English 256/Spring 2017

Some Universal Characteristics of Human Language

1. Wherever there are people, there is language.

2. All languages have grammar, i.e., a system of rules which define how linguistic units are combined.

3. All languages have highly complex grammars. There are NO 'primitive' languages.

4. The medium of language is sound. With one class of exceptions, all other media in which language is found are derivative of sound-based systems.

5. All languages have duality of patterning: discrete and meaningless units of sound are systematically combined to form meaningful units, and those meaningful units are combined into larger units.

6. The relationship between sounds and meanings is ARBITRARY.

7. Language is productive/creative: New sentences never before uttered in a language are constantly being produced or created.

8. Language is infinite: There is no limit to the number of sentences which can be produced, nor is there in principle any longest sentence.

9. All languages are complete: Every language has built in devices for expansion to cover areas of discourse not previously encountered, for example, compounding, blending, coining.

10. All languages are acquired by children in roughly the same amount of time and at roughly the same age and with the same degree of facility. The specific language acquired depends on the language(s) the child is exposed to.

11. All languages can be used to refer to things dissociated from the speech act in time and place.

12. Language is used voluntarily, not just as a response to stimuli.