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Why study English Language?

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Andrew Catherall

on 18 September 2013

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Transcript of Why study English Language?

Why study English Language?
A very brief introduction
English Language is a core subject in the A-Level curriculum, but why? What benefits does studying the language provide? Lets find out....
But before we get started, lets work out exactly what we mean by English Language...

The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.
The smallest unit in most languages is a word - a single element
which conveys meaning, usually put together into sentences.
This sounds unimpressive, but not when you appreciate it's significance...
It's what sets humans out from all other life forms in the known universe, our innate ability to master this semantic concept defines us as a species.
"Language is the tool we use to filter and define the world. It’s our first and most powerful too,... Language enables us to make connections, build complexities, and to influence each other.

It also has the power to divide us: it crystalizes our differences, and helps us antagonize and irritate each other. "
Julia Hayden
"Writing is why ideas aren't lost but built upon. So it's the reason we can do science at all. In fact, writing has caused on of the 'major transitions in evolutionary biology. With language and writing, instead of genes being the sole container of evolvable information, ideas can also be transmitted, changed and so evolve." - Dr. Yan Wong
How we acquired and had the ability to 'generate' language is an area of intense scientific research; various theories investigated by linguists and evolutionary biologists are an area of intense debate. But there are some facts we can agree on...
Language evolved from primitive gesture like techniques into what we know today between 100,000 and 2.3 million years ago.
There are between 6,000 to 7,000 language on the planet being spoken today.
Some animals, like the great apes who we share a common ancestor with purvey a kind of proto-language with gestures and grunts, but it is still a far cry from the recursive, syntactic languages of humanity.
Language started out purely spoken, but with the advent of writing around five thousand years ago this changed. We didn't always use letters though - the earliest 'words' were pictograms!
So now we have a rudimentary understanding of how language began, let's fast forward to today to see how language continues to shape our lives...
Language today
Language, as we have just seen, is always evolving. What better demonstrator of this fact could be the advent of an entire new lexical set for the digital age - with LOL, $WAG and tweet all finding their way into the nation's vocabulary.
In fact, if we want to look at language in the 21st century, then one language sets itself apart from the rest. It's the most widely-spoken language, with 720 million speakers worldwide. It is, of course the...
“The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane. Each sentence we produce, whether we know it or not, is a mongrel mouthful of Chaucerian, Shakespearean, Miltonic, Johnsonian, Dickensian and American. Military, naval, legal, corporate, criminal, jazz, rap and ghetto discourses are mingled at every turn. - Stephen Fry
One of the defining characteristics of English is it' s free nature - unconfined by the restraining and authoritarian academies of logogogues which reign over other languages like French and German. English is free to evolve according to it's required use - a true language of the people.
The Oxford English Dictionary lists over 600,000 words - starting at 'a' and ending at 'Zyzzyva'
Lexicons such as the OED seek to record, not to referee language - i.e. they follow public trends, they don't try and set them.
But just because there's no control over the English language, doesn't mean it can't be studied! English linguistics has been studied for centuries, and research continues today.
Some noted contemporary linguists are...
American polymath who's contributed to many fields,
linguistics being just one. Mr Chomsky is credited with the development of the universal grammar theory, the Chomsky hierarchy and generative grammar.
Noam Chomsky (b. 1928)
David Crystal (b. 1941)
Having published over one-hundred and twenty books, many on linguistic theory, Mr Crystal's contributions are numerous. Most notably, he is credited with developing ludic linguistics, new analysis of Shakespeare's work and studies on language death.
Edward Sapir (1884-1939)
Widely credited as being one of the most
important 'fathers' in the development of linguistics,
Mr Sapir's work largely focused on classifying the Native American languages. His most important contribution was the development of the concept of the phoneme.
So what can we see from all this history, theory and study that is part of the English language? It proves a point - that the language is well worth studying. To understand our past, the present and where we're going, we need to understand what makes us human - and undoubtedly, that's language!
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