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MODULE B: LINGUISTICS
WRITTEN VS. SPOKEN
• Early linguists saw written language as more prestigious than oral language:
• It comes from reflection: well-structured coherent texts. • Tidier and more organized. • “Verba volant, scripta manent”: idea of incorruptibility and
no decay. • It could reach a wider audience: print.
• Modern linguists believe oral language comes first: • Only a minority of the world languages developed a written
form. • Where it is developed, not everybody learns to write and
read it. • Writing derives from speech, but it is rarely a faithful
representation of it. • Native speakers first acquire the ability to speak than to
write. • It is easier to collect than it once was: technology.
Social media and texting: forms of writing that are ephemeral, quicker and require less reflection. 50 years ago, linguists wouldn’t have analysed them because of:
• Errors, abbreviations and non-standard spelling. • Informality • Lack of authoritative authors.
According to modern linguistics, texting is actually a register.
MYTHS ABOUT TEXTING DEBUNK Only children and teenagers text. 80% adults, 20% younger
Almost only abbreviations. Only 10% abbreviations.
Abbreviations invented by teenagers. Some go back more than 100 years.
Young people don’t know spelling. Abbreviations are a matter of trends.
They use text registry in formal writing. They know the differences.
Texting is useless. Texting has many purposes.
Young people become illiterate. Texting helps literacy scores.
LINGUISTIC IS DESCRIPTIVE,
• Descriptive analysis: • it describes language the way (native) speakers generally use
it, without any subjective judgements.
• Prescriptive analysis: • it prescribes how language should be used, making
unscientific and subjective judgements.
Example: “infinitives should not be split” because Latin does not allow split infinitives and they make the meaning of the sentence unclear. However, it is irrational to impose the language of a language to another and if they made understanding difficult speakers wouldn’t split them.
It’s me! Who = grammatical
Less + uncountable
It’s I! Whom = grammatical
Fewer + uncountable
The concept ofregister has two main interpretations: • It is the degree of (in)formality. • It is a situationally defined variety of language (context and
Two types of register: • Broad register: fiction, newspapers, conversations… • Narrow register: instruction manuals, job interview…
■ Register of texting: short texts, abbreviations, informality, unconventional spelling and punctuation.
■ Register of pop music: rhyming, vowels longer than usual, use of “ain’t” and contractions (gonna, gotta), rhoticity adopted by British non-rhotic singers.
■ Register of Italian weather reports: highly formal lexis and collocations, no abbreviations, standard punctuation.
Modern grammars and dictionaries are based upon descriptive evaluations. Empirical evidence of what people actually say/write is extracted from the BNC (British National Corpus) or from any other language’s corpora.
This allows to establish the collocates, lexicogrammar and semantic preference. Thus having objectivity.
Linguists consider all languages and accents on the same level. There’s no such thing as “primitive languages”.
Judgements about national languages or regional/social accents are unscientific and personal. They are often based upon social or subjective bases, like negative feelings/associations towards their speakers or the locations where they are spoken.
Example: many British people are irritated by regional accents of Liverpool and Birmingham and by “upper class” accents like received pronunciation. Many claim to find accents from less populated areas friendlier than those found in big cities.
Example: received pronunciation is often loved by non-native speakers because it is easier to understand (language of schools and TEFL). It might also be associated to RP speakers they admire like British actors or singers. Further, received pronunciation is often connected to educated successful people. Anyway, it has a pronunciation that is often far from spelling (shwas, non-rhoticity, linking R…).
Cognitive linguistics studies how categories in our language affect mental processes and the way we see the world.
OF LINGUISTIC RELATIVITY
CLAIM THE OPPOSITE:
OUR CONDITIONS INFLUENCES OUR THOUGHT THAT
Linguistic relativity is a principle that states that language influences its speaker’s thought and world view. There are two versions, the stronger linguistic determinism and the “weaker” linguistic influence.
Example: cognitive metaphors differ depending on the culture. In our culture UP = GOOD, DOWN = BAD and FUTURE = AHEAD. But in ancient Greek culture the future was seen as behind man, as it cannot be “seen” or predicted.
Example: many languages use notions like left, right, in front of, behind. Some aboriginal languages use only cardinal directions (North, East, South, West). It is said that their speakers can find directions even in a room with no windows.
This could prove that the categories of our language (like directions, time, colours) influences our mental process. People from cultures that do not use compass points (like Italians) have problems finding directions using this method.
Different languages also have different obligatory grammatical distinctions:
• Tense of finite verb forms: in IT/EN it is almost impossible to indicate a finite verb action without temporal indication. In Chinese Mandarin verb forms can be time-independent.
• Honorific form: n IT it is obligatory to choose between “tu” and “lei”, while in EN there is no distinction.
• Singular vs. plural: in IT/EN there is a grammatical distinction between “one” and “more than one”. It can be found in word form (man/men), in word ending (cane/cani) or in the articles (il/gli) In Arab there are specific suffixes for “one”, “two”, “three” and “more than three”.
• Presence/absence of nouns/pronouns: nouns and pronouns are almost always necessary in EN, but they can generally be omitted in IT.
• Feminine vs.masculine (type specification): it does not refer to male and female but to arbitrary grammatical classes (SEE GERMAN “DAS”). In IT all nouns and articles must be either feminine or masculine, while EN is much simpler.
• Clusivity (inclusive or exclusive “we”): IT/EN do not have clusivity, though some politicians use this distinction in their political campaigns: “YES, WE CAN!”.
• Evidentials: evidential markers qualify the truth and certainty of a statement. They can be found in EN in modal verbs (he might be ill) or adverbs (apparently he is ill). In IT there’s the condizionale giornalistico/epistemico: “il criminale sarebbe fuggito ieri sera”.
Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) is considered the father of linguistics and semiotics.
ARBITRARINESS OF THE SIGN (SIGNIFIER)
There is no connection between the signifier (the word “dog”) and the signified (the entity/manifestation of “dog”).
Example: graphic marks “A, a, Ä, ɑ” all correspond to the first letter of the alphabet, even though they sometimes don’t have anything in common. As members of a language community we make an “agreement” based on their distinction with the graphic marks referring to B, C, D and so on.
■ In Italian, speakers consider both [ʁ] and [r] as corresponding to the phoneme /r/.
The relationship between “[ʁ] and [r]” (parole: the concrete manifestation of language) and /r/ (langue: the abstract system of language) is arbitrary.
ARBITRARINESS OF CONCEPTUAL SPACE (SIGNIFIED) The arbitrariness of the signified manifests in the way different languages divide up the world conceptually.
■ Welsh: glas (green, blue, grey) / llydd (brown, grey) ■ Italian: blu / azzurro ■ English: blue = dark or light
■ Italian: fratelli/figli/nipoti = males and females ■ English: brothers/sons/nephews = only males
ARBITRARINESS OF COLLOCATIONAL SPACE
The unpredictability of collocations is a problem for translators. They differ from culture to culture and from language to language.
■ EN: “panoramic view, vista” (range of view) “scenic view, beauty” (beauty of the view)
■ IT: “panoramico” embraces both “panoramic” and “scenic”, but “scenic” has to do only with drama and theatre.
Sociolinguistics studies the relationship between people’s use of language and their social position or the social context. It also studies language of man vs. woman, young vs. old, formal vs. informal, attitudes towards different accents.
Example: William Labov made an experiment in the 1960s analysing the languages of employers in department stores of New York City.
In the high status store, they spoke rhotic English.
In the low status store, they spoke non-rhotic English.
In the middle status store, they spoke both.
They adapted their pronunciation to make it appropriate to the status of the store, as in the USA non-rhotic English is regarded as lower classes’ variety.
PRAGMATICS Pragmatics is a study that concerns the way in which meaning is produced and understood in a context. What we really mean is the pragmatic meaning, whereas the literal meaning is the denotational meaning.
Human communication generally succeeds because the speakers assume that whom they are talking to is cooperative. Following the cooperative principle, the speakers are assumed to be qualified to speak and to give a useful message that makes sense.