An In-Depth Look at Language

An In-Depth Look at Language

Language is a learned system of symbolic communication. Humans symbols to communicate meaning. These symbols may be sounds, signs, or things that are abstractions applied to the thing they signify. Language provides the rules that allow humans to interpret speech, which is defined as patterned vocalizations.

Language is a learned system of symbolic communication. Humans symbols to communicate meaning. These symbols may be sounds, signs, or things that are abstractions applied to the thing they signify. Language provides the rules that allow humans to interpret speech, which is defined as patterned vocalizations. You may want to utilize a language specific answering service to learn more about that language.

Linguistics is the study of how language is organized and how it functions. Formal linguistics studies the grammar of languages, the rules of language organization. The ultimate goal of formal linguistics is a universal grammar, or an explanation of how the brain understands and processes language. Formal linguistics includes three main schools: traditional linguistics, structural linguistics, and generative or transformational linguistics. Traditional linguistics is concerned with the grammatical parts of speech, such as nouns, adjective clauses, and verbs. Structural linguistics studies the arrangement of linguistic forms and excludes meaning as a field of study. It is concerned with morphology, syntax, and phonology. Generative or transformational linguistics include the study of meaning and is concerned with the structures of linguistic forms.

The Structure of Language

Language is the set of rules that govern written and spoken human communication. These rules make what would be arbitrary sounds and signs intelligible and meaningful. The rules that predict what sounds are meaningful in different languages and how those sounds can be combined is called phonology. The rules that govern which combinations of sounds form larger units of meaning (words and sentences) and how those sounds are manipulated to form different words is called morphology.



Phonemes are the smallest units of sounds and morphemes are the smallest unit of sound that carries meaning. Phonemes may have more than one allomorph, or variant of the phoneme that represents the actual sound that corresponds to it. Which variant is used is determined by the preceding letter or sound. Phonology is the study of how sounds form patterns to create phonemes and allophones. Phonological rules govern the addition, subtraction, and ordering of sounds in words. These rules give speakers the necessary information to pronounce words. A great answering service will utilize phonology. To learn a language, one must learn the basic units of sound that form the language. Some phonemes exist in some languages and not in others, which can make pronouncing and understanding a language difficult for non-native speakers.

  1. Phonology: Explanation of phonology and phonemes. Also includes exercises.
  2. International Phonetic Association: IPA homepage; includes sound recordings and a chart of the International Phonetic Alphabet.
  3. Segmental Phonology: A resource for those interested in studying segmental phonology; requires a basic understanding of phonetics and phonology.
  4. Phonetics: An online course in phonetics.
  5. Articulatory Phonology: An explanation of articulatory phonology.
  6. Phonology and Phonetics: Definitions and explanations of phonetics, phonology, and their relationship to English spelling.


Morphology is the study of the internal structure of words and the rules by which words are formed. Phonemes are combined with each other into larger units of sound called morphemes. Morphemes are the smallest units of sound that convey meaning. Words can be formed by one or more morphemes. Morphemes are classified as “free” or “bound”. Free morphemes can form words on their own. Bound morphemes can form parts of words but cannot be an independent word. A great answering service will utilize morphology. Examples of found morphemes are prefixes and suffixes. Understanding morphemes and their combinations allow speakers to form and learn new words.


Grammar is analyzed in two ways: through morphology and syntax. Syntax is the study of the standardized rules that control how words can be combined to form larger units of meaning, called sentences. Speakers of a language learn syntactical rules from family and friends and refine them through the formal study of grammar. Speakers learn the rules of syntax in order to combine the language’s morphemes into different patterns of meaning. For example, a syntactical rule of English is to place the subject before the verb in a declarative sentence.

All human languages have systematic rules that govern how sounds, words, and sentences can be formed and combined to communicate meaning. Every human language is learned rather than biologically inherited as are systems of vocal communication used among nonhuman primates. While most human languages are spoken, with the exception of sign languages, speech and language are not the same. Speech is patterned vocalization. Animals vocalize, as do human babies, but these vocalizations are not speech because they do not conform to set patterns. Human languages are also symbolic systems of communication, which means that human beings use arbitrary symbols—sounds or words—and apply meaning to them. 

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