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1．Still looking for a definition.
In this chapter, we made a point of not giving any one definition of language. But now we will give you a few to think about. Read each of the following definitions carefully and then discuss the following questions with a partner. What aspects of language does it seem to emphasize? What kind of person do you think wrote it--a linguist, a poet, a lexicographer, etc.? Which definition do you find most satisfying? Most interesting?
a) Language is a system of vocal-auditory communication interacting with the experiences of its users, employing conventional signs composed of arbitrarily patterned sound units and assembled according to set rules.
b) Language is a body of words and the systems for their use common to a people who are of the same community, nation, or geographical area.
c) Language is the landmass that is continuous under our feet and the feet of others and allows us to get to each other’s places.
d) Language is the force that has launched us beyond the limits of other species of primates and has enabled us to dominate our environment. It is nothing less than the prerequisite of our consciousness as human beings.
e) Language is the principal means of human communication.
(1) The first definition stresses the features of language (arbitrary, conventional and patterned), its components (signs, sounds and rules) and function (communication with the experiences of its users). This definition is probably given by a linguist.
(2) The second definition stresses the users or speakers of language, that is, they may come from the same community or nation or any other geographical area. This definition is probably given by a lexicographer.
(3) The third definition compares language to the landmass under our feet and emphasizes its importance in life. This poetic definition is probably given by a writer.
(4) The fourth definition stresses the power of language: it makes us different from animals. This definition is probably given by an anthropologist.
(5) The fifth definition is simple but powerful. It emphasizes the function of language, i.e. it’s used for communication. This definition is probably given by an ordinary person.
The first definition seems most satisfying. It not only deals with the features and components of language but points out the function of language. The third definition is most interesting. The vivid comparison enables us to imagine that we are actually standing on the land of language and it’s the land we are standing on that make us understand each other.
2．Which “language” is language?
Each of the following sentences contains the word language. Read the sentence and identify whether the word, as used in the context, refers to language as activity or language as system. If it refers to language as system, does it refer to a system used by an individual, a group of people, a nation, or all human beings?
Compared with English, German is a difficult language.
The professor keeps using obscure language.
Aphasia means the loss of ability to use or to understand language.
Do you know what that word really means? You should be more careful with your language.
Psychologists use lots of big terms. Their language is difficult to understand.
The article is full of archaic language.
Young children are good at picking up a language.
The boy was scolded by his mother for using bad language.
Key: Compared with English, German is a difficult language. (System: a system used by a nation)
The professor keeps using obscure language. (Activity)
Aphasia means the loss of ability to use or to understand language. (System: a system used by all human beings)
Do you know what that word really means? You should be more careful with your language. (Activity)
Psychologists use lots of big terms. Their language is difficult to understand. (System: system used by a group of people)
The article is full of archaic language. (System: a system used by a group of people)
Young children are good at picking up a language. (System: a system used by a nation)
The boy was scolded by his mother for using bad language. (Activity)
3．Read the following letter and memo and explain what kind of social activity it creates. Think about questions such as: What is the intended goal of this encounter? Who are the people involved and what are the roles of each?
Bob Smith, my assistant programmer, can always be found hard at work in his cubicle. Bob works independently, without wasting company time talking to colleagues. Bob never thinks twice about assisting fellow employees, and he always finishes given assignments on time. Often Bob takes extended measures to complete his work, sometimes skipping coffee breaks. Bob is a dedicated individual who has absolutely no vanity in spite of his high accomplishments and profound knowledge in his field. I firmly believe that Bob can be classed as a high-caliber employee, the type which cannot be dispensed with. Consequently, I duly recommend that Bob be promoted to executive management, and a proposal will be sent away as soon as possible.
A MEMO WAS SOON SENT, FOLLOWING THE LETTER:
That stupid idiot was reading over my shoulder when I wrote the report sent to you earlier today. Kindly read every second line (i.e.1, 3, 5, 7, 9, ... ) for my true assessment of him.
(1) The intended goal is to disadvantage Bob Smith in getting the position of executive management. In the recommendation letter, the project leader used appropriate language to present a positive image of Bob so that he might get the promotion. However, the truth is that Bob was not as competent as described in the letter and the leader didn’t want him to be promoted. Nevertheless, he had to write all the flattering words to avoid the embarrassment because Bob is just looking at him while he is writing. To remedy the situation, he sent a memo afterwards when Bob stopped looking at him, claiming that what he said in the letter was not true and was full of sarcasm.
(2) The people involved include Bob Smith, the project manager and a leader responsible for the promotion. Bob is the one waiting to be promoted; the project manager is supposed to write a recommendation letter for Bob but somehow implies some bad things about Bob; the leader receiving the letter and memo has the right to decide whether Bob can be promoted or not.
4．Recall some of the speech errors you made when you are learning to speak Chinese (or some of the errors you have heard young children make when they are learning to speak). Share them with the class. Together, think about how you can best categorize each of these errors.
Key: The errors can be categorized according to where the errors occur. For example, when young children are learning Chinese, they often commit some errors in the use of quantifiers. E.g. To express a fish, a child may say yi tou yu (一个鱼) instead of yi tiao yu (一条鱼), likewise, s/he may also say yi zhi mian bao (一只面包) rather than yi kuai mian bao (一块面包). Besides, they may commit phonetic errors, since gege (哥哥) is often pronounced as duoduo and laoshi (老师) as laoxi.
5．The following anecdote is based on a true story.
A professor from Tanzania attended an African studies conference and saw an American linguist giving a presentation on the grammar of Swahili, a language which is widely spoken in his home country. The speaker made remarkably clear many aspects of the structure of Swahili that have been difficult even for native speakers of the language to explain. During a break, the Tanzanian professor approached the American and began congratulating him in Swahili for his terrific work. The linguist apologized in English, “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t speak Swahili.”
Explanation: The American professor who came up with the insights on Swahili couldn’t have done it by himself. When studying a language, linguists gather all sorts of data (words, sentences, recorded speech, etc.) and then analyze them, often relying on the help of native speakers. Being a “vivisector” does not automatically make one a good language learner, although it is a good start.
Discuss: What strengths could you have in doing research on English in comparison with professional linguists and native speakers of English?
Key: In comparison with professional linguists, I have easier access to relevant corpora, since I am still a learner myself and may come across different problems, which can be the research goals of linguistic study. Compared with native speakers of English, I can sense the differences between Chinese and English and explore them in research.
6．We mentioned that the classification of Chinese characters as logograms is something of an oversimplification. There are, in fact, different kinds of logograms. For instance, 木 functions much like a pictogram, but if you have two 木’s 林 is more likely representing a concept (i.e., “many trees”) than a picture; thus, it is close to being an ideogram.
If we look at the character 城, the left half of it is ideographic, but the other half is perhaps syllabic, representing the sound. In small groups, think of two or three characters that fit into each of these categories.
Key: For example, (1) 人 functions like a pictogram, but if three 人’s are put together as 众, it is more likely representing a concept (many people), thus, it is close to be an ideogram; 口 functions as a pictogram, but if three 口’s are put together, it is more likely representing a concept (type; to evaluate), thus it is close to an ideogram. (2) For the character 伟, the left half is ideographic, but the other half is syllabic. the same is true for 挎, the left half is ideographic, but the other half is syllabic.
7．If the writing system of the Chinese language is to be romanized (i.e., represented by an alphabetic system), how would we write the following?
建立 简历 尖利 监理
What difficulty does this present? What difficulties will native speakers of English encounter when they learn written Chinese? How are these difficulties similar to or different from the ones that we encountered when learning written Chinese in primary school?
(1) The four words may look exactly the same if Chinese is romanized. It presents the difficulty in studying Chinese homonyms. There is no way to differentiate the four words: they have the same spelling (jianli) and the same pronunciation, since stress is clearly not enough for the four words.
(2) When English native speakers are learning written Chinese, it is probably very difficult for them to tell apart words with similar pronunciation but different tones, because Chinese is a tonal language, with different tones representing different meanings. However, there are no tones in English. English speakers may find it perplexed in front of the four tones. This is a little different from the one we come across when learning written Chinese in primary school because we have been familiar with different tones of the words from the very beginning and it would be much easier for them to distinguish these words.
1．Decide if each of the following sentences contain a separable phrasal verb or an inseparable one. Then, paraphrase the meaning of the phrasal verb.
They turned on the light. They turned it on.
Meaning: to start the light by using a switch.
They take after their parents. *They take their parents after.
Meaning: to resemble, either physically or in personality.
1) They turned down the offer.
2) They looked after the child.
3) They turned in the manuscript.
4) They called on the doctor.
5) They thought up an excuse.
6) They woke up the baby.
7) They looked up the word.
8) They talked about the movie.
9) They talked over the assignment.
10) They thought of the answer.
1) They turned down the offer. They turned it down.
Meaning: to refuse or to object
2) They looked after the child. *They look the child after.
Meaning: to take care of someone by helping them, giving them what they need, or keeping them safe.
3) They turned in the manuscript. They turned it in.
Meaning: to hand over or to deliver up sth, especially after it is completed.
4) They called on the doctor. *They called the doctor on.
Meaning: to make a short visit; go to sb’s house, etc.
5) They thought up an excuse. They thought it up.
Meaning: to produce a new idea, name etc. by thinking.
6) They woke up the baby. They woke him up.
Meaning: to make someone stop sleeping.
7) They looked up the word. They looked it up.
Meaning: to find it out by looking in something such as a dictionary or are ference book.
8) They talked about the movie. *They talked it about.
Meaning: to say things; speak to give information, discuss sth., etc.
9) They talked over the assignment. They talked it over.
Meaning: to discuss problem with someone before deciding what to do.
10) They thought of the answer. *They thought it of.
Meaning: to remember something.
2．Explain the meaning of the following word coinages:
Key: unlearn: try to forget; put out of one’s memory or knowledge.
woodenly: without grace; rigidly.
TVish: something about TV.
freaky: strange and somewhat frightening.
iffy: subject to accident or change.
nouny: close to noun.
uglification: the process of making sth. Ugly.
3．Diagram the morphemic structure of each of the following words, indicating whether the affixes are derivational or inflectional.
Note: As we mentioned earlier, Antidisestablishmentarianism is often given as an example of the longest word in English. In fact, there are some longer ones referring to medical or scientific concepts, but this is probably the longest one most native speakers either know or would have little difficulty understanding if they were to encounter it for the first time.
1) nationalists: nation+al (derivational) + ist (derivational) + s (inflectional)
2) other (derivational) + world+ly (derivational)
3) unverbalized: un (derivational) + verbal + ize (derivational) + ed (derivational)
4) Antidisestablishmentarianism: anti (derivational) +dis (derivational) +establish+ ment (derivational) +arian (derivational) +ism (derivational)
4．“Weak” verbs such as make and cause should be avoided when we write because they express relatively little meaning. Rewrite each of the following sentences, using a “stronger” verb that will make the sentences both shorter and more forceful.
1) Her absence made me worried.
2) The smell caused him to remember that he was hungry.
3) The call of the girl made him stand up.
4) His eyes caused me to see that he was dishonest.
1) Her absence worried me.
2) The smell reminded him that he was hungry.
3) The call of the girl caused him to stand up.
4) His eyes told me that he was dishonest.
5．Each of the sentences below contains too many X-words. Rewrite each one to make it more concise.
Because the moonlight is glimmering on its surface, the ocean looks very beautiful.
With the moonlight glimmering on its surface, the ocean looks very beautiful.
1) I ran out when it was raining.
2) He looked around and was satisfied.
3) He looked at her and was surprised.
4) The marriage ended and they felt bitter.
5) She had died and he was grieved.
6) We were stopped by young men who wore uniforms.
7) She smoked a lot and her fingers were brown with nicotine.
8) She called him Uncle. That “Uncle” was only a title of courtesy.
9) The little lad’s eyes were wide open in astonishment. The little lad watched his physics teacher magnetize one object after another.
10) There was complete silence in the room. Everyone was too shocked to utter a word.
11) Due to the fact that there were no taxis anywhere in sight, we had to walk.
12) People kept running back and forth. All of them were in a terrible hurry.
13) The graduating students left the school. Afterwards, some were to go on to college, some were to seek employment, and some were to get married.
14) She spent many sleepless nights thinking and thinking because her heart was torn between her love for her husband and her love for her parents.
1) I ran out on a rainy day.
2) He looked around with satisfaction.
3) He looked at her in surprise.
4) They felt bitter after the divorce.
5) He was grieved after her death.
6) We were stopped by young men in uniforms.
7) She smoked a lot, her fingers brown with nicotine.
8) She called him Uncle, a title of courtesy.
9) The little lad watched his physics teacher magnetize one object after another, his eyes wide open in astonishment.
10) There was complete silence in the room, everyone too shocked to utter a word.
11) There being no taxis anywhere in sight, we had to walk.
12) People kept running back and forth, all in a terrible hurry.
13) The graduating students left the school, some to go on to college, some to seek employment, and some to get married.
14) Her heart torn between her love for her husband and her love for her parents, she spent many sleepless nights thinking and thinking because
6．Carefully read each of the following sentences. Then, number the half-clauses according to the way they are related to one another, as shown in the two examples in the chapter (on Page 44).
1) Joad licked his lips, like a dog, two licks, one in each direction from the middle. (Steinbeck)
2) He stood at the top of the stairs and watched me, I waiting for him to call me up, he hesitating to come down, his lips nervous with the suggestion of a smile, mine asking whether the smile meant come, or go away.
3) They regarded me silently, Brother Jack with a smile that went no deeper than his lips, his head cocked to one side, studying me with his penetrating eyes; the other blank-faced, looking out of eyes that were meant to reveal nothing and to stir profound uncertainty.
4) It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town, or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabindoors, crowded with beggars of female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags, and importuning every passenger for an alms.
5) Even her style in it is transitional and momentous, a matter of echoing and reminiscing effects, and of little clarion notes of surprise and prophecy here and there; befitting that time of life which has been called the old age of youth and the youth of old age, a time fraught with heartache and youthful tension.
6) George was coming down in the telemark position, kneeling, one leg forward and bent, the other trailing, his sticks hanging like some insect’s thin legs, kicking up puffs of snow, and finally the whole kneeling, trailing figure coming around in a beautiful right curve, crouching, the legs shot forward and back, the body leaning out against the swing, the sticks accenting the curve like points of light, all in a wild cloud of snow. (Hemingway) (Hint: This is a particularly long sentence. One suggested answer is given at the end of this chapter.)
1) (1) Joad licked his lips,
(2) like a dog,
(3) two licks,
(4) one in each direction from the middle.
2) (1) He stood at the top of the stairs and watched me,
(2) I waiting for him to call me up,
(3) he hesitating to come down,
(4) his lips nervous with the suggestion of a smile,
(5) mine asking whether the smile meant come, or go away.
3) (1) They regarded me silently,
(2) Brother Jack with a smile that went no deeper than his lips,
(3) his head cocked to one side,
(4) studying me with his penetrating eyes;
(5) the other blank-faced,
(6) looking out of eyes that were meant to reveal nothing and to stir profound uncertainty.
4) (1) It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town, or travel in the country,
(2) when they see the streets, the roads, and cabindoors,
(3) crowded with beggars of female sex,
(4) followed by three, four, or six children,
(5) all in rags, and importuning every passenger for an alms.
5) (1) Even her style in it is transitional and momentous,
(2) a matter of echoing and reminiscing effects, and of little clarion notes of surprise and prophecy here and there;