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Definitions And Forms Of Language English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3296 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Language has been defined as a system of meaning-a semiotic system (Halliday and Webster, 2003, p. 2). By semiotic they were referring to as something, having to do with meaning. Hence it can be said that it is a system of meanings, which can be created, and meanings, which can also be exchanged (Halliday and Webster, 2003). One of the pioneers of linguistic studies, Sapir (1921) writes that language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of voluntary produced symbols (Lynons, 1981, p.3). However, this definition is confusing and inherently imprecise’ since it does not clearly states what exactly constitute this ‘ideas, emotions and desires’ of language. Hence this definition has many limitations. One of the most famous definition is by Halls (1968) states that language is ‘ the institution whereby humans communicate and interact with each other by means of habitually used-auditory arbitrary symbols’ (Lynons, 1981, p.4) Here Halls has highlighted a crucial factor in the studying of language that is, he understood it to be an interaction. Therefore, it has a scope to developed within that community if the speakers interact with each other. 

One of the most fundamental statements made by Lynons is that he said that ‘to use one particular language rather than another is to behave in one way rather than another’.

According to him language can be looked at ‘as a behaviour, or activity, some of which at least is observational and recognisable as language behaviour’ (Lynons, 1981, p. 9). This clearly shows that language acts as a tool for communication. Therefore, it influences the speaker though process and behaviour.

According to Ellis, ‘language has both form and strategy. This means that it has both stable elements that are building blocks of messages and psychological and sociological influences that shape how language is used’ (Ellis, 1999, p.x). The form of language is concern with the structural part of language, which comprises of rules and how these rules are structure to create cohesiveness. The different kinds of rules, which exist within language, are; word formation rule, sound rule, and syntactical structures (Ellis, 1999, p.x). On the other hand strategy in language is concern with ‘how communication is used to achieve a purpose or a goal’ (Ellis, 1999, p.x). Whenever a thought-process is being taken into consideration while the speaker is communicating then this is a sort of strategy since the speaker keeps in mind the context of the subject in relation to his listener.

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According to Ellis, language ‘marks’ your identity in the community and enables you to communicate with it. The language that one learn while growing up is known as a natural language, structure of language is concern with the unique system of sounds that has meaning (Ellis, 1999, p.1). Language also deals with syntax that is concern with the organisation of words. Language has a structure that changes very little over time or does not change at all. (Ellis, 1999). 


Meaning and Form in Linguistics:

One of the most influential scholars of linguistic is Saussure’s, he propounded the central concept of linguistic signs (Fawcett, 2000). According to him that a sign consists of ‘a signifier’ and ‘a signified’ and Fawcett when further when he interprets that a sign has both form and meaning (Fawcett, 2000). In the widest sense a sign may be defined as ‘a form, which stands for something else’ (Dirven and Verspoor, 2004, p.2). The concept of language as ‘a sign system’ enables the reader to understand language both as form of rules and as well as the meaning within the language. The sign system is not a static object, that is, meanings can be turn into forms and forms into meanings (Fawcett, 2000). Fawcett wrote that the relationship between the set of meanings and the set of forms is realizations. However, this does not mean that these processes are reverses of each other (Fawcett, 2000). This is because language is a symbolic sign.

According to Driven and Verspoor, ‘a symbolic sign or symbols, does not have a natural link between the form and the thing represented, but only has a conventional link (Dirven and Verspoor, 2004, p. 2). Semiotics is the discipline that is concern with the studies of system of signs in all its manifestation. Semiotics deals with other forms of human and non-human communicative behaviour such as clothing, keeping distances, baring one’s teeth etc (Driven and Verspoor, 2004). The principle of symbolicity is based on ‘the conventional pairing of forms and meanings, as is typically found in the word stock of a language’ (Driven and Verspoor, 2004, p.12). Therefore language can be said to be arbitrary since there is no actual link between forms and meanings in language. 

  However, Fawcett when further when he stated that there is a distinction between a language taken as a whole and a text (Fawcett, 2000, p. 35). By the term text he was referring to as ‘an instance language in use’, the text may be in written or spoken form. (Fawcett, 2000). In systemic functional linguistics language and texts has been describe as language as potential and language as instance (Fawcett, 2000). Where an ‘instance’ is the part of the ‘potential’ that is currently activated (Fawcett, 2000, p.36). The relationship between the ‘potential’ and an ‘instance’ of that ‘potential’ is one of instantiation [the term instantiation is being referred to a process of creating something instantly](Fawcett, 2000, p.36). 

 The term form includes syntax, grammatical and lexical items, and components of intonation or punctuation. Therefore form is a concept that looks at language as ‘from above’ since syntax and items directly realize meaning in language (Fawcett, 2000).

Syntax, syntactic rules, syntactic analysis and Grammar:

The word syntax comes originally from Greek which literally means ‘a putting together or an arrangement’ (Yule, 2006, p.86).’Syntax is learnt through a process of implementation a particular set of universal structures (Chomsky, 1986); lexis is learnt by establishing a set of arbitrary associations which operates within a given society (Waxman, 1996); comprehension and production are reliant on general cognitive procedures (Harley, 2001). Hence the learning of syntax is often characterise as a process of triggering’ (Sakas and J.D. Fodor 2001) [Hout, 2003, p.1]. Syntax will govern the structure of grammar while the lexical items deal with how the structure is being implemented (Hout, 2003). One of the most crucial factor of syntax is that there is a structural ambiguity in language. Structural ambiguity in syntax deals with phrases that can be represented into two distinct underlying interpretations that have been represented differently in deep structure (Yule, 2006, p. 88). According to Yule it is the grammar that will able to show the structural distinction between these underlying representations (Yule, 2006). One of the most important rules of grammar is recursion. These rules can be applied more than once in generating a structure. Yule states that one can repeat the phrases using different types of words, for as long as the sentence made sense.

Moreover, we must be able to put sentences inside other sentences. ‘In principle there is no end to the recursion that would produce ever longer versions of complex sentences with this structure’ (Yule, 2006, p.89). Hence it is very important for the sentences to make grammatical sense in order for the recursion rule to take place. Yule when further when he said: ‘the grammar will have to capture the fact that a sentence can have another sentence inside it or that a phrase can be repeated as often as required. We should note that recursion of this type is not only a feature of grammar, but can also be an essential part of the theory of cosmic structure’ (Yule, 2006, p. 89). This shows that recursion can occur within the number of sentences and this is what makes grammar structural and crucial for giving form to language. 

Syntactic Rules:

 Yule demonstrated the different syntactic description, which is use for analysising syntax, are syntax categories. These include sentence (S), noun phrase (NP), noun (N), article (art), verb (V) and many more. Other symbols like arrows are also use for interpreting as ‘consist of’ or ‘rewrite as’. It is commonly used for the following kind of rule:

               NP→ Art N (Yule, 2006, p. 89).

This is a simple kind of way of stating that the sentence is a noun phrase which consist of or rewrite as an article and followed by a noun. Other rule that has been highlighted by Yule is:

              NP→ Art (Adj) N (Yule, 2006, 89).

This short hand form translate as noun phrase being rewrite as an article and a noun with an option of including an adjective in the specific space between them. The brackets indicate that the adjective is optional. Hence symbols play a crucial in defining the syntactic analysis since each symbol is represented for a specific feature in understanding the grammatical structure of language. The third symbol is represented as a curly brackets { } which indicate that only one of the element enclosed in the curly brackets may be selected, no matter how many are present in it (Yule, 2006). The curly bracket is used when three or more constituents are present as a choice to be selected for a sentence but the most important thing about this rule is that only one of them may be selected as a choice even though there are many constituents that are present. Otherwise, if this is not followed then the rule will be broken.


NP → {Art N         


        PN } (Yule, 2006, p.90)

There is another rule diagram which Yule has demonstrate known as the tree diagram, this diagram is used for representing the hierarchical organisation of one structure (Yule, 2006, p.90).                                               NP

                                                    –    –           

                                               Art        N   

According to this rule, ‘a noun phrase rewrites as an article followed by a noun’ (Yule, 2006, p.90). The second rule has been written as; ‘ a noun phrase rewrites as either an article, an optional adjective, and a noun or a pronoun or a proper noun’ (Yule, 2006, p. 92). 

                     S→ NP VP    

                     NP→ {Art (Adj) N, Pro, PN}

                     VP→ V NP (PP) (Adv)

                     PP→ Prep NP (Yule, 2006, p. 92).

One of the most important rules of syntax is the lexical rule. Lexical rule is used for making the structure change into recognizable English. Lexical rule is use to specify which word can be used when we rewrite constituent such as N. It is based on the rule that grammatical sentences are being structure. This rule can be elaborated as a tree structure to demonstrate a grammatically correct sentence. 



                                           â†™     ↘                                         

                                         NP      VP

                                     ↙  ↓  ↘    

                                Art   Adj  N   ↙ ↓ ↘ ↘                                                                       

                                                V  NP PP Adv 


                                                     ↓  ↙↘ 

                                                   PN Pre NP


                                                            ↙↓ ↘ 

                                                         Art Adj N




 This is a diagram that demonstrates the different rules that is applicable in a sentence [both structural rules and lexical rules are included] to form complex phrase structure grimmer of English. However, one still needs to incorporate recursion in the sentences (Yule, 2006). The first few rules mention does not follow the recursive rule since they are simple structured sentence and only a single sentence is being created. In order for the recursion rule to take place complex sentences much be created, that is, one sentence must be created within a sentence [these sentence structure were known as clauses]. These sentences tend to be tediously recursive since one sentence can easily be put inside another sentence, example; ‘John believed that Cathy knew that Mary helped George (Yule, 2006, p. 93). In this sentence PN was used followed by a verb, then a complement phrase ‘that’, followed by PN then a verb again then concluding with a PN. This sentence demonstrated that the recursion rule had occurred since the PN was always followed by the verb and complement phrase helped the sentence to be more structured. 

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 The last rule is known as the transformational rule, this rule is important because, ‘essentially what it do is take a specific part of a structure, like a branch of a tree, away from one part of the tree diagram and attach it to a different part’ (Yule, 2006, p. 95). In order for this rule to work ‘we have to specify which type of constituent can be moved in this way, as well as from where and to where’. For this rule to be applicable, we need to expand our phrase structure rules to include an auxiliary verb (Aux) such as will as part of the sentence. This new rule can be express as: S → NP Aux VP (Yule, 2006, p.96). 

These are only few of the syntactic rules and analysis of syntax that have been discuss here. They are the basic issues and methods that are used for anglicising the structure and form of syntax (Yule, 2006).




 ‘Semantics is the study of the meaning of words, phrases and sentences’ (Yule, 2006, p. 100). According to Saeed (2003) ‘semantics is the study of meaning communicated through of language’. Semantic is one of the components of grammar, which has a very important place in linguistic. One of the most crucial aspects of semantic is the relationship between word meaning and sentence meaning (Saeed, 2003). Since there is a vast number of words that one learn, it is only when one determines the productivity of language that one is aware of the lexicon involved. In order for semantic to be studied, as a part of linguistic there are some basic assumptions:

     There are three terms, which describe the different level of language that is, the utterance, sentences and propositions.  ‘An utterance is created by speaking (or writing) a piece of language’ (Saeed, 2003, p.12-13). Sentences on the other hand comprises of ‘abstract grammatical elements obtained from utterances’ (Saeed, 2003, p.13). Sentences are abstract because of intonation since this has a direct impact on the meaning of the sentence utter in a conversation.

Another form of abstraction is identifying proposition, in order to achieve this certain rules are followed where by the ‘verb is viewed as a function, and its subject and any objects as arguments of the function’ (Saeed, 2003, p.14). Therefore, proposition can be identify as ‘a way of capturing part of the meaning of sentences’ (Saeed, 2003, p.14). When language is used in non-literal term then it is known as figurative and some of the figurative part of language is metaphor, irony, metonymy, hyperbole and litotes (Saeed, 2003). However, it is very difficult to make this distinction because words keep shifting their meanings with time.   



Goethe have coined the term morphology, which means ‘shape or forms’, hence, morphology is the study of internal structure or form of language (Aronoff and Fudeman, 2005). The most basic structure of morphology is known as morphemes, it can be define as the smallest unit of linguistic which has any grammatical function (Aronoff and Fudeman, 2005,p. 2). Since in morphological analysis words are broken up to form the basic structure of grammar, the past tense of a morpheme is an allomorphs or variant. When words are attach to a core word this is known as a stem, the word attach in front of it is called an affixed and the one attach behind is called a root. Sometime the root and the stem are the same and only the new word that is attached to it is taken.   






In order to get a comprehensive understanding of the essay, a piece of writing will be analysed so as to highlight the grammatical aspect and demonstrate the methods and rules that have been mention above. In this small piece most of the sentences follows the recursive rule.

The first line is a metaphor stating the looming effects of oil. Here the speaker is making an utterance, ‘there is no feast which does not come to an end’. As mentioned earlier, this falls under semantics since it is an implied sentence rather than have a literal term attach to it. The recursive rule occurs in many of the sentences since most of these are complex sentences whereby one sentence is present within another sentence [lines 2,3,4,13,14,15, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28] demonstrating this rule. The rule NP→ {Art (Adj) N, Pro, PN} is seen in lines 9, 28.

Complementary phrases have been seen in the piece mention, giving it a structural form and grammatical flow in the passage lines 4,6,23. The last rule that has taken place in syntactic analysis is the transformational rule, whereby apart of the sentence is taken out to form a different branch altogether with the present of an auxiliary verb, these were however, found absent in this piece of writing. 

Some of the morphological aspect of anglicising is taken into account. Some allomorphs or variants are found in these lines [6,7,8,16,28]. 



This essay concentrates on the grammatical and syntactic analysis of linguistic. It bridges the theoretical portion with the practical sides of language. Hence it has covered few key concepts of morphology, syntax and grammar. The analysis has been taken from a magazine, which shows emphasis on the language that is use on a current daily article. Hence this stresses on the language of the present time. Since language is ever evolving and the style of communicating ever changing, it is important to clarify how phonology, morphology and syntax play a role on the development of language and communication on the whole. Each of these has different rule that governs it and in understanding them, one is able to understand how the different modes of linguistics entwine with each other to form words and meaning. For structure has an important role as meaning in deciphering language and communication.




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