This work analyzes several articles that provide information on the language that human beings use. The articles also define the language in a manner that cuts across all of its aspects. The articles also describe various aspects of the human language that make it unique. They look at the differences between human and animal modes of communication and the relationship between signs and the items they represent. They also discuss the effect of language on the content of thoughts, the difference between spoken and sign language, and the lack of proficiency in a language as a barrier to school completion.
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It is evident from the discussions provided in the articles that only human beings use language in their communication. Deacon defines language as “a mode of communication-based upon the symbolic reference and involving combinatorial rules that comprise a system for representing the synthetic logical relationship among symbols” (103).
Sapir adds that “language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions, and desires by means of voluntarily produced symbols” (qtd in Deuchar 556). These definitions imply that all forms of animal communication are not languages. However, sign language qualifies since it has many properties of a spoken language. Users of any sign language can combine several symbols using definite rules in the process of communicating. In addition, they can communicate their ideas, emotions, and thoughts through signs.
Apart from the few differences between animal and human languages in the two definitions of language, there are some other distinctions. Hocket argues that language has thirteen distinctive characteristics (qtd in Deuchar 556). These characteristics include vocal auditory channel, rapid fading, broadcast transmission, interchangeability, total feedback, specialization, semantics, arbitrariness, discreteness, displacement, productivity, traditional production, and the duality of patterning (Deuchar 556).
One may ask, “What about the dances and cries that bees and birds use in their communication?” de Saussure acknowledges that such forms of communication have some superficial elements of language, but lack the symbolic and the combinatorial elements (65). Sign language qualifies to be a language because of its arbitrariness. It is iconic but lacks a direct relationship between the ‘sound’ and what it represents (Deuchar 559). This deficiency is what causes the arbitrariness in sign language. The difference between BSL and ASL is the best evidence of arbitrariness in sign language. However, many people still wonder whether sign language satisfies all the properties of language or not.
People may also ask whether the content of a particular language can affect the thoughts of its speakers. Gordon, after studying the Amazonian language, argues that the content of a language can affect the thoughts of its speakers (496). He describes the inability of the Amazonian tribe to develop a sophisticated counting system as a mindset that results from their linguistic conventions. Their language allows them to count only to two. They refer to any quantity beyond two as ‘many’ (Gordon 496). Their mindsets do not allow them to use some numbers as bases for bigger numbers (Harrison 165). Therefore, the conventions of a language determine the thoughts of its native speakers.
Can the lack of proficiency in a language affect the learning process? If yes, what is the relationship between linguistic proficiency and learning? Deacon argues that language is an intrinsic aspect of the brain (105). This statement implies that the linguistic ability of an individual can serve as a reflection of that person’s aptitude. In addition, language is very critical in the learning process, and a good mastery makes learning easier. Lutz observes that bilingualism has a positive impact on the number of high school completion among Latino students (333). Many of the Latino students who can speak both English and their native language are more likely to finish school than their counterparts which are only proficient in their native languages. Thus, proficiency in a language increases the likelihood of school completion.
Deacon, Terrence. Prefrontal Cortex and Symbol Learning: Why a Brain Capable of Language Evolved Only Once, Belmont: Mailman Research Center, n.d. Print.
Deuchar, Margaret. “Spoken Language and Sign Language.” Handbook of Human Symbolic Evolution. Ed. Andrew Locke and Charles Peters. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1996. 553-561. Print.
Gordon, Peter. “Numerical cognition without Words: Evidence from Amazonia.” Science Magazine 306.1(2004): 496. Print.
Harrison, David. When Language Dies, New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2007. Print.
Lutz, Amy. “Barriers to High School Completion among Immigrant and Later Generation Latinos in the USA: language ethnicity and economic Status.” Ethnicities, 7.323. (2008): 324-334. Print.
de Saussure, Ferdinand. Course in General Linguistics. Ed. Perry Meisel and Haun Saussy. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1966. Print.