Knowledge of Language: The Sound System, Words, and Sentences

Knowledge of Language: The Sound System, Words, and Sentences

Patricia A. Kilroe
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8467-4.ch001
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Human beings learn to speak or sign the language or languages they are exposed to as children. To have acquired the language(s) of one's speech community is to have acquired both linguistic and communicative competence. Linguistic competence results from internalizing the knowledge of the basic elements of language (sounds, words, sentences) and the rules for combining these elements into units that enable users to express linguistic meaning. Communicative competence results when learners have acquired knowledge of the appropriate social conventions involved in interpersonal communication. Effective language teaching is enhanced through an understanding of both the structural and social aspects of linguistic communication as well as how these aspects challenge students in the process of second language acquisition.
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What Is Language?

Language is a method of human communication consisting of the use of words or signs in a structured way in order to convey meaning. The word language is also used to mean the particular system of communication used by a community, such as English, Japanese, or American Sign Language. There are approximately 7,100 languages used in the world today, yet over half the world’s population speaks just 23 of those languages, and 86% of people speak an Asian or European language (Simons & Fennig, 2018). Languages change over time to meet the needs of their users, and they also change as groups of speakers come together or become isolated from each other. When a language no longer has any speakers, it is said to be extinct.

A fundamental question in linguistics has to do with how human beings produce and understand language. An early model that proposes how language functions continues to be influential today. This is the speech communication chain, first proposed by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver in 1949 (cited in Dawson & Phelen, 2016, p.8-9). According to this model, any communication system will include an information source, a transmitter, a signal, a receiver, and a destination. In using language, the speaker/signer/writer is both the information source and transmitter; the signal—speech, signs, or writing—is sent to one or more others, who are both receiver and destination. Essentially, an idea is conceived by a sender, put into words, expressed through a physical medium such as sound or paper, and finally received and decoded in a receiver’s mind.

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