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Table of Contents
The Human Language Series is an essential film for linguistic scholars that have interest in finding solutions to various conceptual challenges regarding language acquisition and use. The work is divided into three parts that include interviews with the top linguists studying the formal structure of language and developmental psycholinguists who focus on language acquisition by children. However, it fails to give a substantial explanation on some questions that are vital in understanding language as the humans’ distinctive feature that distinguishes them from other creatures.
As discussed in the film, language is the definer of the human beings. It is one peculiar characteristic that people do not share with other creatures in any way. Several researches have confirmed that language is the human beings’ trait that sets them apart from other animals. Various arguments have been brought forward trying to understand the mode of communication among animals and birds. As a result, it was proved that while the latter have no ability to employ language to communicate, humans use the brain to utter words under the acceptable set of conditions. When a child is born and left in isolation where he or she enjoys only the company of animals and birds, the kid does not acquire any language due to the lack of the ability to communicate. On the contrary, a child that is brought up in the company of humans picks up the language without any formal lessons. Moreover, children are capable of learning a lot from the very young age. However, their level of linguistic competence is heavily dependent on the linguistic environment.
Language is rule-governed, yet it allows its speakers the opportunity to use it freely. As Chomsky rightfully puts it, humans can produce and comprehend some sentences for the first time (Searchinger, 2014a). In “Discovering Human Language: Colorless Green Ideas”, the linguist states that children are capable of joining words to come up with new sentences that they have never heard before (Searchinger, 2014a). Provided that one has the knowledge of rules governing the sentence formation in a given language, he or she can easily play around with words to form novel utterances. Miller’s statement that every language has a limited number of words and sounds that can be used to produce a limitless amount of sentences is a justification of the language dynamism (Searchinger, 2014a).
The film also addresses the constraints that language has in expressing certain meanings. The limitations are encountered because language has a definite structure, hence, limiting its ability to explain some concepts. For example, some human thoughts cannot be effectively conveyed by the means of language forcing people to go around in circles in an attempt to communicate some ideas.
The first part of The Human Language Series is instrumental in understanding the idea of language as an arbitrary set of codes. There is no clear connection between a referent and a reference. Consequently, humans had to establish some commonly acceptable conventions through which they were able to attach meanings to words. For example, the word “chair” is not directly associated with the object that it refers to (Searchinger, 2014a). Its interpretation is based on the generally accepted rules that enable the encoder and decoder to understand each other. Mutual intelligibility is based on some common fields of experience shared by communicators.
The ability to abstract is another distinctive feature of language that makes it humans’ characteristic. As Chomsky states, a child that is put in a given linguistic environment learns language in a manner that is similar to other aspects of human growth (Searchinger, 2014a). It is the reason of why children cannot learn the arbitrary set of codes used for communication without much effort.
The part “Acquiring the Human Language: Playing the Language Game” discusses the manner in which children acquire language. In this part, it is indicated that kids have an inborn understanding of fundamental grammar and sentence structure (Searchinger, 2014b). From a tender age, they gain an understanding of word order even when its implementation is still hard for them. Language is not taught to children. Instead, they acquire it freely from the linguistic environment to which they are exposed.
One fundamental factor in first language acquisition is the nature of the linguistic environment. A rich linguistic setting enables children to acquire language faster in comparison with the poor one. It is interesting to note that the L1 spoken by a kid does not have to be the parents’ first language. While being far from the native speakers of the parents’ L1, a child is likely to acquire a foreign language that becomes L2 for the parents. Over time, kids learn to form complex sentences in a given language. It should be mentioned that the ease with which they learn languages is linked to their brain system. Their brain is not fully wired until they are 12 enabling them to learn languages easily.
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The part “The Human Language Evolves: With and Without Words” presents an interesting aspect of language as the humans’ feature. It is true that it evolves and diversifies over time (Searchinger, 2014c). The modern languages used by any linguistic groups obviously display a significant difference from the ancestral ones. This part of the film looks at the language as a biological phenomenon that can only develop among the human species. This explains why chimps are unable to talk while people can.
Moreover, humans have moved away from their former techniques of communication that were mostly comprised of using gestures. Currently, a man combines the use of the body language and gestures, which have been inherited from the animal past, with syntax to enhance communication (Searchinger, 2014c). Undoubtedly, the ability to incorporate the body language and syntax is an indication of the evolution of the human language.