Language & Language Structure


Language & Language Structure

Posted by: Mina P.

Key Terms:

  • Language: our spoken, written, or signed words and the ways we combine them to communicate meaning.
  • Phoneme: in a spoken language, the smallest distinctive sound unit.
  • Morpheme: in a language, the smallest unit that carries meaning; may be a word or part of a word (such as a prefix)
  • Grammar: in a language, a system of rules that enables us to communicate with and understand others
  • Semantics: the set of rules by which we derive meaning from morphemes, words, and sentences in a given language; also, the study of meaning
  • Syntax: the rules for combining words into grammatically sensible sentences in a given language


Humans believe that languag
e is what sets us above all animals. Language–spoken, written, or signed–is what allows us to interact and communicate complex ideas to one another and accumulate knowledge across generations.

Needs three basic building blocks for a spoken language: phonemes, morpheme,

Language & Language Structure - The Neuron

and grammar.

Phonemes, the set of basic sounds, is the smallest distinctive sound unit. For example, the word chat has three phonemes–ch, a, and t. If there are changes in the phonemes, there are changes in the meaning as well. Consonant phonemes usually carry more information than vowel phonemes. For example:

The treth ef thes stetement shed be evedent.

People who grew up learni
ng one set of phonemes would have a hard time pronouncing phonemes of another language. For example:

A native English speaker may have difficulties pronouncing the breathy ch in Ich, which in German meaning I. Germans would have difficulties in pronouncing the th sound and may pronounce it as dis.

Sign Language also has phoneme-like building blocks, but is shown by hand shapes and movements.

The sound alone, phonemes, doesn't make a language. Morpheme, the smallest unit of language that carries the meaning of the word, are also like phonemes. Most morphemes are combinations of two or more phonemes. Morphemes include prefixes and suffixes. Below is a chart of prefixes and suffixes, including its meaning.

Language & Language Structure - The Neuron

Last but not least is grammar, a system of rules (which is divided into semantics and syntax) which allows us to communicate with others. Semantics is the set of rules that we use to derive meaning from sentences, words, and phonemes. For example:

Adding the suffix -ed after a word means that it has happened in the past. laughed.

Language & Language Structure - The NeuronSyntax is the rules that we use to order words into sentences. For example:

In English, when writing a sentence, it is a rule that the adjective always comes after the noun. On the other hand, it's the other way around in Spanish.

Language becomes relatively difficult when shifting from phonemes to morphemes, words to sentences. Combining just a few phonemes, it can create morphemes that are more than twice the amount of phonemes. Language is complex, but built out of simplicity. Language is built from the genetic code's simple alphabet. According to Hauser & Others, the complexity of a sentence is what distinguishes human language capacity, the capacity to communicate and understand.

The actual words and grammar may be different from cultu
re to culture, but every society has a history that gets passed on from one generation to the next generation.

Podcast Summary:

See Also:

External Links:

Related Videos and Pictures:

Family Guy, Peter and an Italian trying to communicate, but can't. Also, as you can see, they also, use hand gestures and movements as a way to communicate.

The alphabets, phonemes. The sound of each letter and combining two or more phonemes would create a word.

A study of how infants know what the words of their language are and what those words mean.
An interview about child language development. Steve Reznick talks about what age the child starts to talk.

Sources (Images):
Image 1 - Blocks
Image 2 - Prefix & Suffix
Image 3 - Punctuations
Image 4 - Phoneme Image

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