How Language Works/Glossary

the conventions of pronunciation associated with some speech community.
not only grammatical and meaningful but suitable for the context in which it occurs. Inappropriate utterances may be too casual, formal, direct, indirect;uninterpretable by the hearer; or in violation of the conventions of conversation,
a grouping of individual things or situations by people on the basis of similarity. Individuals belong to categories, but a category should not be seen as the set of all of its individual members, or →instances, but rather the abstract concept that they share. Categories are often thought of as having →prototypes, that is, typical members;individuals can then be relatively "good" or "bad" members of a category based on how far they are from the prototype. Categories may also result in →categorical perception.
Common noun
a word which labels a category of thing and shares morphological or syntactic properties with other such words. In English common nouns include words such as racket, cheese, and road. All English common nouns share several morphological and syntactic properties; for example, all can be modified by the article the.
a unit of cognitive experience, a way people have of abstracting over their experiences in the world.
Conceptual relation
a relation between two concepts that is based on some sort of similarity or association between them. Conceptual relations include →specialization-generalization, part-whole, and physical similarity.
a limitation on what is possible. For language, constraints come from the body, from cognition, and from the nature of human communication.
a behavior that is accepted by some group of people as appropriate for performing some function. For example, the community of English speakers agrees on the convention that the word horse refers to a particular kind of animal. Conventions are usually at least somewhat →arbitrary;that is, they are in effect because they have been agreed on, not because they "make sense" in any way. For example, English speakers could just as well have settled on a totally different word form to refer to the category horse.
the linguistic conventions shared by a speech community.
use of language whose meaning depends at least in part on some element (role) of the utterance or discourse context. Deictic expressions in English include pronouns like I and you, adverbs such as here and now, and verbs such as come and go.
a scale along which concepts can vary. Each individual or category for which the dimension is relevant has a particular value on the dimension. For example, color is a dimension which is relevant for physical objects and masses, and some possible color values are red, green, and blue. However, color is not a relevant dimension for actions; it would be unspecified for an instance of eating, say.
First person
See →person.
how a linguistic expression sounds (for spoken language) or looks (for written or signed language) or how it is produced.
a →semantic dimension in some languages, distinguishing situations or relationships between utterance participants on the basis of the familiarity of the participants with one another, the social distance between the participants, the relative status of the participants, and the cultural significance of the interaction.
(1) a use that people put language to, for example, asserting, commanding, or getting information. (2) the use that a particular word or pattern has within a stretch of language, for example, marking tense or marking the gender and number of the subject.
a grammatical →dimension which divides nouns into a small set of classes (also called "genders"). The members of the classes normally tend to share some semantic properties. However, membership in one of the classes is often somewhat arbitrary and may be based on characteristics of the forms of nouns rather than their meanings. Therefore, gender is not usually considered to be a semantic dimension. In many languages, for example, Spanish, there is a correlation between biological gender and membership in the classes, which are called "feminine" and "masculine" for this reason. However, there seems to be little semantic motivation for the assignment of inanimate objects to the genders.
to go beyond the available data, applying a word or a rule to a novel situation.
the conceptual relation between a super-category and a sub-category. All of the properties of the super-category are shared by members of the sub-category, but the sub-category has properties not shared by all members of the super-category. For example, apple specializes fruit (or fruit generalizes apple). Different kinds of fruit are edible and sweet and contain seeds; these are all properties of apples. But apples have a core surrounding the seeds, which is not true for some kinds of fruit, such as strawberries.
describing a phrase or sentence which could be produced by a speaker of a given dialect or language and does not contain a →speech error.
the receiver of a linguistic act, the one who is expected to perceive and interpret the act, often referred to as the "addressee". For spoken language, a hearer; for signed language, an observer; for written language, a reader. (The word will be capitalized in this book to remind you that it's more general than "hearer".)
a particular thing or situation, as opposed to a set of things or situations, or a category of things or situations. The noun phrases Clark, the linguistics class I'm taking, and the milk in that glass refer to individual things. The sentence there's a mouse under the bed describes an individual situation.
genetically specified, available to the person or animal more or less automatically because it belongs to a particular species, not because of experience and learning. Thus in this sense we might call the liver innate;unless something is drastically wrong in our environment, we all get one. One view of language learning sees many of the properties of language as innate.
an individual belonging to some category.
a set of dialects, grouped together usually on the basis of a relatively high degree of →mutual intelligibility but also possibly because the speakers are members of a single political unit.
Language death
a situation arising in the history of a language when children stop learning it as a first language. Although is is possible to preserve recordings and linguistic descriptions of such a language, these can only be seen as a very incomplete record of the living language, which is now effectively irretrievable.
Language family
a group of languages that are genetically related, that is, having a single common ancestor language.
Lexical gap
a category without a word in a language, dialect, or idiolect in a domain in which most other categories have associated words. For example, most English speakers have no word for sibling, though they do have a word for parent.
the mental dictionary of a person, "listing" all of the words the person knows, their meanings, forms, and grammatical properties.
a thing with relatively stable properties but no clearly definable boundary, that is, not an object. Examples are some smoke, some sand, some oatmeal. Some things may be difficult to classify as being objects or masses, for example, a lump of clay or a piece of cheese.
the concepts that linguistic words and grammatical patterns are about.
Metaphoric extension
extension of the meaning of a word on the basis of the similarity of the original meaning to the new meaning. For example, wing came to be used for a structure on an airplane by analogy with the similar structure on a bird.
Metonymic extension
extension of the meaning of a word on the basis of a strong association between the original meaning and the new meaning;in some sense the two "go together". For example, wing came to be used for a structure on an airplane by analogy with the similar structure on a bird.
Mutual intelligibility
the extent to which speakers of two or more different dialects or languages can understand each other.
Negative evidence
in learning, information about when a particular form does not apply. For example, in word learning, negative evidence could take the form of correcting a child's mistaken use of a word: "No, that's not a chicken;it's a duck." To be contrasted with →positive evidence.
a →semantic dimension which distinguishes individual objects (singular) multiple objects (plural) and in some languages from two or three objects as well.
something that is perceived as having a clear boundary around it and a set of stable properties such as size, color, shape, and consistency, for example, an apple, a bridge, or a snake.
Over-generalization, under-generalization
errors made by first or second language learners in which the meaning of a word in the target language is either generalized (for example, dog for sheep as well as dogs) or specialized (for example, dog only for terriers).
Personal pronoun
a word referring to an object in terms of whether it is (or includes) the Speaker or the Hearer.
a grammatical category expressing whether a referent is (or includes) the Speaker (first person), the Hearer (second person), or neither the Speaker nor the Hearer (third person).
See →number.
Positive evidence
in learning, information about when a particular form applies. For example, in word learning, positive evidence could take the form of the presentation of a referent together with an appropriate word. To be contrasted with →negative evidence.
specifying what sorts of behavior are desirable, acceptable, preferred. To be contrasted with description. Linguists are concerned with describing, not prescribing, language.
Proper noun
a word used to refer to an individual object, for example, Clark, Indiana. One kind of name. (Other names includes expressions like the Grand Canyon and the White House.)
the central or typical member of a category; the basis on which individuals are evaluated as belonging to the category. One view of categories is that they are prototypes.
a pattern that tends to recur in some data. For example, the co-occurrence of the word apple with an object with a particular shape, consistency, and taste is one sort of regularity, and the general tendency for the meanings of nouns referring to solid objects to be organized by shape is another sort of regularity.
a concept defined with respect to the part it plays in a larger (surrounding, defining) concept. For example, the speaker role within an utterance, the pitcher role within a baseball team, the nose role within a face, the subject role within a sentence.
Second person
See →person.
Semantic category
a category that is the meaning of a word.
Semantic dimension
a →dimension which distinguishes things or situations from one another and which corresponds to distinctions in linguistic form. Examples are →person, →number, mass-count, and tense.
Semantic extension
addition of new →sense to a word on the basis of some conceptual relation. For example, the noun mouse came to be used for a computer pointing device because of the physical similarity between the device and the animal.
Shape bias
the tendency for language to assume that the categories labeled by words for solid objects are organized by shape, that is, that shape matters more for these categories than color or texture.
See →number.
the tendency for languages to be consistent in the dimensions that matter, the number of values along dimensions, and the applicability of particular rules or patterns to a variety of words. For example, if a particular dimension is relevant for consonants in one place of articulation, it is likely to be relevant in other places of articulation, and the possibility of referring to a transitive event with a passive construction tends to be applicable to all transitive verbs and to all sorts of arguments of those verbs.
the producer of a linguistic act. For spoken language, a speaker; for signed language, a signer; for written language, a writer. (The word will be capitalized in this book to remind you that it's more general than "speaker".)
Speech error
a deviation from the conventions of a dialect or language caused by interference between words, a temporary memory lapse (perhaps due to fatigue or stress), or an ill-formed speech plan.
Standard dialect
within a language, the dialect that is accepted as being the most prestigious, often the only dialect that is written and the dialect that is used in education and the media.
the process of settling on a standard, a set of conventions to be followed by everyone in a particular community.
a set of concepts related to one another in a hierarchy by the →generalization-specialization relation.
a set of co-occurring and relatively stable features, typically an object but also possibly a mass:
Third person
See →person.
an instance of language; a word, phrase, or sentence produced by somebody at a given time and place with somebody as Hearer
Utterance context
the Speaker, Hearer, location, and time associated with a particular instance of language.
See →dimension.
Word sense
one of the related meanings of a word. For example, the word sponge is used to refer both to a kind of sea animal and to an object or material used for cleaning, originally made from the internal skeleton of one of these animals.