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Context Is Crux: Situation Determines Language - Essay Example

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Language distinguishes homo sapiens from the rest of the animal world. Like the species, human language is a living, changing, dynamic and exciting phenomenon that is always in the process of evolution. Linguists have discovered the fact that the ability to learn a language is programmed into the mental structure of a human being just as much as the need to express oneself in new, individual and creative ways…
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Context Is Crux: Situation Determines Language
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Download file to see previous pages When does the human being begin to learn this lesson One might consider the case of a toddler, learning to babble the sounds that it hears while also learning to make sense of these sounds and the responses they generate. The sounds-their pronunciation, tone and rhythm-are easily imitated, and their meanings almost as easily understood by him. It might, however, take more than a few trial and error experiences for the little child to understand that language operates within specific contexts. In his pre-school days the child may find that its sociolinguistic errors amuse rather than irritate its parents and the other adults it is on friendly terms with. In school the child would learn what kind of language it may use when supervised by a teacher in class and what it can get away with when only its peers are around. Later the child would learn that not all the words that it picks up from its friends in school bear repetition at home. Soon, he acquires the ability to judge for himself the words that could be used in particular contexts and situations. This is perhaps the most significant rite of linguistic passage in the life of a human being, marking as it does the acquisition of the maturity required to assimilate life's later lessons. Perhaps the only well-known situation in which the lack of this quality has been seen as something commendable occurs in Hans Christian Andersen's story of "The Emperor's New Clothes." Andersen's message may have been that while courtesy is necessary, and euphemism can sometimes be justified, thought and custom and language should not deviate from the track of common sense. There are times when plain speaking is required, and sometimes the child's tongue cuts into the very heart of the matter. Generally, however, education at home and at school is designed to train the childish tongue to lose any sharp edges that nature may have given it.
As the human child grows in age and maturity, it acquires the faculty of expressing itself in different styles, or registers. A register is "a variety of language defined according to its use in social situations" (Crystal 295). The language that a young boy would use to talk about a football game with his peers would be part of the register of sport. However, when he attempts to explain the nuances of the game to someone who knows nothing about it, his mother, for instance, he would employ an entirely different register. He might perhaps use a register familiar to her to guide her into an understanding of the intricacies of the new register.
One might imagine that the boy has to write a paragraph on a game of football for his English teacher. He would then learn that it is not enough to know and to use the register of sport; and that a more formal approach to the subject of football is called for. In such a situation, he may fail to strike an acceptable balance and may have to be content with a lower grade for the essay than he might have expected. A broadcaster who presents a running commentary on a football game would use the register of sport because she is communicating to those who know and love the game. The commentator too would need to follow standard rules of grammar and usage but would have greater scope for the expression of ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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