ENGL 306A - Introduction to Linguistics

ENGL 306A - Introduction to Linguistics
Instructor: Ken Hirschkop
Location: RCH 206
Time: Tuesdays and Thursdays 11:30am - 12:50pm
Term: Winter 2017

January 5, 2017 - Lecture 1

What is “a language”?

The system of spoken or written communication used by a particular country, people, community, etc., typically consisting of words used within a regular grammatical and syntactic structure.

“The bringing-forth of language is an inner need of man, not merely an external necessity for maintaining communal intercourse, but a thing lying in his own nature, indispensable for the development of his mental powers and the attainment of a world-view, to which man can attain only by bringing his thinking to clarity and precision through communal thinking with others.” - Wilhelm von Humboldt

“Language in its entirety has many different and disparate aspects. It lies astride the boundaries separating various domains. It is at the same time physical, physiological, and psychological. It belongs both to the individual and to society.” - Ferdinand de Saussure

Language as such has no discernible unity

  • Because so much is involved when we converse, read, or write, it is impossible to study it all
  • Should we study vocal chords and sound production when we study language?
  • Should we study intonation and “paralinguistics” features? Should we include typograpohy?
  • Are pauses and silences part of language?
  • Should we study only the words themselves or also the psychic reaction they provoke?

The Complexities of Language

  • Language is both physical - sounds or visual marks - and psyhological
  • Language is both individual and social
  • Language is both something we use in the present and something we inherit from the past (no one invents their language from scratch, successfully, at any rate)
  • Language is both “systematic” and “organized” - it relies on conventions or rules, and is something involving constant change and creation

“Rather, one might say that it is the viewpoint aopted which creates the object.” - de Saussure

Linguistics is not the study of language as such

  • Because there is no “language as such”
  • Therefore viewpoint creates the object. The study of language changes as our sense or definition of language changes, and as our view of human society and human personality changes
  • But, to make things worse, the object itself also changes. Imagine how differently oyu might study all these “languages”:
    • A language of an indigenous, relatively isolated nomadic people, which is only oral
    • A language from medieval Italy, which has written and spoken form but which is limited to a relatively discrete geographical area (like a dialect)
    • A national language like German in the 18th and 19th centuries
    • An international language like English in which most speakers are not native speakers

Linguistics and Writing

  • Languages are not always written (historically, most of them haven’t been)
  • A language may have a written form and an oral form, which differ
  • A language may have two different forms (Serbo-Croatian has a Cyrillic alphabet and a Roman alphabet)
  • The same written alphabet can bear a variety of languages (Roman Alphabet: English, French etc.)
  • Linguistics is prejudiced towards writing. It begins with written texts and tends to favour the analysis of written rather than oral speech

What does Linguistics actually study?

  • Study of language begins for practical reasons:
    • With the need to translate from one language to another
    • With the need to preserve knowledge of a language that is dying out
    • With the need to train public speakers (Rhetoric)

Sumerian and Akkadian

  • Sumerian emerges as first written language around 3500 BCE in southern Iraq
  • Sumerian cuneiform tablet, circa 2500 BCE
  • To record who owed what to whom
  • In course of Akkadian empire (about 2800-2500 BCE) an unrelated language, Akkadian replaces Sumerian as the everyday language
  • Sumerian remains a language of religion and scholarship
  • From period of Akkadian (2800-800 BCE) there are records of texts that explain and describe Sumerian
  • Word-lists = a kind of mini-dictionary of Sumerian words with Akkadian equivalents
  • From 1600 BCE, lists of Sumerian words (nouns and verbs) and their inflections (declensions and conjugations). First attempt to describe the grammar of a language.

Grammar: The Very Idea

  • In ancient Greece, tekhne grammatike meant the ability of read and write, gramma being the word for “letter”
  • Beginning with Stoics and the Greek philosophers, there are attempts to analyze words and analyze different types of sentences
  • Culmination in works of Dionysius Thrax about 100 BCE
  • Division between kinds of words, e.g. onoma (noun or name) and rhema (verb or predicate), syndesmos (conjunction)
  • Recognition that a single word may have different forms according to their “case”. E.g. in English, the pronoun “he” is “he” in the nominative, “him” in the accusative and prepositional, “his” in the genetive

Medieval Grammar: A Universalist Turn

  • The thinking that all languages have the same structure
  • Grammar ceases to be only a pedagogical tool: study of grammar is combined with philosophy
  • Medieval grammar is “Universalist”: it assumes that grammatical categories and distinctions mirror the structure of thought
  • Result is a kind of “philosophical grammar”
  • Different classes of words are defined not formally but according to what kind of things they signify

The Renaissance

  • An explosion in the number of languages studied (no longer just Latin and Greek)
  • Historical emergence of European vernaculars (French, German, English, Italian, Spanish) means that there are new languages to study and new issues to think about:
    • Questions of pronunciation and spelling (provoked by printing)
    • Questions about the historical evolution of languages (Romance languages developing from Latin
  • European colonialism
  • Ottoman Empire, 1453

Nationalism and Languages in Europe

  • In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, Europe changes form.
  • Medieval Europe is an agglomeration of various kinds of small states, principalities, duchys, city-states, papal states, communes, etc.
  • Modern Europe draws together these units into generally larger units we call nations (France, Sweden etc.)
    • Not everywhere: exceptions are the UK, the Principality of Monaco, Vatican City, the Republic of San Marino, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, etc.
  • These nations become the crucibles for national languages, that emerge out of various geographical dialects

National Languages and Social Status

  • The emergence of national languages in Europe leads to concerns about correctness and status of different forms of the language
  • Dialects compete to become the most prestigious form
  • In Italy, the Florentine dialect became the basis for standard Italian, in France the Parisian dialect, in England the East Midlands dialect
  • Languages masters: to teach the middle and upper classes how to “speak properly”
  • Shift to “prescriptive linguistics”: concern with the best or correct form of a language

Guides to Language

  • Elocution by Thomas Sheridan
  • Robert Cawdrey’s Table alphabeticall (1613)

The 18th Century: Fascination with the Origin of Language

  • E.B. de Condillac, Essay on the Origin
  • von Herder

William Jones’ Great Discovery

  • Jones = imperial British administrator in India
  • The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquite, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect that the Gerrk, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either…yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, tha could be possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeedm that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing thm to have sprung from some common source.” (1786)

Language Differences and Changes

  • Sanscrit is related to Latin and Greek Hypotheize that languages with similar forms are “realted” are descended from a common source language
  • Languages therefore “evolve”
  • How do they evolve?
    • Certain sounds in a parent word change to create a new word
      • Ursus: ours
      • Ursus: urso, oso
      • Ursus: oso

Sound changes/Sound Laws

  • Sound changes are systematic
    • They don’t affect individual words, but all sounds of a certain kind, given a certain situation
      • E.g. Latin ursus becomes French ours, and Latin cursus becomes French cours
      • The Latin -s drops off and then the vowel, creating urs in Old French, the vowel changes
  • Sound changes are blind to the meaning of words, they just make certain sounds
  • On the basis of these laws, you can establish lines of descent and relationship

Grimm’s Law - Systematic Differences

  • Latin: Pater, English: Father
  • Latin: Pes, English: Foot
  • Latin: Tenuis, English: Thin
  • Latin: Canis, English: Hound

Grammar Change: English

  • In 16th century English, we encounter verbs that end in -st that are used with the pronoun “thou”
    • E.g. Henry IV, Part One: “Swearest thou, ungracious boy”
  • King James Bible: “Thou hast eaten from the tree” (God speaking to Adam)
  • In modern English, we don’t have “thou” or verbs ending in -st

Comparsion and History

  • But in modern German, the verb conjugation includes a familiar second person pronoun “du” that requires verbs ending in “-st”
  • English, which is related to German, seems to have lost a grammatical
  • By comparing languages, can hypothesize how languages separated from one another, which desceneded

The Indo-European Family

  • Proto-Indo-European

January 10, 2017 - Lecture 2

Relocated to STJ2 2007, Academic Centre.

  • Recall:
    • William Jones: Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin have a similar structure, both in verb roots and grammar

19th Century

  • 1800-1900, historial linguistics
  • Comparative philologists write grammars of older languages that have disappeared: Anglo-Saxon and Gothic etc.
  • They make trees and chart the changes by which one language becomes another
  • Problems:
    • How do they know when one language becomes another?
    • What do they really think a language is? It can’t be the hisorical evolution of language (When does French become French?)
    • If a word changes its shape or sound, is it really the same word?

Problems Become Unbearable

  • de Saussure: comparative philologist who can see these are serious problems and thinks something has to be done about it
  • “No dearer wish than not to have to concern myself with the nature of language in general” but feels compelled to show the linguist what he is doing
  • Linguistics needs a new reorientation
  • Language has no discernable unity and it is the viewpoint that creates the object
  • Saussure sets out to create a new object

The New Object: Linguistic System

  • Linguistique Generale - Charles Bally and Albert Sechehave
  • Saussure works on it for 20 years

Why the Linguistic System?

  • Two Reasons:
    • Saussure needs something orderly and scientific, instead of this protean, shape-shifting language
    • Saussure thinks linguistics shold take the speaker’s point of view (history does not concern speakers)
  • We should think about what distinctions and catergories matter to the speaker and only those distinctions

A New Task for Linguistics

  • Saussure assigns linguistics a new task: to reconstruct the knowledge of a speaker - what a speaker must know in order to speak and understand a language
  • Not “conscious” knowledge, but unconscious or subconscious knowledge
  • Less emphasis on the history

What do you know about “know”?

  • English used to have the form “knowest”
  • You don’t need to know that, all you need to know is that the English verb know conjugates as follows today
  • Not only is knowing the history unnecessary, it can even be misleading
  • For know has a different “value” today than it did in the past
    • In the 16th Century, you know means “you know” and I am addressng someone formally. It excludes informal address
    • Today the word means any kind of you. It has changed its meaning, like a coin which has increased in value

The History of “outrage”

  • Where does it come from?
    • out + rage?
    • No, comes from the Latin word ultrage, which meant “going beyond the bounds”
    • When Latin changed to French, ult- becomes out-
    • When people looked at the word, they thought it was made from ouit and rage and they pronounced it accordingly

Saussure’s Synchronic Approach

  • According to Saussure, it does not matter
  • All that matters is how we use language now
  • This is the synchronic approach: we think about language as a kind of systematic knowledge

Patterns, Rules, Exceptions

  • Languages are the result of historical evolution, but that evolution tends to create consistent pattern sin the language
  • We do not learn a new plural form for each word, there are patterns for making them (dog/dogs, man/men, sheep/sheep)
  • Part of the pattern is that there is a plural form for each modern English noun and a series of tenses for each verb
  • We tend to express these patterns as a series of rules: English plurals are expressed by the addition of the ending -s or by changing the vowel
  • For various reasons, no language is completely patterned and consistent; all contain exceptions (irregular forms)

What does the “Language System” Look Like?

  • The system has 3 levels:
    • A system of sound patterns
    • A system of words
    • Rules for combining words into sentences
  • Linguistics has 3 leveles:
    • Phonology
    • Morphology
    • Syntax

Phonology as a System

  • Each language uses certain sounds and not others
    • English has “th”, Italian and German don’t
  • The different sounds you use make different contrasts possible
    • English: tin/thin, German: Mutter/Mutter

Morphology as a System

  • Every language has its own system, and each system has its own distinctions
  • English has certain endings that change the meanings of words: -tion, -ment, -er, etc.
  • English has endings that change the grammatical significance of word, -e, -ed, -ing, -‘s, etc.

Syntax as a System

  • English uses a certain word order in sentences: Subject-Verb-Object
  • In English, you can make relative clauses with which and that
  • English makes extensive use of prepositions to illustrate the relationship between concepts

“In language there are only differences”

  • Words are not labels for pre-existing thing, concepts, etc.
  • Languages create concepts and mark their boundaries
  • In Hebrew: shana (one year), shnatayim (two years), shanim (>= 3 years)


  • Saussure argues that the meaning of every linguistic unit depends on its place in the language system as a whole Units have no intrinsic positive value
  • The value of a unit can change over time

February 6, 2017 - Midterm 1 Preparation

List of Definitions

Lexicon - a.k.a vocabulary; collections of words
Content words - Include nouns, verbs, adjective, and adverbs; Open class; Crucial semantically, less important syntactically
Function words - Include pronouns, prepositions, determiners, conjunctions, and degree words; Closed class; Crucially syntactically, less important semantically
Nouns - Semantically, signify objects, whether concrete or abstract; Morphologically, can take plural endings and genitive (possessive) clitics; Syntactically, is part of the subject or object of the sentence, agrees with verbs, can be preceded by adjectives and determiners
Verbs - Semantically, tend to designate processes, activities, things that happen; Morphologically, they are conjugated according to person, number, tense, and mood; Syntactically, they connect to a subject, they can be modified by an adverb or adverbial phrase, they take complemenets
Adjectives - Semantically, they designate an attribute of something or a quality; Morphologically, have no case endings, but can take comparative endings: large - larger - largest; Syntactically, can appear as a “complement” to a verb phrase or before a noun which it modifies, cannot be the subject or object in a sentence
Adverbs - Semantically, they designate an attribute of an activity, how something is done or happens; Morphologically, no case endings, but many English adverbs end in -ly; Syntax: Appear before or after what they modify, they can modify anything except a noun
Pronouns - Semantically, refers, anaphorically, to a person or thing already referred to, relies on context for its meaning; Morphologically, an irrgular set, but is declined for genitive, accusative/dative cases (he, his, him); Syntactically, like nouns, can appear in noun phrase (subject) or as part of verb complement
Prepositions - Semantically, refers to relations between things or between an action and its object; Morphologically, invariant; Syntactically, prepositions always appear linked to a prepositional object (in a blizzard, with enthusiasm), prepositional phrases can function as complements to verbs or modifying either a verb or noun phrase
Determiners - E.g. the, a, this, that, these/those; Morphologically, generally invariant, except these/those; Syntactically, at the front of noun phrases
Conjunctions - Morphologically, invariant; Syntactically, conjunctions connect words, phrases, or independent clauses (e.g. and, or, but); Three flavors: coordinating, subordinating, and correlative

  • Coordinating conjunctions - The elements conjoined are parallel in some way. And, or, but, yet, for, so
  • Subordinating conjunctions - That, when, if , after, although, wherever
  • Correlative conjunctions - Both…and, either…or, neither…nor, not only…but also

Degree words - very, so, too, always, perhaps; Morphologically, invariant; Syntactically, appear before adjectives and adverbs
Denotation - A word designates
Metonym - A trope; Related to the thing they represent as part to whole, effect to cause, contained to container, by contiguity or association; E.g. crown for the monarchy, Ottawa for the government, Shakespeare for the plays he wrote
Word-class conversion
Conceptual processes - word change by a new meaning from the old one by a conceptual relationship
Borrowing - Through trade, migration, wars, international communiation etc.; 70% of modern English; Makes a language seem unsystematic and appear as apparent irregularities
Formal processes - creation of words by deriving new words from old ones by altering their form (the signifier)
Compounding - E.g. air + port, wind + surfing, micro + software, brain + freeze, class + room
Clipping - E.g. Hamburger -> burger, professor -> prof, demonstration -> demo, internet -> net
Blending - E.g. smoke + fog = smog, motor + hotel = motel, breakfast + lunch, education + entertainment = edutainment
Acronyms/Abbreviations - E.g. Letter enunciation: PR, TV, R and R; Pronounced: radar, NASA, AIDS, DOS
Back Derivation - E.g. stage + manager = stagemanager (compound) -> stagemanager -> stagemanage; tele + vision = television (compound) -> television -> televise
Conversion -
Morphological Derivation -
Onomasiology - Theory of naming; The branch of linguistics that deals with concepts and the terms that represent them, in particular contrasting terms for similar concepts, as in a thesaurus
Conceptual Domain -
Lexical Field - E.g. the lexical field of animals: dogs, cats, monkeys etc.
Morphology - Study of smallest meaningful units in a language, and the study of how words are composed, put together
Phonemes - Sound patterns; No meaning, but recognisable
Morphemes - Smallest possible unit of meaningful language, which cannot be broken down any further
Free Morpheme - A morpheme that can exist on its own
Bound Morpheme - A morpheme that cannot function on its own and must be attached to a free morpheme; Usually affixes (i.e. something that is affixed, attached to something else)
Lexical Morpheme - Content words; Carry semantic weight, are an open class
Gramatical Morpheme - Create or alter grammatical relations between other units, they are the glue that help create syntactic units (phrases and clauses)
Function Words - Free grammatical morphemes
Bound Grammatical Morphemes - E.g. suffixes and prefixes
Derivational Affixes
Bound Lexical Morpheme - Have lexical content and can be the basis for derivations