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Introduction to Middle English

ME is, of course, descended from OE, but it differs from it in a number of ways. Contact with other languages from the end of the OE period onwards, notably with Old Norse (the language of Viking invaders) and with varieties of French, affected the status and appearance of English in a very profound way. At the end of the ME period, the status of the English language changed again, and this change led in turn to changes in linguistic transmission and structure which are sufficient for scholars to distinguish a new language-state, that is ModE.

Of course, it is important to remember that the transitions from OE to ME, and from ME to ModE, were gradual ones. People did not shift from one language-state to another overnight. But it is generally accepted by scholars that there are certain common characteristics of the varieties of ME which distinguish them from earlier and later states of the language.

The Norman Conquest

On the eve of the Norman Conquest, written and spoken English – that is, OE – was widely used throughout the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. In some parts of the East and North this variety was much influenced by varieties of Norse (the language of the Viking invaders), and in one or two western areas of what is present-day England, such as Cornwall and parts of Herefordshire, some people continued to use varieties of Celtic. But otherwise English was used in both speech and writing throughout what is now present-day England. The Anglo-Saxon nobility spoke English habitually, and the Anglo-Saxon state used written English extensively to record transactions and legal decisions. The written English most generally in use was Classical Late West Saxon, based on the usage of Wessex, the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms,
which was centered on the city of Winchester, in southern England.

The invasion was led by William of Normandy. Only by force could William hope to obtain the crown to which he believed himself entitled. Perhaps the difficulty involved in an armed invasion of England would have discouraged a less determined claimant. But William was an exceptionally able man. From infancy he had surmounted difficulties. Handicapped by the taint of illegitimacy, the son of his father by a tanner’s daughter of Falaise, he had succeeded to the dukedom of Normandy at the age of six. He was the object of repeated attempts upon his life, and only the devoted care of his regents enabled him to reach maturity. In early manhood he had had to face a number of crucial contests with rebellious barons, powerful neighbors, and even his overlord, the French king. But he had emerged triumphantly from them all, greatly strengthened in position and admirably schooled for the final test of his fortune. William the Great, as the chroniclers called him, was not the man to relinquish a kingdom without a struggle.(giriums.blogspot.com)

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The origins of language

Chewing, licking and sucking are extremely widespread mammalian activities, which, in terms of casual observation, have obvious similarities with speech. MacNeilage(1998)

We don’t usually think of speaking as similar to chewing, licking and sucking, but, like speaking; all of these actions involve movements of the mouth, tongue and lips in some kind of controlled way. So, perhaps this connection is not as improbable as it first sounds. It is an example of the type of observation that can lead to interesting speculations about the origins of spoken language. They remain, however, speculations, not facts. We simply don’t know how language originated. We suspect that some type of spoken language developed between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago, well before written language (about 5,000 years ago). Yet, among the traces of earlier periods of life on earth, we never find any direct evidence or artifacts relating to the speech of our distant ancestors that might tell us how language was back in the early stages. Perhaps because of this absence of direct physical evidence, there has been no shortage of speculation about the origins of human speech.

The divine source

In the biblical tradition, God created Adam and “whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof”. Alternatively, following a Hindu tradition, language came from Sarasvati, wife of Brahma, creator of the universe. In most religions, there appears to be a divine source who provides humans with language. In an attempt to rediscover this original divine language, a few experiments have been carried out, with rather conflicting results. The basic hypothesis seems to have been that, if human infants were allowed to grow up without hearing any language around them, then they would spontaneously begin using the original God-given language.

An Egyptian pharaoh named Psammetichus tried the experiment with two new born babies more than 2,500 years ago .After two years in the company of goats and a mute shepherd, the children were reported to have spontaneously uttered, not an Egyptian word, but something that was identified as the Phrygian word bekos, meaning ‘bread’. The pharaoh concluded that Phrygian, an older language spoken in apart of what is modern Turkey, must be the original language. That seems very unlikely. The children may not have picked up this ‘word’ from any human source, but as several commentators have pointed out, they must have heard what the goats were saying. (First remove the-kos ending, which was added in the Greek version of the story, then pronounce be-as you would the English word bed without -d at the end. Can you hear a goat?)

King James the Fourth of Scotland carried out a similar experiment around the year 1500 and the children were reported to have started speaking Hebrew. It is unfortunate that all other cases of children who have been discovered living in isolation, without coming in to contact with human speech, tend not to confirm the results of these types of ‘divine source’ experiments. Very young children living without access to human language in their early years grow up with no language at all. If human language did emanate from a divine source, we have no way of reconstructing that original language, especially given the events in a city called Babel, “because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth”, as described in the book of Genesis (11:9).

Reference: Yule, George. 2006. The Study of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.(giriums.blogspot.com)

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Introduction To English (Theory)

Trying to establish a general definition of what is and what is not a theory would not be a fruitful exercise in this kind of publication, but for the reader who is interested in such issues, Chalmers (1982) provides an eminently readable introduction and further references. Similar general issues are discussed specifically from the perspective of linguistics in the articles in Katz (1985). The relevant questions for our purposes are rather ‘When does a linguistic description turn into something more abstract, which we can call a linguistic theory?’ and ‘What is the relationship between description and theory in linguistics?’

With respect to the first of these questions, it is worth pointing out that every description that is not just a list of actually occurring sounds or phrases involves some degree of abstraction, so that for instance as soon as we refer to a unit such as a ‘phoneme’ or a ‘verb phrase,’ we are abstracting away from the pure data. A theory should of course predict (or generate in the sense used above) the correct set of data that it aims to deal with. However, it is often assumed that a good theory should do more than this. Chomsky (1964) defined three properties which a theory should have: they are known as ‘levels of adequacy’ and have played a central role not only within the Chomskyan approach to linguistics. The notion of generating the correct set of data which we have already discussed is referred to as the ‘observational adequacy’ criterion. In addition, a theory must be ‘descriptively accurate’ in that it must abstract away from the actual phrases and describe the principles which allow a theory to make predictions about the grammaticality of strings. Finally, a theory must possess ‘explanatory adequacy’: it must provide an explanation for how human beings can acquire the principles captured under descriptive adequacy. All linguists can be expected to agree on the necessity of observational adequacy. Even though there is some disagreement as to what the exact principles are which are captured under descriptive adequacy, the idea of a theory being required to have such principles is relatively uncontroversial. The idea that a linguistic theory should also explain processing and more generally the cognitive underpinning of language is also fairly widely accepted. However, exactly when a theory can be said to have explanatory adequacy in this sense is a very controversial issue.

Within the Chomskyan tradition, there is great emphasis on the aim of linguistic theory being the potential for explaining the knowledge of a language that is in a native speaker’s head and how it came to be there:

To put the matter in somewhat different but essentially equivalent terms, we may suppose that there is a fixed, genetically determined initial state of the mind, common to the species with at most minor variation apart from pathology. The mind passes through a sequence of states under the boundary conditions set by experience, achieving finally a “steady state” at a relatively fixed age, a state that then changes only in marginal ways. . . So viewed, linguistics is the abstract study of certain mechanisms, their growth and maturation. (Chomsky 1980: 187–8).

This general view of the ultimate goal of linguistic theory is shared by many theoretical approaches which differ from the Chomskyan tradition in other ways, as we shall see in the next section. In an introduction to Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG), we find the following statement on the aim of linguistic theory:

Indeed, we take it to be the central goal of linguistic theory to characterize what it is that every linguistically mature human being knows by virtue of being a linguistic creature, namely, universal grammar.(Pollard and Sag 1994: 14).

However, such assumptions are by no means a necessary part of a theory. Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar, which to some extent can be said to be a pre-cursor to HPSG, very explicitly did not contain any such assumptions:

In view of the fact that the packaging and public relations of much recent linguistic theory involves constant reference to questions of psychology, particularly in association with language acquisition, it is appropriate for us to make a few remarks about the connections between the claims we make and issues in the psychology of language. We make no claims, naturally enough, that ourgrammar is eo ipso a psychological theory. Our grammar of English is not a theory of how speakers think up things to say and put them into words. Our general linguistic theory is not a theory of how a child abstracts from the surrounding hubbub of linguistic and nonlinguistic noises enough evidence to gain a mental grasp of the structure of natural language. Nor is it a biological theory of the structure of an as-yet-unidentified mental organ. It is irresponsible to claim otherwise for theories of this general sort.(Gazdar et al. 1985: 5).

This approach would then not have the property of explanatory adequacy and hence would not be an acceptable theory according to the Chomskyan tradition.

In this context it is, however, important to keep in mind that our empirical knowledge and understanding of how the human mind deals with language is incomplete. Many accounts that claim explanatory adequacy only do so based on the assumptions made about the language faculty within their particular theoretical framework. To someone who does not share those particular assumptions, the theory would not be considered explanatory. Explanatory adequacy is a contentious issue.

To place linguistics in a broader context, we can say that those systems which we refer to as linguistic theories are essentially models of systems, on a par with a model of a chemical compound or a traffic situation. Models in this sense provide an abstract description of a system, in our case a language or a subset of a language. They are, however, not assumed just to describe, but also to enhance the understanding of that which it models. This way of looking at linguistic theory leads us to consider the relation between the model and that which it models, which comes down to the issue of the relation between the data described and the theory.

In this section so far, I have used ‘theory’ to describe whole frameworks, such as HPSG or Chomskyan theory. In a sense this boils down to including both the actual theory and the machinery used to express the theory under the term. Even though this is the way the term tends to be used, it is not entirely accurate to include under ‘theory’ the metalanguage which is used to express the theory. The distinction is sometimes articulated in linguistic writing, for instance by Bresnan (2001: 43) with respect to Lexical-Functional Grammar (LFG):
Note, however, that the formal model of LFG is not a syntactic theory in the linguistic sense. Rather, it is an architecture for syntactic theory. Within this architecture, there is a wide range of possible syntactic theories and sub-theories, some of which closely resemble syntactic theories within alternative architectures, and others of which differ radically from familiar approaches.Bresnan (2001:32).

For the sake of simplicity, I will continue to use ‘theory’ in the more common, less precise meaning. Current syntactic theories share some of their metalanguage, but they also vary substantially with respect to some of their fundamental assumptions. There are different ways of modeling the same data set. At a more abstract level, different theories would all like to claim properties such as ontological parsimony, i.e. a principle known as Ockham’s razor should apply: as little theoretical apparatus as possible should be used to explain a phenomenon within the theory. This is often captured in terms of a principle of economy in theories, but as we shall see, the effect which this principle is assumed to have varies drastically. Theories will also claim to have decidability – formal procedures exist for determining the answer to questions provided by the theory, like whether or not a particular sentence will be generated by the grammar–and predictability – the theory makes predictions about what does or does not occur.(giriums.blogspot.com)

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English Present and Future

1. The History of the English Language as a Cultural Subject

It was observed by that remarkable twelfth-century chronicler Henry of Huntington that an interest in the past was one of the distinguishing characteristics of humans as compared with the other animals. The medium by which speakers of a language communicate their thoughts and feelings to others, the tool with which they conduct their business or the government of millions of people, the vehicle by which has been transmitted the science, the philosophy, the poetry of the culture is surely worthy of study. It is not to be expected that everyone should be a philologist or should master the technicalities of linguistic science. But it is reasonable to assume that a liberally educated person should know something of the structure of his or her language, its position in the world and its relation to other tongues, the wealth of its vocabulary together with the sources from which that vocabulary has been and is being enriched, and the complex relationships among the many different varieties of speech that are gathered under the single name of the English language. The diversity of cultures that find expression in it is a reminder that the history of English is a story of cultures in contact during the past 1,500 years. It understates matters to say that political, economic, and social forces influence a language. These forces shape the language in every aspect, most obviously in the number and spread of its speakers, and in what is called “the sociology of language,” but also in the meanings of words, in the accents of the spoken language, and even in the structures of the grammar. The history of a language is intimately bound up with the history of the peoples who speak it. The purpose of this book, then, is to treat the history of English not only as being of interest to the specialized student but also as a cultural subject within the view of all educated people, while including enough references to technical matters to make clear the scientific principles involved in linguistic evolution.

2. Influences at Work on Language

The English language of today reflects many centuries of development. The political and social events that have in the course of English history so profoundly affected the English people in their national life have generally had a recognizable effect on their language. The Roman Christianizing of Britain in 597 brought England into contact with Latin civilization and made significant additions to our vocabulary. The Scandinavian invasions resulted in a considerable mixture of the two peoples and their languages. The Norman Conquest made English for two centuries the language mainly of the lower classes while the nobles and those associated with them used French on almost all occasions. And when English once more regained supremacy as the language of all elements of the population, it was an English greatly changed in both form and vocabulary from what it had been in 1066. In a similar way the Hundred Years’ War, the rise of an important middle class, the Renaissance, the development of England as a maritime power, the expansion of the British Empire, and the growth of commerce and industry, of science and literature, have, each in their way, contributed to the development of the language. References in scholarly and popular works to “Indian English,” “Caribbean English,” “West African English,” and other regional varieties point to the fact that the political and cultural history of the English language is not simply the history of the British Isles and of North America but a truly international history of quite divergent societies, which have caused the language to change and become enriched as it responds to their own special needs.

3. Growth and Decay

Moreover, English, like all other languages, is subject to that constant growth and decay that characterize all forms of life. It is a convenient figure of speech to speak of languages as living and as dead. Although we rarely think of language as something that possesses life apart from the people who speak it, as we can think of plants or of animals, we can observe in speech something like the process of change that characterizes the life of living things. When a language ceases to change, we call it a dead language. Classical Latin is a dead language because it has not changed for nearly 2,000 years. The change that is constantly going on in a living language can be most easily seen in the vocabulary. Old words die out, new words are added, and existing words change their meaning. Much of the vocabulary of Old English has been lost, and the development of new words to meet new conditions is one of the most familiar phenomena of our language. Change of meaning can be illustrated from any page of Shakespeare. Nice in Shakespeare’s day meant foolish; rheumatism signified a cold in the head. Less familiar but no less real is the change of pronunciation. A slow but steady alteration, especially in the vowel sounds, has characterized English throughout its history. Old English stan has become our stone; cu has become cow. Most of these changes are so regular as to be capable of classification under what are called “sound laws.” Changes likewise occur in the grammatical forms of a language. These may be the result of gradual phonetic modification, or they may result from the desire for uniformity commonly felt where similarity of function or use is involved. The person who says I knowed is only trying to form the past tense of this verb after the pattern of the past tense of so many verbs in English. This process is known as the operation of analogy, and it may affect the sound and meaning as well as the form of words. Thus it will be part of our task to trace the influences that are constantly at work, tending to alter a language from age to age as spoken and written, and that have brought about such an extensive alteration in English as to make the English language of 1000 quite unintelligible to English speakers of 2000.

4. The Importance of a Language

It is natural for people to view their own first language as having intrinsic advantages over languages that are foreign to them. However, a scientific approach to linguistic study combined with a consideration of history reminds us that no language acquires importance because of what are assumed to be purely internal advantages. Languages become important because of events that shape the balance of power among nations. These political, economic, technological, and military events may or may not reflect favorably, in a moral sense, on the peoples and states that are the participants; and certainly different parties to the events will have different interpretations of what is admirable or not. It is clear, however, that the language of a powerful nation will acquire importance as a direct reflection of political, economic, technological, and military strength; so also will the arts and sciences expressed in that language have advantages, including the opportunities for propagation. The spread of arts and sciences through the medium of a particular language in turn reinforces the prestige of that language. Internal deficits such as an inadequate vocabulary for the requirements at hand need not restrict the spread of a language. It is normal for a language to acquire through various means, including borrowing from other languages, the words that it needs. Thus, any language among the 4,000 languages of the world could have attained the position of importance that the half-dozen or so most widely spoken languages have attained if the external conditions had been right. English, French, German, and Spanish are important languages because of the history and influence of their populations in modern times; for this reason they are widely studied outside the country of their use. Sometimes the cultural importance of a nation has at some former time been so great that its language remains important long after it has ceased to represent political, commercial, or other greatness. Greek, for example, is studied in its classical form because of the great civilization preserved and recorded in its literature; but in its modern form as spoken in Greece today the Greek language does not serve as a language of wider communication.

5. The Importance of English

In numbers of speakers as well as in its uses for international communication and in other less quantifiable measures, English is one of the most important languages of the world. Spoken by more than 380 million people in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the former British Empire, it is the largest of the Western languages. English, however, is not the most widely used native language in the world. Chinese, in its eight spoken varieties, is known to 1.3 billion people in China alone. Some of the European languages are comparable to English in reflecting the forces of history, especially with regard to European expansion since the sixteenth century. Spanish, next in size to English, is spoken by about 330 million people, Portuguese by 180 million, Russian by 175 million, German by 110 million, French by 80 million native speakers (and a large number of second-language speakers), Italian by 65 million. A language may be important as a lingua franca in a country or region whose diverse populations would otherwise be unable to communicate. This is especially true in the former colonies of England and France whose colonial languages have remained indispensable even after independence and often in spite of outright hostility to the political and cultural values that the European languages represent.

French and English are both languages of wider communication, and yet the changing positions of the two languages in international affairs during the past century illustrate the extent to which the status of a language depends on extralinguistic factors. It has been said that English is recurringly associated with practical and powerful pursuits. Joshua A. Fishman writes: “In the Third World (excluding former anglophone and francophone colonies) French is considered more suitable than English for only one function: opera. It is considered the equal of English for reading good novels or poetry and for personal prayer (the local integrative language being widely viewed as superior to both English and French in this connection). But outside the realm of aesthetics, the Ugly Duckling reigns supreme.” The ascendancy of English as measured by numbers of speakers in various activities does not depend on nostalgic attitudes toward the originally English-speaking people or toward the language itself. Fishman makes the point that English is less loved but more used; French is more loved but less used. And in a world where “econo-technical superiority” is what counts, “the real ‘powerhouse’ is still English. It doesn’t have to worry about being loved because, loved or not, it works. It makes the world go round, and few indeed can afford to ‘knock it.’

If “econo-technical superiority” is what counts, we might wonder about the relative status of English and Japanese. Although spoken by 125 million people in Japan, a country that has risen to economic and technical dominance since World War II, the
Japanese language has yet few of the roles in international affairs that are played by English or French. The reasons are rooted in the histories of these languages. Natural languages are not like programming languages such as Fortran or LISP, which have gained or lost international currency over a period of a decade or two. Japan went through a two-century period of isolation from the West (between 1640 and 1854) during which time several European languages were establishing the base of their subsequent expansion. (read more on next posting)(giriums.blogspot.com)

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The Description of English (part 1)

The Description of English

A description of any language should contain an inventory of the building blocks; sounds and morphemes, roughly. It should also contain the rules for how those elements can be combined; phonotactic constraints, information about which differences between sounds are distinctive, how morphemes can be combined to form words, and how words can be combined to form phrases. In spite of the attention that the language has received, no complete description of English in this sense has yet been provided. To take but one example, even though there are many insightful descriptions of the English passive, the exact rules that allow for sentences such as This road has been walked on have not been provided. The view of a grammatical description just described coincides with the original conception of a ‘generative’ grammar. A generative grammar in that sense takes the building blocks of a language and ‘generates’ all and only the grammatical sentences of that language. Needless to say, no complete such grammar has been defined, not for English and not for any Associated with the question of what constitutes a description of English is the question of what such a description describes.

Traditionally, the object of description has been a variety of English referred to as the ‘standard.’ Many grammars of course aim not only to describe this variety, but also to prescribe it; to describe a variety which native speakers of English should aim to follow. Even though modern grammars of English such as Quirk et.al. (1985) and Huddleston and Pullum (2002) avoid prescriptivism, descriptions which aim also to prescribe are still prevalent, as witness the popularity of books such as Trask (2002). Descriptions of varieties of English other than the standard do, however, also have a long tradition. There are many good grammars of geographical dialects within Britain (for examples and references, see for instance Hughes and Trudgill 1980, Milroy and Milroy 1993), the US (e.g. Wolfram and Schilling-Estes 1998) and to some extent Australia and New Zealand (e.g. Burridge and Mulder 1998). See also Kortmann (this volume). Increasingly, varieties of English which have arisen in countries where English has not traditionally been the first language are also considered varieties in their own right and are described as such and not as examples of “English not used properly.” This has led to an area of study known as World Englishes (e.g. Trudgill and Hannah 2002). A description of a language, regardless of how one selects the particular variety, has to be based on data and a further issue involved in description is how to select these data. Although most descriptions rely on a mixture of types of data collection, a number of types can be distinguished. These are described in more detail in Meyer and Nelson, but given the direct way in which they impact on the relation between data and theory, we will discuss them briefly here. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, and all of them involve some degree of idealization. An approach that has not been uncommon in descriptions and in theoretical work is introspection; the author of the description considers whether he or she would accept a particular pronunciation, a particular phrase or sentence and uses these judgments as a basis for the description. An advantage of this approach might be that a linguistically trained person can provide more subtle judgments, whereas non-trained native speakers might find it difficult to make the distinction between ‘is grammatical’ and ‘makes sense,’ a distinction which The disadvantages of this approach is crucial both for description and theory are, however, also obvious; even trained linguists might not have a good awareness of what they actually say.

There are examples of linguistic articles in which a construction is attested which is claimed in the description or in the analysis not to exist. The introspective approach is particularly dangerous in theoretical work within a particular framework, where the desire to provide a neat analysis within the favored theory may cloud the linguist’s native speaker intuitions. A more reliable way of collecting the data is to elicit grammaticality judgments from a group of native speakers or to get their judgments in a more subtle way through picture description tasks or similar processes. In an approach like this, a consensus view can emerge and peculiarities of individual speakers are ruled out. However, data collected in this way may deviate from naturally occurring data. The notion of a simple grammaticality judgment is not a straight forward one to most native speakers. If the speaker is aware of some high status standard which differs from their own variety, this may also interfere with their judgments, and in cases where there is no obvious standard, it may actually be difficult to get a definite judgment from native speakers. The use of corpora avoids many of the drawbacks identified with using native speaker judgments in that it allows wide-ranging studies of naturally occurring language. Especially with the existence of large-scale electronically available corpora, this has become an important tool for the study of all varieties of English (see McEnery and Gabrielatos) Biber et al. (1999) is an example of a corpus-based grammar of English.

There are of course drawbacks, especially in that the absence of a particular construction in a corpus cannot be taken as evidence that this construction is absent from the language. This is a familiar problem for those working on varieties for which there are no longer any native speakers, for whom corpus study is the only option. Similarly, constructions which would be described as ungrammatical by the vast majority of the language community may occur in corpora, say as speech errors, or in historical texts in the form of scribal errors. Most descriptions of English are based on the written language, though modern grammars do refer to alternative constructions which occur in the spoken language but which are infrequent in written form. Biber et al. (1999) is an exception in that it is partially based on spoken corpora. Miller and Weinert (1998) go one step further and describe spoken language as a separate variety with a partially different grammar from the spoken language (see also Miller).(giriums.blogspot.com)

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(continued read Intro)

There are so many complexities here that we might argue that it would be better for linguists to give up attempting even to describe particular languages, let alone ‘language’ in the abstract. What are they to describe? Are they to describe the social structure which is complete only in the collectivity,or the mental structure which speakers of that language must be assumed to carry in their heads,or the set of systems which are presumed to allow speakers to create new utterances for themselves,or the actually produced utterances? All of these have been tried. But note that there are logical inconsistencies between these various potential objects of description. If language as a social fact exists only in the collectivity, no individual speaks ‘the language’; any individual must have only a partial knowledge of the language. This isn’t hard to prove: open any large dictionary of English at random, and read the first fifty headwords you come to. You did not know all of these words before you started reading (you probably don’t after you’ve finished), but somebody (or, more likely, a set of individuals) knows them and has used them or they wouldn’t be in the dictionary. So the description of what is in any person’s head can never provide a full description of a language in the sense that English is a language. Many linguists prefer to use the term for the language of an individual. So you don’t speak English, you speak your idiolect. That seems simple enough until we ask what ‘English’ consists of. Presumably it consists of the sum of all the idiolects of people who we agree are speaking English. But some of these people have conflicting ideas about what is part of their language. To take a simple example, there are millions of people speaking what we would call ‘English’, for whom the past tense of the verb dive is dove.For these speakers dived sounds like baby-talk, as writed would instead of wrote. There are also millions of speakers for whom dived is the only possible past tense of dive, and dove sounds like the kind of joke you make when you say that the past tense of think must be thank or thunk. The example is trivial, but it means that we must allow for a lot of different answers to what is English, even mutually incompatible ones. So it must be true that there is no clear-cut line where English stops and something else begins (and it is frequently not clear what that something else is). The language ‘English’ is not well-defined (and the same will be true for any other language which is given a name in this way). Neither is language in the sense ‘language faculty’ well-defined. A lot of work has gone into trying to understand Universal Grammar (or UG as it is usually termed) within Chomskyan approaches to linguistics), and we do not yet understand what it must look like or how it must function. There is even dispute as to whether it is a specifically linguistic set of functions, or whether it is a general set of cognitive abilities which together allow human beings to be language users. If neither a language nor language (the language faculty) is easily definable, we have to ask what it is that linguists deal with. Linguists have to define language for their own purposes. They do not have an external definition of language or of a particular language which is clearly sufficient for their needs. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that care is required.(cited form Bauer,Laurie. 2007.The Linguistics Student's Handbook. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press).

Bloomfield, Leonard (1957 [1926]). A set of postulates for the science of language. Language
2:153–64. Reprinted in Martin Joos (ed.), Readings in Linguistics.Chicago and London:
University of Chicago Press, 26–31.

Chomsky,Noam (1957). Syntactic Structures. The Hague and Paris: Mouton.

Chomsky, Noam (1986). Knowledge of Language.New York: Praeger. Chomsky,Noam
(2000).New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind.Cambridge: Cambridge University

Gabelentz, Georg von der (1901 [1891]). Die Sprachwissenschaft. 2nd edn.Leipzig: Tauchnitz.

Lightfoot, David (2000). The spandrels of the linguistic genotype.In Chris Knight, Michael
Studdert-Kennedy & James R.Hurford (eds),The Evolutionary Emergence of
language.Cambridge:Cambridge University Press,231–47.

Matthews, Peter (2001). A Short History of Structural Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Meillet,Antoine (1903). Introduction à l’étude comparative des langues indo-européennes.

Saussure,Ferdinand de (1969 [1916]). Cours de linguistique générale.Paris: Payot.

Smith,N[eil] V.(1994). Competence and performance. In R.E.Asher (ed.), Encyclopedia of
Language and Linguistics.Oxford:Pergamon,Vol.2,645–8.(giriums.blogspot.com)

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Introduction to Linguistics part 1

Because we have a word language,we assume that there must be some corresponding entity for the word to denote However, the linguist Saussure (1969 [1916]:19) points out to us that ‘language is not an entity’. Defining something like ‘The English Language’ turns out to be a difficult task.Part of the problem is that the language has so many different aspects.We can view it as a social fact,as a psychological state,as a set of structures,or as a collection of outputs.A language is a social fact, a kind of social contract.It exists not in an individual,but in a community.

It is a treasure buried by the practice of speech in people belonging to the same community,a grammatical system which has virtual existence in each brain, or more exactly in the brains of a collection of individuals;because language is not complete in any individual,but exists only in the collectivity. (Saussure 1969 [1916]:30.

A language can also be viewed as a mental reality. It exists in the heads of people who speak it,and we assume its existence because of people’s ability to learn languages in general and their practice in dealing with at least one particular language.‘ [A grammar is a mental entity,represented in the mind/brain of an individual and characterising that individual’s linguistic capacity’(Lightfoot 2000:231). Note that Lightfoot here talks of a grammar rather than of a language,but one possible definition of a language is precisely that it is the grammatical system which allows speakers to produce appropriate utterances.‘Grammar’ has as many meanings as ‘language'.

In this sense,we might see a language as a set of choices,a set of contrasts. We can say Kim kissed the crocodile or The crocodile kissed Kim, but we cannot choose to say, as a meaningful sentence of English, Kissed crocodile Kim the. There is a system to what orders the words have to come in if they are to make sense. We choose,in English,whether to say towel or cowl,but we cannot choose, in English,to say something with a consonant half-way between the /t/ of towel and the /k/ of cowl to mean something which is part towel and part cowl (or,indeed,to mean anything else). There is a system to what sounds we use in English. So a language can be viewed as a system of systems. This view is usually attributed to Meillet: ‘Every language forms a system in which everything is interconnected’ (Meillet 1903:407). But he has forerunners who make the same point in similar terms,e.g.: ‘Every language is a system all of whose parts interrelate and interact organically’(von der Gabelentz 1901:481, as cited and translated by Matthews 2001:6.

Another alternative way of considering language is to ignore the way in which speakers go about constructing utterances, and consider instead their output, an actual set of utterances or (in a more idealised form) a set of sentences. A language can be defined as a set of sentences:

...he totality of utterances that can be made in a speech community is the language of that speech community. (Bloomfield 1957 [1926]:26) [A] language [is] a set (finite or infinite) of sentences,each finite in length and constructed out of a finite set of
elements.(Chomsky 1957:13).

The question of whether we should be dealing with utterances (things produced,whether in speech of in writing,by speakers) or sentences raises another potential distinction.Chomsky (1986) introduces the notion of a distinction between E-language and I-language.Smith (1994) already talks of this distinction as a ‘customary’ one, which may be an overstatement of the case,but he draws the distinction very clearly:

E-language is the ‘external’ manifestation of the ‘internally’ (i.e.mentally) represented grammars (or I-languages) of many individuals. E-languages are the appropriate domain for social,political,mathematical or logical statements;I-languages are the appropriate domain for statements about individual knowledge. That this apparently narrower domain is worth considering follows from the fact that,as a species,humans appear to be essentially identical in their linguistic abilities....[E]very child brings the same intellectual apparatus (known as ‘universal grammar’) to bear on the task of acquiring his or her first language.(Smith 1994:646)/(giriums.blogspot.com)

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