Have you ever really thought about what language is? When we speak, we convey thoughts and ideas through sounds. When we combine these sounds into units of meaning we get words and word parts. Then we combine these words into larger units- phrases, clauses, sentences, and discourses. And in order to be effective in communicating we don’t do any of this randomly. We use a set of established patterns, “rules” to communicate our message.

Imagine if there was no language. Imagine looking at a beautiful sunset and……. Nothing. You’ve got nothing. You see something vibrant and unusual and there is nothing you can do to communicate that wondrous beauty. Maybe you point your finger, if that has been established as a way of communicating. Maybe you smile, if the other knows that smiling conveys a positive feeling, and not one he/she needs to run away from. But- what else is there to do? Let’s communicate!

What Would We Be Without Language?

There are several major parts to language, for example, PHONOLOGY. Phonology is the set of sounds that act as building blocks of meaning. In and by themselves, sounds have no meaning. The sounds for /a/, /b/, and /t/ are only sounds by themselves. Working together, however, sounds of a language group together in predictive patterns to build units that can carry meaning. Thus the consonants /b/ and /t/, when combined with the vowel /a/ make “abt”, “atb”, “tba”, “bta”, “tab”, and “bat”.

This simple example shows you that while sounds can be combined in innumerable, seemingly arbitrary ways, the rules of a language determine the acceptable ways for sounds to be combined in order to build units of meaning. In this case, English uses “tab” and “bat”, but none of the other combinations. Unless there is ice cream involved. Then any sound of pleasure with a smile on your face is entirely understood.

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