Home/Essays Examples/Linguistics/English Language and Reasoning

English Language and Reasoning

Introduction

One cannot imagine human intercourse within society without a language. This social phenomenon operates throughout the existence of society: there exists a mutual interdependence between them, a language arises and develops with the rise and development of society, and society develops with people’s better understanding of each other. This interdependence cannot leave people indifferent to language: they strive to utilize the language for their purposes, to achieve their own goals by imposing their special lingo, terms, expressions, etc. upon it.

Language as a medium and an instrument for human communication is directly connected with thinking: it registers and fixes in words, then it is combined into sentences thus reflecting achievements of man’s cognitive activity. Language serves as a filter of comprehension, with the structure of this filter being determined by the linguistic characteristics of a language, such as grammar, phonetics, lexis, stylistics, etc. In its turn, the filter determines the way of human reasoning and forms people’s consciousness.

Being a significant factor that influences national psychology, language is responsible for differences in the way of reasoning that different nations have. For example, languages with free word order have an impact on the flexibility of thought: speech goes simultaneously with the thinking process, unlike those languages which have a strict word order when thinking comes first. The structure of tenses in a language impacts time perception.

In some languages representation of past, present, and future tenses and their correlation to each other are more detailed, in others less. Some languages have no grammatically fixed future tense. All these influence differences in time perception and abilities to plan between speakers of different languages.

As far as the level of lexicology is concerned, the richness and spread of vocabularies belonging to different opposite styles within one language (literary and vulgar; official and familiar, etc.) has an impact on reasoning. Differences between words meaning that various nations have to lead to cultural differences. Referring to the same word with obviously identical to another language’s semantics can lead to different emotional reactions, depending on the stylistic peculiarity of this word in this certain language. And human logic is driven by human emotions.

The current paper is concerned with the investigation of how the English language influences the reasoning of its speakers. The investigation will be carried out starting from the general consideration of the role of a language informing one’s reasoning up to the influence that the English language has on its speakers. The paper is expected to reveal how the linguistic characteristics of the English language determine the ways of reasoning of its informants. The paper contains Introduction, Two Parts (first considering language in general and second investigating the concepts of the English language), Summary and the Works Cited page.

The Concept of Language

Human language is a complex phenomenon, which is approachable in many different ways, with different viewpoints, from a variety of quite different perspectives, and with numerous different agendas. According to most linguists’ conception language is nothing but grammar. A language is a blend of a systematic phenomenon which when shows regular patterns in the way it is organized, shows sophisticated structure.

The structured system of regular patterns in a language is known as Grammar, whereas the grammar of a language itself entails the domains which are commonly categorized under the names of phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics (McGregor 1). Language upholds all of these grammatical descriptions and, indeed, this is usually the case for grammars of exotic languages written in the descriptive tradition.

The formal theories of grammar exclude phonetics and phonology and are only concerned about morphology and syntax, these being opposed to semantics. Such a conceptualization is characteristic of formal theories, and grammar usually comes to be seen as a system of rules for the combination of symbols.

Assuming that each word in the language has a few possible meanings that are readily accessible greatly simplifies the task of sentence understanding; the meaning of a sentence is determined by combining the meaning of the words that form it. Words are taken to refer to reality and, therefore, the meaning of an utterance can be obtained by evaluating the correspondence to reality of the meaning contained in its words. With the appropriate algorithm, the meaning of a sentence is obtained (Corriveau 18).

Semiotic grammar adopts morphological forms, including lexical words and bound morphemes as one aspect of morphological signs, which involve a meaning aspect in addition. This being uncontentious, in context with the lexical roots and the prototypical linguistic signs claim that the same goes for syntactic forms. Such signs represent only one side of linguistics, whereas the other one implies resorting to various non-mainstream approaches to grammar.

Language and Consciousness

A language is always mingled with communication. However, due to the versatile usages, languages have contributed to a widespread misunderstanding of the role of language in human behavior. This misunderstanding is twofold. First, there is persistent confusion between a thing and the ways this thing is used. If language were a visible tool to be physically used, confusion could hardly arise. But language is more abstract since it is not a physical thing, and when things and use are both abstract the absurdity of conflating them becomes less apparent. Given the object use distinction, nonhuman communication systems are not communication.

The second part of the misunderstanding arises because of animal communication systems, and all the other things illegitimately described as languages, that differ from the language in that they can do nothing but communicate. The unconscious thought process evolves by how animal communication systems are equated with communication, and then language is equated with animal communication systems. So by simple transitivity, the misconception that language is the same as communication is not true. Language is far more complex that influences human consciousness.

Quite reasonably, Dennett has pointed out, that although the human brain is a parallel processor; human consciousness is a serial processor (Dennett 125). The human brain is used to carry out multiple instructions in a single instance of time; therefore, people cannot be conscious of more than one at a time. Indeed, we can never be conscious of many of these instructions or functions at all (Bickerton 124). An individual who experiences driving to work while mentally rehearsing a future committee meeting might serve as a brilliant example of this fact. While so engaged, he or she is not consciously aware of the driving.

One can hardly doubt that consciousness arises in some way from the operations of the brain, but unlike the brain, it cannot focus on many things at once or even on just two things at once. Apart from reasoning and consciousness, to categorize language means the same as to categorize human behavior.

Basic Notions of Grammatical Theories

No one would deny the fact that constituency is regarded as one of the most fundamental concepts of linguistic theory of the twentieth century. Virtually all modern linguistic theories employ the notion somewhere, although the importance attached to it varies considerably from theory to theory. Most linguists would agree that there is also constituent structure between the words and the full sentence itself (McGregor 22). For example,

The letters went astray until they searched is more than just a string of words, one following the other. They would agree that some words go together with others to form larger entities, which are smaller than the sentence, and that they do not go together with certain other words. Thus, most would consider that the three words “letters”, “astray”, and “search” are more closely associated with one another than with any other word in the sentence and that they form a linguistic entity with them. Similarly, they would argue that “until” and “search” should be grouped as a larger linguistic entity.

The lexicology of a language is grouped and differentiated based on different semantic types, each of which has a common meaning component, and upholds a typical set of grammatical properties. One of the most common grammatical properties of a type is its association with a grammatical Word Class or Part of Speech (Dixon 75).

Danes’ extension of Prague school theory has inspired several recent applications to the study of writing. Vande Kopple tested how maintenance or violation of two of Danes’ progressions affects the readability and memory of a text. Upon observing that sentence themes or topics in English most often appear as the grammatical subject or as an initial noun phrase other than the grammatical subject. Therefore Vande Kopple manipulated two sets of passages so that one version consistently placed given information in topic positions while the other version consistently placed new information in topic positions.

Students found that the passages with given information in topic positions were easier to read, and they recalled these passages better. Witte used an adaptation of Danes’ scheme to analyze students’ revision of a short informative text and found that the revisions rated high in quality provided more elaboration on fewer subtopics than did revisions rated low in quality. Witte demonstrated that Danes’ system can provide a simple measure of idea development (McQuade 128).

In the rhetoric of traditional grammar, the most prominently displayed categories are called noun, verb, adjective, adverb, tenses, interrogative, and imperative, active, and passive. But we have no reason to believe that those categories are the most salient to the experience of a sentence. English composition teachers have always known, for example, that there is an implied subject for the verb-derived noun adjustment; it is a common remedy to suggest that students revise muddy sentences so that the agent is in subject position instead of in some subordinate clause. In response to this objection, linguists have made a few discoveries about the structure of English (as opposed to the structure of linguistic theory) that composition teachers have not already known as independent facts (McQuade 180).

Modern Linguistics and Standard English

Modern linguistics has changed the size, shape, and number of many analytical pigeonholes in the theory of language. For example, generative phonologists have shown that the change from hard “g” too soft “g” in the pair “regal” and “regicide”, and from hard “c” too soft “c” in “medical” and “medicine” is the product of one linguistic rule, not two; transformational syntacticians have shown that the sentences like Colorless green ideas sleep furiously and lazy over the jumped fox quick dog brown are ungrammatical in two ways, not just in one.

Modern linguistics has also fostered a view of the overall structure of human language strongly compatible with what we do in the remedial situation: that language has not only a surface structure, the organization of the sentence as we hear it or see it on the page, but an underlying structure roughly corresponding (and how roughly is by no means agreed upon) to its propositional content. To use classical examples, again, the sentence Invisible God created the visible world contains, in its underlying structure, three propositions:

God created the world, God is invisible, and the world is visible (McQuade 166).

What sociolinguistics literature presents about the term standardized language is the consensus that labels it as a standardized language, a language from which at least one variety has undergone standardization process (Bex & Watts 117). Therefore, being a universal term, “standardization” appears to be a relatively uncontroversial term as “consisting of the processes of language determination, codification, and stabilization” (Trudgill 199).

Grammar Learners

Grammar writer Duncan simply contents himself, in his discussion of ‘the Regimen of Adjectives’ with some advice to the learners of grammar that knowing which prepositions to use after which adjectives are ‘nothing but the Study of the Best Use of the Language can teach’, although he does not say where the ‘best Use’ of English is to be found. The intended audience of all the grammars, with the possible exception of Jones’s, is schoolboys within the social institution of public education, i.e. at charity schools, public schools, grammar schools, etc. There are several common discourse strategies which reveal this to be the case, including the following:

  1. Frequent comparison with Latin, often revealing the explicit aim of enabling the pupils to learn Latin more easily by tackling grammar in English first.
  2. There must be commonly shared assumptions concerning the ways which structure grammar, e.g. that there are eight parts of speech, divisible into two groups, the declinable and the indeclinable. There are no cases in English but that case which is signaled through prepositions; that the variety of tenses in Latin is signaled through the use of auxiliary verbs; that the nouns are divisible into Nouns Substantive and Nouns Adjective, etc. (Bex & Watts 45).
  3. Frequent confusion between language structure and language usage, so that what is commonly presented as a grammatical rule is, in fact, a rule of ‘good’ style, and what is offered as a grammatical explanation turns out to be semantic or pragmatic.
  4. A flexible tendency to present the structures of English to the native English-speaking pupils in such a manner as if they were learning a foreign language.

Grammar scholar Saxon refers Duncan, to a group of other ‘grammarians’, pointing out towards some change in the grammar and thereby explicitly referring to the discourse community, but it is not clear whether he means that the English language has imitated Latin or that the ‘grammarians’ have added the two tenses to English in imitation of the grammar of Latin. The latter interpretation seems more likely, that is an open acknowledgment of one of the most salient discourse practices of grammar writers to invent the existence of a structure that is not in evidence in English simply because it happens to exist for Latin.

Verb Tenses

Concerning the question of verb tenses, Greenwood uses the strategy of suggesting that English is in some sense deficient in having only two tenses and that by using auxiliary verbs English can be made to have the same number of tenses as Latin. Latin is therefore held up as the grammatical model for the legitimate language (Bex & Watts 54). The central problem is that it is far from evident that the language system of spoken English has sentences, for the simple reason that text sentences are hard to locate in spoken texts. Clauses can be easily identifiable and are recognized even when they occur as pause and a pitch contour with the appropriate scope are missing, therefore a given verb and its complements can be picked out.

Of course, one reply to the objection is that the system sentences employed by linguists need not correspond to text sentences. Linguists make use of system sentences in such a manner that enables them to handle the issues of distribution and dependency relations and should be retained if this goal is achieved. Against this, it can be argued that system sentences do not map onto text sentences in spontaneous language because system sentences are based on the prototype concept of a sentence as containing at least one main clause and possibly other coordinated main clauses and/or subordinated clauses (Miller & Weinert 30).

The above postulates are only applicable to spontaneous spoken English. For written English and other modern languages, it does seem self-evident that the language system has sentences and clauses since text sentences are easily located in written texts through the use of capital letters and full stops. One condition is that which enables the learner to learn the sentences through the process of reading and writing, and are taught to the majority of language-users, whereas clauses are acquired without specific teaching. Children in the early stages of the primary school typically produce single clause sentences and have to acquire the ability dependant upon instruction, partly by reading to combine several clauses into a sentence.

These characteristics of clauses and sentences bear on other issues, such as whether a given language system is independent of the medium in which it is realized. If sentences are to be admitted as units of written but not spoken language, the next step is to analyze written and spoken language as having different language systems. To some extent, this analysis is unavoidable anyway, since even within single clauses it is clear that written English and other languages permit more complex phrasal and clausal constructions and more complex vocabulary than occur in spoken English. Like many other languages, written English has constructions that do not occur in spontaneous spoken English, and vice-versa (Miller & Weinert 31).

Syntax Theories

Every syntactic theory prioritizes some concepts while placing the other concepts as being of lesser or no importance and every theory likewise makes use of a unique set of analytic tools. Different combinations of concepts and tools that are found in a variety of theories exhibit distinct combinations of the notions which are Relational Grammar, Lexical-Functional Grammar, the Government-Binding version of Principles and Parameters Theory, and Role and Reference Grammar.

One thing all of these theories share is a commitment to being fully explicit and rigorous and to being a theory in which syntacticians can formulate grammars capable of accounting for all and only the grammatical sentences of the language under study. Such a grammar comes under “generative grammar” which in this sense labels all the theories as theories of generative grammar (Valin 172).

Atkinson points out that mathematical work on the learning ability of language is based, inter alia, on two empirically plausible assumptions. One is that far from being presented with contrasting data explicitly labeled grammatical or ungrammatical, learners are faced with data containing ungrammatical intrusions that are not labeled as such. The second is that, for any given linguistic interaction, learners do not always have access to the full range of data presented to them before that occasion (Atkinson 20).

Therefore, to assume that learners bring knowledge to the task of language acquisition, the knowledge that limits the hypotheses they can entertain about the properties of the language they are exposed to, is of no use. To specify this knowledge is the goal of linguists working on English and other languages within Chomsky’s principles and parameters framework in an attempt to formulate Universal Grammar.

It seems however necessary to draw a clear distinction between spoken standard English and written standard English, and between formal and informal styles of both speaking and writing. Some features can be identified as more likely to occur in spoken face-to-face interaction in informal settings. It also seems necessary to recognize that the formality continuum overlaps with the continuum between planned and unplanned discourse (Ochs 60). Formal speech can often be relatively more planned because the situations which call for formal styles may allow speakers to take their time, pausing to collect their thoughts. In these situations, individuals tend to respect each other’s speaking rights and to conform to a one-at-a-time model of turn-taking (Coates 120).

There may even be predetermined routines for speaker turns, as in the question and answer formats of interviews. Sometimes speakers plan their contributions or will have spoken on similar topics before. These circumstances could hardly differ more from those where we produce the fast spontaneous unplanned speech of informal conversation, where multifunctional, polypragmatic features are so useful. Speakers who spend much of their time speaking in formal situations may carry over the linguistic features and constructions typical of formal styles to their conversational speech styles, especially if they are treated with the same respect in their private lives that they command in their professional roles.

Summary

The research conducted has shown that like any other language, English influences the way of thinking of those who use it. Investigation of modern findings in grammar and syntax of the English language proved that the knowledge in this sphere can help to influence people’s reasoning and language abilities. We conclude that categorize language means the same as categorizing human behavior that goes along with analysis of human reasoning. English serves as a filter for comprehension of people from English-speaking countries. Further research is needed for understanding the way phonetic, stylistics, and other linguistic characteristics of this language determine the structure of this filter.

References

Atkinson, Martin A. “The Logical Problem of Language Acquisition.” Roca 1990: 1-31.

Bex Tony & Watts J. Richard. Standard English: The Widening Debate. Routledge: London, 1999.

Bickerton Derek. Language and Human Behavior. University of Washington Press: Seattle, 1996.

Coates, J. “Epistemic Modality and Spoken Discourse.” Transactions of the Philological Society. 1987.

Corriveau Jean-Pierre. Time-Constrained Memory: A Reader-Based Approach to Text Comprehension. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Mahwah, NJ, 1995.

Dennett, D.C. Consciousness Explained. Little Brown,1991.

Dixon, R. M. W. A New Approach to English Grammar, on Semantic Principles. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1992.

McGregor B. William. Semiotic Grammar. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1997.

McQuade, Donald. The Territory of Language: Linguistics, Stylistics, and the Teaching of Composition. Southern Illinois University, 1986.

Miller Jim & Weinert Regina. Spontaneous Spoken Language: Syntax and Discourse. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1998.

Ochs, E. “Planned and Unplanned Discourse.” Syntax and Semantics: Discourse and Syntax. Ed. T. Givon. New York: Academic Press, 1979. 51-80.

Trudgill. Introducing Language and Society. London: Penguin, 1992.

Valin Van Robert. An Introduction to Syntax. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2001.