What Is Language? The Levels of Language Defined
The five basic elements of language explain that language can be defined as a form of communication that allows intercourse between multiple people, that language is arbitrary (in words individually), generative (in word placement), and is constantly evolving. So, what makes it possible for us to understand each other? This article covers the levels of language and how they relate to our ability to communicate.
Four Levels of Language
Phonemes are the sounds that form the building blocks for the spoken word.
Phonemes are the short and long sounds of vowels and consonants. For example, in the language of the Xhosa people in South Africa, where the x, the c, and the q all make distinct clicking sounds that differ from the phonemes of the English language.
The X in Xhosa makes the sound of sucking air with the tongue at the roof of the mouth—a sound that horse jockeys may use to call a horse. The C makes the sound of sucking air with the teeth and tongue. The Q makes the sound sucking air with the tongue at the roof of the mouth, pulling away forcefully from the said roof while sucking in air. These phonemes help to form the sounds for words for all Xhosa people to communicate.
Words are the next level of language. It would follow that phonemes build words, which represent a listing of sounds to describe items, situations, ideas, etc., using nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.
Whether written or spoken, phonemes and words are building blocks for language. It is important to remember that all languages must have structure. Words may be short or long in length. They combine phonemes in a prescribed order.
Sentences are a number of words placed together to form a coherent thought. It is also the aspect of language that supports grammar rules. Each language determines the structural type of sentences and how words are interpreted by the hearers. Sentences provide a description of a thing or things usually containing a subject, verb, and predicate expressing a statement, question, instruction, or exclamation.
Sentences can be long or short, complex or simple. Sentences help to provide the dynamic nature of language. The sentences in this article show length differences. How boring would written language be without variation in the length and complexity of sentences? That is another topic for another article.
Text, in linguistics, does not refer to an activity millions do with their mobile devices; though, that would be an appropriate example. Any number of sentences form text, another level of language consisting of one or more sentences. Text mainly provides information to communicate in written form.
Altogether, phonemes, words, sentences, and text work within a framework called grammar. Grammar is a set of rules constructed so that groupings of words do not form an incoherent word-jumble.
All Languages Are Not Identical in Structure, but They Are All Equal
The phonemes, words, sentences, text, and grammar of Latin differ from those of the English language, but the same end is reached: written and verbal communication.
The compelling thing about the Latin language is it died, but is still used within the context of today's society. Such a feat is significant and intriguing, especially when considering that each word may or may not have a corresponding word in other languages.
Levels of Language
Any of the perceptually distinct units of sound in a specified language that distinguish one word from another, for example p, b, d, and t in the English words pad, pat, bad, and bat.
In linguistics, a word is the smallest element that can be uttered in isolation with objective or practical meaning.
A set of words that is complete in itself, typically containing a subject and predicate, conveying a statement, question, exclamation, or command, and consisting of a main clause and sometimes one or more subordinate clauses.
A book or other written or printed work, regarded in terms of its content rather than its physical form.
All humans start out the same way—babbling. Human young start making noises that develop naturally from hearing the sounds around them of others speaking, whatever the language.
Of course, the language that a person speaks effects his or her view of the world and ultimately the way he or she thinks. Language, however, does not necessarily make a French speaker think better or worse than a Xhosa speaker.
One language may have a larger lexicon than another language may, but when a person who speaks French sees danger, he thinks the same thing as a person who speaks Xhosa, run!
The same neurons fire in all human brains. They help us all to communicate across multiple languages, allowing humanity to interact by paper, digital screen, and voice.
Element that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of language.
In linguistics, arbitrariness is the absence of any natural or necessary connection between a word's meaning and its sound or form.
Sentence structure is the arrangement of words, phrases, and clauses in a sentence. The grammatical meaning of a sentence is dependent on this structural organization.
Generative grammar is a linguistic theory that regards grammar as a system of rules that generates exactly those combinations of words that form grammatical sentences in a given language.
Languages change, evolve, and adapt to an evolving social world.
Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ:Pearson/Allyn4 Bacon.
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