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英语专业8级考试听力题源精选500题 Mini-lecture 1

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Some premises under which linguists operate

Good morning! Welcome to our linguistic class.

Since we will be drawing primarily on linguistic research,we need to explain some of the premises under which linguistics operate first.

The first such premise is that linguistics is a descriptive rather than a prescriptive discipline. By this we mean that our objective is to describe the systematic nature of language as used by the members of particular speech communities rather than to pass prescriptive judgments about how well they speak or how they should or should not be using their language. The study of people's attitudes towards one variety or another is an interesting subfield of linguistics, one which can help us to understand the social distribution of dialects or the direction of language change, and one which can be helpful in formulating policy about which varieties to use in the schools and how. But even here, the linguist is primarily describing the attitudes rather than prescribing what they should be.

A second related premise is that every naturally used language variety is systematic, with regular rules and restrictions at the lexical, phonological and grammatical level. Although non-linguists sometimes assume that some dialects--unusually non-standard ones --don't have any rules, or that they are simply the result of their speakers' laziness, carelessness, or cussedness, linguists usually feel quite differently, both on empirical grounds, and on theoretical grounds. From the empirical ground, they say that dialects always turn out to have regular rules and the theoretical reason is that the successful acquisition and use of a language variety in a community of speakers would be impossible if language were not systematic and rule-governed. If every speaker could make up his or her own words and rules for pronunciation and grammar, communication between different speakers would be virtually impossible.

Note, too, that linguists use the term dialect as a neutral term to refer to the systematic usage of a group of speakers--those in a particular region or social class, for instance--and that the term has within linguistics none of the negative connotations which it sometimes has in everyday usage. For instance, meaning non-standard or substandard speech or the speech of people from other regions besides one’s own. Everyone speaks a dialect--at least one.

The third premise of linguistics which we think is important to emphasize is that in trying to understand and describe the system of a language, we give primary attention to speech rather than writing. One obvious reason for this is that the written language omits variable information about the pronunciation or sound system of a language. But there are other reasons, including the fact that people all over the world learn to speak before they learn to read or write, and the fact that competence in the spoken variety of at least one language is universal to all normal human beings, but literacy is a more restricted skill. In fact, some languages do not even have writing systems. Of course the written language is, to varying extents, related to the spoken language. Comparing and contrasting the two is a fascinating enterprise and some of the evidence which we will consider in our later class will be drawn from literature, as some of the excerpts considered above already demonstrate. But because non-linguists often attach greater authority to the written rather than the spoken word saying if it's in print, then it must be right. It’s important to emphasize that linguists tend to make precisely the opposite assumption.

The fourth and final premise of linguistics is that although languages are always systematic, variation among their speakers is absolutely normal. Although we sometimes think or act as if there were one entity called American or British English--and grammatical handbooks help to reinforce this fiction--we know from actual experience that the "language" varies from one region to another, from one social group to another, and even from one occasion and topic to another when region and social group are held constant.

The most significant variations or differences within languages occur at the level of the lexicon (vocabulary), phonology (pronunciation), grammar (morphology and syntax) and usage. Moreover, they are not just qualitative, in the sense that dialect A uses one feature and dialect B another, but they may also be quantitative, in the sense that dialect A uses one feature more often than dialect B does. (This is particularly true of phonological and grammatical features which have social or stylistic significance.) Finally, variation may be regional, social or stylistic in its origins, and the methods that linguistics have used to study each type differ slightly. We will now elaborate on these important concepts and provide examples.

Differences in vocabulary are one aspect of dialect diversity which people notice readily and comment on quite frequently. They are certainly common enough as markers of the differences between geographical areas or regions--for instance the fact that "a carbonated soft drink" might be called pop in the inland North and the West of the United States, soda in the Northeast, tonic in Eastern New England, and cold drink, drink or coca in various parts of the South.

Phonological variation refers to differences in pronunciation within and across dialects, for instance the fact that people from New York and New England might pronounce "greasy" with an s, while people from Virginia and points further South might pronounce it with a z.

What we have been referring to as grammatical variation really involves two sub-types: morphology and syntax. Morphology refers to the structure or forms of words, including the morphemes or minimal units of meaning which comprise words, for instance the morphemes {un} and {happy}in unhappy.

Syntax refers to the structure of larger units like phrases and sentences, including rules for combining and relating words in sentences, for instance the rule that in English yes/no questions, auxiliaries must occur at the beginning of sentences, before the subject noun phrase (e.g. Can John go? versus the statement John can go).

A fourth level, one which has only begun to receive serious attention over the past thirty years, involves what we might characterize, with deliberate vagueness, as language use.

Although different regions do have different conventions for language use, this is not something that has been systematically investigated by dialect geographers. Most of what is known about variation in language use has come from studies of different social groups, including men versus women and particularly, different national or ethnic groups.

Ok , after knowing the premises that the linguists operate under, and our next lecture we will discuss on the kinds of principles which are usually covered the first chapter of introductory textbooks on linguistics, see you next time.
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