Human Language and Communication in The Historical & Coming Times Discussion

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Linguistics is field that attempts to provide a scientific understanding about human language. The first step towards understanding something scientifically is to be very clear about what it is you’re trying to understand. For that reason, the first reading is laying out a very specific definition for “language”, so that we can distinguish it from “communication”. Whereas other fields tend to use the words “language” and “communication” interchangeably, we must be very careful not to do this. Linguists define language as a system with special properties; communication is one of the activities that this system can be used for.

Question 1: The following properties define “human language”: (a) Displacement, (b) Arbitrariness, (c) Productivity, (d) Cultural Transmission, and (e) Duality. Give examples of how human language exhibits each of these properties.

Question 2: Come up with two pieces of evidence that show that language and communication are not the same. The evidence you think of could come in the form of either examples, logical implications, or facts about the world. The idea is to think about the issue and try to prove that language and communication are different concepts.


Easy vocabulary. No plagiarism. No need for citing. I will be attaching reading.

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we found ourselves approaching a large, glass-fenced pool in front of the aquarium where four harbor seals were lounging on display. Incredulous, I traced the source of the command to a large seal reclining vertically in the water, with his head extended back and up, his mouth slightly open, rotating slowly. A seal was talking, not to me, but to the air, and incidentally to anyone within earshot who cared to listen. Deacon (1997) There are a lot of stories about creatures that can talk. We usually assume that they are fantasy or fiction or that they involve birds or animals simply imitating something they have heard humans say (as Terrence Deacon discovered was the case with the loud seal in Boston Aquarium). Yet we believe that creatures can communicate, certainly with other members of their own species. Is it possible that a creature could learn to communicate with humans using language? Or does human language have properties that make it so unique that it is quite unlike any other communication system and hence unlearnable by any other creature? To answer these questions, we first look at some special properties of human language, then review a number of experiments in communication involving humans and animals. Communication We should first distinguish between specifically communicative signals and those that may be unintentionally informative signals. Someone listening to you may become informed about you through a number of signals that you have not intentionally sent. She may note that you have a cold (you sneezed), that you are not at ease (you shifted around in your seat), that you are disorganized (non-matching socks) and that you are 45 from somewhere else (you have a strange accent). However, when you use language to tell this person, I'm one of the applicants for the vacant position of senior brain surgeon at the hospital, you are normally considered to be intentionally communicating something. Humans are capable of producing sounds and syllables in a stream of speech that appears to have no communicative purpose, as in glossolalia, or "speaking in tongues,” which is associated with the religious practices of Pentecostal churches. These outpourings sound like language, but with no speaker control it is not intentional communication. We might say the same thing about some of the chirping and singing produced by birds. We also don't assume that the blackbird is communicating anything by having black feathers and sitting on a branch. However, the bird is considered to be sending a communicative signal with the loud squawking produced when a cat appears on the scene. So, when we talk about distinctions between human language and animal communication, we are considering both in terms of their potential for intentional communication. Properties of Human Language While we tend to think of communication as the primary function of human language, it is not a distinguishing feature. All creatures communicate in some way, even if it is not through vocalization. However, we suspect that other creatures are not reflecting on the way they create their communicative messages or reviewing how they work (or not). That is, one barking dog is probably not offering advice to another barking dog along the lines of "Hey, you should lower your bark to make it sound more menacing." They're not barking about barking. Humans are clearly able to reflect on language and its uses (e.g. “I wish he wouldn't use so many technical terms"). This is reflexivity. The property of reflexivity (or 46 “reflexiveness") accounts for the fact that we can use language to think and talk about language itself, making it one of the distinguishing features of human language. Indeed, without this general ability, we wouldn't be able to reflect on or identify any of the other distinct properties of human language. We will look in detail at another five of them: displacement, arbitrariness, productivity, cultural transmission and duality. Displacement When your pet cat comes up to you calling meow, you are likely to understand this message as relating to that immediate time and place. If you ask your cat what it has been up to, you will probably get the same meow response. Animal communication seems to be designed exclusively for the here and now. It isn't used to relate events that are removed in time and place. When your dog says GRRR, it means GRRR, right now, because dogs aren't capable of communicating GRRR, last night, over in the park. In contrast, human language users are normally capable of producing messages equivalent to GRRR, last night, over in the park, and then going on to say In fact, I'll be going back tomorrow for some more. Humans can refer to past and future time. This property of human language is called displacement. It allows language users to talk about things not present in the immediate environment. Displacement allows us to talk about things and places (e.g. angels, fairies, Santa Claus, Superman, heaven, hell) whose existence we cannot even be sure of. We could look at bee communication as a small exception because it seems to have some version of displacement. When a honeybee finds a source of nectar and returns to the beehive, it can perform a dance routine to communicate to the other bees the location of this nectar. Depending on the type of dance (round dance for nearby and tail-wagging dance for further away), the other bees can work out where this newly discovered 47 feast can be found. Doesn't this ability of the bee to indicate a location some distance away mean that bee communication has at least some degree of displacement as a feature? Yes, but it is displacement of a very limited type. It just doesn't have the range of possibilities found in human language. Certainly, the bee can direct other bees to a food source. However, it must be the most recent food source. It cannot be that delicious rose bush on the other side of town that we visited last weekend, nor can it be, as far as we know, possible future nectar in bee heaven. Arbitrariness It is generally the case that there is no "natural" connection between a linguistic form and its meaning. The connection is quite arbitrary. We can't just look at the Arabic words and from its shape determine that it has a natural and obvious meaning any more than we can with its English translation form dog. The linguistic form has no natural or "iconic” relationship with that hairy four-legged barking object out in the world. This aspect of the relationship between words and objects is described as arbitrariness. It is possible to make words “fit” the concept they indicate, as in Figure 2.1, but this type of game only emphasizes the arbitrariness of the connection that normally exists between a word and its meaning. a fall metal war Figure 2.1 There are some words in language with sounds that seem to "echo" the sounds of objects or activities and hence seem to have a less arbitrary connection. English examples are cuckoo, crash, slurp, squelch or whirr. 48 However, these onomatopoeic words are relatively rare in human language. For the majority of animal signals, there does appear to be a clear connection between the conveyed message and the signal used to convey it. This impression may be closely connected to the fact that, for any animal, the set of signals used in communication is finite. Each variety of animal communication consists of a limited set of vocal or gestural forms. Many of these forms are only used in specific situations (to establish territory) or at particular times (to find a mate). Cultural Transmission While we inherit physical features such as brown eyes and dark hair from our parents, we do not inherit their language. We acquire a language in a culture with other speakers and not from parental genes. An infant born to Korean parents in Korea, but adopted and brought up from birth by English speakers in the United States, will have physical characteristics inherited from his or her natural parents, but will inevitably speak English. A kitten, given comparable early experiences, will produce meow regardless. This process whereby a language is passed on from one generation to the next is described as cultural transmission. It is clear that humans are born with some kind of predisposition to acquire language in a general sense. However, we are not born with the ability to produce utterances in a specific language such as English. We acquire our first language as children in a culture. The general pattern in animal communication is that creatures are born with a set of specific signals that are produced instinctively. There is some evidence from studies of birds as they develop their songs that instinct has to combine with learning (or exposure) in order for the right song to be 49
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Linguistics: Human Language and Communication
Question 1
In displacement, People may speak about the historical and coming times. This human
language ability enables language users to talk about objects and activities that are not currently
in the physical surroundings. As such, displacement allows us to discuss things and places like
deities, witches, and life after death. Arbitrariness is a Language factor that there is no physical
relationship between linguistic signs and arti...


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