Linguistics: An Introduction
Andrew Radford, 1999

Language is a cognitive and social system. We need to consider the nature of the linguistic cognitive system, how we acquire it, how we use it, and how the brain does it.

Linguistic competence is what we know about a language. Linguistic performance is how we use that knowledge. The grammar of a language specifies how to combine words and phrases to make sentences. A grammar must include at least lexical information, what the words mean and how they sound, and syntactic information, how to combine the words. But the grammar must also specify the logical form, which allows the meaning of a sentence to be determined, and the phonetic form, which specifies the sequence of sounds. The common elements of the grammars of all languages is called the universal grammar.

Developmental linguistics
Children suddenly learn to speak in long, complex sentences. Chomsky's innateness hypothesis holds that a genetically-specified language faculty constructs a correct grammar for the language. This grammar identifies unacceptable as well as acceptable sentences.

How is this possible? No animal seems to be able to acquire syntax in any manner even close to that of a 3-year old child.

Could a generative grammar simply be run in reverse to understand a sentence? Garden path sentences show that additional information is used. The generative structure must provide a way to use world knowledge to determine the meaning of a sentence.

We know much about brain functions such as vision, because we have used invasive methods to study the brains of non-human creatures. This does not work for language. We can study language by observing how people with sick or damaged brains behave. Other methods include brain scanning and studying cases of genetic impairment.

The social aspects of language use involve a number of questions seemingly distinct from the grammatical issues. These include, for example, dialects, politeness, filler words (umm, ahh), and language change.

Part 1. Sounds

1. Introduction
A sound system is a basic part of language. This chapter will not deal with Sign Language or written language. We will introduce a transcription system, then discuss dialects, sound change, phonemes and the phonological system.

2. Sounds and suprasegmentals
The English system of spelling is confusing. We need an
unambiguous transcription system. Of several possible choices, the IPA will be used.

Consonants are described anatomically. Voicing, place and manner distinctions are described. The Fortis/Lenis distinction is not mentioned.

Vowels are described anatomically, via the standard High/Low, Front/Back Long/Short and Tense/Lax distinctions. A mention of Rounding and Nasalization comes, almost as an afterthought.
Formants are not mentioned.

A syllable is hard to define, but you know one when you hear it.
Prosody is defined as the variation due to the three factors "stress", "tone" and "intonation". Next is a treatment of Primary/Secondary and Lexical vs. Phrasal stress. There is no discussion of duration.

3. Sound variation
Various types of changes in the sounds of a language are discussed as being affected by history, geography and social class.

Linguistic variables and sociological variables
Pronunciation is affected by social class, education level and ethnic group.

Stylistic variation
Many people will alter their pronunciation, depending on the audience. A study of an exceptionally pliant travel agent is cited.

Linguistically determined variation
Consonant cluster simplification is described, along with the dependence on whether a vowel follows the cluster. The changes are characterized on a Hard/Easy scale, but with no further discussion as to why such changes might be pliant or resistant.

Variation and language change
Here is a brief discussion on how pronunciation variations can lead to permanent language change. The next chapter covers the topic in greater detail.

4. Sound change

Consonant change

Vowel change

The transition problem: regular sound change versus lexical diffusion

Suprasegmental change

5. Phonemes, syllables and phonological processes



Syllabification and the Maximal Onset Principle

Phonological processes

Phonological features

Features and processes

6. Child phonology

Early achievements

Phonological processes in acquisition

Perception, production and a dual lexicon model

7. Processing sounds

Speech perception

Speech production

Other aspects of phonological processing

Appendix 1: The International Phonetic Alphabet

Appendix 2: List of distinctive features

Appendix 3: Distinctive feature matrix for English consonant phonemes

Part 2. Words

8. Introduction

9. Word classes

Lexical categories

Functional categories

The morphological properties of English verbs

Inflectional classes in Italian and Russian

10. Building words


Morphological processes - derivation and inflection




11. Morphology across languages

The agglutinative ideal

Types of morphological operations

12. Word meaning

Entailment and hyponymy

Meaning opposites

Semantic features

Dictionaries and prototypes

13. Children and words

Early words - a few facts

Apprentices in morphology

The semantic significance of early words

14. Lexical processing and the mental lexicon

Serial-autonomous versus parallel-interactive processing models

On the representation of words in the mental lexicon

15. Lexical disorders

Words and morphemes in aphasia



Dissociations in SLI subjects' inflectional systems

16. Lexical variation and change

Borrowing words

Register: words for brain surgeons and soccer players, hairdressers and life-savers

Biscuit or cookie? Variation and change in word choice

Same word - new meaning

Variation and change in morphology

Part 3. Sentences

17. Introduction
This treatment of syntax considers the sentence to be the largest unit of language, specifically not dealing with conversation, dsicourses, stories or texts.

18. Basic terminology

Categories and functions

Complex sentences

The functions of clauses

19. Sentence structure


Tests for constituency

Constraints on merger: features and checking

20. Empty categories

Empty INFL

PRO: the empty subject of infinitive clauses

Covert complements

Empty constituents in nominal phrases

21. Movement

Head movement

Operator movement

Yes-no questions

Other types of movement

22. Syntactic variation

Inversion in varieties of English

Syntactic parameters of variation

The null subject parameter

Parametric differences between English and German

23. Logical form


A philosophical diversion

Covert movement and Logical Form

More evidence for covert movement

24. Children's sentences

Setting parameters: two examples

Null subjects in early Child English

Non-finite clauses in Child English

Children's nominals

25. Sentence processing

Click studies

Processing empty categories

Strategies of sentence processing

26. Syntactic disorders



Specific Language Impairment (SLI)


Top of Page | LAI Opinion | Sort by Topic | Sort by Title | Sort by Author