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Language distinguishes human beings from animals. Therefore, knowing a particular language is one characteristic of being a human. By…
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Arbitrariness of Language To know a language means the ability to speak the language in a way that other people who know the language can understand what one is saying. Language distinguishes human beings from animals. Therefore, knowing a particular language is one characteristic of being a human. By definition, language is an arbitrary process of vocal symbols through which members of a certain community can interact and cooperate. Knowing a particular language, therefore, also means one knows the sounds that are part of the language and those that are not. When one does not know a particular language, he/she cannot make sense of the sounds spoken in that foreign tongue. Such confusion happens because speech sounds and meanings relate in an arbitrary manner. In other words, there is no rational and logical relationship between speech sounds and meanings.
The Portuguese model can best illustrate language arbitrariness. Similarity in words should not be an issue, and neither should the words be understandable to a foreigner. However, the tribesmen need to understand what words mean. The Portuguese words tigre-dente-de-sabre mean a sabre toothed tiger. These words are the signifier. Suppose one was to go back 40 years and ask a Portuguese where to find a tiger with a sabre tooth, he or she would have no idea about it. The reason is that there is no connection between the words and the animal in question. Maybe one would wonder how the words are signified or related to the animal.
According to Tomasello, every sign is arbitrary and has conventional associations, which have been established by a social rule (Tomasello 87). At first, one could argue that the statement is completely flawed, especially when onomatopoeic words are concerned. However, when one looks gives a detailed look at specific languages, one will notice certain differences. For instance, cock-a-doodle-doo is the English representation of a cock’s crowing whereas cocorico is the French version of the same. It is unlikely that cocks in Britain and France crow differently.
In conclusion, all languages are arbitrary but it does not mean they are unpredictable. Precisely, arbitrariness means that one cannot exactly predict specific features that can be found in a language. It is impossible to predict what sounds will occur. Languages have their systems that differentiate sounds and meanings. Not every new concept necessitates the creation of a new word. The wing of a plane, for instance, was lifted from the wing of a bird. Moreover, a banker and a baker sound almost the same but they mean different things.
Works cited
Tomasello, Michael. The New Psychology of Language: Cognitive and Functional Approaches
to Language Structure. New York: Psychology Press, 2014. Print. Read More
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