Many linguists as well as authors have over time noted that studying language is diabolically difficult. In a traditional perspective, language is essential for the communication as well as construction of meaning and hence to cognitive scientists as well as linguists, language remains to be largely taken as the mind’s window. In this text, I define language and lexicon as well as the various features of language. I also explain the four levels of language structure and processing and lastly expound on the role of language processing in cognitive psychology.
Language and lexicon: a definition
According to Boeckx (2009) language as a term does not have an assigned meaning. As such, its meaning largely rests with the context and application. However, language has gained recognition as a transmission of an individual’s feelings as well as thoughts through a combination of signals that can be regarded as arbitrary. These signals include but are not limited to symbols which are written, gestures or even vocal sounds. It is good to note that for such a system or combination of signals to work, there must be well established rules for components combination. It cannot also be lost that such a combination of signals must be used by a given society, individuals or grouping.
Jarvis et al. (2008) defines that when it comes to linguistics, a language’s lexicon is made up of its vocabulary as well as its expressions and words. Lexicon in one way or the other acts as a link joining knowledge depicted in a language and the language itself. In every language, there exists a distinct vocabulary. However, for every language, there is a provision of grammatical processes for purposes of giving its combination of words meaning. It is important to note that for each language, the lexicon is an essential support for all its probable uses.
Features of language
According to Boeck (2009), over time linguists have come up with several distinct features of language which in one way or the other can be taken to be occurring in a variety of languages. Below, I discuss some of the common features of language.
This language feature denotes the ability to use language to talk of not only the current happening or the current situation but also a wide range of other happenings in the past, present as well as future. All this happenings can be real, imagined or otherwise. For example, while engaged in a game of chess, one can talk about not only the game but other things related or unrelated to the game.
According to this feature of language, there is nothing that connects a sound or word with its actual meaning or in a real world situation. What this essentially means is that by just looking at a word, one cannot come up with its meaning. For example, there is nothing to tell an individual that the word ‘handball’ in English has the same meaning as ‘handyspiele’ in German. Hence for one to derive meaning from words that can be considered to be arbitrary, knowledge of the language in question is essential. However, there exist some exceptions to this feature as according to Jarvis et al. (2008) there are some exceptions to the same as there are some symbols that are iconic and whose meaning can be understood without the prerequisite knowledge of the language in question.
According to this feature of language, the fact that we are all brought fourth into this world with the same vocal tracts does not dictate which language we are going to speak. What this essentially means is that if a child is born in America and taken to china as a toddler, he or she will speak Chinese but it will still sound American.
This feature of language means that despite being born and acquiring the mother tongue, we can basically learn any other language or even a wide variety of languages. Basically, unlike animals, human beings have no genetic limitation as to which language they can use.
The four levels of language structure and processing
According to Boeckx (2009) language structure as well as processing can be taken to have four levels namely pragmatics, syntax, meaning and lastly sound. Below is a brief description of the four.
Syntax is mainly concerned with bringing out the meaning of the structure of sentences that are considered acceptable grammatically. According to linguists, native speakers of a given language though unaware of it have well defined knowledge as well as competence of the structure as well as processing of a given language. To aid this, there are well developed phrase strictures as well as a variety rules regarding phrase strictures which work hand in hand with rules of lexical insertion to bring out a coherent sentence structure.
With regard to meaning, a given language must pass on the required meaning. An entire sentence must be constructed in a way that passes on the intended meaning. That is to say that the structure of the sentence must be relevant to demonstrate meaning. The words in the sentence must in one way or the other be interrelated at the sentence level.
When it comes to sound, there are two areas to look into i.e. production and perception. In this regard, sounds should be combined in sequences that are not only seen to be permissible but also are indeed permissible. Phonological rules come in handy in the spoken output segmentation.
Pragmatics are concerned with the various rules of social language. Pragmatic rules help in or enhance giving of organized stories, procession of a wide variety of language use as well as the utterances of things which can be taken to be related in one way or the other. In another way, programmatic can be taken to be a way where meaning is informed by the context.
Role of language processing in cognitive psychology
Cognitive psychology investigates the human cognition. Cognition can be taken to be a grouping of all the mental abilities of an individual. This may include understanding, reasoning, thinking, remembering, learning as well as perceiving. Boeckx (2009) argues that cognitive psychology is basically concerned with the way we acquire as well as utilize information and/or knowledge.
Language processing is the basis on which cognitive psychology is anchored. This is because without the ability of an individual to process language, he or she cannot utilize the information gained if it will be acquired at all. Hence it can be said that language processing aids cognitive psychology.
It is important to note that while cognition can be said to be concerned mainly with the generation of meaning, language is concerned mainly with the determination of the generated meaning. Hence both language and cognition can be said to be related in more that one way.
Boeckx, C. (2009). Language in Cognition: Uncovering Mental Structures and the Rules behind Them. John Wiley and Sons
Jarvis, S., & Pavlenco, A. (2008). Cross-linguistic influence in language and cognition. Routledge
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