Language Subsystems

Phonology - sound system

Elementary sound units and rules for combining them (certain sound combinations are not         allowed)

Phonemes - sound categories (e.g., 'b') with different pronunciations (allophones)

Morphology - word system

Words and rules for combining them

Morphemes - minimal meaning units

    Free - stand alone

    Bound - do not stand alone; must be combined with others

    Inflectional - provide additional information (e.g., 's' for n > 1)

    Derivational - alter meaning of morpheme (e.g., un-; ly for changing adj. -> adv.

Sample rules (in English): add 's' for nouns to indicate plural (but irregular nouns)

Semantics - meaning system

Lexical - word meaning (e.g., referent)

Compositional - meaning of word combinations (phrases/sentences). Can't be determined by combining lexical meaning (Blind Venetian = Venetian Blind).

Speaker meaning - what a particular speaker means with a remark in a particular context (= sentence meaning; context dependent).

Syntax - word combination system

structure of word groups and rules for generating grammatical strings

relates sound to meaning. Word order conveys meaning (especially in English)

treated at sentence level; existence of syntax for larger stretches of language (discourse; conversation) is not clear.

Pragmatics - system of language use

variations in production and comprehension as a function of context (broadly defined).

Catch-all category (everything not covered above).

Focus on speaker meaning; both intended and unintended.

Topics = politeness, conversational structure, conversational inference (recognition of intention)

Summary: Sounds are combined (phonetics) to form words with a particular sense and reference (morphology) that can be combined to create a grammatical sentence (syntax) with a particular meaning (semantics) that a speaker can use to accomplish a particular goal in some context (pragmatics).

Issue: Independence of subsystems. How and to what extent do these subsystems interact?

In some theories (e.g., Chomsky) they are viewed as relatively autonomous.

-"Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" - grammatical but meaningless (so, syntax and semantics are separate)

However, clearly dependencies exist. Some examples:

1. Morphology and phonology: word superiority effect; letters identified more quickly if part of a word.

2. Phonology (e.g., intonation) - pragmatics: rising intonation produces a question interpretation.

3. Pragmatics and syntax: pragmatic constraints on insertion of 'please' in conventional indirect requests.

Language Disciplines

Linguistics (theoretical; e.g., Chomsky)

Describe structural properties of language (e.g., syntactic rules)

Evidence = linguistic intuitions

In general, focus on language competence (what ideal, decontextualized, hearer/speaker knows in order to use language). Separate from language performance (actual use).

In general, takes an individualistic perspective (how single speaker constructs/interprets utterance apart from others who are involved in the act).

Part of competence may involve factors normally associated with performance.

This issue is dealt with in pragmatics, applied linguistics, etc.

Psycholinguistics -

examination of psychological processes involved in language use. How do people produce, comprehend, and acquire language.

Evidence = experimental

Greater emphasis on performance; but still somewhat asocial, Individualized, idealized sentences, etc.

Sociolinguistics -

social dimension of language use

Examination (often empirical) of how language use (hence performance) is affected by social features (e.g., dialect/code switching; politeness; address form shifts)

Additional disciplines

- philosophy (semantics), artificial intelligence (simulation of language use), social psychology (interpersonal aspects of language; underpinnings of social thought)

Levels of analysis - language use can be examined at different levels

Computational - Description of hypothetical rules (e.g., Chomsky/competence)

Representational - How rules are represented and use (e.g., psycholinguistics)

Implementational - Physical performance of activity (e.g., neurolinguistics)


Design Features of Language (from Hockett)

Features of language that may distinguish it from other forms of communication.

1.Vocal-auditory channel

2.Broadcast transmission and Directional Reception

Overhearers - impacts use

3.Rapid fading

Cognitive consequence; must plan while receiving (conversation processing differs from text processing)

4. Interchangability

users can be both senders and receivers

5. Total/complete feedback

have access to what they're producing

6.  Specialization

energetic consequences are irrelevant; sound waves per se are irrelevant in terms of conveying meaning; e.g., volume is irrelevant in terms of meaning (true?)

7. Semanticity

meaningful symbols; associative link between communicative elements and features of the world (including relationship betweennn words; function word).

(Internal representation required?)

8. Arbitrary

no natural relationship between communicative elements and their referents (signals rather than signs)

9. Disreteness

elements have either/or quality. Not analog. Related to arbitrariness and specialization.

10. Displacement

communicated information can be removed in time/space from actual communication.

11. Productivity

open system; discrete elements can be comined in infinite variety of ways. Syntax allows for iteration and recursion and hence productivity (even though elements are discreete); continuous system wouldn't require syntax.

12. Duality of patterning

Discrete elements are hierarchically organized; primitive elements are meaningless; it is the hierarchical organization that allows for meaning. Phonemes -> morphemes; Morphemes -> Sentences (meaning not morphemes combined). Sentences -> Discourse.

13.Traditional transmission.

Language is taught (indirectly) and learned.

Some possible additions:


Possible to communicate about communication (e.g., this course)


possible to lie and deceive

3. Intentional

Reflexive intention (intention that is intended to be recognized)