The Origins and Development
of the English Language
Chapter 1: Language and the
English Language
John Algeo and Thomas Pyles
Michael Cheng
National Chengchi University
A Definition of Language
Language is a system of conventional vocal signs
by means of which human beings communicate.
Language as System
Language is not a collection of words, like a
There are rules or patterns that relate the words to
one another
Duality of patterning
– Meaningful units: Words and words parts
• Adam liked apples.
– Meaningless components: Sounds of letter
• About 35 basic sounds in English
Language as System
Duality of patterning lets people build an
immensely large number of meaningful
words out of only a handful of meaningless
sounds. (p. 2)
Meaningless Components: sound system or
Meaningful Units: lexis or vocabulary;
grammatical system or morphosyntax
Language as System
Patterns in the sound system:
– mb never occurs at the beginning or end of words in
Modern English
Lexis is least systematic, but there are
– mild and gentle vs. lenient
– mild weather; gentle breeze; severe case of the flu;
severe judgment; lenient judgment; lenient case of the
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Language as System (Elaborate)
Grammatical Signals: The grammatical system of any
language has various techniques for relating words to one
another within the structure of a sentence.
Most important:
1. Parts of speech: noun, verb, adjective, adverb
2. Affixes: prefixes, suffixes, inflectional suffixes
3. Concord or agreement
4. Word order
5. Function words
6. Prosodic signals
Language as System
Language Signs
The system organizes signs
Signs stand for something else
– apple stands for the actual object
– Tell me a really long word.
Linguistic signs can be smaller or larger
than whole words.
Language Signs
The smallest linguistic sign is a morpheme, which
is a meaningful form that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts (p. 5)
Free morphemes: can be used alone as words
Bound morphemes: must be combined with other
morphemes to make words.
Reactivation: re-act-ive-ate-ion
(again) (adj)(v) (n)
Language Signs
Morphemes can have more than one
pronunciation or spelling
Plural noun ending: -s/-es ; [s],[z],[әz]
Spoken variations are allomorphs
Language Signs
Base morphemes and affixes
Affix is a bound morpheme that is added to a base
Affixes can be prefixes or suffixes
– reactivation
Base morphemes are usually free
– Insulate (insula + ate) insula = lat. island
Compound: word with more than one base
– firefighter
Language Signs
Language signs can be larger than words
Idioms: a combination of words whose
meaning cannot be predicted from those of
its constituent parts (p. 6)
Language as Speech
Language is basically oral-aural
– Produced by the mouth and received by the ear
Sounds follow one another sequentially
Language is one dimensional
Other ways of expressing language:
– writing, sign language
What are the advantages and disadvantages
of other ways of expressing language?
Language as Speech
Writing vs. Speech
Which is primary and which is secondary?
Language as Speech :
Writing as Speech
Humans have been writing for 5000 years
Writing developed from speech and is meant to
represent speech
Some spoken languages have no written form
We talk before we write
We have to take special effort to learn to write
Many people who can speak are unable to write
Language as Speech
“If speaking makes us human, writing
makes us civilized.”
Advantages of writing:
Indicates pauses more clearly:
– Grade A vs. gray day
– Pretty hot day vs. pretty, hot day
Language as Speech :
Writing as Speech
Deficiencies of writing:
Can’t indicate pitch
Why did you do it? (rising vs. falling)
sound quality (tone vs. quality)
incense (enrage vs. stuff to burn)
sewer (tailor vs. conduit)
Language as Speech:
Writing as Speech
Homonyms: homographs, homophones
Orthography: Writing system
Language as Speech:
Gestures and Speech
Gestures can communicate also
Speech may have developed from gestures
Gestures can be unconscious
Kinesics: study of communicative body
Tone of voice
Paralanguage: parallel communication that
accompanies language
Language as Convention
Language is mostly conventional and
There is usually no reason we connect the
sounds we make with a particular meaning,
but each language agrees on what particular
sounds mean
Exception: echoic words/onomatopoeia
– Bow wow, gnaf-gnaf, wau-wau
Language as Convention:
Language Change
Language changes because it is culturally
Causes of language change:
Syntagmatic change: nearby elements
influence one another within the flow of
– sandwich
Language as Convention:
Language Change
Paradigmatic or Associative Change
Words can be affected by other words that
are not immediately present but with which
they are associated
Language as Convention:
Language Change
Starboard = Right
Ladeboard = Left
Ladeboard  Larboard  Port
Language as Convention :
Language Change
Social Change
Language changes because of the influence
of events in the world
New technology: google
New forms of behavior: suicide bomber,
Contact with new people and cultures
Language as Convention :
The Notion of Linguistic Corruption
Language as Convention :
Language Variation
Language exists in many varieties
Historical or diachronic variation
Contemporary or synchronic variation
– Dialects – mutually intelligible forms of language
associated with particular regions or groups
– Dialect: Language associated with a certain place,
social level, ethnic group, sex, age
– Registers – Variations according to participants,
settings, and topics
– Register: Variety of language used for a certain
purpose: sermon, restaurant, telephone, postcard
Language as Convention :
Formality scale
This diagram is from Quirk et al (1985), who use the term attitude rather than style or register
Formality scale
Very formal,
Frozen, Rigid
Very informal,
Casual, Familiar
Language as Convention :
Joos (1961) cited in Wikipedia
Frozen: Printed unchanging language such as bible quotations; often
contains archaisms.
Formal: One-way participation, no interruption. Technical vocabulary;
"Fussy semantics" or exact definitions are important. Includes
introductions between strangers. (This is the standard for work, school,
and business.)
Consultative: Two-way participation. Background information is
provided — prior knowledge is not assumed. "Backchannel behaviour"
such as "uh huh", "I see", etc. is common. Interruptions allowed.
(Formal Register used in conversations.)
Casual: In-group friends and acquaintances. No background
information provided. Ellipsis and slang common. Interruptions
common. (Language used in conversation with friends.)
Intimate: Non-public. Intonation more important than wording or
grammar. Private vocabulary. (Language between lovers (and twins).)
Dialects and registers provide options
Alternate ways to communicate depending
on the circumstances
Language as Convention :
Correctness and Acceptability
Correctness: Idea that some form of English
is pure or correct.
Language isn’t so clean cut
Acceptability: Degree to which users will
judge an expression to be OK, or will not
notice anything out of the ordinary
How acceptable? To whom?
Language as Convention :
Correctness and Acceptability
If I were in your shoes…
If I was in your shoes…
If we was in your shoes…
– et
– εt
Language as Human
Gestures may have preceded language
Ability to learn language is innate
Children below 9 can learn a new language
better than their native language
Children of about 5 have mastered
comprehension of most grammatical forms
of a language (but still continue to improve)
Language as Human: Animals in the
wild, do they communicate?
Informative behavior vs. Communicative
Do you intend an action to inform?
Alarm cries are signaling behavior but not
intentionally communicative
Do animals display deceptive behavior?
Innate, involuntary, limited in number
Language as Human
Conditioning vs. Intentionality
Clever Hans
Some birds can mimic human sounds
Language as Human
Closest human relatives are apes
Teaching apes to talk has been a complete failure
Problem is anatomical
Alternatives to speech include signing and
Apes are capable of forming paired associates:
linking an object with an arbitrary symbol
(Holzman, 1997)
Language as Human
Sarah: used plastic tokens to communicate
Lana typed messages
Washoe used Ameslan
Kanzi used lexagrams
Is this real communication?
Language as Communication
Relationship between language and thought
Language is clothing for thought and
thought is quite independent of the language
used to express it
Thought is merely suppressed language, and
when we are thinking, we are just talking
under our breath
Language as Communication
Whorf hypothesis
The language we speak influences the way
we think about the world and the way we
perceive it
Sorting colored chips into piles
– Usually make as many piles as basic color
terms in your language
Other Characteristics of Language
Open: you can make up new combinations
of words that no one has made before
Displaced: you can talk about things that are
not present; abstract, lie,
Entertaining: it is not just utilitarian, you
can joke, tell stories, etc.
Why Study the History of English?
To understand how things are, it is often
helpful … to know how they got that way
(p. 18)
Many of the irregularities of English are
remnants of earlier regular patterns
Clarify literature written in earlier periods
Keats description of sculptured effigies on
The sculptur’d dead, on each side, seemed to
Emprison’d in black, purgatorial rails.

The Origins and Development of the English Language