Language is how we communicate among one another and not only humans, but also different species communicate differently. Language uses lexicon, which is simply a dictionary it consists of the vocabulary used in a language. Language goes off of a set of rules that make it possible to create meaningful verbal sounds, these rules are called, Grammar. Language consists of several important factors, key features of language, levels of language structure, and the process language plays in cognitive psychology.
Language has several important key features and they are: communicative, arbitrary, structure, generative, and dynamic. Communicative is the communication part of language, being able to speak the language and communicate with others by putting words into texts. Arbitrary is how complex language can be with more meanings to words than just one meaning. Sentences are created in order to make sense of the word without miscommunication of the word. For example different languages use different metric systems with symbols and although we use the word cup for the container that we drink from it is also used in the American metric system as a measurement with liquids. Arbitrariness is a useful property because it increases the flexibility of language (Williamson, 2009). Therefore if we use a word for more than one meaning it allows for the language to be bigger. In summary, if we know the form of a word it is impossible to predict the meaning and if we know the meaning it is impossible to predict the form (Williamson, 2009). The structure of language consists of the verbal sounds of language and how the language is understood by, the people speaking it and this changes depending on the language and culture. For example you can word sentences differently for the same meaning or they can be worded differently for different meanings by using the same words. Generative is the basic units of language (words) can be used to build a limitless number of meanings (Willingham, 2007). The Dynamic of language is how language is always changing, new words, slang from the generation, new rules in grammar and even knew languages being created while old languages fade away in time.
Language can be described using four different levels: phonemes, words, sentences and text. Phonemes, is the lowest level is an analysis of the sounds that comprise words (Willingham, 2007). The sounds come from the letters in the alphabet some letters even have more than one sound that they can make and it just depends on the word that is trying to be said for the sound that should be verbalized. English uses roughly 46 phonemes, but there are about 200 in use worldwide (Willingham, 2007). Therefore different languages have similar but different alphabets and each letter can sound different. The 46 English phonemes are combined in various ways to produce all of the approximately 600,000 words in the English language (Willingham, 2007). A word is one distinct meaningful element of speech that is used with others words to form a sentence. In between words there are pauses and by putting the words into sentences we create. After you have created a sentence of words you can create a text, which is groups of sentences that create paragraphs also known as a text. With phonemes, words, sentences and texts these levels follow the rules of grammar. When psychologists use the term grammar, they mean a set of rules that describes the permissible sentences that can be constructed in a language. The rules consist of how words can be combined, when they are combined to create sentences and texts. Sentences have to be grammatical, and are constructed word by word.
Language is something that we learn as we grow as well as something that we never stop learning about. Language is said to be special for three reasons: it is developmentally special because its something that humans learn, second human are the only ones who use language as other species communicate in different ways, and Language influences the cognitive process and even contributes to the thought process. When we say that language is developmentally special, we mean that children learn language differently than they learn other skills, such as how to solve math problems. (Willingham, 2007). There is fairly strong evidence that our brains are prepared to learn language, and with relatively little prompting, will do so (Willingham, 2007). As a child there are steps to learning a language, the first is cooing, which is when the child learns to make simple vowel sounds. Then the second step is babbling and this is when vowel sounds are put together to create simple words that being told to the child like “mama” or “dada”. Then around the first birthday a child vocabulary usually becomes clear and is about 50 words. These words are usually what is familiar to the child, what the child hears daily or is being taught like “cup”, “tired”, “mommy”, “daddy”, and “hungry”. Then around 18 months a child is using these known words to create sentences like, “I want a toy” or “go outside”. By age 4 a child usually has a strong sentence structure format for speaking. When a child learns a language it is not easy because they want to say more than they know and then they use what they know to express what they want and this is called, overextension. Then there is over regularization, which refers to applying linguistic rules to exception words where the rule should not be applied (Willingham, 2007). An example of this would be saying shoe for shoes. Language is for humans because of the way that we learn it, know it, communicate with it, understand it and continually learn with it. We know that language influences thought because different words that you might utter lead to different thoughts in my mind (Willingham, 2007). Different languages also describe “things” differently and therefore that can possibly effect how that “thing” is viewed by different people, then there are languages that speak formally and informally causing the mind to think about what needs to be said and how. People who speak more than one language usually have a different thought for things compared to those who only speak one language. This is because different languages have different meaning for things and different ways of expressing a thought. When it comes to speaking and communicating with language, one word can completely change the meaning of a whole thought, for example adding unneeded word or leaving out a needed word. Since we use language to express a thought this why language is cognitively special, but language also puts words to perception, which is our five senses. For example we can express the colors, smell, touch and sounds of the tree in front of us and it allows us to remember these things and speak about it. Not only do languages influence what we remember, although the structures and thoughts of languages can make it easier or harder for us to learn new things (Boroditsky, 2011).
Boroditsky, L. (2011, February). How language shapes thought. Retrieved from http://psych.stanford.edu/~lera/papers/sci-am-2011.pdf
Williamson, G. (2009, October 13). Key properties of Language. Retrieved from http://www.speech-therapy-information-and-resources.com/key-properties-of-language.html
Willingham, D.T. (2007). Cognition: The thinking Animal (3rd ed.). Retrieved from The University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.