What is Language

The question above at first glance seemed easy to answer especially that we all have preconceived idea of what really language is. Language is talking. Noam Chomsky contends that more than any other characteristics, the possession of language distinguishes humans from animals (Chomsky). He argued that to understand humanity, one must understand the nature of language that makes us human. Language is not merely the ability to talk, rather, it is the capacity to produce sounds that signify certain meanings and to understand or interpret the sounds produced by others (Chomsky, p.2). Thus, if one do not know the language, the words of that language will be mostly inconceivable. Language is more than speech as deaf people can produce languages without words just as normal persons generate and understand verbal languages. Language is what makes people understands each other, it is makes nations to unite for a common goals and it is the very foundation of progress and achievements. Thus understanding language is an essential task that every one must undertake. The world has perhaps thousands of different language that for most of us we can only speak five or the most is ten of these languages. Our limited knowledge of such languages is hindering us to achieve our goals to live in peace, unity, and, in cooperation with each other.Linguistic study therefore is an essential step towards this purpose of achieving, unity, cooperation, and mutual understanding with each other.Knowing what is LanguageKnowing a language involves knowing what sounds are in that language. It means that when one is not an English speaker he or she cannot substitute the pronunciation of a certain word to make it appear the word is pronounced in English. Taking for example the case presented by Chomsky, he noted that French people often pronounced the English word this and that as if they were spelled as “Zis” and “Zat.” knowing the sound system of the language therefore includes more than just the record of sounds. It involves knowing which sounds may start a word, end a word, and follow each other.According to Chomsky, knowing the sounds and the patterns of sounds amount to only one part of our linguistic knowledge. While it may be true that certain sequence of sounds denote certain concepts or meanings, if this is the case, knowing a language is not an easy task. One has to learn the sequences of sound if he or she has to learn language. That is, the words in that language which is also the sound sequences that are related to particular meanings. Thus, if one do not know a language, he or she cannot understand the meaning of the words or sentences of that language, because the relationship between speech and sounds is very subjective or an arbitrary one. Acquiring a language therefore needs one to identify that the sounds represented by the letters signify the concept.Sign LanguagesThe relationship between form (sound) and the meaning (concept) of a word is true even in sign languages (Chomsky, p. 5). It is doubtful someone who is using Chinese sign language CSL) can comprehend the message of the one who is using American Sign Language (ASL), the same with the other. The author noted that not all the movements of the hands reveal the meaning of the gesture in sign languages. He point out that there is some sound symbolism in language, which is the words whose pronunciation suggest meanings. These words or sounds in a language sometimes imitate other sounds, however, although there may be some sounds that are similar to the objects or actions they refer to, the sounds differ from language to language because each language has its own particular system of language. However, Martin Hann emphasized that in understanding the message of the language both the sender and the receiver needs shared meanings of the gestures tones, and other communication symbols (Hann, M.). Hann pointed out that all the information and messages that we receive is being organized by our minds into a mental map that correspond to our perception of reality.The Importance of Sound SequencesTo some extent, the author noted that some particular sound sequences seem to relate to a particular notion. Citing as example, the English words beginning gl such as glare, glint, gleam, glitter, glossy, glaze, glimmer, glimpse, and so forth, seemed to be related to sight. However, another set of words beginning with the same two letters, such as gladiator, glucose, glory, glutton, etc. have nothing to do with sight. The point here is, it is important to know the sound sequences that relate to a particular idea. It does not matter for any one even if he or she can memorize all the 472,000 entries in the Webster dictionary unless he or she can learn the uses of each of those words. In other words, one cannot learn to speak foreign language by buying a dictionary and memorizing all the words, because one will not be able to construct even a simple sentences or phrase in a particular language that can be understand by a native speaker of that language. To understand the words in a language it is important to know where the words begin and where it ended.The Linguistic creativityAs some one said, language is a gift of God to humanity. It is through language that humans communicate with each other regardless of race, and nationality. However, we cannot deny that there are language barriers to this communication. One of the most identified barriers is culture diversity. Portland State University, Sociology professor Sharon Lee noted that culture includes language and communication system and is often been used as alternative for culture (Lee, Sharon 2003).The language barrier caused by our cultural differences divides us in many aspect of our civilized social life because everyone has a unique perception and the ideas or the messages, and gestures being expressed differ from others. . Hence, the linguistic creativity is an essential initiative understanding language.Knowledge of language made it possible to combine sounds to construct words and to form phrases to make a sentence of the language. Knowing a language then, means being able to construct sentences and to understand sentences never heard before. This ability to construct and to understand sentences in a language is referred to as the creative aspect of language use.Linguistic creativity is a knowledge hungry process in which metaphors, poems, and jokes are just some of the typical forms. However, our creative ability is reflected not only by what we say, but it also includes our understanding of new sentences (Chomsky p. 9).Linguistic Knowledge and PerformanceThe rise of linguistic in the 19th century has led to the formation of linguistic as a science, which means that linguistic is now a study. For Noam Chomsky Linguistic competence is a linguistic performance, which suggests that it is a process towards achieving such objective. For Chomsky, linguistic competence is the knowledge that we have of a certain language, or the ability to speak such language, which in turn becomes our linguistic performance. In other words linguistic competence and linguistic performance are basically inseparable. That is, When one is linguistic competent, it is a result of a long process of studying language. One’s mastery of language therefore as a result of such study is the linguistic performance.However, For Chomsky, linguistic competence is the unconscious knowledge of grammatical system. The linguistic system such as the sounds, the structures, words, and rules for putting them all collectively is acquired with no conscious awareness. Chomsky emphasized that we are unaware of the rules of language. Our knowledge of the rules of language is revealed by our ability to speak and understand, and to make judgment about the grammaticality of the sentences. Roumyana Slabakova and Silvina Montrul noted that grammatical competence is the unconscious, inherent knowledge that a speaker has about language.The Use of GrammarGrammar according to Chomsky has been defined as “that which authorized us either to converse a language or to talk about a language.” The way we use the word grammar differs from it most common usage. For Chomsky, grammar includes the knowledge that speaker have about the rules of the language for combining sounds into words which is called phonology while the rules of forming a word is called morphology and the rules for combining words into phrases and phrases into sentences is called syntax, the rule for giving meaning is called semantics. Linguistic competence in this regard is the ability to understand the nature of grammar, which then lead to the understanding to the understanding of the nature of the language.There are two ways linguist use grammar, first, grammar refers to the mental grammars that speakers have in their brain. The second is the model or the linguists’ description of this internalized grammar. Grammatical sentence according to Chomsky is when it conforms to the rules of the mental grammar and the so-called ungrammatical sentences are those who deviate from the rules in some ways. However, Chomsky pointed out that every language variety has its own grammar and no language is superior to any other language in linguistic sense. That is every grammar is equally complex, equally logical and capable of constructing an endless set of sentences to express any thought that can be equally expressed in any other language or dialect, too. It may me expressed using different words, phrases, and sentences, but what is important is that it can be expressed.However, not every grammarian shared that all grammar are equal as there are those who believed even from the earliest times that some account of language are better than others and that there are correct forms that the educated people should use in speaking and writing, and to change language is corruption. Among those who shared this view were the Alexandrians in the first century, the Arabic scholars at Basra, in the eight-century, and the combined batch of numerous English grammarians of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Chomsky contends that these people wished to prescribed rather than describe the rules of grammar that paved the way to the rise of the writing of prescriptive grammars. This prescriptive grammar has become the language grammar of the upper classes.ConclusionLanguage is very important regardless of how others would view it. There are may be language for the elite rich and famous, or for the intellectuals, or even for the street people. What ever, language we use, the most important is we understand the people whom we are talking with. It is where that language is said to be a gift, for if we cannot understand others merely because they do not speak our language does not constitute is what is meant of misunderstanding.While I believe in the importance of leaning language but it should not be a hindrance towards understanding each other. However, for the improvement of our society and we must all strive to learn as much language as we can. In this way we can communicate well and can understand each other well. There is nothing wrong ig we utilized our ability to learn language instead, there plenty of benefits if we do so.