Language and Linguistics

Language and its structure

Language: Definition, Architecture, Structure and Social Contexts.

Language: Definition, Architecture, Structure and Social Contexts

The language is a cognition that really makes us human, is one of the most distinctive features of the human species, there are good reasons to believe it is a unique human capacity that no other body has. Unlike other species, we learn linguistic rules without voluntary conscious effort during the first years of our lives.

As our vocabulary increases, we can analyze not only the structure of sentences and the role and meaning of words, but also the way in which sentences and words can be used for social and practical purposes. We learn, for example, that the same phrase “this is really good” can be a compliment, an honest statement or a joke, depending on the context and intonation of the speaker’s voice. Social behaviors increase in complexity due to language, rational capabilities also increase with language, since language allows us to make our thoughts explicit. In addition, language makes possible the practice of openly asking for reasons and justifications, a basis for obtaining knowledge.

What is the language?

It is a set of symbols that are mainly used for communication, the symbols can be spoken or written. Language is an aspect of human behavior, in written form, it is a record of long-term knowledge from one generation to another, while orally it is a means of communication. Language is the key aspect of human intelligence.

The scientific study of language is called linguistics. Thinkers like Rousseau have argued that language originated from emotions, while others like Kant have argued that it originated from rational and logical thinking , twentieth-century philosophers like Wittgenstein argued that philosophy is really the study of language. The most important figures in linguistics include Ferdinand de Saussure and Noam Chomsky.

The word is sometimes used to refer to codes, figures and other types of artificially constructed communication systems, such as formally defined programming languages ​​used for computer programming. Unlike conventional human languages, a formal language in this sense is a system of signs to encode and decode information, this article refers specifically to the properties of natural human language, since it is studied in the discipline of linguistics.

Physiological and neuronal architecture of language and speech

Speaking is the default modality for language in all cultures, the production of spoken language depends on sophisticated abilities to control the lips, tongue and other components of the vocal apparatus, the ability to acoustically decode speech sounds and the required neurological apparatus to acquire and produce language. The study of the genetic basis for human language is at an early stage: the only gene that has definitely been involved in the production of language is FOXP2, which can cause a type of congenital language disorder if it is affected by mutations.


It is the coordinating center of all linguistic activity; It controls both the production of linguistic cognition and its meaning and the mechanics of speech production, however, our knowledge of the neurological basis for language is quite limited, although it has advanced considerably with the use of modern imaging techniques. The discipline of linguistics dedicated to the study of neurological aspects of language is called neurolinguistics.

Early work in neurolinguistics included the study of language in people with brain injuries, to see how injuries in specific areas affect language and speech. In this way, neuroscientists in the nineteenth century discovered that two areas of the brain are crucially involved in language processing.

Speech anatomy

Spoken language depends on the human physical ability to produce sound, which is a longitudinal wave that propagates through the air at a frequency capable of vibrating the eardrum. This ability depends on the physiology of human speech organs, these organs consist of the lungs, the voice box (larynx) and the upper vocal tract: the throat, mouth and nose. By controlling the different parts of the speech apparatus, the air stream can be manipulated to produce different speech sounds.

The sound of speech can be analyzed in a combination of segmental and suprasegmental elements, the elements are those that occur in sequences, which are usually represented by different letters, such as Roman writing. In the speech of free flow, there are no clear boundaries between one segment and the next, nor are there audible pauses between words. Therefore, the segments are distinguished by their distinctive sounds that are the result of their different joints, and can be vocal or consonant. Suprasegmental phenomena encompass elements such as stress , type of phonation, voice timbre and prosody or intonation, all of which can have effects in multiple segments.

The consonants and vowel segments combine to form syllables, which in turn combine to form sentences, these can be distinguished phonetically as the space between two inhalations.

The vowels are those sounds that do not have an audible friction caused by the narrowing or obstruction of some part of the upper vocal tract, they vary in quality according to the degree of opening of the lip and the placement of the tongue inside the oral cavity.

Language structure

When it is described as a symbolic communication system, language is traditionally considered to consist of three parts: signs, meanings and a code that connects the signs with their meanings. Signs can be composed of sounds, gestures, letters or symbols, as spoken, signed or written, and can be combined into complex signs, such as words and phrases, when used in communication, an issuer encodes and transmits a sign through a channel to a receiver that decodes it.

The rules by which signs can be combined to form words and phrases are called syntax or grammar. The meaning that is connected to individual signs, morphemes, words, phrases and texts is called semantics, the division of language into separate but connected sign systems and meanings dates back to the first linguistic studies and is now used in Almost all branches of linguistics.


Languages ​​express meaning by relating a sign form to a meaning or its content, sign forms must be something that can be perceived, for example, in sounds, images or gestures, and then be related to a specific meaning by social convention . Since the basic relationship of meaning for most linguistic signs is based on the social convention, linguistic signs can be considered arbitrary, in the sense that the convention is established socially and historically, rather than by a natural relationship between a form of specific sign and its meaning.

All languages ​​contain the semantic structure of preaching: a structure that preaches a property, state or action. Traditionally, semantics has been understood as the study of how speakers and interpreters assign truth values ​​to statements, so that it is understood that meaning is the process by which a predicate can be said to be true or false about a entity. Recently, this semantics model has been complemented with more dynamic models of meaning that incorporate shared knowledge about the context in which a sign is interpreted in the production of meaning, such models of meaning are explored in the field of pragmatics.

Sounds and symbols

Depending on the modality, the structure of the language can be based on sound systems (speech), gestures (sign languages) or graphic or tactile symbols (writing). The ways in which languages ​​use sounds or signs to construct meanings are studied in phonology, the study of how humans produce and perceive vocal sounds is called phonetics. In spoken language, meaning occurs when sounds become part of a system in which some can contribute to expressing meaning and others cannot. In any given language, only a limited number of the many different sounds that the human vocal apparatus can create contribute to constructing the meaning.

Sounds as part of a linguistic system are called phonemes and these are abstract units of sound, defined as the smallest units in a language that can be used to distinguish between the meaning of a pair of minimally different words, a so-called minimum pair.


It is the study of how significant elements called morphemes within a language can be combined into sentences. Morphemes can be free or tied, if they can move within a sentence, they are usually called words, and if they are linked to other words or morphemes, they are called affixes. The way in which meaningful elements can be combined within a language is governed by rules that are called morphology for the internal structure of words and those of the internal structure of phrases and sentences are called syntax.

Typology and universals

Languages ​​can be classified in relation to their grammatical types. However, languages ​​that belong to different families often have characteristics in common, and these shared characteristics tend to correlate. For example, languages ​​can be classified according to their basic word order, the relative order of the verb and its constituents in a normal indicative sentence. All languages ​​structure sentences in Subject, Verb and Object, but languages ​​differ in the way they classify relationships between actors and actions.

Social contexts of use and transmission of language

Everyone has the ability to learn any language, they only do so if they grow up in an environment where language exists and others use it. Therefore, language depends on communities of speakers in which children learn from their elders and partners and they themselves transmit the language to their own children. It can be seen that language is transmitted between generations and within communities, it changes perpetually, diversifying into new languages ​​or converging due to contact with the language.


All healthy and developing human beings normally learn to use language, children acquire the language or languages ​​they use around them: those who receive sufficient exposure during childhood. Development is essentially the same for children who acquire oral signs or languages, this learning process is known as first language acquisition, since unlike many other types of learning, it does not require direct teaching or specialized study.

The acquisition of the first language continues in a fairly regular sequence, although there is a wide degree of variation at the time of the particular stages among normal developing infants. From birth, newborns respond more easily to human speech than to other sounds, about a month of age, babies seem to be able to distinguish between different speech sounds, around six months, a child will begin to babble, producing the sounds of speech or the manual forms of the languages ​​that are used around it.

The words appear around the age of 12 to 18 months, the average vocabulary of an eighteen month old child is around 50 words, several months after a child begins to produce words, will produce two-word verbal emissions, and within In a few months, it will begin to produce a telegraphic discourse, or short sentences that are less grammatically complex than adult speech, but that do show a regular structure syntax. From about the age of three to five years, a child’s ability to speak or sign is refined to the point that it resembles adult language.


Languages, understood as the particular set of speech norms of a particular community, are also part of the broader culture of the community that speaks them. Languages ​​differ not only in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar, but also through different “speech cultures.” Human beings use language as a way of signaling identity with a cultural group and the difference of others, even among speakers of a language, there are several different ways of using the language, and each one is used to indicate affiliation with particular subgroups within a broader culture.

Linguists use the term “varieties” to refer to the different ways of speaking a language. This term includes geographically or socioculturally defined dialects, as well as jargon or subculture styles. Linguistic anthropologists and language sociologists define the communicative style as the ways in which language is used and understood within a particular culture.

Writing, literacy and technology

The use of writing has made language even more useful for humans, allows large amounts of information to be stored outside the human body and retrieves it again, and allows communication over distances that would otherwise be impossible. Many languages ​​conventionally employ different genres, styles and records in written and spoken language, and in some communities, writing traditionally takes place in a completely different language than is spoken, there is some evidence that the use of writing also It has effects on the cognitive development of humans, perhaps because acquiring literacy generally requires a formal and explicit education.


Language change occurs at all levels, from the phonological level to the vocabulary, morphology, syntax and speech levels, it is often initially negatively evaluated by language speakers who often consider changes as “deterioration” or a signal of sliding of the rules of use of language, it is natural and inevitable.

The changes may affect specific sounds or the entire phonological system, it may consist of the replacement of one voice or phonetic feature with another, the complete loss of the affected sound or even the introduction of a new sound in a place where there was none, they can be conditioned, in which case a sound is changed only if it occurs near certain other sounds.

The sound change is generally assumed to be regular, which means that it is expected to be applied mechanically as long as its structural conditions are met, regardless of any non-phonological factors. On the other hand, sound changes can sometimes be sporadic, affecting only one particular word or some words, without apparent regularity.


An important source of language change is contact and the resulting dissemination of linguistic features between languages, linguistic contact occurs when speakers of two or more languages ​​or varieties interact regularly. Multilingualism is likely to have been the norm throughout the history of mankind and most people in the modern world are multilingual, before the emergence of the concept of the ethnic-national state, monolingualism was characteristic mainly of populations that inhabited small islands, but with the ideology that made a people, a state and a language the most desirable political arrangement, began to spread throughout the world.

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