"The Tower of Babel" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Oil on board, 1563.

Language (from Latin lingua "tongue") is the cognitive ability to acquire and use communication systems.

A language is a signifying code.

Every human community possesses language, which many regard as an innate and defining condition of mankind.


1   Study

The study of language is linguistics, a branch of cognitive psychology. Linguistics consists of phonetics, phonology, grammar, semantics, and pragmatics (also, rhetoric? study of language at the level of discourse).

Morris (1938):

Semantics deals with the relation of signs to objects which they may or do denote.

Pragmatics concerns the relation of signs to their interpreters.

Stalnaker (1972):

Syntax studies sentences; semantics studies propositions.

Pragmatics is the study of linguistic acts and the contexts in which they are performed.

There are two major types of problems to be solved within pragmatics: first, to define interesting types of speech acts and speech products; second, to characterize the features of the speech context which help determine which proposition is expressed by a given sentence.

It is a semantic problem to specify the rules for matching up sentences of a natural language with the propositions that they express.

In most cases, however, the rules will not match sentences directly with propositions, but will match sentences with propositions relative to features of the context in which the sentence is used.

These contextual features are part of the subject matter of pragmatics. (p. 383)

Topics in computational linguistics:

2   Function

Languages can be thought of as an evolutionary adaption.

Language enables communication, which in turns enables access to history, accumulation of technology, legal systems, and coordination of the actions of large numbers of people.

In part, language evolved as a form of deception. A bird or monkey finds a store of yummy food and in able to secure this advantage makes a warning/danger call to ward off others. In order to know to do this, the primate, at a very simple level, must imagine others to have similar appetites and aversions. He knows if he hears a warning call he would flee, but if he found food someone else had he might compete for it. Keeping secrets often requires one to place yourself in their mind.

3   Form

A language consists of a lexicon and a grammar.

Every language has a grammatical case system, associated with grammatical relation.

3.1   Case system

English has largely lost its case system, although case distinctions can still be seen with the personal pronouns: form such as I, he and we are used in the role of the subject, while forms such as me, him, and us are used in the role of object.

Languages such as `Ancient Greek`_ and Latin_ have extensive case systems.

4   Properties

Language does not enable thought (though it may help sometimes). For example, musical composition is thought without language. Further, animals probably think without language.

5   Classification

Linguistic typology is a subfield of linguistics that studies and classifies languages according to structural features.

It consists of qualitative typology, quantitative typology, and theoretical typology.

Linguistics is divided into two parts: descriptive linguistics and theoretical linguistics.

The central task of descriptive linguistics is to construct grammar of specific languages, each of which seeks to characterize in a precise way the competence that has been acquired by a speaker of this language. [2]

5.1   Inflectional Classification

5.1.1   Synthetic & Analytic

A language is analytic (or isolating) iff it has no degree of inflection.

Example: Mandarin Chinese

A language is synthetic iff it has some degree of inflection.

Example: Latin is strongly inflected. Example: English is weakly inflected.

Note: Languages with weak inflection may rely on order. Note: Programming languages rely on order, but there is no inherent need for that.

5.1.2   Synthetic

A language is polysynthetic iff a sentence can consists of a single highly-inflected word.

Example: Many American Indian languages.

A language is agglutinative iff it uses agglutination extensively: most words are formed by joining morphemes together.

A language is fusional iff it has a tendency to overly many morphemes to denote grammatical change.

Example: Sanskrit Example: Greek Example: Latin

Fusionality is...

Example: Latin "bonus". "-us" denotes masculine gender, nominative case, and singular number.

6   Processing

Language processing refers to language production and language comprehension.

The ease of processing linguistics may differ according to severals metric of effort-- length, phonotactic well-formedness, neighborhood size, frequency, broader memory consideration, or some overall combination of these. [1]

7   History

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Chomsky first laid out the basic parameters underlying a theory of language ability, which justifiably makes him the creator of modern linguistic theory.

In 1993, Chomsky published a paper that started a major line of inquiry called the minimalist program that developed inside generative grammar.

8   Acquisition

Language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive and comprehend language.

Language acquisition is distinct from language learning, since it takes place unconsciously. [1]

8.1   Research Methods

Research on language acquisition studies how children learn the structure of language.

Because the process results in a fully functioning adult, child development covers all of psycholinguistics.

The analysis of systematic errors in speech, writing and typing of language as it is produced can provide evidence of the process which has generated it.

# Fundamental Concepts

# Core Topics

## Nature vs. Nurture

We use language as a vehicle to examine the way humans are for two reasons:

  1. The possession of language has always been regarded as one of the major differences between men and beasts.
  2. The modern study of language has uncovered complexities of the mind far beyond what anyone would have imagined thirty years ago. (That have wide-reaching implications.)
  • What does human nature have to be like to account for the fact that we can all speak and understand a language? (Not the consequences, but the prerequisites.) What do we need in order to be able to talk?
Note: The human ability to speak is not related to brain size.
Example: Whales and elephants have bigger brains. Example: Dolphins have bigger ratio of brain mass to body mass. Note: There is no logical reason it should be; Scaling is not the same as structural innovation.

We can lay these two parameters out as abbreviated "Fundamental Arguments":

  1. The argument for mental grammar: The expressive variety of language implies that a language user's brain contains a set of unconscious grammatical principles.
  2. The argument for innate knowledge: The way children learn to talk implies that the human brain contains a genetically determined specialization for language.
  3. The argument for the construction of experience: Our experience of the world is actively constructed by the unconscious principles that operate in the brain.

From (1) and (2) we conclude:

  • The ability to speak and understand a human language is a complex combination of nature and nurture.
  • The part coming from nature is a specific human adaptation for language learning and use.

9   Language comprehension

Language comprehension refers to how people comprehend knowledge by extracting information from speech they hear.

Comprehension is affected by expectation. [3]_

10   Universal grammar

Universal grammar (UG) is a theory in linguistics that claims that the ability to learn grammar is innate.

that suggests that there are properties that all possible natural human languages have

Usually credited to Noam Chomsky,

Chomsky believes there are considerable similarities between language's deep structures, and this is evidence for universal grammar.

It can be shown that we do not simply memorize all sentences via proof by contradiction.

One of the earliest demonstrations that children acquire linguistic rules, rather than simply imitating the forms of adult language, was the well-known wug experiment (Berko 1958). In it, the psycholinguist Jean Berko used invented words to examine (among other things) how children between the ages of 4 and 7 form plurals in English. She showed the children cards with simple line drawings of objects and animals and elicited plurals from them by reading them accompanying texts like (17).

(17) This is a wug. Now there is another one. There are two of them. There are two ___. More than 75% of the children pluralized the invented words cra, lun, tor, and wug in exactly the same way that adults did in a control group: they added the sound -z to the word (Berko 1958:159-162).5 Since none of the children had encountered the invented words before the experiment, their response clearly indicates that they had acquired a plural rule and were using it to produce the novel forms.

Children are also observed to produce novel rule-based forms instead of existing irregular adult forms (for instance, comed or goed instead of came or went). This process, which is known as overregularization, is further illustrated in (18) (Marcus et al. 1992:148-149, based on Brown 1973).


11   Representation

A language may be represented by one or more writing systems, or through transient codes like `Morse code`_, `sign language`_, or semaphore_.

12   Further reading

Note: When looking at data that is not in English there are three parts we're interested. We'll have data, which is the foreign language, gloss is the literal translation, and then we have the actual translation.

13   References

[1](1, 2) Piantadosi, Tily, Gibson. 2012.
[2]Chomsky 1970

Language is affected by the community that created it. For example, the English phrase "black sheep" is similar to the Russian phrase "white crow". Italians have no word for "bully", but also don't see to have bullies. Students are exceptionally nice.

Some people who speak different languages claim to have different personalities in each language.

On learning about languages though errors, mention "Freudian slip" as an example of a slip.

Voice recognition means only that you accurately turn audio into text. NLP means you can turn the text into a structured query.

Neo-Confucian scholars in the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) also believed that decoding an unfamiliar writing system could teach us new ways of seeing the world. Scholars in 16th century China argued that deciphering the ancient Chinese script from before the 5th century BCE was not only a key to unlocking the meaning of ancient texts, but also a way of learning to think like the ancient sages.

Wei Jiao provided an alternative explanation that he believed reflected the ancient sages’ understanding of the world. As he explained, what we see with our eyes may be misleading; we can only understand something concretely if we hold it in our hands. This notion that knowledge and action were united — that we can only understand something by doing it — was a central feature of the Neo-Confucian school of learning that Wei Jiao belonged to.

Theories of linguistic relativism claiming that the language one speaks constrains the way one thinks occupied many 20th century linguistic debates. Posed even more strongly, could different languages bring us into different conceptual and behavioral realms? Chinese scholars in the 16th century believed we could attain moral perfection through a kind of osmosis, practicing the writing of the ancient sages.

Nathan Vedal. Dec 14, 2016. Aliens, Neo-Confucians, and the Power of Language.