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«2014 George Yule 2 Contents 1 The origins of language 2 Animals and human language 3 The sounds of language 4 The sound patterns of language 5 Word ...»

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This guide contains suggested answers for the Study Questions, with answers and

tutorials for the Tasks in each chapter of The Study of Language (5th edition).

© 2014 George Yule



1 The origins of language

2 Animals and human language

3 The sounds of language

4 The sound patterns of language

5 Word formation

6 Morphology

7 Grammar

8 Syntax

9 Semantics

10 Pragmatics

11 Discourse analysis

12 Language and the brain

13 First language acquisition

14 Second language acquisition/ learning

15 Gestures and sign language

16 Written language

17 Language history and change

18 Regional variation in language

19 Social variation in language

20 Language and culture

References (study guide)

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1.1 Interjections contain sounds that are not otherwise used in ordinary speech production. They are usually produced with sudden intakes of breath, which is the opposite of ordinary talk, produced on exhaled breath.

1.2 Primitive words could have been imitations of the natural sounds that early humans heard around them and all modern languages have words that are onomatopoeic in some way (like “bow-wow”).

1.3 First, his conclusion was based on very little evidence and, second, it seems more reasonable to assume that the children in his study were producing a goat-like sound from their immediate environment rather than a Phrygian sound from a distant language.

1.4 The pharynx is above the larynx (or the voice box or the vocal folds). When the larynx moved lower, the pharynx became longer and acted as a resonator, resulting in increased range and clarity of sounds produced via the larynx.

1.5 If these deaf children do not develop speech first, then their language ability would not seem to depend on those physical adaptations of the teeth, larynx, etc, that are involved in speaking. If all children (including those born deaf) can acquire language at about the same time, they must be born with a special capacity to do so. The conclusion is that it must be innate and hence genetically determined.

1.6 The physical adaptation source.


1A The Heimlich maneuver The Heimlich maneuver, named after an American doctor, Henry J. Heimlich, is a procedure used to dislodge pieces of food (or anything else) that are stuck in the throat, or more specifically, the upper respiratory passage. The procedure is also known as an abdominal thrust. The danger of getting things stuck in the respiratory passage, making it difficult or impossible to breathe, is connected to the lower position of the larynx in humans. The lower larynx is believed to be one of the keys to the development of human speech and the Heimlich maneuver is a solution to a life-threatening problem potentially caused by that development.

4For more, read:www.deaconess-healthcare.com/Heimlich_Institute/

1B The Tower of Babel According to chapter 11 of the book of Genesis in the Bible, there was a time “when the whole earth was of one language and of one speech.” The people decided to build “a tower whose top may reach unto

heaven.” God’s reaction to this development was not favorable:

“And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language: and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth.” (Genesis 11: 5-9).

The usual interpretation of these events is that humans were united in a single language and working together to build a tower which represented a challenge to God and God intervened in some way so that they couldn’t understand each other and dispersed them to different places. This can be viewed as an explanation of how humans started with a single language and ended up with thousands of different, mutually unintelligible languages all over the world.

Apparently there were many large towers built in Mesopotamia (part of modern Iraq) which all had names suggesting they were perceived as stairways to heaven. Robert Dunbar (1996: 152-3) describes one of these towers from a historical point of view.

“The Tower of Babel was no myth: it really did exist. Its name was Etemenanki (meaning “the temple of the platform between heaven and earth”), and it was built some time in the sixth or seventh century BC during the second great flowering of Babylonian power. It was a seven-stage ziggurat, or stepped pyramid, topped by a brilliant blue-glazed temple dedicated to the god Marduk, by then the most powerful of the local Assyrian pantheon. A century or so later, in about 450 BC, the Greek historian Herodotus struggled up the steep stairways and ramps in the hope of seeing an idol at the top. Alas, there was nothing but an empty throne.”

For more, read:

Dunbar, R. (1996) Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language Harvard University Press 5 1C A teleological explanation A teleological explanation is one in which events and developments are viewed as having a purpose or goal (“telos” in Greek) and happen in order to accomplish that purpose. A simple example would be the claim that giraffes developed long necks in order to be able to reach leaves on higher branches of trees.

Arguments for teleology are present in most religions, as exemplified by God giving Adam the power of language in order to do other things. That is, language was created for a future purpose. In his Metaphysics, the Greek philosopher Aristotle also referred to a “Prime Mover” who sets everything in motion with a purpose and direction.

In contrast, those who study evolution typically take the view that “natural selection” is the driving force in the development of all organisms and it is not purpose-driven. In the giraffe example, they would say that those giraffes that happened to be born with longer necks were simply more successful in life and produced more long-necked offspring. So the long neck we now observe is the result of something rather than something that had a purpose. In the evolutionary view, the future use of a feature (e.g. having language) cannot be treated as an explanation for its development because this would mean that some type of “backwards causation” was at work. In this view, language develops because it confers certain advantages on those (and their offspring) who have it over those who don’t. Those advantages would have been unknown beforehand and are treated as the result of language use and hence cannot be teleological.

For more, read:Johansson, S. (2005) Origins of Language (Chapter 10) John Benjamins

1D Ontogeny and phylogeny Ernst Haeckel was a professor of zoology who, in 1866, invented the terms “ontogeny” (= the development of an individual) and “phylogeny” (= the development of a species) and went on to claim that “ontogeny is the short and rapid recapitulation of phylogeny.” From this perspective, the development of the human infant is seen as going through exactly the same stages (relatively quickly) as the human species did (slowly) in the development of physical abilities and also language. The idea was very popular for many years, but is no longer taken as seriously, mainly because of a more detailed understanding of how human infants develop language in a context with others who use the language rather than in a context where no language exists beforehand.


For more, read:

Aitchison, J. (2000) The Seeds of Speech (chapter 8) Cambridge University Press Gould, S. (1977) Ontogeny and phylogeny Harvard University Press 1E Jespersen on language origins Jespersen describes the origin of speech in terms not unlike those used by Darwin in the quotation at the beginning of the chapter. At one point he writes: “we must therefore conclude that the speech of

uncivilized and primitive men was more passionately agitated than ours, more like music or song” (1922:

420). Later in his discussion, he describes how he thinks “the genesis of language” came about. “In primitive speech I hear the laughing cries of exultation when lads and lasses vied with one another to attract the attention of the other sex, when everybody sang his merriest and danced his bravest to lure a pair of eyes to throw admiring glances in his direction” (1922: 434). This would suggest that Jespersen believed in music and singing as the likely origin of early speech.

For more, read:

Jespersen, O. (1922) Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin (Chapter 21) George Allan and Unwin McMahon, A. and R. McMahon (2013) Evolutionary Linguistics (2-6) Cambridge University Press 1F When was language born?

If we believe that “language was born” when the first sound combinations were used for more than emotional cries, then we might argue that homo habilis, more than two million years ago, was the first to have some type of language, based on the following evidence.

(i) Basic vocalizations of the type still found among primates were used, not just in isolation, but in combinations as a form of proto-language. (see Bickerton,1990) (ii) Among groups, the proto-language was probably initially used during social interaction, possibly in connection with grooming. (see Dunbar, 1996) (iii) Enlargements of the areas in the left hemisphere of the brain found in the fossil record are associated with the motor skills involved in both object manipulation (creating tools) and sound manipulation (creating utterances). (see Gibson and Ingold, 1993) However, if we believe that “language was born” only after the vocal tract developed and had a structure comparable to that found in modern humans, then we have to wait until a time between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago. Even during this period, however, the fossil record doesn’t seem to support arguments for “speech,” as we normally think of it, especially in the case of Neanderthal remains. (see Lieberman, 7 1998) By the end of this period, the existence of composite tools suggests an ability to combine distinct physical elements to create new structures. This ability to combine forms manually can be treated as evidence that motor skills organized by the brain would also have allowed individuals to combine sounds vocally to create new structures. If these structures are treated as phrases or examples of “language,” then we might say that language was born about 200,000 years ago. (see Foley, 1997) If, however, we don’t accept these simple sound combinations as language and need evidence of symbolic representation and more elaborate cultural artifacts, then we would have to say that language wasn’t really born until a period about 50,000 to 30,000 years ago. (see Deacon, 1997)

For more, read:

Bickerton, D. (1990) Language and Species Chicago University Press Deacon, T. (1997) The Symbolic Species W.W. Norton Dunbar, R. (1996) Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language Harvard University Press Foley, W. (1997) Anthropological Linguistics Blackwell Gibson, K. and T. Ingold (eds.) (1993) Tools, Language and Cognition in Human Evolution Cambridge University Press Lieberman, P. (1998) Eve Spoke. Human Language and Human Evolution W.W. Norton 1G Universal Grammar The innateness hypothesis proposes that human infants are born with a special capacity for language not shared with any other creature and that this capacity is genetically determined. It is “hard-wired” in the organism. The linguist Noam Chomsky proposed that this inborn capacity was essentially a type of basic grammar that could develop, with experience, into all the various grammars of different languages. This basic grammar must be present in every newborn child and hence is universal. So, this Universal Grammar provides the structural basis for language in the same way that other genetic information provides the structural basis for other human organs such as an arm or a liver. Chomsky (1975) presented

the argument in this way:

“It is a curious fact about the intellectual history of the past few centuries that physical and mental development have been approached in quite different ways. No one would take seriously the proposal that the human organism learns through experience to have arms rather than wings, or that the basic structure of particular organs results from accidental experience. Rather, it is taken for granted that the physical structure of the organism is genetically determined, though of course variation along such dimensions as size, rate of development, and so forth will depend in part on external factors.” 8

For more, read:

Chomsky, N. (1975) Reflections on Language Pantheon Pinker, S. (1996) The Language Instinct William Morrow 1H The FOXP2 gene The basis of the claim was the discovery of a mutation of the FOXP2 gene that leads to defects during embryo development that result in certain types of speech and language disorders. In the 1990s, this mutation was found in the genetic make-up of about half of the members of a large British family, known as the “KE family,” who had inherited a single point change in one gene sequence. Among other things, these individuals had poor motor control of the lower face and mouth so that the coordinated movements required for speech were very difficult. The other members of the family had neither the mutation nor the speech impairment.

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