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Language

What is language? I think that language is one of conception that we take for granted. Although we use language to read, write and speak, we tend not to think what it might be. I believe, however it is important for us to examine what language might be. Therefore, in this paper, I will explore some of aspects of the usage of language: how we use language to make a meaning and how we understand language. I think that these issues are particularly important because examining them might help us to understand the concept of language with relating personal examples that we might have.

            In Form and Function article, Tyler talks about Formalism and Functionalism. The formalist perspective speculates that the function of language is ultimately subjective (Tyler, 4). Tyler notes that:

“For the formalist, language is an idealized

transcendental object , not an empirical or material

object; and though it has material representation in

speech, it is not itself speech, but rather the knowledge

of rules that underlie speech and make it possible”

(Tyler, 4). 

Although formalists do not consider language to be empirical or a material object, I believe language is something, which we learn from the situation that we were in. I did not know, for example, what the word empirical was until I read the article by Tyler. I learned and came to understand the word empirical by reading and translating it into Japanese. This experience leads me to believe that I learned the word “empirical” with this learning process in that situation.

Formalists also agree with the idea that speech is not language. According to their perspective, speaking represents unconscious knowledge of an abstract system of conventional signs and rules with which to construct sentences and construe meanings. (Tyler,5). I believe however, speaking is language itself. We think and speak or we speak and think, either way we use language to express ourselves and it is not secondary.

The functionalist perspective stresses that language is not only for representing ideas. It is a means of expressing feelings, thoughts, wishes and emotions. Language is also a way to get things done in the world, as well as, making statements about it. For example, in the wedding, with pastor’s announcement, two individuals are recognized as a couple. Functionalists also focus on the users of language. Language is a means of establishing relations, rather than as an object consisting of relations (Tyler, 7). I agree with this functionalist view, because I believe that with using language, we express ourselves such as ideas, feelings, thoughts and emotions.

I agree with the functionalist perspective more than the formalist perspective. I do not think that there are universal characters of language known to us before we learn the language. For example, when I began learning English, I had no idea what I was learning. I believe that I began to understand English because of teacher’s instructions. I did not feel an “unfolding innate structure”(Tyler, 15) helped me to understand the English language.

Saussure discusses the concept- signified and sound image-signifier and they exist simultaneously. I agree with it because we can see how words are related and how they function in the sentences. For example, we can see the word tree is related with forest or house and car or road is not related.

            I also agree that:

“a word can be exchanged for something dissimilar ,

                      an idea; besides, it can be compared with something

                      of the same nature, another word. Its value is therefore

                              not fixed so long as one simply states that it can be

                      “exchanged” for a  given concept, i.e. that it has this

or that signification: one must also compare it with  similar values, with other words that stand in                        

opposition to it. Its content is really fixed only by

                      concurrence of everything that exists outside it”.

(Saussure, 115).

 

Saussure illustrates this point with the example of sheep- mutton in English and mouton in French. Although they have same signification, they have different values. English users use mutton as a piece of meat that is ready to be served at the table, but not to sheep. “The difference in value between sheep and mouton is due to the fact that sheep has beside it a second terms while the French word does not”. (Saussure, 116).  I remember that I used to be confused between sheep and mutton, because even though it is same animal, I had to use the word separately depending on the circumstance.

My experience with the words cow and pig in the English and Japanese language is similar. Within the Japanese language, cow or pig, it can be understood either the animals or a piece of meat. In English; however, differentiate between the animal and the meat. For example, cow or beef, pig or pork. Saussure, explains this:

“the value of just any terms is accordingly determined

 by its environment; it is impossible to fix even the

value of the word signifying “sun” without first

considering its surroundings”(Saussure, 116). 

 

            I found that I could relate to the readings from Ludwig Wittgenstein more so than the other three authors whom I have discussed. Wittgenstein’s understandings of the word understand is similar to mine. It is hard to determine the meanings of the word understand. I think however, Wittgenstein explains the meaning of understanding well, in his article. When we say we understand, it is the circumstances under which we had such an experience that justify us in saying such a case, that we understand, that we know how to write, speak, read and so on (Wittgenstein, 61).

A personal example illustrating his idea of the meaning of understanding is the comprehension of the meaning of the word “love” in English. Until I came to Canada and learned how Canadian people use the word love, I had different understanding of meaning of the word love. Japanese people do not use the word love with friends, or family members, only for spouses, girl friends or boy friends. I was very surprised when my female friend told me “I love you”. I did not understand why she could say such a thing to a friend.  However, as I continue to study in Canada, I gain new experiences and this has helped me to understand the meaning of the word of love. I believe that the situations and the experiences helped me to understand the meaning of the word love in English.

Not only the meaning of the word love, I believe that I learn language by watching how people use and examining which situation the word is used. In addition, as I make mistakes of the usage of the word, I learn from it and then come to understand the word.

What is language? How and why is language developed?  Can we communicate without language?  Did human beings develop language because of our physiological characteristics allowing to verbal? or did we develop the ability to speak because language was already present? I do not have answers for these questions, but I believe that as we have to eat, drink or sleep in order for us to live, we also have to communicate.

Language changes constantly. The language we use now may be very different from yesterday, ten years ago or fifty years ago. We can see how language has changed before and after the attack in USA. The media led many people to suddenly started talking about Afghanistan, Talibaan, and Bin Laden. Before the attack happened, many of us did not use or hear those words often.  So, how do I view language? I believe language is not something fixed, but continuously changes like a living creature.