AFE1108-Theory and method in language study.
When thinking about the question ‘What is Language’ it is imperative to consider many important factors which could determine an answer to such a broad statement. There are three main concepts which give an insight into what language actually is; it is most commonly seen as a kind of behaviour, a state of mind and a means of communication. Noam Chomsky a behaviourist of linguistics has studied the way in which our minds nurture language and argues that language is in the mind. We must already be aware of language before we learn sentences and word meanings for example if someone told one about a blue house one would presume this was in reference to the outside of the house as this is the natural thought process “One of the fundamental aspects of human language, according to Chomsky, is its creative nature” Stark 1998 which suggests that we can create and develop language through our own interpretation and knowledge systems and social contexts. There is more to language than simply the words we speak. In her book ‘Thinking about language’ Chapman 2006 highlights areas of the question “What is language” by looking at different theorists approaches to the concept of language. This essay will consider the three factors mentioned about what language is. My own interpretation is that language is a vital part of everyday life used for many means of communication between humans and possibly other species and cultures; however this essay will focus mainly on the English language. Without interaction through different forms of language there would be no way of developing ideas and moving forward throughout history as there would have been a continuous breakdown in communication. Language is a far broader concept than simply the words which we speak or write down, evidence shows that even in times when there was no recorded language with structure or grammar there was still a level of communication between the species for example Cavemen. The communication used by Cavemen was drawings which have been found over time and shows that although there was no linguistic development a type of language was still evident. “Scientists who have been trawling through the DNA, found in Neanderthal bones have discovered that the now extinct species had a “language gene” that is only found in modern humans.”Gray 2007, these points raised by Gray justify that there may have been a coded communication between the cavemen possibly even a language. On the other hand any coded form of communication may be a language.
Other examples of where language is not just words and writing is something such as Egyptian hieroglyphics and Morse code.
Behaviourists such as Noam Chomsky suggest “The term ‘language’ is often used in quite a different way, referring not to some specific biologically determined system, but rather to any mode of communication or mode of expression, in some very general sense.” Chomsky 1983. Although there is no lexicon used between the cavemen they would have used a stimulus and responded to each other’s needs in their own way which is a form of communicating language.
It could be suggested that language is a type of behaviour as there are examples from different theorists which imply this. For example “Language is people talking and writing. It is a concrete, tangible aspect of human behaviour.” Sampson 2001. His argument that language is a type of behaviour is brought about through an empirical scientific method meaning it is based on knowledge and taken from someone’s experience in that subject area.
Sampson’s process for looking at language as a type of behaviour involved the steps of looking, listening, producing hypotheses, predicting the outcome using evidence and testing the hypotheses. Furthermore he suggested we must develop new or adapted hypotheses and test these against observable behaviour. The example used by Chapman 2006, is that if a person is hungry they…