Language and Linguistics

Linguistics is the scientific study of language and languages. It encompasses their nature, the function of the human mind during the formation of their words and their meanings, and their reception and resultant effects on the listener.

The definitive origin of language has thus far been elusive, although there are several theories, all of which point to its earliest use. Hand signals, for instance, emanated from thoughts and it is believed that these ultimately adopted sound, while other studies indicate that objects were given names to reflect their appearance. Still other theories postulate that primitive grunts and similar sounds, emitted during hunts and in the midst of arduous labor, evolved into distinct words.

Nevertheless, there are several linguistics sub-branches, including historical, comparative, grammatical, theoretical, neuro-, psycho-, anthropological, ethno-, socio-, computational, and stylistic.

Speech can be defined as the utterance of an individual, while writing is considered a displacement of that speech or a form of symbolization. Although language is a conventional system of habitual vocal behavior by which community members communicate and can therefore be considered primary, only a small percentage of tongues took written form, since most cultures were only oral ones.

Writing itself can be considered voluntary, since it is a set of habits, which can be amended at will, and its form is arbitrary to what is being verbally communicated.

Subdivided, linguistics can be considered to encompass two definitions-“langue,” meaning any language in general, and “parole,” or any language involving a set of operations.

Synchronic linguistics is the study of any language at any given time, such as English during the 16th century, whereas diachronic linguistics is the study of a language through different historical periods.

Language is not static. Indeed, it changes constantly, explaining the proliferation of dialects, which themselves result from socially amended conditions, such as those of occupation, distance, and time in history.

Language also has several properties. Phonemes, for instance, are a small inventory of distinct sounds, usually between 30 and 40, organized in a certain fashion, called phonology. Syntax is the complex of words and phrases, which form meanings. Both result in language’s bilateral structure.

All languages are open-ended-that is, an infinite number of sentences can be generated because of the infinite number of ways in which words can be grouped and collectively used. Resultantly, its extent cannot be determined.

Language both creates and reflects. In the former case, it creates the culture in which modern man lives and by which he is defined. In the latter, it reflects the social structure of the society in which it is spoken. The kinship terminology-or words related to others-is limited in English, for example, and encompasses such kinships as mother-to-father and brother-to-sister. Yet there is no base term to express a bride’s parents in relation to a groom’s and this concept must therefore be explained.

This lack does not exist in Yiddish. A single term-“machuten” (masculine), “machutaneste” (feminine), and “machutenim” (plural, both genders)-signifies “in laws.” In Niamal, the language of an Australian tribe, single terms express degrees and ties of relationships.

The Navajo language offers an example of how oral communication reflects its culture. In European languages, man is part of the ongoing processes of the universe, as indicated by such sentences as “I write,” “I drive, “I walk.” Man is in command, and sentences are constructed with the actor, action, and that which is acted upon, such as “I shoot the arrow.” Navajo, however, is noun-centered, and man is a part of the natural processes. Its sentences are constructed with the actor, the action, and their reflexive expansion, such as “I have taken part in ‘arrowing’.”

Culture can additionally be reflected by the number of words existing in a language to express what is important to its people. English, for example, has only a single word for “camel,” while Arabic has more than a thousand. English, again, has few nouns to express “snow;” but the Alaskan Indians have hundreds. Conversely, English has numerous words for car and their brands and types.

Grammatical strategies also reflect culture. Verbal links indicating the past, the present, the future, and the conditional tense, for example, are numerous in English, while in Hopi, time is not expressed at all, with its verbal links built around validity, duration, intensity, and tendency. Its grammar exists without time and space concepts, yet it still manages to adequately describe the universe.

Language, as previously stated, constantly changes and there are several methods by which it does.

One of them is conquest. During the Norman Conquest of England, for instance, the two languages then spoken, Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and Norman French, combined.

Another result of this dynamic is substratum-that is, one language, forming a sub-layer, temporarily disappears only to later surface in modified form. Latin, for example, was subjected to phonological or sound changes when it was introduced to Spain, explaining why the “v” was subsequently pronounced like a “b.”

Phonological variations also occur when one area of a country becomes more important than the other, due, for example, to economic conditions. Before 1600, the “r” was pronounced like it is in Italian, trilled, but thereafter was spoken more as it is in French, further back in the throat.

Several other phenomena spark language change.

Adstratum occurs when the language of one or two contiguous speech communities exerts an influence on the other, as occurred between Bulgarian and Romanian or between American English and Latin American Spanish. In the latter case, expressions were adopted from the other. Latin American Spanish, for example, assumed the “Have a good weekend” expression from American English-“Tenga un buen fin de semana.”

Superstratum, perhaps the result of a more forced event, is introduced into a speech community for reasons of military conquest, cultural superiority, or colonization, affecting the language before it disappears, as occurred with Norman French.

Language can be considered to offer five functions to the culture it expresses.

The inquiry question, the first of these, consists of the standard “who,” “what,” “when,” and similar parameters generally structuring the first paragraph of a journalism or newspaper story, and entail inflectional modifications-or the change in voice pitch. Spanish places an upside down question mark at the beginning of a written sentence to indicate that it is an inquiry and thus alert the reader to silently employ this inflection in his mind.

The second function is the ostensible question, in which orders are replaced with inquiries. “Close the door,” for example, becomes “Would you mind closing the door?” Interjections such as “Wow” do not convey meaning.

The third is argumentation or contention. Attempting to convince, as lawyers do in their arguments, language is employed to persuade the other person to adopt the views or ways of the persuader. This is the primary engine of a debate.

The fourth is ritual use. Utilized in prayer, sermons, and on official documents, it is predictable, repetitive, and often intellectually empty.

Finally, the fifth function of language is to establish contact, in which case it is considered “contactive language,” and it includes such frequently used greetings as “Hi,” “Hello,” and “How are you?” Usually devoid of meaning, they seldom expect or attract responses of any significance, particularly if a person is pressed for time, and only indicate the acknowledgment of another, such as when two students pass each other in their school corridor, or become the prelude to the real and intended conversation. As such, they convey no message.

There are also two important language-related terms-dialect and ideolect.

The former, dialect, is a subvariation of the principle language and can share as little as 51 percent of intelligibility with it, introducing modified phonology (sound), morphology (words), and syntax (grammar). In the United States, American English is infinitely more unified than the languages spoken in comparably smaller countries, such as in Germany and Italy, although dialects exist even here, such as those between Standard and Black American English and those between Standard American and Standard British.

The designation “standard” is used to indicate primary structure, vocabulary, and grammar, but does not necessarily imply “correct” or “right.” Because language’s purpose is to orally communicate, if this intent has been achieved between two or more slang-employing people, then it has been successful, despite what grammarians or Harvard English professors may protest was laced with “incorrect” components.

The ideolect, the second subvariation, is the characteristic speech of an individual. Although two brothers can be raised by the same parents in the same town, for example, their ideolects will change as they attend school, make different friends, immerse themselves in clubs and activities, and ultimately leave their area of origin.

Morphemes (words), like language as a whole, can also change, acquiring new meanings that eradicate or even invert others. “Deer” in Modern English, for example, refers to a specific animal, but in Old English it signified any animal species, since it was originated from the Old German word, “Tier.” “Silly” used to mean “blessed” in Old English, because it came from the Old German word meaning exactly that, “selig.”

In modern times, the distinction between “good” and “bad” has blurred and, in some cases, completely reversed. “Hey, you’re bad man,” can mean, in slang, that someone is actually good and esteemed, because he may have employed underhanded or unconventional tactics and ways to bring about something good.

Some words can altogether disappear, such as “ado” and “swell,” because they have become archaic or no longer fulfill their original purposes.

Nevertheless, language serves as the oral cohesion of humanity, his culture, and his society.

Why Foreign Languages Are Best Learned In Their Native Country

Learning a foreign language has many advantages. As far as the business community is concerned, it helps to expand business activity in a foreign country. For people seeking employment abroad, it helps gain jobs. But, the question is where to learn a foreign language? Should you learn it in your home country or in the country where it is spoken as the official language?

Some people call this a vexed question, but in reality the question is not vexed because the answer is simple. You should always learn a language in its native country. Of course, there are several institutions or even universities that can teach you a foreign language in your home country, but the native country always remains the preference. There are several reasons for this and it can be summarized as follows.

The Standard:

Most languages of the world have many dialects spoken in different geographical regions. There are dialects for official use and for everyday use. The standard dialect is always spoken in the native country. The other varieties are diluted versions and often show the influence of other languages. Learning a language in the native country will help you learn the authentic variety.

Learn the Culture:

Language learning is closely tied to culture. Experts are of the opinion that if you understand the culture of any country, it helps you understand the hidden meaning of some of the expressions used in the written or spoken language. By going to the native country, you get closer to the local people and that is a wonderful opportunity to understand their culture. If you are a businessman, it also helps you to promote your business interest in that country.

Repetitive lessons:

Language is a performative. A lot of things that you don’t learn in class you learn by your interactions with others. When you stay in a country where the language you are learning is the official language, you will interact with your classmates and friends. It is needless to say you will have a wonderful opportunity to discuss your lessons with your friends. Not only this, you will get an opportunity to interact with other native speakers such as when you eat at a restaurant or when you go shopping. This way your learning of the language, is not restricted to the class hours. Thus, you can master the communicative aspects of the language and not just grammatical.

Learn the proper accent:

In any language accent plays a crucial role. When you interact with other students, you will certainly learn the proper accent and if you go wrong, your friends will take pains to correct you. Therefore, you will master the spoken language. It is needless to say that once you master the skill of spoken language, you will also be able to communicate effectively in the written form.

As a result of all this, you will take less time to learn the language and you show greater chances of achieving the required proficiency both in written and spoken language. Naturally, this will affect your communication skills.

English Language Training, Is It Less Valuable in Today’s Business World?

I ask if English language training is less valuable in today’s business world because we have seen the economic rise of China over the last decade or two and I wanted to think about the effect it would have on English Language Training. Will it mean the rise of Chinese language training at the expense of English language training? Is it becoming the number one economy in the world that dictates the language of business? I am not sure if these are completely true.

Does Your Economic Position Dictate the Language Training Needs in the World?

I think that to some degree it does, but there are some things that show that it is not necessarily true. At one time Japan was the second largest economy in the world and there was no big move around the world to learn Japanese. The same was true when Germany was the second largest economy and there was no big push for people to learn German. Some people will learn these languages to make them more marketable in the business world. At the time these two countries were in second position English language training was increasing around the world. There were some minor moves to learn these languages, just like some people or businesses will have people within their company that know the language of their main suppliers or customers.

China is currently the second largest or largest economy in the world and has been the fastest growing economy for many years. There has been a big move to learn Chinese among people around the world. This would be people that can see an economic advantage from learning Chinese. It is probably better for a company to deal with their clients in their language and not force them to speak your language.

Is speaking their language of the same economic value to a company when dealing with their clients, or dealing with their suppliers? Speaking from a selling point of view, I believe that companies would be in a better position if they know the language of their clients. This at least shows the client that you have gone that extra step to serve them. It is logical for the seller to make more of an effort in a business relationship than the buyer. Conversely, while it would be nice to speak the language of your supplier, it is the supplier who should go the extra step when selling to their client.

How does this Affect the Discussion around Chinese and the Future of English Language Training?

Let’s look at what China’s economy is based on. China is a big exporter to the rest of the world, as well as being a centre for ODM and OEM, in other words they manufacture for many international companies. As an exporter and a manufacturer for others, China is a supplier. As we talked about, suppliers are the ones that should know the language of their major customers and not the buyers know the language of their suppliers (though it is a nice gesture). We see that China has large trade imbalances with many nations around the world, which shows that China is a net seller and not a net buyer. This means that they are mostly a supplier and not a customer. If this is the case, the pressure for learning Chinese is not as great as learning English. Many of the English speaking countries such as Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are buyers of overseas products.

Will it Supplant English and English Language Training?

Not in the near future. One of the main reasons is inertia. Inertia is the force that keeps something moving in the same direction that it is heading and it is affected by the mass (size and weight) of the object of idea, and something with a big inertia needs time and a big force in another direction to make changes. English has been the language of business for many years and many current business people and current students have learned English. I say that English is the language of business because, when companies from different countries that don’t speak English, they usually use English to communicate. The exceptions would be companies that deal mostly with one or two non-English speaking companies and they might or should have people in key positions that speak those languages. There is still a sizable English language consumer market in the world. As well, there are many business people today that use English as their business communication language. If everyone today switched to learning Chinese, it would still be many years before most people would use Chinese as the language of business.

What does this mean for the future of English language training?

It will still be needed due to the fact that some of the large economies speak English, three out of the G7 are English speaking countries. It will be reduced as people move towards learning other languages – Chinese, Spanish, etc. Therefore, In the future it will be lower than today, and Chinese language training will become more common. Will it take over? That will depend on many factors (political and economic) over which we do not have much control and we are not easily able to predict.

China will become the world’s largest economy, but it will be based more on manufacturing, selling internally, and selling to other countries. Currently there is not as much importing into China as you see in other large economies as evidenced by their large trade surpluses with many other countries. You will also see in the business world that companies that sell to other companies usually need to speak the language of that company. The reverse is generally not needed for buyers. When marketing, the selling company should put in more effort than the buying company. If you want to sell to North America – speak English. If you want to sell to China – speak Chinese. As China becomes the largest buying nation you will see more of a move towards learning Chinese. Even then, English will probably stay for a while as the language of business due to inertia. English language training business will still be needed to a large extent.

What does this Mean for English Language Training Teachers?

The good ones will remain, especially those with niche markets (grammar, presentations, pronunciation, etc.). The big language schools (the English factories) will probably disappear – there will be exceptions. If the big language schools have transitioned into other languages then they will have a chance of survival. The smaller, good schools will survive in some form or another. Some of the schools will expand into other languages or other subjects to survive. We have seen this before when a large market has disappeared. There is the example of saddles, a market that almost completely disappeared after the adoption of automobiles for transportation, where only some small saddle makers survived to supply the much smaller market. Another example is carriage makers, whose business declined with the rise of the automobile. Some of them survived by making the body and suspension of the early automobiles.

Let us hope that English language training will not become a small niche market similar to saddle makers. In the future you will see a decline in English language training and an increase in Chinese (there has been an ongoing increase in Chinese language training especially in Asian countries). But the demand level for English training will still remain high. For the near future it will remain as the language of business with some pockets of other languages. English language training is still valuable in today’s world, but I do see it declining in the coming years.