THE MEANINGS OF THE WORD LANGUAGE

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1 THE MEANINGS OF THE WORD LANGUAGE Miguel Tena Aniés Language engineering October 7, 2002

2 THE MEANINGS OF THE WORD LANGUAGE 1.- INTRODUCTION This report contains a brief discussion about language, the meanings that enclose this word and some of its characteristics. An understanding of human language can often be helpful in building better machine models of language. This seems contrary to the popular wisdom, which holds that direct mimicry of nature s algorithm is rarely useful in engineering applications. The goal of Language engineering is to get machines that can transcribe spoken dialog, make automatic translation of the discourse, or are able to maintain a conversation. Since people already do this well, we can learn from nature s previous solution. 2.- ONE WORD, TWO CONCEPTS When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean neither more or less. Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland The language is the fundamental tool that made possible the incredible advance of the humanity. It allows the transmission of information and knowledge that is indispensable for the evolution of all the fields of science. At the same time, the language has not kept immutable, and has changed as well converted in something subtle and nuanced. There are some words with more that one meaning or their meaning can depend on the context. So Humpty Dumpty always knows what he wants to say but his interlocutor must make some effort to decrypt the real meaning. The word language itself doesn t escape to this common property of words.

3 In English the word language represents two concepts. Although these two concepts are intimately related, they are not the same and it is very important to differentiate them. We can use this word if we want to refer both to the ability or to the act of speaking. It was Chomski, who drew a fundamental distinction between linguistic competence and linguistic performance of a speaker. Chomsky said that competence consists of the mental representations of linguistic rules that constitute the spaeker shearer s internal grammar. Performance consists of the use of this grammar in the comprehension and production of language (Chomsky, 1965). A speaker's knowledge of the language rules is referred to as competence and the actual use of those rules is referred to as performance. Chomsky urged linguists to be more concerned with the study of competence, instead of focusing on performance of speakers. Performance is not adequate indicator of language knowledge, as it can be influenced by a number of factors such as noise, lack of concentration, tiredness, nervousness, speech impairment, situation, etc. Competence is knowledge of rules and structures in the languages. Speakers can use their competence to identify performance errors. Speakers produce sentences without being aware of linguistic terminology of a grammatical structure that they have just produced. For example, speakers produce sentence without thinking about the linguistic terminology. Speakers may produce a sentence like 'It has been raining for two days and it is going to rain for the next two as well.' They may not be aware that what they have just said contains two clauses, past participle and so on. The speaker does not need to know that 'been' is a past participle. Thus competence is knowing the rules without the ability to explain linguistic elements and rules that govern the grammar in the text. To put it simply, our language competence or knowledge enables us to combine words to form phrases, and phrases to form sentences. There is an important difference between what one knows and how one uses that knowledge. The concrete usage of linguistic competence is linguistic performance.

4 3.- CHARACTERISTICS OF LANGUAGE During the last half of the twentieth century there were different groups of linguistics that gave an extraordinary impulse at their science. One of them was Charles Hockett, who made a detailed study about the characteristics of the human language. His study is very in-depth but it is important to include a little review. The characteristics of the human language can be divided in three groups: ECONOMY SYMBOLISM CREATIVITY Language must be economic because of the physical and psychological limitations of humans. So language is interchangeable, emitter and receptor use the same processes. It s also efficient, all the human languages have a group of elements without determinate meaning. Their reference of a real object is not fixed, it changes with the communicative context. And finally we find one characteristic called doublearticulation; languages have two levels or articulations: First level, minimal units with meaning: boy Second level, little units without meaning by theyself: /b/ - /o/ - /y/ Human languages have really big denotative necessities therefore they must be creative. Language uses a group of rules that allow infinite results from combination of a number of finite elements. The linguistic symbols are not natural or motivate. They refer to an external reality. This reality does not have any connection with the language, it is symbolic. In the previous paragraphs we have discussed language but we have used the same language. That is due to one special capacity of the language: reflexivity, only achieved by the symbolic characteristic of language.

5 4.- THOUGHT AND LANGUAGE The language is the vehicle of the thought. While we are speaking, our mind articulates the thought in a group of sounds that represent it, but by consequence of this operation the thought does not lose his unity and independence. We do not need the language for thinking, we need the language when we want communicate our thoughts. This is an essential difference that is not evident and has historically been a source of confusion for prominent intellectuals. Diderot made a list of the languages according to which one was more adequate for the study of science or which one was better for expression of sentiments. Language reduces reality to classes (words) to expression of thought easier. This convention allows two different persons be able to understand each other and is one fruit of the symbolic property of the language. You do not need these classes for thinking, like you do not need to know the name table to think about it. 5.- ACQUISITION OF THE LANGUAGE The mechanisms of the acquisition of the language can be explained in different ways, according to the different schools of the knowledge. The rationalists, evolution of Descartes thought The faculty of thinking is innate in us, always existing in us potentially, think that a general form of a system of knowledge is fixed in advance as a disposition of the mind. One cannot really teach language but can only present the condition under which it will develop spontaneously in the mind in its own way. This development draws out what is innate in the mind. The empiricists think that that the language is essentially an artificial construct thought by conditioning or by drill and explicit explanation built by elementary dataprocessing procedure. Only procedures and mechanisms for the acquisition of knowledge constitute an innate property of the mind.

6 These two opposite schools of knowledge competed during The same empiricist approach that has been applied for all the sciences was used for linguistics. But in the lasts years, the rationalist school has begun to win linguistic followers. Supported by Chomsky they think that there are no reasons to attribute a complex human achievement entirely to months of experience rather than to million of years of evolution or to principles of neural organization. General features of language structure reflect, not so much the course of one s experience, but rather the general character of one s capacity to acquire knowledge, one s innate ideas and innate principles.

7 BIBLIOGRAPHY 1.- Daniel Jurafsky & James H. Martin, Speech an Language Processing 2.- Noam Chomsky, Syntatic Structures 3.- Noam Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax 4.- Juan C. Moreno, Curso universitario de lingüística general

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