Properties of Human Language

1 January 2017

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What properties differentiate human language from all other forms of signaling and what properties make it a unique type of communication system? There have been a number of attempts to determine the defining properties of human language and different lists of features can be found. The following is a slightly modified list of features proposed by the linguist Charles Hockett: 1. Arbitrariness. It is generally the case that there is no ‘natural’ connection between a linguistic form and its meaning. For the majority of animal signals, however, there appears to be a clear connection between the conveyed message and the signal used o convey it. Arbitrariness of the symbols.

Any symbol can be mapped onto any concept (or even onto one of the rules of the grammar). For instance, there is nothing about the Spanish word nada itself that forces Spanish speakers to use it to mean “nothing”. That is the meaning all Spanish speakers have memorized for that sound pattern. But for Croatian speakers nada means “hope”. 2. Productivity. This is the ability to produce and understand any number of messages that have never been expressed before and that may express novel ideas. In all animal communication systems, the number of signals is fixed. ( closed communication systems).

PDF created with pdfFactory Pro trial version www. pdffactory. com 3. Cultural Transmission. The process whereby language is passed on from one generation to the next. While it is clear that humans are born with an innate predisposition to acquire language, it is clear that they are not born with the ability to produce utterances in a specific language, such asWhat properties differentiate human language from all other forms of signaling and what properties make it a unique type of communication system? There have been a number of attempts to determine the defining properties of human language and different lists f features can be found.

Arbitrariness. It is generally the case that there is no ‘natural’ connection between a linguistic form and its meaning. For the majority of animal signals, however, there appears to be a clear connection between the conveyed message and the signal used to convey it. Arbitrariness of the symbols. Any symbol can be mapped onto any concept (or even onto one of the rules of the grammar). For instance, there is nothing about the Spanish word nada itself that forces Spanish speakers to use it to mean “nothing”.

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