What Is Language? The Levels of Language Defined
Explaining in the previous article, The Five Basic Elements of Language, that language can be defined as a form of communication that allows intercourse between multiple people, is arbitrary (in words individually), generative (in word placement), and constantly evolving, this article covers the levels of language.
Four (4) Levels of Language
Delving deeper into the core of what defines language exist several basic levels. Not only does it have five qualifying characteristics, but it has four levels structure: Phonemes, Words, Sentences and Text.
Is Sign Language really a language?
Number one (1) Phonemes
Phonemes are the sounds that form the building blocks for the spoken word.
Phonemes are the short and long sounds of vowels and consonants. The language of the Xhosa people in South Africa, where the x, the c, and the q all make distinct clicking sounds, phonemes, differ from the phonemes of the English language
The X in Xhosa makes the sound of sucking air with the tongue at the roof of the mouth--a sound that horse jockeys may use to call a horse. The C makes the sound of sucking air with the teeth and tongue. The Q makes the sound sucking air with the tongue at the roof of the mouth pulling away forcefully from the said roof while sucking in air. These phonemes help to form the sounds for words for all Xhosa people to communicate.
Number Two (2) Words
Words are the next level of language. It would follow that phonemes build words, which represent a listing of sounds to describe items, situations, ideas, etc.... using nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.
Phonemes and words are building blocks for language whether written and spoken or spoken only. It is important to remember that ALL language must have structure. Words may be short or long in length with a combination of phonemes in prescribed fashion as described in the heading above for Xhosa.
Number Three (3) Sentences
Sentences are a number of words placed together to form a coherent thought. It is also the aspect of language that supports grammar rules. Each language determines the structural type of sentences and how words are interpreted by the hearers. Sentences provide a description of a thing or things usually containing a subject, verb, and predicate expressing a statement, question, instruction, or exclamation.
Sentences can be long or short, complex or simple. Sentences help to provide the dynamic nature of language. The sentence in this article show length differences. How boring would written language be without variation in the length and complexity of sentences? That is another topic for another article.
Number Four (4) is Text
Text in this usage does not refer to an activity millions do with their mobile devices; though, that would be an appropriate definition. Any number of sentences form text, another level of language consisting of one or more sentences. Text provides information mainly to communicate in written form.
Altogether, these elements phonemes, words, sentences. and text work within a framework called grammar, which is a set of rules constructed so that groupings of words do not form an incoherent word-jumble.
All Languages are not Created Equal But Equal Out
The phonemes, words, sentences, text and grammar of Latin differ from those of the English language, but the same end is reached: written and verbal communication.
The compelling thing about the Latin language is it died but is still used within the context of today's society. Such a feat is of intriguing significance when considering that each word may or may not have a corresponding word in other languages.
Levels of Language
All humans start out the same way—babbling. Human young start making noises that develop naturally from hearing around them the sounds of speaking, whatever the language.
Of course, the language that a person speaks effects his or her view of the world and ultimately the way he or she thinks. Language, however, does not necessarily make a French speaker think better or worse than a Xhosa speak.
One language may have a larger lexicon than another language may; but when a person who speaks French sees a danger, he thinks the same as a person who speaks Xhosa, run!
The same neurons fire in all human brains that help all to communicate in the multiple languages that allow humanity to interact by paper, digital screen, and voice.
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Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ:Pearson/Allyn4 Bacon.
© 2010 Rodric Anthony Johnson