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A guy phones the local hospital and yells, "You've gotta help! My wife is in labor! Is this her first child? This is her husband! Introduction 2. Talking to Garfield: human and animal communication 3. Did I hear that right? The sounds of language 4. Twisted words: word structure and meaning 5. Fitting words together: phrase structure and meaning 6. Meaning one thing and saying another: indirect speech and conversational principles 7. Fitting the pieces together: the structure of discourse 8. Variety is the spice of life: language variation Cross-cultural gaffes: language and culture Some common visual gestures used by hearing speakers as well include the OK sign.

Messages can take many mediums, including chemical scent. Many creatures, insects being foremost among them, release chemicals in order to send particular messages the technical name for these is pheromones. Ants mark their trails with them to help guide other members of the colony to a food source. Dogs presumably ones who cannot spell and cats are well known for marking their territory with the scent of their urine.

And many moths and butterflies release a sex pheromone for the purpose of attracting a mate, a chemical scent that can be detected by a potential mate from several miles away. Of course, not all chemical scents have a meaning or message. We may under- stand from the smell of the month-old cottage cheese in our refrigerator that its not fit to eat, but that isnt the cheeses way of telling us so.

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No, for something to actually count as communication, the signal needs to have a fixed, or at least gen- erally regular, meaning. We expect, for instance, that someones flashing the OK sign except perhaps in Brazil indicates approval. If your friend Roger started using it to let you know that he was mad at you in place of the more commonly accepted one finger salute , you would be annoyed.

Likewise, an ants laying down a scent trail to let her teammates know NOT to go down this path would just mess everything up. Imagine a 25, ant traffic jam on the trail. Along with a consistent meaning, communicated signals need to have some purpose. It might be and most commonly is the transmission of information the red traffic light telling the drivers to Stop!

They are not, I am certain, asking me to share information regarding my current economic, spiritual, or emotional state. Rather, the purpose of this communication is to acknowledge me as a fellow traveler on the same street, and give me a verbal pat-on-the-head, so to speak. My response Fine, thanks, and you? The three properties that weve spoken about so far are necessary for anything to even be considered communication.

That is, all communicated messages are sent through some medium, have a meaning, and serve some purpose. So, thinking linguistic thoughts cannot count as communication unless your friends are tele- pathic. And sticking your head out the window and screaming aaaaaahhh!!! Finally, if you walk up to a complete stranger and say the word monkey for no apparent reason, we would not consider you to have communicated even though the word monkey itself has a regular and stable meaning , since your message has no arguable purpose.

There are also properties of communicated messages that can be considered optional. That is, some forms of communication have the properties and some dont. Take, for instance, the notion of interchangeability or mutuality. In some kinds of communication, the message sender and message receiver can easily trade places.

This is certainly true of most human communication. I say some words to you for some purpose, a communicated message, and you reply with some words of your own, another communicated message. We are each able to use the same stock of words provided were speaking the same language , so our communication system is interchangeable we each can use it interchangeably.

Understanding Language through Humor by Stanley Dubinsky | | Booktopia

This isnt always the case. Take the case of the dot matrix printer and the computer mentioned above. The printer has a simple pair of messages that it communicates to the computer, in order to manage the flow of information to it: Pause stop sending for a moment, Im full and Continue OK, go on. This is not an interchangeable system. The type of information sent by the computer to the printer i. There is no way to know without close examination whether a given system is or is not interchangeable. For instance, if the worker ant laying down a chemical trail to guide her compatriots might on another occasion be the one reading the chemical messages set down by her colony-mates, then the system is indeed interchangeable.

On the other hand, if the sex pheromones particular to a creature are only emitted by one sex as is the case with moths and butterflies, where the female uses a chemical scent to attract males , then the communication is not interchangeable. Communication systems also vary according to whether they are inborn or learned. For instance, your microwave is not designed to learn how you prefer it to signal that its finished the popcorn although it could be.

Human language, though, is obviously a learned form of communication, and whether it is also partly inborn is a vexed question that has occupied linguists for some time. There are adamant proponents for both the negative and positive conclusion n. Some forms of communication are clearly and necessarily inborn, such as the chemical pheromone communication systems mentioned above. Theres really no way for an ant to learn how to produce the right chemical to mark its trail, or for the female gypsy moth to be taught which scent will attract her mate.

They either come into the world with the chemical scent-making capacity built in, or they dont. With other species, though, there is some variability. It has been shown that some bird species, such as the zebra finch, do in fact develop their song through exposure to adults, albeit with some help from nature. When finches are raised in isolation, without any exposure to the mating songs of other finches, they produce a song that is similar to that of their own species suggesting that theyre born with some capacity for this but they do it pretty badly suggesting that they need to hear and learn from other finches to really get it right.

Recent research into the behavior of other bird species, such as the cowbird, has also shown that inheritance combines with learning to insure that communication is passed along. The cowbird is what is called a brood parasite, which means that the female lays its eggs in the nest of another species and allows the female owner of that nest to raise its young now you know what to call human parents who abandon their children to be reared by other adults. Given that young cowbirds will not have much contact with adults of their own species early on, it has long been assumed that they would need to have some genetically hard-wired knowledge of their own species mating songs, in order to insure that they dont learn the wrong mating song and doom their own species to extinction.

However, recent research by Meridith West and Andrew King at Indiana University3 has shown that the circumstances of brood parasites are more complex and that their environment plays at least as strong a role as their genes in helping them to get their song right. West and King discovered that males are fairly indiscriminate and will sing to and chase the tails of whatever birds theyre raised with, including with no hope of success canaries.

What they also discovered is that females provide the males with the cues i. That is, the females knew what they wanted to hear better than the males knew what they wanted to sing, and the females were sophisticated enough to get them the males to do it. Also quite amazing in West and Kings findings was the fact that females actually inherit their song preferences from their mothers. In the case of a cross- bred female whose mother was a Texas cowbird and whose father was a North Carolina cowbird , the preference was clearly for a Texas-style mating song even though she could not have learned this from her mother who wasnt present to teach it to her.

Another variable we find in communication systems has to do with the rela- tionship between the meaning of the message and its form. Does the form of what is used to express the message somehow give hints to its meaning? This common sign in public buildings does so:. The meaning of this message, that a stairway is nearby, is obvious from the form which is a side-view of the basic shape of a stairway.

If the sign were arbitrarily used to indicate a fire exit or a restroom, you would think that the buildings designers were consciously trying to confuse people. Likewise, this sign for a womens restroom is also self-explanatory, despite the likelihood that most of those using it wont be wearing dresses or skirts.

And it would still be usable in Scotland for a womens restroom sign, even during the July Gathering of Scottish clans in Edinburgh. The point is not that the form of the sign is a true and accurate picture of its meaning, but that it is just indicative of its meaning. When a sign does this, we would say that the form is iconic relative to the meaning. Now, just as some signs do give out hints as to their meaning, many do not.

When there is no obvious connection between form and meaning, then the link is arbitrary. Take, for instance, the roadside meaning of a red octagon. We recognize this as a stop sign, regardless of what letters are written on it. So, if youre driving along and approach a corner with one of the signs in Figure 2.

Now, what is clear about this is that there is nothing about the color red or an octagonal shape that carries an inherent meaning stop. In fact, in the early part of the last century US stop signs were typically yellow. The octagonal shape was determined in , but the red color didnt become standard until the mids.

The image below is that of a black and yellow enamaled stop sign from the s used in Chicago and made by Lyle Signs Inc. Now just as the connection between the form of a road sign and its meaning can be arbitrary or not, so it is with almost any form of communication, including spoken human language. The sound of some words is iconic relative to their meaning, while the sound of others the vast majority is arbitrary. Take, for instance, the word for a house pet of the feline persuasion, cat, and the word for the sound that this creature typically makes, meow.

In fact, these three sounds can be combined arbitrarily in a variety of ways to form several different, unrelated English words, such as: act [kt], tack, [tk], and tact [tkt]. If we look at the word for this animal in other languages, we find that they differ widely from one language to the next: macja Albanian , mao Chinese , kocka Czech , kissa Finnish , hatool Hebrew , kicing Indonesian , neko Japanese , pisica Romanian , gato Spanish , kedi Turkish , con meo Vietnamese.

On the other hand, many unrelated languages do use the same word one that sounds like [mee-ow] to indicate the sound that the creature makes. The reason for this similarity across languages is obvious. They all mimic the actual sound that the animal makes and, in doing so, create words that are iconic rather than arbitrary. In contrast, the words we use to name things in the world, with very few exceptions, are typically arbitrary sequences of sounds that dont exhibit any direct connection between their sound and their meaning.

Another aspect of communication systems worth talking about has to do with whether pieces of a message can be broken down into smaller bits of meaning. To see what this means, consider two equally good ways that you might use to get someone to cross the room and come over to where youre standing. You might use a familiar hand gesture involving a curved index finger,. The spoken message consists of two words come and here plus the implied you. That is, there are three bits of meaning in this message and they are to a degree independent of one another. This is obvious from the fact that we can swap one of them out to change the meaning of the message.

Replace come with stand, and we get stand here! We could then replace here with there to get another message, stand there! And we could even replace the implied you with an overt lets [i. In contrast, the hand gesture doesnt break apart into any meaningful compo- nents. The extended index finger doesnt have a meaning separate from the curled- back three fingers or the thumb. The orientation of the hand facing upwards doesnt represent any separable piece of the message. One can, of course, swap the index finger for another of ill-repute to change the message entirely and perhaps start a fight in the process.

But notice that, in this case, the entire message changes, not just one piece of it. It is the ability to piece together complex or simple messages through the use of many independent, meaningful bits that allows human communication i. Imagine how many things we could say if each message required its own separate and un-analyzable hand gesture. A brief comparison of human language to animal communication is helpful here. The vocalizations of vervet monkeys have been extensively studied, and they have been found to utilize four distinct types of alarm calls in order to warn others of impending danger.

Leopards are quite fond of vervets for lunch , and the troop responds to this call by climbing high up into trees that are outside of its range. Another call sort of a double cough is used to alert the troop to an aerial predator, such as an eagle. The response to this warning is to run into low bushes, so as to be hidden from the air.

The third call something that is called, and sounds like, a chutter is a response to snakes. This alarm causes the troop to look for the snake, and to mob it when they find it. There is, lastly, a call that they use for mammalian ground predators who dont unlike leopards have a special preference for vervets. This alarm is a quiet but very high pitched call that causes the troop to become very vigilant and move toward trees. The leopard alarm might mean something like Watch out, a leopard!

The eagle alarm might mean something like Watch out! An eagle! However one might characterize the message in these alarms, its clear that there is no part of the message that can be separated out to mean danger or run or climb or hide or leopard or eagle. This being the case, we can assume that vervets unlike people cannot readily use their system of alarms to construct new ones. There is simply no way for a vervet to signal Watch out for that creature coming out of the lake!

Guy with a gun! A creature that weve never seen before who looks hungry and is likely to eat one of us! In this regard, human communication, having the property of being decomposable into bits of meaning, can be counted upon to do a better job at communicating about novel dangers as well as many other things. When we survey various non- human communication systems we can see right away that the messages sent are all about here and now. The dot matrix printers relays the messages Pause now and Continue now.

There would be no point in having it tell the computer that it wanted it to pause a minute ago, or that it is ok to continue, provided someone else refills the paper tray. Birds mating and territorial songs, vervet monkeys alarm calls, and ants pheromone trail markings are all and only about current situations.

No bird can communicate I would have wanted to mate with you, were you a faster flyer. Vervet monkeys cant reminisce about alarm calls from last week. And ants wont lay down a trail that they anticipate will lead to food tomorrow. Human communication i. We regularly use language to transmit messages about what we did, what were about to do, and what we would or would not do if circumstances were different. Consider the famous nursery rhyme about the three wise men of Gotham:.

Three Wise Men of Gotham Went to sea in a bowl. If the bowl had been stronger My tale had been longer. The point of the poem is to let us know that the three were fools, and that they didnt stay afloat for long. In a world where its true that the bowl is strong, its also true that the poem is long.

Ours is not that world. Messages like this, which describe the world as it might be but isnt and which suggest further how things would turn out in such a world, are called counterfactuals.

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We use them all the time,. If I had more money, Lulu would probably go out with me. I could get an A on this test, if I only had five more hours to work on it. This coffee wouldnt taste so bad, if the white stuff in the sugar bowl hadnt turned out to be salt. Communicating about the world as it was, will be, or could be is a property unique to human language communication. One final property to discuss is the degree to which a communication system is open-ended or productive. In the universe of animal communication, there is a fairly wide difference regarding the number of messages that different species have at their disposal.

Some have only a few, while others have a few dozen. In experimental environments, some primate species and other mammals such as sea lions have been trained to recognize, respond to, and sometimes use, many dozens of signs. Sea lions were trained to distinguish signs for the adjectives large, small, black and white, for various objects [toy] car, ring, cube, ball, football, pipe, etc. They could accurately follow commands such as swim over the large black football in a pool loaded with an assortment of different floating objects.

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The sea lions ability to respond to sequences of as many as seven signs resulted in their potentially having the ability to decode some 7, distinct messages. If you can only say or understand 7, sentence-like messages, you can certainly do quite a bit, but your abil- ity to communicate on a human level would be pretty mediocre. If or so messages are dedicated to getting what you want at eateries e. Supersize me! No, Im not interested! So how many distinct messages is a speaker of a human language capable of? Well, if one considers that the vocabulary of the average college graduate might be somewhere around 65, to 75, words,13 and that these words may combine into multiword sentences of variable length, we can conclude the human language is a communication system capable of a practically infinite number of possible messages.

We are constantly hearing sentences weve never heard before and producing sentences that weve never spoken before, and this goes on for most of our lives. That isnt to say that we dont often repeat ourselves. But the fact is that we most often dont. Consider, for instance, the fact that most of the sentences in this book are, and will be, sentences that you the reader have never heard or read before. Repeat this for just about every book youve read, and will read, and you get the idea of the limitlessness of it all.

Its not just because we have so many words either. Human language has the limitless capacity that it does at least in part because we are able to embed expressions inside other expressions which are embedded inside yet other expressions that are themselves embedded inside expressions. While it may be hard to follow, it can certainly be very carefully unraveled and understood. A joke that is funnier than a joke which was funnier than the joke which I consider very funny could be called a very, very, very, very funny joke.

There is no limit to the number of verys that I might add, and thus no limit to the number of such expressions I can produce using the word very. Animal communication lacks this embedding capacity, even when animals are taught to use symbols to communicate in relatively sophisticated ways. For example, in the s, Herbert Terrace conducted communication experiments with a chimpanzee he named Nim Chimpsky cf. Noam Chomsky. But Nims expressions rarely went beyond two or three symbols chips and his longest utterance plastic chip-wise was, give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you.

Clearly, length aside, there is absolutely no grammar here. It is grammar, which provides the capacity for embedding, which in turn allows a speaker of human language to produce an expression like,. Your mothers sisters cousin Matildas drunkard of a husband is passed out in the driveway.

Having looked in some detail at the nature of communication systems gen- erally, we can now compare animal and human communication, to get a sense of how human language is special and how it differs. One system that has been extensively studied is that of forager bees. Forager bees like many other vari- eties have a specialized group of worker bees called scouts. These bees go out looking for food sources, and then report their location back to the hive.

Since the main goal of the hive is to collect enough food i. The method of sending out scouts is quite efficient, but comes with one requirement. The scouts have to have some way of telling the rest of the hive what theyve found and where to go get it. Essentially, what needs to be communicated about the food source is 1 whether its any good, 2 where it is relative to the hive, and 3 how far away it is. The first part is pretty straightforward. All the scout needs to do there is to bring back samples and pass them around. The second part requires some actual communication.

The scout must tell everyone in what direction to go. They dont have GPS, or maps, or words for landmarks like trees and streams. But they can orient themselves relative to something everyone can see, the sun of course, this wont work on rainy days, but who wants to go out in that sort of weather anyway? The way they do this is by doing a little dance see Figure 2. Now, one must understand that the dance floor inside the hive is vertical like a wall , and the scouts use down the direction of gravity as symbolic of away from the sun. So, if the wiggle is 30 degrees to the left of perpendicular, then the other worker bees know that they must leave the hive and fly in a direction 30 degrees to the left of the sun.

We can see pretty clearly here that this particular aspect of the communication system is what we called iconic earlier. Scouts have a different way of communicating distance. This bit is communi- cated through the rate of repetition. The faster the scout dances that is, the more times per minute she repeats the dance the closer the food source is.

Slower means farther away. This is also somewhat iconic, since:. Forager bee communication appears to be true communication, but how can one really know? That is, how do we know that the dances that the scout bees do express something that we would call meaning the location of food and are used for a purpose to let the others in the hive know about it. Maybe the scout bees are just nervous or excited. Maybe the other bees can just sniff out where the food is, and the dance doesnt really tell them anything.

Experiments with forager bee behavior have shown otherwise. Namely, that the scouts are communicating information and that the other bees receive this information and act accordingly. In one experiment, scouts were sent out of the hive and the rest of the bees were removed from the hive before they returned. Coming back to an empty house, one imagines that they were confused and lonely. But they didnt wander around the hive for a long time calling out the names of their friends presumably either because they dont have friends or because their friends dont have names.

They also didnt dance. Now, if the dance was just a reaction to finding food, then they would have done it anyway. But the fact that they didnt do it with no one else in the hive suggests that it is done for the purpose of communicating. In another experiment, scouts wings were taped to their backs and they were made to walk rather than fly back to the hive. One imagines that they were really pissed off about having to walk, after all the money they spent on a wing job.

That being beside the point, when they did get back, they nevertheless danced to let everyone know where the food was, and the frequency of their dance directly communicated the amount of time that it took them to walk back and didnt match the flying distance to the food source, since they hadnt flown back. So, though we know that they dont have little chronometers, it is pretty clear that they are measuring their travel time and directly communicating that to their hive mates.

Other experiments have tested whether the other bees actually got the message. We know right off that they sampled the food brought back by the scout, so thats not at issue. And observers noted that the worker bees all flew off in the correct direction, indicating that the directional dance worked. But what about distance? A couple of experiments tested this. In one, experimenters placed food-scent cards along the flight path, hoping to trick the worker bees into pulling over early to prove that they might just be sniffing their way along the path until they get to a food source.

But, by and large, the worker bees overflew the cards, and went all the way to the actual food source, indicating that they had been paying attention to the scouts message. Other observations confirmed this, as the worker bees generally ate just enough before going out to get them out to the food source and back. That is, they knew before leaving, how far they would need to fly and prepared accordingly.

So, we know that the bees have a true communication system. It has a medium movement , and communicates information location of food for a purpose helping others to retrieve the food. We also know that the major pieces of the system direction and distance are iconic, rather than arbitrary. Notice also that the communication system doesnt involve two-way i. Scouts report information to the other workers about what theyve found, but theres no communication of consequence going the other way.

Work- ers have no way to ask specific questions related to the messages, such as:. What did you find out there? So how far is it? Which way do we turn when we leave the hive?

Understanding Language through Humor: How jokes make concepts clear

Did you have a good flight? We even know that it doesnt involve learning on the part of the scouts they are born with the ability to communicate their messages. We know this because of other experiments that have been done. It happens that there are two related varieties of forager bees, an Austrian variety living north of the Alps and an Italian variety living to the south of the mountains.

The two varieties can be told apart by their markings and no, the Austrian bees do not have lederhosen. In addition, their communication systems are slightly different. The Austrian bees dance more quickly than the Italian bees to communicate a particular distance. If you place an Austrian scout in an Italian hive and allow it to dance the distance of a food source in its own dialect, the Italian bees will be looking for food closer to the hive than the Austrian bee intended.

In experiments where the two varieties were cross-bred, it turned out that those offspring that sported Austrian markings danced an Austrian dialect and those offspring with Italian markings danced like Italians. Theres no way to separate as there would be in human language the direction part of the message from the distance part. A scout bee has no way to say its 90 degrees to the right of the sun, but youre going to have to guess how far. Its further the case that, unlike human language, the scout bees messages are all and only about here and now.

It cannot communicate anything about the location of a food source from yesterday. It cant even communicate about where it found food a couple of hours ago, since the sun moves in the sky and the message at 2 p. It cant and wont communicate where it wishes there were food, or where would be a good place to find food. Of course, the productivity of bee communication is also limited and distinct from human language. Theres no communication from scout bees about anything other than the quality, direction, and distance of a food source.

That is, a scout cant communicate the direction and distance of anything else, such as a competing hive. She cant provide information about whether the food source is close to the ground, or high off it. She cant tell her hive mates how enjoyable the trip back was, or how nice the weathers been for flying.

And as we noted above, she cant even tell everyone that her flight was canceled and that she had to walk back. Its clear from all this that the forager bees really do communicate in complex and sophisticated ways. Its also clear that their communication is only similar to that of humans in our overactive imaginations. Our propensity for overestimating what other creatures are capable of where communication is concerned is legend.

So much so, that we can often laugh at ourselves about it. Consider this bit of humor: Each evening bird lover Tom stood in his backyard, hooting like an owl and, one night, an owl finally called back to him. For a year, the man and his feathered friend hooted back and forth. He even kept a log of their conversations. Just as he thought he was on the verge of a breakthrough in interspecies communication, his wife had a chat with her next-door neighbor. My husband spends his nights calling out to owls, she said.

Thats odd, the neighbor replied. So does mine. Or this one: A man is at the zoo and asks the keeper, Have you got any talking parrots? No, says the keeper, but weve got a woodpecker that knows Morse code. We want to believe that animals communicate just like we do, and those beliefs help populate joke books, fables, fairy tales, movies, and all sorts of stories that get passed around from pet lover to pet lover.

It isnt uncommon for pet owners, like Judy Brookes featured in a Scientific American article Fact or fiction: Dogs can talk , to believe that her dog Maya is actually trying to say I love you, when she says Ahh rooo uuu. People have been deluded into thinking that animals are actually talking, or at least trying to talk, since at least the beginning of the last century. The fact is that animals such as Maya havent got a clue what theyre doing, only that whatever it is, it gets them treats.

It should be clear from what weve seen in this chapter that human language is on a completely distinct communicative plain from the sort of messaging that other creatures are capable of. Before closing out this discussion, there is one other issue that we need to address: some common misuses of the word language to describe things that humans do, which are not in fact really language at all.

Among those things needing weeding are the language of flowers, the language of love, and the language of music. Generally speaking, you can be assured that anything called the language of X where X is something other than human language is not really language. People commonly refer to the way we might communicate through any medium as the language of that medium.

So, if your mom makes a mean lasagna and her making the lasagna communicates how much she loves and cares for you, somebody is going to write about this and call it the language of food. Of course, theres simply no way that we can assign a semantic meaning of I love and care for you to the preparation and serving of lasagna.

If we did so, then it should and would always have that meaning. But while your mom serving you lasagna might communicate this message from her to you, be assured that she doesnt want it to mean the same thing when she has to serve her alcoholic brother-in-law, Anthony. No, in order for some system of communication to be a language of anything, or even a system of communication, its messages must have consistent and stable semantic meanings.

For example, theres a fellow in North Carolina named Dr. Gary Chapman who writes books about marital communication. Chapmans books is titled The Five Love Languages. The five languages that he refers to are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Now, as important as these five elements might be in building marital communication, they are not languages.

If anything they are means through which couples might convey messages and feelings to each other. They are mediums of communication rather than systems of communication or language. Take hugging for example. Hugging can and usually does communicate something. But what it communicates will vary according to the participants.

Hugging ones children and hugging ones spouse are supposed to communicate somewhat different messages. And I can assure you that a very different message is going out when Jimmy has to hug his Great Aunt Bella, who he cant stand.

Speaking of what some refer to as the language of music is a bit more complicated. It has recently been shown unsurprisingly that music is capable of communicating emotions. In a recent study, Thomas Fritz and his research team found that there is a universal ability to recognize three basic emotions expressed through Western music happiness, sadness, and fear.

Now, the ability of a musical passage to elicit a nebulous emotional response is rather different from the ability to communicate a message. Music that communicates happiness cannot be said to have transmitted the message I the composer am happy or You the listener should be happy or Happiness is a good thing to feel.

And even if one were to consider happiness, sadness, and fear to be on their own messages transmitted by particular musical passages, to go on from there and suggest that music is some sort of communicative system would be absurd and would lose sight of the fact that music is infinitely more than a system of transmitting messages. Given that music does not even rise to the level of system of communication, calling it language is hyperbolic nonsense. Among all the language of X expressions out there, there is one, the language of flowers, which comes close to qualifying as a communication system although not as a language.

As noted by Beverly Seaton, the language of flowers was in Victorian times a vocabulary list, matching flowers with meanings, [but] differing from book to book. The specific meaning conveyed by a particular flower might differ from book to book, and from country to country. A white rose could signify silence or celibacy or virtue. A yellow rose variously translated as devotion or jealousy or infidelity. Of course, the red rose with its meaning of love and beauty has remained rather constant. So to the extent that different species of flowers could be assigned meanings that correspond to different feelings and to the extent that these were used to send messages in circumstances when open communication was not possible, the language of flowers is a viable, albeit restricted, communication system.

Nevertheless, a language it is not. As the reader proceeds through this book, it will be helpful to remember what constitutes true language, and the ways in which human language is a specially endowed form of communication that has no peer among the myriad types of communication that are possible.

The sounds of language. This B. It is for this reason that we have placed this chapter ahead of all the remaining chapters of this book. Written language is secondary to spoken language and is derivative of it. It is the primacy of spoken language which enables and contributes to the vast store of sound-based jokes, puns, and other linguistic diversions that we have at our disposal. Certainly, were it not for the disparity between speech sounds and spelling which is particularly great in English , the joke about welcoming ones Aunt Teeter to an ant colony would not be so easily put. In this chapter, we will first discuss the difference between language sounds and the letters i.

We will then focus on language sounds themselves, and on the difference between phonetics the physical realization and properties of these sounds and phonology which concerns how these sounds are mentally represented in the mind of a speaker or hearer. Finally, we will go through a brief catalog of the kinds of linguistic diversions puns, spoonerisms that arise out of soundspelling discrepancies and out of the interaction between phonetics and phonology.

She dutifully recites k-o-k-o-n-u-t, to which her teacher answers, That is incorrect! Hurricane Hattie responds quite reasonably, asking, Well, if k-o-k-o-n-u-t doesnt spell coconut, what does it spell? As the Sansom comic strip makes so very clear, there is a disconnect between our pronunciation of sounds and the letters or symbols we use to represent them. In the particular case above, we have a letter c which is sometimes used in English to represent the same sound as k and sometimes used to represent the same sound as s.

So, as far as pronunciation is concerned, k-o-k-o-n-u-t and c-o-c-o-n-u-t do indeed spell out the same sequence of sounds for a speaker of English. All, the same kokonut is not an accepted written word in the English language. There are many other idiosyncrasies that make English spelling appear rather arbitrary and illogical even though a good number of them make some sense from an historical perspective.

Take, for instance, the way that the first vowel sound in strip is affected by the addition of an e at the end of the word stripe. The letter i winds up representing the sound [i] as in din when the e is absent, and [ai] when the e is added, as in dine. A corollary of this pattern is the fact that one p in the word striper has the preceding vowel pronounced [ai], while the imposition of pp gives the [i] in stripper. A panel of Dan Piraros Bizarro cartoon takes advantage of this spelling oddity.

In it, the plate glass window of a store front prominently displays Eds Dinner. Inside the store is a guy in his undershirt sitting alone at a table, looking up from his supper at two men standing in the doorway. One of the men says to the other, See? I told you its not just a misspelling! And its not just the case that odd combinations of letters yield unexpected sounds in English.

It is also a fact that the same letters and combinations of letters yield quite different sounds when used in different words. This fact is particularly vexing to any non-native speaker of English who has ever tried to learn the language. Try explaining to a learner of English why the vowel sounds in the words pull and wool are the same but are spelled with u and oo, respectively. And why it is that the oo in fool represents a different sound from the oo in wool, but the same sound as the u in rule. Im taught p-l-o-u-g-h Sall be pronounce plow.

Zats easy wen you know, I say, Mon Anglais, Ill get through! My teacher say zat in zat case, O-u-g-h is oo. And zen I laugh and say to him, Zees Anglais make me cough. He say Not coo but in zat word, O-u-g-h is off. Oh, Sacre bleu! Such varied sounds Of words make me hiccough! He say, Again mon frien ees wrong; O-u-g-h is up In hiccough. Zen I cry, No more, You make my troat feel rough. Non, non! I say, I try to spik your words, I cannot spik zem though. In time youll learn, but now youre wrong! O-u-g-h is owe. Ill try no more, I sall go mad, Ill drown me in ze lough!

But ere you drown yourself, said he, O-u-g-h is ock. He taught no more, I held him fast And killed him wiz a rough. In explaining how English spelling differs so radically from English pronun- ciation, it is important to note that spelling conventions are extremely resistant to change, much more so than pronunciations.

One can demonstrate this by looking at English words that end in ight such as night, light, and bright. The spelling of these words is faithful to their pronunciations in Old English, an historical ancestor of Modern English not much heard for some years. In Old English, the letter i was pronounced [ee] and the gh represented the sound [h], such that night would have been pronounced something like [neeht] up until the fifteenth century, and its spelling would thus have very closely mirrored its pronunciation. This Old English [strong h] sound represented by gh is very close to, and historically related to, the German [strong h] sound in nacht night.

The spelling of these words thus trails the changes in their pronunciation by a good five hundred years. Alongside the standard ight spellings, we find that some of these words also show up with new and modern spellings, often used to pitch products, such as nite and lite in Nite Lite a brand of rechargeable hunting lights and lite in Bud Lite and Miller Lite beer.

In this lite, it is sobering to realize that the nouveau spelling of lite actually represents a spelling convention held over from Middle English that is, fourteenth-century English where the i was still pronounced as [ee] and the final e was optionally pronounced, as in [leeteh] or [leet]. So, avant garde in spelling terms means something like only years out of date. If we were to adopt a truly avant-garde or at least au courant spelling for these words, we would want to spell them as layt, nayt, and brayt.

So why dont we? The best explanation for the resistance to change shown by spelling conventions is that literacy and the preservation of written records depend upon it. Spelling reform of any significance would likely render incomprehensible much of what has been written in English over the past few centuries.

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A short but convincing essay on this topic was penned by Mark Twain or some say, by one M. Shields in a letter to the Economist : A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling For example, in Year 1 that useless letter c would be dropped to be replased either by k or s, and likewise x would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which c would be retained would be the ch formation, which will be dealt with later. Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants.

Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez c, y and x bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez tu riplais ch, sh, and th rispektivli. Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld. Consider the last sentence in this piece, and the likely result of xe orxogrefkl riform ov Ingliy. Such a radical change, if accomplished in twenty years or even forty, would make it all but impossible for anyone schooled in the nu orxogrefi to read anything printed in the last century.

So, we are stuck with the spelling system that we have and will, for the foreseeable future, run the risk of having the French students in our English classes want to kill us wiz a rough. Having noted the difficulties of the English spelling system and the discrep- ancies between letters and sounds, we can see more clearly why one cannot really use the standard orthographical system of letters to speak about or describe sounds.

We find that some letters such as x represent two sounds: [ks]. Con- versely, there are plenty of two-letter combinations, such as sh and ch, that each represent a single sound. It is further the case, as we have seen, that some letters and letter combinations are unstable.

Figure 3. Phonetics and phonemics The letter a has a different sound in each of the following words: cap, car, and caper. Conversely, the sound [oo] has a variety of spellings: oo in fool, u in ruler, ough in through, and ew in threw. And the sound [ee] can be represented by all of ee in sleep, ea in treat, ie in retriever, ei in receiver, y in folly, and i in Traci.


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It is for this reason that, in representing language sounds, we must adopt a standard and predictable system. The International Phonetic Alphabet IPA is one such system, and passes the basic requirements in place for any such system: i each symbol represents one sound and each sound is represented by one symbol, and ii each symbol always represents the same sound and each sound is always represented by the same symbol.

In representing sounds, though, we will not necessarily adopt the symbols and descriptions from the table, as they are rather technical and would take the reader far beyond the scope of this little book. And to the extent that we do so, we will make certain that they are accompanied by some plain-language description.

Phonetics actual sounds and phonemics the idea of those sounds. It is pretty easy to distinguish between sounds that are not language sounds e. There is the English word meow, which consists of language sounds, [m]-[i]-[ae]-[w], and the actual sound that a cat makes, which doesnt. However, when we talk about the sounds involved in human language, there are a number of ways that they can be described and categorized. We can, for instance, talk about the movements made by our lips, tongue, jaw, etc. For example, the first sound in the word meow is [m] and is produced by closing ones lips together in contrast with the [n] in now.

The two-lip bilabial effort to produce an [m] sound is also used in making the [b] sound in bow-wow and the [p] sound in pow. Try saying each of these three words without allowing your lips to touch each other. You cant! We can also talk about the nature of the sounds themselves i. For example, the first sound [s] in see and the first sound []4 in the word she are similar in that they both sound like white noise or the sound of steam escaping from a pipe. They are also different in that the sound made by [s] is at a higher pitch than that made by []if you pronounce them in alternation, you will notice that the [s] sound corresponds to a smaller leak in the pipe than does the [] sound.

This is articulatory or acoustic phonetics. There is yet another way to talk about language sounds. We can deal with them in terms of how they are perceived. For instance, we perceive some language sounds as belonging to the language that we speak e. English in this case.

And while we identify other sounds as true human language sounds, we also know that they are not part of the sound system of our own language. Take the German word nacht night that we mentioned earlier. The first sound of this word is [n] and the same as the English word night. The second sound [] is the same vowel sound that occurs in the English word hot, and of course the last sound is the familiar [t]. What about the sound spelled with ch? Its not the ch sound of chair or church.

Rather it is a sound that we represent with [x] first table, third row of the IPA chart and which we described earlier as a strong h sound. If you cant produce it or imagine it, ask a German speaker or someone who has studied German to produce it for you. One thing is certainit is not a sound that belongs to the English language that is, it is not part of the English phonemic system. Besides knowing what sounds belong to the phonemic system of the language we speak, we are also acutely aware of how they may be arranged.

For example, the sounds [p] as in pear, [] as in hall, [l] as in full, and [t] as in hot could be arranged in that order [p]-[]-[l]-[t] to form the nonsense word palt. Now, we assure you that palt is not by itself an English word. Palt itself is the name of a traditional Swedish dish meat-filled dumplings , and we understand that its quite good when served with butter and lingonberry preserves.

However, palt is not an English word. Yet, it could be. That is, now that you know what palt means for a Swede, you would have no problem borrowing the word into English and using it. It sounds like a reasonable English word. But what if you took those same English sounds and rearranged them in a different order [t]-[l]-[]-[p] to make the word tlap?

Not only would you not have an English word, you wouldnt even have a possible English word. While the sound sequence [t]-[l] does occur in some English words, such as bottle, no English word can begin with these two sounds. That fact is part of what we know about our language, and is part of our phonemic knowledge. Another critical part of our phonemic knowledge has to do with the knowledge that groups of mostly similar but slightly distinct sounds go together in our language.

Take for instance the sound [t] in the word stop. You may not have ever noticed before, but it differs ever so slightly from the first sound of the word top. The latter is accompanied by a small burst of air, while the former doesnt have this. You can discover this for yourself by pronouncing both words, stoptop, in alternation, while holding your fingers about one inch from your lips. You should feel the burst of air on your fingers with top but not with stop. The sound at the beginning of top is a t-like sound that is represented in the IPA chart bottom table, third row with a t accompanied by a small h: [th ].

Lets consider one more example. Take the words leaf and pull. If you pro- nounce them in alternation, very carefully, you may notice that the first sound in leaf and the last sound in pull do not sound exactly the same and that you dont produce them in exactly the same way. For the first sound in the word leaf, the tip of your tongue is pressed up against the gum ridge right behind your front teeth.

For the last sound in the word pull, your tongue still touches the gum ridge, but the back or body of your tongue is also raised into the back of your mouth. The l-sound in leaf is called light l and is represented in the IPA chart with the letter [l] top chart, eighth row. That is, despite the differences in how they sound and how they are made, if you ask a speaker of English whether leaf begins with the same sound that pull ends with, the answer you will get will be yes.

Even though they may count as the same sound, English speakers are quite sensitive to where they are used. You now sound like a Russian speaker trying to say leaf. If you turn this around and use the [l] from leaf at the end of pull, you will likely sound a bit like an Indian or Pakistani speaker of English. A Calvin and Hobbes strip by Bill Watterson presents a very straightfor- ward application of phonemic knowledge in the rendering of dialogue. The strip has Calvin coming into the house with his dad, holding his nose and wincing in pain.

His mom asks, Goodness, what happened?! You were only out there a minute! Calvins dad says, A grounder bounced up and hit Calvin in the nose.