Properties of Human Language

2029 Words May 3rd, 2012 9 Pages
What properties differentiate human language from
all other forms of signaling and what properties make
it a unique type of communication system?
There have been a number of attempts to determine the
defining properties of human language and different lists
of features can be found.
The following is a slightly modified list of features
proposed by the linguist Charles Hockett:
1. Arbitrariness.
It is generally the case that there is no 'natural'
connection between a linguistic form and its
meaning. For the majority of animal signals,
however, there appears to be a clear connection
between the conveyed message and the signal used
to convey it.
Arbitrariness of the symbols. Any symbol can be mapped
onto any concept (or even
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1. A Mode of Communication (vocal-auditory, visual,
tactile or even chemical)
2. Semanticity.
The signals in any communication system have meaning.
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3. Pragmatic function. واقعي
All systems of communication serve some useful
purpose, from helping the species to stay alive to
influencing others' behavior.
4. Interchangeability. قابل للتبادل
The ability of individuals to both send and receive
messages.
Study Questions:
1. What is the property, which relates to the fact that a
language must be acquired or learned by each new
generation? 2. Can you briefly explain what the term
"arbitrariness" means as it is used to describe a property
of human language?
3. Which term is used to describe the ability of human
language-users to discuss topics, which are remote in
space and time?
4. What is the term used to describe the fact that, in a
language, we can have different meanings for the three
words "tack", "act" and "cat", yet, in each case, use the
same basic set of sounds?
5. A distinction is made between 'communicative' and
'informative' signals. No mention is made of the
phenomenon known as 'body language'. Would 'body
language', or other aspects of non-verbal signaling, be
considered 'communicative' or 'informative'?
6. Hockett (1963) proposed that 'prevarication' could be
treated as a property of language. In discussing this
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