Language is the ability to comprehend both spoken and written words, and to produce meaningful words when a person speaks or writes. Language is a complex skill set that involves many complicated processes, such as biological, cognitive, and social skills. Other types of language involve the use of signs or body signals to convey meaning.
The four main components of language are phonemes, morphemes, syntax, and context. In addition to grammar, semantics, and pragmatics, these components all work together to create meaningful communication among individuals.
Components of Linguistics
Linguistics is the study of language (Figure 1). Within linguistics, grammar is the set of rules that governs the way people compose and use language. Semantics is the study of the meaning of words - specifically, what a word stands for in a certain context - and pragmatics studies the way the context of words contributes to their meaning. Working together, these various rules help people makes sense of words and effectively communicate with one another. For example, incorrect grammar can alter the semantic meaning of a sentence.
A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that has meaning within a language. Phonemes correspond to the sounds of the alphabet, although there is not always a one-to-one relationship between a letter and the sound it makes. The word 'dog', for example, has 3 phonemes : /d/, /o/, and /g/. However, the word 'shape,' despite having 5 letters, has only 3 phonemes: /sh/, /long-a/, and /p/. The English language has approximately 45 different phonemes which correspond to letters or combinations of letters. Through the process of segmentation, a phoneme can have a particular pronunciation in one word and a slightly different pronunciation in another.
Morphemes are the smallest units of words, which provide a specific meaning to a string of letters (phonemes). Thus, a morpheme is a series of phonemes that contains a special meaning. If a morpheme is removed or changed, the entire meaning of the word can be changed. Some common morphemes are re - meaning to do again, or est - meaning to the fullest. For example, the word shaped has two morphemes - shape and ed. If one were to remove the ed, he/she would change the entire meaning of the word.
Morphology studies the various types of morphemes, of which there are two main types - free and bound. Free morphemes have the ability to function as individual words; for example, cat or water. These can also be used in conjunction with other lexemes to create new words (for example, catnip or waterfall). Bound morphemes, on the other hand, must be used with a root word or another bound morpheme. Examples of bound morphemes include suffixes and prefixes.
Within the category of bound morphemes, there are two additional subtypes - derivational and inflectional. Derivational morphemes change the meaning or part of speech of a word when they are used together. For example, the word 'sad' changes from an adjective to a noun when -ness (sadness) is added to it. 'Action' changes in meaning when the morpheme re- is added to it, creating the word 'reaction.' Inflectional morphemes modify either the tense of a verb of the number value of a noun; for example, when you add an -s to cat, the number of cats changes from one to more than one.
Syntax is a set of rules by which a person constructs full sentences (Figure 2). Every language has a different way of using syntax. In English, the shortest common core of syntax is a noun with a verb. Adjectives and adverbs can be added to the sentence to provide further meaning. The order of the words within the English language matters, although in some cultures, order is of less importance. For example, the English sentences "The baby ate the carrot" and "The carrot ate the baby" do not mean the same thing, even though they contain the exact same words.
Context is how everything within language works together to convey a particular meaning. Context includes tone of voice, body language, and the words being used. Depending upon how a person says something, holds his/her body, or emphasizes certain points of the sentence, they can convey a variety of different messages. For example, the phrase "Awesome," when said with a big smile, means the person is excited about a situation. "Awesome," said with crossed arms, rolled eyes, and a sarcastic tone means the person is not thrilled with the situation.