and word elements that carry meaning and are used in that language. In a broader sense, a lexicon can refer to a general dictionary of a specific language. Reading, which is highly valued for social and economic development, would not exist without human language.
Major Components of Speech and Language
Linguists have identified five basic components found across languages and have traditionally analyzed language in terms of several subfields of study. Speech pathologists study the subfields of language and are specially trained to assess and treat language difficulties by subfields. These include:
- Phonology – Phonology is the study of the sounds a speaker of a given language makes, including intonation, syllable structure, and sound sequences. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that can cause a change of meaning within a language. An example would be the words sake and snake. Only one phoneme the “n” has been changed but meaning of the word “sake” has been greatly altered.
- Morphology – Morphology is the study of the structure of words and how words are built with letters or groups of letters. For example, mount has one morpheme, where mount plus ed (mounted) has two . By adding the prefix re, the meaning of the three morpheme word (remounted) has changed. Morphemes include root words, suffixes, and prefixes as well as parts of compound words.
- Syntax – Where morphology is the study of word structure, syntax is the study of sentence structure. Rules that govern the way that words are organized, and the way sentences are arranged, is the syntax. As mentioned earlier the adjective goes in front of the noun in English where Italian places adjectives after the word that they describe. The basic syntactic structure in English is subject+verb+object.
- Semantics – Grammatical structure not only provides needed clues for understanding what was said, figurative language and rich description adds nuance and color to communications. Semantics is the study of the meaning and relationship of words, phrases, and sentences in spoken or written language. For example, saying you “have cold feet” could mean your feet are cold or it could be an expression of anxiety over something.
- Pragmatics – Pragmatics is the study of rules that govern the use of language and language context in social situations. Its emphasis is on functions rather than on structure. The way a teenager speaks to their parents differs from how they talk around a group of friends their age. Discourse refers to the connected flow of language when people speak among themselves. Pragmatics are among the most important social skills.
A variety of messages communicated through speech or transcript can be conveyed based on the context of what was said, the tone, body language, and even the words chosen by a speaker or writer. Languages help shape a culture’s social interactions and brings order to the world in which they live. Grammar is the rules for generating logical communications using the sum total of words (lexicon) available for that language.
Understanding how language works means reaching across many facets of social interaction from the basics to high-level cognitive processing. An accurate use of languages helps shape relationships for communicating in the global village. For optimal results in translating and interpreting your organization’s messages, contact ProLingo at 800-287-9755 to discuss your needs for any language.