Study of Language: Module 4


Language is a human-specific faculty and language acquisition is a universal process. First language is the mother tongue or the language a child learns first. First language / L 1 acquisition takes place at a remarkable speed. By the time a child enters elementary school, he/she is an extremely sophisticated language-user, operating a communicative system which, not even the computer, can compete with. The speed of acquisition and the fact that all children acquire language without overt instruction, have led to the belief that there is an innate language-faculty in the human infant to acquire language. All normal children, of all cultures, develop language at approximately the same time and more or less along the same schedule. There are several stages in the acquisition process: — (a) the pre-language stage. The period from about three months to ten months is characterized by pre-linguistic sounds called ‘cooing’ and ‘babbling.’ The first recognizable sounds are described as cooing with /k/, /g/, / ɪ / and / ʊ/. By six months the child produces a no of different vowels and consonants and this stage is described as babbling; example ‘ma.’ Around ten months intonation patterns can be recognized. (b) one-word / holophrastic stage. Between twelve and eighteen months children begin to produce a variety of recognizable single unit utterances; example ‘milk’. (c) two-word stage. It begins around eighteen to twenty months. By the time the child is two years old, combinations like ‘baby chair’ will appear; at this stage the child will have a vocabulary of more than fifty words. (d) telegraphic speech. This stage is characterized by phrases like ‘cat drink milk’. (e) multiple-word utterances. When the child is three years old, its vocabulary grows to hundreds of words and pronunciation gets closer to that of adult language. No one gives the child any instruction on how to speak the language. From what is said to them, children actively construct possible ways of using the language.


        L 2/ Second language is the language children learn as an additional language after they have acquired their mother tongue. In L 2 acquisition the problems experienced are related to the fact that they are exposed to a second language during their teenage years or adult years, in a few hours each week at school (unlike the constant interaction experienced by a child when acquiring the mother tongue) and with an already known language available for most of their daily communicative requirements. So most of them cannot achieve native-like proficiency in using a second language. The learner factors in second language acquisition are the learner’s image and behaviour in a group, his/her age, attitude to the teacher, aptitude and motivation. There are a number of educational approaches that foster L2 acquisition.

(a) Grammar-translation method

      It is the most traditional approach which emphasizes the written language rather the spoken language. Long lists of words and a set of grammatical rules have to be memorized and the learner is ignorant of how the language is used.

(b) Direct method

       It recreates the exposure which young children have in language acquisition. Emphasis is on the spoken language; everything said in the classroom has to be expressed in L2.   

(c) Audio lingual method – drilling language patterns.

(d)  Communicative approach

       This approach is based on the functions of language rather than the forms of the language. It is characterized by lessons organized around concepts such as ‘asking for things’ in different social contexts rather than the forms of the past tense’.


      The Cybernetic Revolution has created implements which are extensions of the human mind. Computational linguistics is a discipline between linguistics and computer science. It is concerned with the computational aspects of the human language faculty. Computational linguistics is the scientific and engineering discipline concerned with understanding written and spoken language from a computational perspective. It belongs to the cognitive (connected with the mental processes of understanding) sciences and overlaps with the field of artificial intelligence (AL – the science of making machines do things that requires intelligence if done by men), a branch of computer science aimed at computational models of human cognition. To the extent that language is a mirror of the mind, a computational understanding of language also provides insight into thinking and intelligence. Since language is our most natural and most versatile means of communication, linguistically competent computers would greatly facilitate our interaction with machines and software of all sorts and put at our fingertips, in ways that truly meet our needs, the vast textual and other resources of the internet. Computational linguistics is the study of computer processing, comprehending and generating human languages. It is often regarded as a sub field of artificial intelligence. Techniques from computational linguistics are used in applications such as machine translation, speech recognition, information retrieval, intelligent web searching and intelligent spelling checking.


      Todorov, the French structuralist, coined the term ‘narratology’ to refer to the study of narrative. It is the study of the forms, structures, media, function and evolution of narratives with special emphasis on story. Narratology seeks to discover:– (a) the basic components (forms) of stories; (b) the arrangement of these basic components that is the structure; (c) the various media used to create and deliver stories; (d) the function of stories; (e) the history and evolution of stories that ,is the way the stories and the meanings that stories express change over time and from place to place. In order to effectively analyse a narrative, a narratologist must have knowledge of linguistics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, history and the various media used to create stories. Story telling is an important factor that distinguishes us from other animals. It helps us to make sense of our lives and to make our lives more meaningful, than just a simple sequence of events. Narratology is thus the science that seeks greater clarity and deeper understanding of meanings as expressed in stories.


    Language is culture-preserving as well as culture-transmitting. Though there are other forms like music and painting that preserve culture, language is the most common and dynamic form in which culture is preserved and transmitted. Culture is the sum total of transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions and all other products of human work and thought characteristic of a community or population. These characteristics are transmitted by language. Culture and language are so tightly related that neither of them can exist without the other. Cultural changes occur along with changes in language.  

Cultural Diffusion – refers to the spread of culture and the factors that account for it such as migration, communication, trade and commerce. Immigrants take their cultural baggage with them when they move to a new country. They tend to retain their old customs and to speak their first language amid fellow immigrants even if all of them are comfortable in their new language. This is because the immigrants are eager to preserve their own heritage which includes language too besides customs and traditions. This results in the appearance of cultural traits or entire cultural communities in areas where they were not previously present. For example, New York is generally an English-speaking region. Nevertheless, there are significant cultural communities within New York in which Spanish, Japanese and Hindi are dominant. Each has come to characterize segments of New York as a result of cultural diffusion. Through communication elements of culture A enter culture B and become part of culture B thus creating cultural diffusion. Through cultural diffusion many languages, especially English, have borrowed words from other languages; but they maintain their identity by preserving their own grammatical structures. 

Discourse analysis – discourse is the use of language in speech and writing in order to produce meaning. The study of what the language-user intended to mean/convey is discourse analysis. The key element in the study of discourse is the effort to interpret and to know how it is accomplished. Certain factors are essential for this – (a) cohesion – the ties and connections that exist in texts; (b) coherence – the ability of people to make sense of what they read and hear; (c) speech events – debates, interviews, discussions etc.

Conversation – can be described as an activity where, for the most part, two or more people take turns at speaking. Generally participants wait until one speaker indicates that he/she has finished by signalling a completion point – asking a question or pausing. One of the most noticeable features is that conversational discourse is generally very co-operative. In most conversational exchanges the participants co-operate with each other. Background knowledge must be shared by the participants to interpret the conversational discourse. For example the conversation between Carol and Laura: Carol : Are you coming to the party tonight ? Laura: I’ve got an exam tomorrow. Laura’s statement is not an answer to Carol’s question. Yet with a background knowledge of exams, studying, parties Carol can work out that ‘exam tomorrow’ involves ‘study tonight’ and ‘study tonight’ precludes (prevents making something not possible ) ‘party tonight’ and infer that Laura’s answer is not simply a statement of tomorrow’s activities but that it contains an additional meaning.


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