The Study of Language

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(i)State two ways in which the English and! Xóõ consonant systems differ from each other. Consider only the table of “regular” consonants (the next question is about clicks). Here are two examples of what you might write (you cannot use these!): “(1) English has a series of glides (y and w), but! Xóõ has no glides. (2) !Xóõ has a series of glottalized nasals, but English has only plain nasals.”

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(ii)People in the United States use several sounds that resemble !Xóõ clicks, such as a kissing sound made with the lips to signal affection, a sound usually written “tsk” to mean “that’s a shame” or “that’s shameful”, a popping sound made with the tongue to imitate removing a cork from a wine bottle, etc. Explain why the use of these sounds in the US does not exemplify Duality of Patterning whereas the use of clicks in !Xóõ does exemplify duality of patterning.


(a)First considering the table of Xoo regular consonants table provided I deduced that the first difference between the two consonants system is the point of articulation (POA). English language has nine (9) points of articulations when producing the consonant sounds. Whereas the Xoo regular consonants has just six (6) points of articulations listed below with the exception of labiodental, retroflex, postalveolar: Secondly, the xoo regular consonants has an unusual mixed voicing, which most linguist call “prevoiced”. They assume a picture of consonant clusters especially when homorganic as in (dt). Whereas in English consonants that is, absent. Taa consonants are complex, and it is not clear how much of the difference between the dialects is real and how much is just an artifact of analysis.

(b) Duality of patterning expresses the point that is discrete units of a language at one level can be joined to create different kinds of units at a different level example is words. I think the difference is in the sound perception. Our brains care more about the function of a sound in language than its physical properties. That is to say that the same sound can be interpreted differently by our brain depending on its role in the language. In Taa, click consonants belong to the language’s inventory sounds it is like the building blocks of units (words). To an English speaker in the United States clicks are used as conversational signals but in Khoisa it is an entirely different thing.

Second question

(i)Briefly state the main characteristic of an alphabetic writing system and cite at least one example of how Korean exemplifies this.

(ii)Briefly state the main characteristic of a word writing system and cite at least one example of how Chinese exemplifies this.

(iii)“Korean writing has the property of Duality of Patterning, Chinese writing does not.” Explain what this statement means.

Answers(a)In alphabetic writing elements denotes phonemes, combined phonologically. Here phonemes is the basic unit of representation. In regular spelling especially in English language, this system of writing is illustrated eg: rat /ræt/, trim /trɪm/, spend /spɛnd/. The main characteristics are alphabetic understanding (that is words consisting of letters of which represents sounds). Then phonological recoding utilizing the connections between the letters and phonemes to make pronunciations follows this. Korea have exemplified this by creating 24 letters consisting of 14 consonants and 10 vowels. The writing of Korea can be done vertically (up down), or horizontally (left-right).

(b)Chinese writing system has no alphabets, which is a group of characters that represent units of sound or phonemes. Instead, the Chinese writing system created an unlimited set of characters that represent a unit of meaning or morpheme (i.e., a word). Typical of other languages, Chinese has thousands and thousands of words. This type of writing system requires thousands of characters to represent each of its unique morphemes. The written Chinese characters (hànzi) were originally pictures of people, animals or other things but as time went on, they became increasingly modernized and no longer resemble the things they represent. Example is 大 pronounced dà but means big, large.

(c)According to George Yule, "Human language is organized at two levels or layers simultaneously. This property is called duality (or 'double articulation'). In speech production, we have a physical level at which we can produce individual sounds, like n, b and i. As individual sounds, none of these discrete forms has any intrinsic meaning. In a particular combination such as bin, we have another level producing a meaning that is different from the meaning of the combination in nib. Therefore, at one level, we have distinct sounds, and, at another level, we have distinct meanings. This duality of levels is, in fact, one of the most economical features of human language because, with a limited set of discrete sounds, we are capable of producing a very large number of sound combinations (e.g. words) which are distinct in meaning." Therefore, in Chinese word writing we do not have letters or alphabets as separate units rather we have words. Words does not obey the law of duality.

Source of materials

(Harriet Ottenheimer, The Anthropology of Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Wadsworth, 2009)

(George Yule, The Study of Language, 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Clement M Doke, 1926 (1969), The phonetics of the Zulu language. Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand Press

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