Properties of Human Language

2029 words 9 pages
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
to convey it.
Arbitrariness of the symbols. Any symbol can be mapped
onto any concept (or even onto one of the
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PDF created with pdfFactory Pro trial version www.pdffactory.comWhat 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
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". 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).
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3.

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