Language Acquisition


Language Acquisition, the process by which a language is acquired by a child or adult. Human language is an extremely complex code, and the fact that children acquire their native language effortlessly and without explicit learning is still a source of much wonder. In order to be able to communicate using speech, children have to master many different levels of language: they have to learn how to articulate speech and how to hear very subtle differences between speech sounds, how to attach meaning to a string of speech sounds, and how to link words together to make meaningful sentences. Most children appear to achieve this great feat without difficulty: by the age of one week, they can distinguish their native language from an unknown language; by the age of four months, they recognize their name; by the age of one year they are producing their first words; and by the age of two and a half they are typically producing short sentences and can make themselves understood.


All theories of language acquisition agree that language acquisition is partly innate and partly dependent on the environment, but theories differ in terms of the relative importance of nature and nurture. Nativists such as Noam Chomsky believe that children are born with an innate knowledge of “universal grammar”, the common set of grammatical rules that all languages share at a deep level, and that the language environment of the child just acts as a trigger to get the process of language acquisition going. They argue that infants cannot learn the grammatical rules of their language from their language environment. This is because, in conversations, speakers often produce incorrect or incomplete sentences and infants have no way of knowing which of the sentences they hear do obey the grammatical rules of the language.

On the other hand, empiricists believe that, while infants are born well equipped to acquire language, they primarily learn language from their exposure to the speech they hear around them via a process of statistical learning. They suggest that infants detect recurring patterns in the speech stream and gradually learn the rules of the language. This learning is helped by the fact that, when speaking to babies, adults use a way of speaking (often called “motherese” or “child-directed speech”) that is clearer than normal speech. Child-directed speech is usually slower and more clearly articulated, with a strong emphasis on the important words in the sentence. The characteristics of child-directed speech also change as children develop in order to better match the stage of language acquisition of the child.

Another important question that has divided theorists is whether there is a critical period for language acquisition. Scientists such as Eric Lenneberg suggested that language could only be acquired normally if exposure to language occurred before a critical stage, thought to be puberty. Others believe that, rather than an abrupt cut-off, there is a sensitive period after which language acquisition is not impossible but becomes much more effortful. These theories are difficult to test experimentally because there are very few cases in which children suffer total language deprivation (for example, feral children), but studies of second-language acquisition (both oral and sign languages) suggest that earlier acquisition typically leads to more native-like language.


When acquiring language, children go through a number of stages. The age at which they reach these stages can vary from child to child but their order is fairly fixed whatever their native language. In the babbling stage, children will initially produce vowels sounds such as eee and ah, and then combinations of consonants and vowels such as ba or ma. Around the age of one to one and a half years, children reach the one-word stage, in which they start producing words linked to a meaning, such as “mama” and “doggie”. In the two-word stage, they start to join two words together and produce utterances such as “mummy sleep” or “see boy”. After this, children start making sentences with three or more words. At this stage, even though function words such as “a, the, at” may be missing, the word order that children use follows certain rules.

During the early stages of first-language acquisition, as well as learning the vocabulary and grammar rules of the language, children are also learning to produce the sounds of their language. Here too, there are stages of acquisition, and consonants produced at the front of the oral tract, such as /b/ as in “bat” are acquired earlier than consonants articulated at the back of the oral tract such as /k/ as in “cat”, or than consonant clusters such as /kl/ as in “climb”. When producing words, young children substitute easier phonemes for the difficult phonemes that they have not yet acquired. Although these substitutions may appear random, they follow quite consistent phonological rules. For example, a child might go through a stage of replacing /kl/ by the simpler consonant /t/ and will say tever for “clever”, time for “climb”, towey for “Chloë”. As the child gets older, these substitution rules gradually disappear.


Second-language acquisition is the acquisition of a second language, often in late childhood and adulthood. Languages differ in terms of their vocabulary, spelling, and grammatical rules. They also differ in the inventory of phonemes that they use. For example, a language such as Italian only uses 5 vowel sounds, whereas a language such as Swedish uses 19. During first-language acquisition, our ears get attuned to the phoneme inventory of our native language, and become much less sensitive to phonetic distinctions that do not occur in the language. As a result, an Italian speaker learning Swedish, for example, will have difficulty both in hearing some of the differences between Swedish vowels and in producing them. Second-language learners often get around this problem by substituting these foreign sounds with the closest sounds that occur in their native language and this leads to the impression of a foreign accent.

Credited images: modernqipao


Austro-Asiatic Languages

Austro-Asiatic Languages, important language family with two subfamilies: Munda, 21 languages spoken by several million people in India; and Mon-Khmer, divided into 8 branches (with many further subdivisions), 168 languages spoken by some 35 to 45 million people in South East Asia. Few of the languages have a written history. Among Mon-Khmer languages are Khmer, the national language of Cambodia; Mon, a related language spoken in parts of Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand; the six Nicobarese languages spoken by several thousands on the Nicobar Islands; and Vietnamese.

The Munda languages are polysyllabic and differ from other Austro-Asiatic languages in their word formation and sentence structure (see Indian Languages). In the Mon-Khmer subfamily, Khmer and Mon have borrowed many words from the Indian languages Sanskrit and Pali. In the Viet-Muong branch of Mon-Khmer, Vietnamese was heavily influenced by Chinese; it is monosyllabic and has a complex tone system, as do other Viet-Muong languages. A few other Mon-Khmer languages have simple tone systems; much more common, however, are differentiations of vowel quality—breathy, creaky, or normal. The sound systems of Austro-Asiatic languages are unusual in that they contain a large number of vowel sounds, often up to 35. Suffixes are not found in Mon-Khmer languages, but prefixes and infixes are common. In sentences, final particles may indicate the speaker’s attitude, and special modifiers called expressives convey images of colours, noises, and feelings. Some languages lack voiced stops such as g, d, and b. Words may end with palatized consonants such as ñ. Other distinctive sounds include imploded d and b, produced by suction of breath.

Mon and Khmer are written with Indic-derived alphabets which have been modified to suit their more complex phonology. Vietnamese was written for centuries with modified Chinese characters. In 1910, however, a system was adopted that uses the Roman alphabet with additional signs; invented in 1650, it was the earliest writing system to notate tones, for which it uses accent marks. Most other Austro-Asiatic languages have been written for less than a century, and, generally, literacy rates remain quite low.

Selected statistical data from Ethnologue: Languages of the World, SIL International.

More beautiful images of Cambodian stars:




Singing, the use of the human voice to produce music. In singing, the lungs act as an air reservoir and bellows, forcing air between the vocal cords of the larynx and causing them to vibrate, much like the double reed of an oboe. The resulting sound is amplified as it resonates in the cavities of the chest, neck, and head, and it is articulated (given vowels and consonants) by the singer’s lips, teeth, tongue, and palate in the same way as speech. Vocal training allows a singer to develop breath control, to regulate the degree of relaxation or tension in the body, and to resonate and articulate sound. Whether trained or not, singers in every culture exercise choice in their use of the voice. American, Swiss, and African Pygmy yodellers intuitively alternate rapidly between high and low registers, for example, and most men can produce falsetto tones without knowing that these tones depend on the only partial vibration of the vocal cords.


Among the world’s many singing styles, cultural choices are observable in the variations in tone colour, physical tension, and acoustical intensity. Cultural differences also exist in preferences for high- or low-pitched ranges, solo or choral singing, extensive or sparse melodic ornamentation, and the use or avoidance of ululation, yelps, growls, and other colourful voice modifications.

The rich variety of vocal styles found in the West today includes the trained, resonant, well-projected tonne of operatic singers; the relaxed, intimate sound of popular crooners; the tensely sung, high, ornamented melodic style of folk singers; the relaxed, subtly ornamented, rubato singing of jazz and blues musicians, sometimes augmented with rough, guttural effects; and the tense, electronically distorted sound of much rock singing. Where ancient Mediterranean and Asian civilizations once flourished, singing tends to be high-pitched, tense and ornamented, and solo singing predominates; within this broad geographical area, however, sounds vary from the wide-range, highly ornamented style of Indian classical singing to the nasal, extremely high, well-projected tone found in Chinese opera. In sub-Saharan Africa, where an abundance of choral music is found, low voices for women and high, penetrating voices for men are favoured. Many agricultural regions in central Europe also have strong choral traditions, characterized by a straightforward, open vocal tone.


In medieval European church music, high, clear-toned male voices were apparently favoured, resulting in a vocal quality that could help the listener hear the words that were being sung. The highest parts were sung by trebles (boy sopranos) and adult male falsettos, although by the 15th-century composers had begun to explore the bass range. The bel canto (Italian “beautiful song”) style that dominated Western singing from about 1650 to 1850 is thought to have developed in mid-16th century Italy as a result of new musical styles. The madrigals and other secular vocal genres that flowered in Italy required adult female voices to perform expressive, ornamented, often virtuosic melody lines. Inseparable from opera (which developed about 1600, and was based on the musical texture known as monody), the emerging style was also used in church music. Forbidden, however, to use female singers, the Church began to employ eunuchs, or castrati (singular, castrato)—men who could produce full-voiced adult sounds in the soprano and alto ranges. The castrato voice soon entered opera, dominating that form in the 18th century and falling out of use in the 19th.

Singing technique in the bel canto era was grounded in using the breath to regulate the intensity of sound and in the thorough knowledge of the different registers of the voice. In the 19th century larger concert halls and, eventually, new aesthetic goals, led to modifications in bel canto technique. Seeking to produce sounds that would fill large halls and balance the volume of expanded orchestras, teachers such as the Polish tenor Jean de Reszke and the Spaniard Manuel García (1805-1906) developed new techniques to increase vocal resonance. In the late 19th century composers such as the German Richard Wagner demanded heavier vocal colours: New vocal categories such as “dramatic soprano” and Heldentenor (German, “heroic tenor”) emerged.


Singers in early 20th-century music-hall revues and operettas drew on operatic singing techniques. The invention of the microphone enabled a soft, intimate vocal tone to be amplified and projected into a large hall, thus making possible the art of crooners such as the American Bing Crosby and torch singers such as Morgana King. By the 1920s and 1930s Afro-American vocal colours had become prominent through blues and jazz singing, but as late as the 1940s and 1950s white popular singers continued to reflect European classical roots. By the 1960s, however, American and British popular singing styles were permeated with Afro-American and Appalachian folk music traits. In concert music, composers experimented with styles such as Sprechstimme (intoned speech with melodic contours), as well as with whispers, shouts, rough sounds, and other vocal colours formerly excluded from Western art singing.



Indo-European Languages


Indo-European Languages, the most widely spoken family of languages in the world (although not the largest language family in the world), containing the following nine subfamilies: Albanian, Armenian, Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Greek, Indo-Iranian, Italic (including the Romance languages), Slavic; and five extinct subfamilies, Anatolian (including Hittite), Phrygian, Thracian, Tocharian, and an Unclassified group (including Venetic, which some linguists believe to be an Italic language). Indo-European languages were first spoken in Europe and southern Asia and, because of European colonialism, are now widespread throughout the world.


Proof that these highly diverse languages are members of a single family was largely accumulated during a 50-year period around the turn of the 19th century. The extensive Sanskrit and Ancient Greek literature (older than those of any other Indo-European language except the then-undeciphered Hittite) preserved characteristics of the basic Indo-European forms and pointed to the existence of a common parent language. By 1800 the close relationship between Sanskrit, Ancient Greek, and Latin had been demonstrated. Hindu grammarians had systematically classified the formative elements of their ancient language. To their studies were added extensive grammatical and phonetic comparisons of European languages. Further studies led to specific conclusions about the sounds and grammar of the assumed parent language (called Proto-Indo-European), the reconstruction of that hypothetical language, and estimates about when it began to break up into separate languages. (By 2000 bc, for example, Greek, Hittite, and Sanskrit were distinct languages, but the differences between them are such that the original tongue must have been fairly unified about a millennium earlier or in about 3000 bc.) The decipherment of Hittite texts (identified as Indo-European in 1915) and the discovery of Tocharian in the 1890s (spoken in medieval Chinese, or Eastern, Turkistan, and identified as Indo-European in 1908) added new insights into the development of the family and the probable character of Proto-Indo-European.

The early Indo-European studies established many principles basic to comparative linguistics. One of the most important of these was that the sounds of related languages correspond to one another in predictable ways under specified conditions (see Grimm’s Law and Verner’s Law for examples). According to one such pattern, in some Indo-European subfamilies—Albanian, Armenian, Indo-Iranian, Slavic, and (partially) Baltic—certain presumed k sounds of Proto-Indo-European became sibilants such as s and ś (a sh sound). The common example of this pattern is the Avestan (ancient Iranian) word satem (“100”), as opposed to the Latin word centum (“100”, pronounced “kentum”). Formerly, the Indo-European languages were routinely characterized as belonging either to a Western (centum) or an Eastern (satem) division. Most linguists, however, no longer automatically divide the family in two in this way, partly because they wish to avoid implying that the family underwent an early split into two major branches, and partly because of this trait, although prominent, is only one of several significant patterns that cut across different subfamilies.


In general, the evolution of the Indo-European languages displays a progressive decay of infection. Thus, Proto-Indo-European seems to have been highly inflected, as are ancient languages such as Sanskrit, Avestan, and classical Greek; in contrast, comparatively modern languages, such as English, French, and Persian, have moved towards an analytic system (using prepositional phrases and auxiliary verbs). In large part the decay of infection was a result of the loss of the final syllables of many words over time, so that modern Indo-European words are often much shorter than the ancestral Proto-Indo-European words. Many languages also developed new forms and grammatical distinctions. Changes in the meanings of individual words have been extensive.


The original meanings of only a limited number of hypothetical Proto-Indo-European words can be stated with much certainty; derivatives of these words occur with consistent meanings in most Indo-European languages. This small vocabulary suggests a New Stone Age or perhaps an early metal-using culture with farmers and domestic animals. The identity and location of this culture have been the object of much speculation. Archaeological discoveries in the 1960s, however, suggest the prehistoric Kurgan culture. Located in the steppes west of the Ural Mountains between 5000 and 3000 bc, this culture had diffused as far as Eastern Europe and northern Iran by about 2000 bc.

See also Franz Bopp; Jacob Grimm; Ferdinand de Saussure; Philology.

Selected statistical data from Ethnologue: Languages of the World, SIL International.


Germanic Languages

Germanic Languages, subfamily of the Indo-European languages consisting of around 58 languages. Germanic languages are spoken by more than 480 million people in Northern and Western Europe, North America, South Africa, and Australia. In their structure and evolution they fall into three branches:

1. East Germanic (extinct): the Gothic language and some other extinct languages. Substantial information survives only for Gothic.
2. North Germanic: West Scandinavian group includes—the Icelandic language, the Nynorsk Norwegian language, and Faroese; East Scandinavian group includes—the Danish language, Bokmål Norwegian, and the Swedish language.
3. West Germanic, the largest group in this category: English group—the English language and Scots (See also American English); Frisian group—the Frisian language; Low Saxon-Low Frankonian group-the Dutch Language, the Flemish Language, Low German (Plattdeutsch), and Afrikaans; High German group—the German language or High German, the Yiddish language, and others.

The Germanic languages are grouped together because of the similarities that exist between their phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, and because they are thought to have derived from one ancient language (Proto-Germanic). Their similarities can be attributed to the first Germanic sound shift, which occurred when the Germanic language separated from Indo-European (See Grimm’s Law; Verner’s Law).

In terms of unwritten regional dialects, the Scandinavian languages (North Germanic group) form a single speech area of high mutual intelligibility (except for Icelandic, which was long isolated and retains many archaisms), within which Danish has diverged the most. The West Germanic languages form another dialect continuum. In both areas, speech varies gradually from one village to the next, although over wide distances greater differences accumulate. Also, in both areas more than one literary norm arose, corresponding to political and historical divisions. These norms are what are usually meant by terms such as Swedish language. See also Runes.

Selected statistical data from Ethnologue: Languages of the World, SIL International.

The most beautiful Images of Ivanka Trump:

Ivanka Trump
Entertainment Weekly Pre-Emmy Party – Arrivals
Los Angeles, CA USA
August 27, 2006
Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JANUARY 15: Socialite Ivanka Trump arrives at the NBC/Universal Golden Globe After Party held at the Beverly Hilton on January 15, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)




Deafness, most simply defined as an inability to hear. This definition, however, gives no real impression of how deafness affects function in society for the hearing-impaired person. The condition affects all age groups, and its consequences range from minor to severe. Profoundly deaf people have a hearing loss so severe that they cannot benefit from mechanical amplification, whereas hard-of-hearing people often can benefit, to varying degrees, from the use of such amplification.


Four types of hearing loss may be described. The first, conductive hearing loss, is caused by diseases or obstruction in the outer or middle ear and is not usually severe. Causes of conductive deafness include wax in the ears; infection of the external ear canal; perforated eardrum; glue ear with the loss of free movement of the ossicles (three small bones in the middle ear); otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear); a blockage in the Eustachian tube; and otosclerosis (hereditary form of deafness caused by bone growing into the space separating the middle and inner ear). A person with a conductive hearing loss can generally be helped by a hearing aid. Often conductive hearing losses can also be corrected through surgical or medical treatment. The second kind of deafness, sensorineural hearing loss or nerve deafness, results from damage to the sensory hair cells or the nerves of the inner ear and can range in severity from mild to profound deafness. Such loss occurs at certain sound frequencies more than others, resulting in distorted sound perceptions even when the sound level is amplified. Causes of sensorineural deafness include noise damage (acoustic trauma); ageing; Ménière’s disease; aminoglycoside antibiotics; certain diuretic drugs; aspirin; anti-malarial drugs; and acoustic nerve tumour. The third kind, mixed hearing loss, is caused by problems in both the outer or middle ear and the inner ear. Finally, central hearing loss is the result of damage to or impairment of the nerves of the central nervous system.

Deafness, in general, can be caused by illness or accident, or it may be inherited. Continuous or frequent exposure to sound levels above 85 decibels (dB), such as that produced by loud rock music (where dB can exceed 100 dB), can cause a progressive and eventually severe sensorineural hearing loss. A hearing aid may not help a person with a sensorineural loss.


Until the Middle Ages, most people believed that deaf people were incapable of learning language or of being educated in any way. By the 16th century, however, a few philosophers and educators began to reconsider the condition of deaf people. A Spanish Benedictine monk, Pedro de Ponce, is considered the first teacher of deaf students, and, in 1620, Juan Paulo Bonet, another Spaniard, wrote the first book on educating deaf people. The book contained a manual alphabet similar to the one used today.

During the 18th century, schools were established for deaf children in France by Abbé Charles Michel de l’Épée and, in Germany, by the educator Samuel Heinicke. The conflict that exists to this day as to whether deaf children should be educated by oral (lip-reading and speech) or manual (signs and finger spelling) methods dates from this time. The Abbé de l’Épée was a manualist and Heinicke an oralist; each knew of and studied the other’s methods.

Unless provided early with special training, people profoundly deaf from birth are incapable of learning to speak. Deafness from birth causes severe sensory deprivation, which can seriously affect a person’s intellectual capacity or ability to learn. A child who sustains a hearing loss early in life may lack the language stimulation experienced by children who can hear. The critical period for neurological plasticity is up to age seven. Failure of acoustic sensory input during this period results in failure of formation of synaptic connections and, possibly, an irremediable situation for the child. A delay in learning language may cause a deaf child’s academic progress to be slower than that of hearing children. The academic lag tends to be cumulative, so that a deaf adolescent may be four or more academic years behind his or her hearing peers. Deaf children who receive early language stimulation through sign language, however, generally achieve academically alongside their hearing peers.


Increasingly, the philosophy of total communication is being followed in schools and classes for deaf children. This philosophy encourages the combined use of whatever communication methods are appropriate to the deaf child, including speech, lip-reading, signing, Cued Speech, finger spelling, art, electronic media, mime, gesture, and reading and writing. Finger spelling is a system in which hand shapes and positions correspond to the letters of the written alphabet so that fingerspelling can be called “writing in the air”. Sign language (SL) is a language based on gestures, lip and eyebrow movements, and grammatical rules. Most countries have their own sign language, each as different as the languages spoken by the hearing is, and many with different dialects. Probably the most widely used are American Sign Language (ASL), which has no grammatical similarities with the English language whatsoever and takes a lot of its vocabulary from Old French Sign Language. British Sign Language (BSL) is used in the United Kingdom, Indian Sign Language in India, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) in New Zealand, and so on (see Sign Language).

The signs in SL are word-like units with both concrete and abstract meanings. Signs are made by either one or both hands, which assume distinctive shapes and movements. Spatial relations, directions, and orientation of the hand movements, as well as facial expressions and body movement, make up the grammar of SL. A number of invented (that is, not native languages) manual communication systems use the sign vocabulary of SL in combination with other hand movements to approximate the syntax and grammar of Standard English (see Paget-Gorman Sign System). Cued Speech is a system in which eight hand movements indicate the pronunciation of every syllable being spoken. It is a speech-based method that supplements lip-reading. Oral communication is the term used by educators to denote the teaching of speech as an expressive skill to deaf children. It means that speech and lip-reading are the only means of communication used for the transmission of thoughts and ideas.


Increasing numbers of deaf students are pursuing post-secondary educational programmes at tertiary education establishments that have special provisions and programmes for deaf students.

Today deaf people are employed in almost every vocation, except those where the good hearing is an obvious requirement—for example, being a commercial pilot. Deaf people are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and members of the clergy, as well as secretaries, accountants, chemists, farmers, and labourers. Discrimination does exist, as it does for other minority groups, but employers are increasingly hiring deaf people and making adjustments for them, such as adding special telephone devices or providing secretary-interpreters or other aids that enable the deaf employee to function effectively in work.


Speech and Speech Disorders


Speech and Speech Disorders. Speech is a learned system of communication requiring the coordinated use of voice, articulation, and language skills. Although many animals are physiologically able to use the voice for communicating a wide range of simple messages to others of their species, only humans are able to produce true speech (as opposed to the skills in speech mimicry of such birds as parrots and mynae). In a broad sense, speech is synonymous with language.


Voice, or phonation, is the sound produced in the voice box, or larynx, by the expiration of air through vibrating vocal cords. Voice is defined in terms of pitch, quality, and intensity, or loudness. Optimum pitch, which means the most appropriate pitch for speaking, varies with each individual. Both optimum pitch and range of pitch are fundamentally determined by the length and mass of the vocal cords; within these limits, pitch may be varied by changing the combination of air pressure and tension of the vocal cords. This combination determines the frequency at which the vocal cords vibrate; the greater the frequency of vibration, the higher the pitch.

Another aspect of voice is resonance. After voice is produced, it is resonated in the chest, throat, and cavities of the mouth. The quality of the voice is determined by resonance and the manner in which the vocal cords vibrate; intensity is controlled by resonance and by the strength of the vibrations of the vocal cords.


Articulation refers to the speech sounds that are produced to form the words of language. The articulating mechanism comprises the lips, tongue, teeth, jaw, and palate. Speech is articulated by interrupting or shaping both the vocalized and unvocalized airstream through movement of the tongue, lips, lower jaw, and soft palate. The teeth are used to produce some specific speech sounds.


Language is an arbitrary system of abstract symbols agreed upon by any group of people to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Symbols may be verbal or non-verbal, that is, either spoken or written; additionally, non-verbal symbols may be gestures and body movements (See also Sign Language). In spoken language the skills of articulation are used; in written language, spelling is substituted for articulation. Both auditory and visual skills are essential to the comprehension and expression of language.

Rate and rhythm should also be considered in the evaluation of speech. Connected speech should not be so rapid or so slow that it interferes with comprehension. Rhythm is judged mostly in terms of fluency. Good or so-called normal speech cannot be exactly measured or described, however; it can be judged essentially only as it seems to be suitable for the sex, size, age, personality, and needs of the speaker.


Because speech is a learned function, any interference with learning ability may be expected to cause a speech impairment. The most common interfering conditions are certain neuroses and psychoses, mental retardation, and brain damage, whether congenital or acquired. Articulation itself may be impaired by such physical disabilities as cleft palate, cerebral palsy, or loss of hearing; it may likewise deteriorate as a result of paralysis of any part of the articulating mechanism. Impairment may also be the consequence of unconscious imitation of poor speech models or inadequate perception of auditory stimuli.

Voice disorders, so-called dysphonias, may be the product of disease or accidents that affect the larynx. They may also be caused by such physical anomalies as incomplete development or other congenital defects of the vocal cords. The most frequent cause, however, is chronic abuse of the vocal apparatus, either by overuse or by improper production of the voice; this may result in such pathological changes as growths on or thickening and swelling of the vocal cords.

Disorders of rate and rhythm are generally either psychogenic or have a basis in some neurological disturbance. A notable example of a neurological condition is Parkinson’s disease.


A speech therapist is a specialist who has been trained to diagnose and treat the various disorders of speech, language, and voice. Because physical, neurological, or psychological conditions often are either responsible for or are related to the speech disorder, the therapist often works as a member of a team, which may include a neurologist, an otolaryngologist (ear and throat specialist), a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a psychiatric social worker, and a speech pathologist.

Speech disorders caused by disease, injury, or malformation fall within the province of the doctor and surgeon. Once these defects are remedied, the speech therapist is responsible for teaching the speech-handicapped person to hear and monitor speech accurately, to think appropriately in verbal terms, and to exercise control over speech disordered by incoordination or emotional influences.

Inasmuch as a hearing loss (see Deafness) will prevent learning by imitation of essential speech patterns and sounds and prevent the individual from monitoring his or her own errors, one of the therapist’s most valuable techniques is the measurement of hearing. Because intellectual capacity and the ability to handle language are closely related, the therapist must also understand how intelligence develops in a young child. The most obvious emotional speech disorder is stuttering, which is often caused by anxiety. The speech therapist uses a programme of speech exercise to reduce this disability. Where necessary, the aid of a psychologist is enlisted; in extreme cases, a psychiatrist assists with psychotherapy.




Phonetics, a branch of linguistics concerned with the production, transmission, and perception of speech sounds. The main field of study is articulatory phonetics but other fields are experimental phonetics and acoustic phonetics. Basic phonetic principles are often applied to other linguistics disciplines, including sociolinguistics (for example, when variations in pronunciation according to social motivations are studied) and historical linguistics (for example, when pronunciation changes are investigated).


This describes speech sounds genetical, that is, with respect to the ways by which the vocal organs modify the air stream in the mouth, nose, and throat in order to produce a sound. Articulatory phonetics usually takes into account the following factors when describing a sound: air flow, vocal cords, the position of the soft palate, place of articulation, the manner of articulation, the position of the lips. All the vocal activities involved in a sound need not be described, but only a selection of them, such as the place and manner of articulation. Sounds are represented by phonetic symbols and their articulatory definitions. These are abbreviated descriptions of the selected activities taking place during the production of a certain sound. The symbols most commonly used are those adopted by the International Phonetic Association (IPA) and they are written in square brackets “[k]” (phonemic symbols are written between oblique strokes “/k/”). Diacritics can be added to denote, for example, place of articulation.

The organs of articulation are either movable or stationary. Movable organs such as lips, jaws, tongue, soft palate, or vocal cords are called articulators. Stationary parts include the teeth, the alveolar arch and behind them, the hard palate.

A Air Flow

During the production of a sound, the flow of air (in or out of the lungs) determines the type of sound produced. Most speech sounds are made using pulmonic egressive air (air flowing out of the lungs). However, some languages use sounds that do not involve pulmonic (lung) air. These include the click sounds of the Khoisan languages, and glottalic sounds (where the glottis controls the air flow) common in African and Native American languages.

B Vocal Cords

A sound is also affected by the action of the vocal cords, which can vibrate (or not) during sound production. The vocal cords are located in the larynx. A sound is labelled voiced if the vocal cords are vibrating, and unvoiced or voiceless when the absence of vibration (where the cords stay in an open position) is noted. The contrast between a voiced and voiceless sound can be seen in the difference between [b] and [p]. Another action in the vocal cord area is that of a closed glottis (the vocal cords are tightly closed), used in the production of a glottal stop (as in, for example, the “dropped” [t] sound in Cockney English butter).

C Soft Palate

The position of the soft palate (or velum) during the production of a sound determines whether that sound is nasal or oral. When the soft palate is lowered the air is allowed to pass through the nose thus producing a nasal sound (as in English [n]). If the soft palate is raised the air flows out through the mouth, producing an oral sound (as in most English consonants and all English vowels). Air can also flow out through both the nasal and oral cavities when the velum is lowered. This is done during the production of nasal vowels as in the vowel in French bon.

D Place of Articulation

The lips, teeth and hard palate are all places of articulation: the point at which a sound is produced. Sounds made by touching two articulators, for example, the bilabial [p], which requires both lips, or those made by an articulator and a stationary part of the vocal apparatus, are named according to the organs that make the juncture. Reference to the tongue, when it is an articulator, is not expressed; for example, the [t] sound, which is produced when the tongue touches the alveolar ridge, is called alveolar because this is the place of articulation. The hard palate is the place of articulation in the palatal semivowel sound [j], as in the first sound of English yes.

E Manner of Articulation

The manner of articulation is determined by the way in which the speaker affects the air stream with his or her movable organs. This action may consist of stopping the air completely (plosive, for example, [p]); making contact with the tongue but leaving space on either side of it (lateral, for example, [l]); making merely a momentary light contact (flap, as in the Spanish “r” in pero); leaving just enough space to allow a continuing stream of air to produce friction as it passes through (fricative, for example, [f] or [s]); or permitting the air stream to pass over the centre of the tongue without oral friction (vocal: all vowel sounds).

Vowels of different quality are produced by varying the position of the tongue on its vertical axis (high, mid, low) and on its horizontal axis (front, central, back). The speaker may move the tongue gradually upwards and to the front or upwards and to the back, making diphthongal off-glides. For example, a speaker moves the tongue from low to high in pronouncing the first two vowels of Aïda, and from back to front in pronouncing successively the vowel sounds in “who” and “he”. The tongue positions for the vowel sounds [i:] (as in flee), [a] (as in northern UK English cat), [u:] (as in root), and [ ] (as in pot) are the highest and lowest cardinal points on the left and right of the Cardinal Vowel system quadrangle, a framework of vowels at fixed points that can be used as a starting point to determine where an individual speaker’s vowel sounds lie. The vowel sound is known as schwa (as in the first vowel sound in English ago) has the most central position.

When the speaker gives a strong puff of air after the contact, this is called aspiration. If the hand is placed on the lips, aspiration may be observed in the [ph] sound produced at the beginning of the word pie in English (note that a superscript h is used to represent the quality of aspiration when transcribing sounds). In contrast, French [p] sounds characteristically lack aspiration.

F Position of the Lips

The position of the lips is used to describe some sounds, particularly vowels. The quality of a vowel depends on whether the speaker keeps the lips rounded or unrounded and the degree to which the lips are open or closed (using the jaw). The tip of the tongue can also affect vowel quality, as it can be flat or curled up (retroflex, as in some South Asian languages).


Also referred to as Instrumental Phonetics, this is the physical science that collects measurable data about the production of vocal sounds by recording and analysing speech and vocal organs using instruments such as the kymograph, which traces curves of pressure; the spectrograph, which analyses sound waves and represents them visually; the oscilloscope, which has a function similar to a spectrograph but is technologically more advanced; and the X-ray, which allows physiological study. The amount of detail in the measurement of vocal sounds is limited only by the precision of the instrument. Differences are found in every vocal sound.


This is the study of the physical properties of speech, that is, speech waves as the output of a resonator (the resonator being the vocal tract coupled with other sources). Sound waves are closer than articulations to the essence of communication, for the same auditory impression can be produced by a normal articulation and by an entirely different sound apparatus, like that of parrots. A spectrograph may be used to record significant characteristics of speech waves and to determine the effect of articulatory activities. Parts of this record of speech waves can be cut out experimentally and the rest played back as sound in order to determine which features suffice to identify the sounds of a language.


This is a study of the sounds of speech in their primary function, which is to make vocal signs that refer to different things sound different. It is the focus of the branch of linguistics called phonology, although phonetic analysis contributes to this study. The phonemes of a particular language are those minimal distinct units of sound that can distinguish meaning in that language. In English, the p sound is a phoneme because it is the smallest unit of sound that can make a difference of meaning if, for example, it replaces the initial sound of “bill”, “till”, or “dill”, making the word “pill”. The vowel sound of “pill” is also a phoneme because its distinctness in sound makes “pill”, which means one thing, sound different from “pal”, which means another. Two different sounds, reflecting distinct articulatory activities, may represent two phonemes in one language but only a single phoneme in another. Thus phonetic [r] and [l] are distinct phonemes in English, whereas these sounds represent a single phoneme in Japanese, just as [ph] and [p] in “pie” and “spy”, respectively, represent a single phoneme in English although these sounds are phonetically distinct.


Phonetics is one of the oldest branches of linguistics. The earliest contributions to phonetics were made more than 2,000 years ago by Sanskrit scholars such as the grammarian Panini, who dealt with articulation to keep the pronunciation of ancient rituals unchanged. The first phonetician of the modern world was the Dane J. Matthias, author of De Litteris (1586). The English mathematician John Wallis, who instructed deaf-mutes, was the first (1653) to classify vowels according to their place of articulation. The vowel triangle, the precursor to the quadrangle, was invented in 1781 by the German C. F. Hellwag. The Cardinal Vowel system was laid out by the British phonetician Daniel Jones. Ten years later, the Austrian mechanician Wolfgang von Kempelen invented the machine that produced speech sounds. The German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, who wrote Sensations of Tone (1863), inaugurated the study of acoustical phonetics; the Frenchman Abbé Jean Pierre Rousselot was a pioneer of experimental phonetics. Late in the 19th century, the theory of the phoneme was advanced by the Pole Jan Baudouin de Courtenay and the Swiss Ferdinand de Saussure. In the United States, the linguist Leonard Bloomfield and the anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir contributed greatly to phonetic theory. The linguist Roman Jakobson developed a theory of the universal characteristics of all phonemic systems.

See also Language.




Linguistics, the scientific study of language. Such study may focus on the sounds, words, and grammar of specific languages; the relationships between languages; or the universal characteristics of all languages. It may also analyse the sociological, psychological, and ethnological aspects of communication.

Languages may be described and analysed from several points of view. A diachronic, or historical, approach considers changes in a language over an extended time period. The study of the development of Latin into the modern Romance languages is an example of diachronic linguistics. In contrast, languages may be studied as they exist at a specific time; an example might be Parisian French in the 1980s. This is called a synchronic approach. Modern linguistics encompasses studies from both the diachronic and synchronic points of view; historical language studies usually focused on a diachronic approach.

Linguistic studies may also be theoretical or applied. Theoretical linguistics is concerned with building language models or theories to describe languages or to explain their structures. Applied linguistics, on the other hand, uses the findings of scientific language study and puts them to practical use in areas such as language teaching, dictionary preparation, or speech therapy. One area that proved fruitful for applied linguistics in the late 20th century was computerized machine translation and automatic speech recognition.


There are many different ways to examine and describe individual languages and changes in languages. Nevertheless, each approach usually takes into account a language’s sounds (phonetics and phonology), word structure (morphology), and sentence structure (syntax). Most analyses also treat vocabulary and the semantics (meaning) of a language.

Phonetics is the study of all speech sounds and the ways in which they are produced, transmitted, and received. Phoneticists looking at the articulation of a sound take into account the flow of air used to produce a sound, the state of the vocal cords at that precise moment, whether it is nasal or oral (that is, the position of the soft palate), the point of articulation (lips, teeth, hard palate), manner of articulation (at the point of articulation), and the position of the lips (for example, open, closed, rounded). Phonology, on the other hand, is the study and identification of the meaningful sounds of a language (not every possible sound in a language). The smallest units of sound that carry meaning in a language are labelled phonemes. Phonological researchers use a system of minimal pairs to establish the phonemes in a language. For example, the words should and would in English are minimal pairs (as are should and shed, and should and shook): by substituting sh for w the meaning of the word is changed, implying that the sounds sh /∫/ and w /w/ are phonemes in English.

Morphology is concerned with the smallest grammatical units, called morphemes, that carry meaning in a language. These may be word roots (as the English cran-, in cranberry) or individual words (in English, bird, ask, charm); word endings (as the English -s for plural: birds, -ed for past tense: asked, -ing for present participle: charming); prefixes and suffixes (for example, English pre-, as in preadmission, or -ness, in openness); and even internal alterations indicating such grammatical categories as tense (English sing-sang), number (English mouse-mice), or case. Morphology is a branch of grammar, as is the syntax. In contrast to morphology, syntax refers to the relations among word elements in a phrase or sentence, the smallest unit of analysis usually being a word. For example, English word order is most commonly subject-verb-object: Mary baked pies. The order pies baked Mary is not meaningful English syntax.

The study of semantics addresses meaning in language. Other approaches (philosophical, logical) also study semantics and have an influence on the linguistic approach, but the latter is less restricted and takes an objective and systematic view of meaning in all languages. In the past, there were three main schools of thought as regards meaning and language. The first reflects Plato’s view that words directly refer to things, although it is easy to find many words that do not obviously relate to things. Another theory disputes a direct relationship between words and things, and instead argues the link between words and things is in our minds: a concept. This theory was promoted by Charles Ogden and I. A. Richards in the 1920s. The behaviourist outlook on semantics was developed by American linguist Leonard Bloomfield in the 1930s, who said that the meaning of language can only be known if the situation of an utterance is taken into consideration, that is, if a stimulus and response for each utterance is identified. Modern linguistics, however, rather than concentrating on what “meaning” is, analyses the way utterances are used in specific contexts.


From antiquity until the 19th century, the philological approach to written language was the dominant form of linguistics.

As early as the 5th-century bc, the Indian grammarian Panini described and analysed the sounds and words of Sanskrit, offering detailed phonetic descriptions. His work is the basis of many modern linguistic concepts. Later, the ancient Greeks and Romans introduced the concept of grammatical categories. The Greeks and Romans did not, however, compare languages with one another.

Centuries later, with the development of printing, the translation of the Bible into many languages, and the subsequent development of new literature, the comparison of languages became possible. In the early 18th century, the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz suggested that European, Asian, and Egyptian languages might have a common ancestor, thereby stimulating the beginnings of the field of comparative philology or comparative linguistics. (Leibniz’s postulation was later proved to be partly correct and partly incorrect.)

Towards the end of the 18th century, Sir William Jones, an English scholar, observed that Sanskrit bore similarities to Greek and Latin, and proposed that the three languages might have developed from a common source. Language scholars in the early 19th century took this hypothesis much further. Jacob Grimm, the German philologist, and Rasmus Christian Rask, a Danish philologist, noted that when the sounds of one language corresponded in a regular pattern to similar sounds in related words in another language, the correspondences were consistent. For example, the initial sounds of Latin pater (“father”) and ped- (“foot”) correspond regularly to English father and foot. See also Grimm’s Law.

By the late 19th century much analysis had been done on sound correspondences. A group of European language scholars known as the neogrammarians put forth the theory that not only were sound correspondences between related languages regular, but any exceptions to these phonetic rules could develop only from borrowings from another language (or from an additional regular rule of sound change). For example, Latin d should correspond to English t, as in dentalis: tooth. The English word dental, however, has a d- sound. The neogrammarian conclusion was that English borrowed dental from Latin, whereas tooth (which has the expected or regularly corresponding t) was a “native” English word.

This method of comparing related words in different languages to discover the existence of regular sound changes became known as the comparative method. It served as a tool in establishing language families, that is, groups of related languages. Using the comparative method, linguists posited an Indo-European family composed of numerous subfamilies, or branches. It is to this family that English, one of the Germanic languages, belongs. See Indo-European Languages.

The description of regular sound correspondences also made it possible to compare different forms of a given language as spoken in different regions and by different groups of people. This field is known as dialectology; it may focus on differences in sounds, grammatical construction, vocabulary, or all three. For example, studies of dialect have delineated such broad American dialect areas as Northern, Midland, and Southern.


The study of linguistics developed in several directions in the 20th century.

A General, Descriptive, and Structural Linguistics

General, or theoretical, linguistics looks at languages in general, while in descriptive linguistics the linguist gathers data from native speakers of a particular language and analyses the components of their speech, organizing the data into separate hierarchical levels of language, for example, phonology, morphology, and syntax (these types of category and concepts are outlined in general linguistic studies). Descriptive analysis was first developed by the German-American anthropologist Franz Boas and the American anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir when they confronted the problem of describing hitherto unrecorded Native American languages. Challenging conventional methods and techniques of linguistic description that were based on written texts, they formulated methods for identifying the distinctive, or meaningful, sounds of a language and the minimal units of sound combination that carry meaning (for example, word roots and affixes).

Building on the work of descriptive linguists like Boas and Sapir, the American linguist Leonard Bloomfield proposed a behaviouristic analysis of language, avoiding semantic considerations as much as possible. He emphasized techniques to be used to discover the sounds and grammatical structure of unrecorded languages. Structuralism is the name given to systems of language analysis like Bloomfield’s.

While American structuralism concentrated on the utterances of speech, in Europe structuralism emphasized an underlying, abstract system of language structure that was distinguishable from actual instances of speech. This approach began in 1916 with the posthumous publication of the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist known as the founder of structuralism. Saussure distinguished between the concepts of langue (French for “language”) and parole (“word”). By langue he meant the knowledge that speakers of a language share about what is grammatical in that language. Parole referred to the actual spoken utterances of an individual speaker of the language.

B Prague School Linguistics

Proponents of another form of linguistics that flourished in Prague in the 1930s looked outside the structure of a language and attempted to explain the relation between what is spoken and the context. The Prague school linguists stressed the function of elements within a language and emphasized that the description of a language must include how messages are put across. In the area of phonology, the concept of distinctive features, which divides sounds into their component articulatory and acoustic elements, has been highly regarded and adopted by other schools of language analysis.

C Transformational-Generative Grammar

In the mid-20th century the American linguist Noam Chomsky proposed that linguistics should go beyond describing the structure of languages; it should provide an explanation of how sentences in any language are interpreted and understood. The process, he believed, could be accounted for by a universal human grammar (that is, a model or theory of linguistic knowledge or competence). Linguistic competence refers to the innate, often unconscious, knowledge that allows people to produce and understand sentences, many of which they have never heard before. A system of language analysis that makes it possible to generate all the grammatically acceptable sentences of a language and eliminate ungrammatical constructions is called a generative grammar and was a concept first introduced by Chomsky in the 1950s, although the meaning of the term “generative” has broadened somewhat since then.

According to Chomsky, there are rules of universal grammar and other rules for particular languages. In specific languages, both universal and particular rules are utilized. These rules allow for sentence elements to be arranged in different ways (for example, “Mary hit the ball”, and “The ball was hit by Mary”). A grammar that takes basic, underlying semantic units and transforms them to produce sentences with recognizable and understandable order and units is called a transformational grammar. A transformational-generative grammar is, therefore, a grammar that generates all the acceptable sentences of a language and uses rules, called transformations, to transform, or change, the underlying elements into what a person actually says.

D Modern Comparative Linguistics

Comparative linguistics in the 20th and 21st centuries has been concerned with establishing language families in areas such as North and South America, New Guinea, and Africa. In such regions it has only recently become possible to gather the vast amounts of data that are needed to reconstruct the former stages of current languages and thereby to trace family relationships. Modern comparative linguistics is also involved in a search for linguistic universals. Interest has been renewed in the typological characteristics of the world’s languages, and linguists are now comparing languages with regard to their syntactic structures and grammatical categories (such as gender languages versus non-gender languages, and languages with subjects versus languages with topics). In the Language Universals Project at Stanford University, for example, the American linguist Joseph Greenberg and his colleagues have shown that languages that share a basic word order (such as subject-verb-object or object-verb-subject or object-subject-verb) also share other features of structure. Such comparative studies reflect an effort to discover the range of possibilities in the phonological, structural, and semantic systems of the languages of the world.

E Psycholinguistics

The field of psycholinguistics merges overlapping interests from the studies of psychology and linguistics, and also pragmatics, neurolinguistics, and sociolinguistics. Psycholinguists study the psychological processes (such as memory) believed to affect linguistic behaviour. They are concerned with such topics as language acquisition in children, speech perception, brain disorders that affect language (including aphasia), speech disorders, and neurolinguistics (language and the brain).

F Sociolinguistics and Ethnolinguistics

Simply defined, sociolinguistics is the study of the relationship between language and society. Sociolinguistic studies attempt to describe how speakers from varying social groups (taking into account age, sex, ethnicity, occupation, religion, and class, if applicable) use the rules of speech appropriately in different situations. For example, one study might focus on how one knows when it is proper to address a person as Ms, Mrs, Mary, Doctor, or simply as “you”, while another may look at the speech patterns of Swahili/Lingala/French multilinguals in different contexts.

Sociolinguists believe that the mechanism of language change can be understood by studying the social forces that motivate using different forms in different circumstances. For example, in certain dialects of American English, the pronunciation of the r-sound after vowels (postvocalic r) has been linked to social class. In expressions such as “fourth floor”, some people pronounce the r and others do not, and the usage of the r-sound is claimed to be consistent within a given socio-economic niche. According to a pioneering variationist study by William Labov of English as used in New York, people aspiring to move from the lower middle class to the upper middle class attach prestige to pronouncing the r after vowels. Sometimes they even overcorrect their speech to pronounce r where those they emulate may not.

The studies of ethnolinguistics and sociolinguistics overlap to a certain extent. Ethnolinguistics is the study of language and culture and of the relationship of language with ethnicity (it therefore draws on linguistics, anthropology, and sociolinguistics). However, the study of culture implies a link with that of society, which is where the differences between the two disciplines become blurred. Sociolinguistics can also be said to be similar to psycholinguistics in that both are interested in some extent in language variation and change and in language universals.

See also Grammar; Language.

Good looking beautiful girls:


English Language


English Language, chief medium of communication of people in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and numerous other countries. It is the official language of many nations in the Commonwealth of Nations and is widely understood and used in all of them. It is spoken in more parts of the world than any other language and by more people than any other tongue except Mandarin Chinese.

English belongs to the Anglo-Frisian group within the western branch of the Germanic languages, a subfamily of the Indo-European languages. It is related most closely to the Frisian language, to a lesser extent to Netherlandic (Dutch-Flemish) and the Low German (Plattdeutsch) dialects, and more distantly to Modern High German. Its parent, Proto-Indo-European, was spoken around 5,000 years ago by nomads who are thought to have roamed the south-eastern European plains.


The English vocabulary has increased greatly in more than 1,500 years of development. The most nearly complete dictionary of the language, the Oxford English Dictionary (13 vols., 1933), a revised edition of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (10 vols., 1884-1933; supplements), contains 500,000 words. It has been estimated, however, that the present English vocabulary consists of more than 1 million words, including slang and dialect expressions and scientific and technical terms, many of which only came into use in the middle of the 20th century. The latest edition of the New Oxford Dictionary of English was published in 1998, after 6 years’ revision by a team of 30 editors. The publication caused much controversy as it describes how people speak English today, rather than how prescriptivists believe English should be used. It contains over 2,000 new words, including such 1990s phenomena as Prozac, Tamagotchi, and eye candy; new guidelines for acceptable usage are also included, such as the non-sexist generic singular pronoun they.

The English vocabulary is more extensive than that of any other language in the world, although some other languages—Chinese, for example—have a word-building capacity equal to that of English. It is approximately half Germanic (Old English and Scandinavian) and half Italic or Romance (French and Latin) and extensive, constant borrowing from every major language, especially from Latin, Greek, French, and the Scandinavian languages, and from numerous minor languages, accounts for the great number of words in the English vocabulary. From Old English have come cardinal and ordinal numbers, personal pronouns, and numerous nouns and adjectives; from French have come intellectual and abstract terms, as well as terms of rank and status, such as duke, marquis, and baron. In addition, certain processes have led to the creation of many new words as well as to the establishment of patterns for further expansion. Among these processes are onomatopoeia, or the imitation of natural sounds, which has created such words as burp and clink; affixation, or the addition of prefixes and suffixes, either native, such as mis- and -ness, or borrowed, such as ex- and -ist; the combination of parts of words, such as in branch, composed of parts of breakfast and lunch; the free formation of compounds, such as bonehead and downpour; back formation, or the formation of words from previously existing words, the forms of which suggest that the later words were derived from the earlier ones—for example, to jell, formed from jelly; and functional change, or the use of one part of speech as if it were another, for example, the noun shower used as a verb, to shower. The processes that have probably added the largest number of words are affixation and especially functional change, which is facilitated by the peculiarities of English syntactical structure.


English is said to have one of the most difficult spelling systems in the world. The written representation of English is not phonetically exact for two main reasons. First, the spelling of words has changed to a lesser extent than their sounds; for example, the k in knife and the gh in right were formerly pronounced (see Middle English Period below). Second, certain spelling conventions acquired from foreign sources have been perpetuated; for example, during the 16th century the b was inserted in doubt (formerly spelled doute) on the authority of dubitare, the Latin source of the word. Outstanding examples of discrepancies between spelling and pronunciation are the six different pronunciations of ough, as in bough, cough, thorough, thought, through, and rough; the spellings are kept from a time when the gh represented a back fricative consonant that was pronounced in these words. Other obvious discrepancies are the 14 different spellings of the sh sound, for example, as in anxious, fission, fuchsia, and ocean.


Theoretically, the spelling of phonemes, the simplest sound elements used to distinguish one word from another, should indicate precisely the sound characteristics of the language. For example, in English, at contains two phonemes, mat three, and mast four. Very frequently, however, the spelling of English words does not conform to the number of phonemes. Enough, for example, which has four phonemes (enuf), is spelled with six letters, as is breath, which also has four phonemes (breθ) and six letters. See Phonetics.

The main vowel phonemes in English include those represented by the italicized letters in the following words: bit, beat, bet, bate, bat, but, botany, bought, boat, boot, book, and burr. These phonemes are distinguished from one another by the position of articulation in the mouth. Four vowel sounds, or complex nuclei, of English, are diphthongs formed by gliding from a low position of articulation to a higher one. These diphthongs are the i of bite (a glide from o of botany to ea of beat), the ou of bout (from o of botany to oo of boot), the oy of boy (from ou of bought to ea of beat), and the u of butte (from ea of beat to oo of boot). The exact starting point and ending point of the glide vary within the English-speaking world.


Other ways of differentiating meaning in English, apart from the pronunciation of distinct vowels and consonants, are stress, pitch, and juncture. Stress is the sound difference achieved by pronouncing one syllable more forcefully than another, for example, the difference between ‘record (noun) and re’cord (verb). Pitch is, for example, the difference between the pronunciation of John and John? Juncture or disjuncture of words causes such differences in sound as that created by the pronunciation of blackbird (one word) and black bird (two words). English employs four degrees of stress and four kinds of juncture for differentiating words and phrases.


Modern English is a relatively uninflected language. Nouns have separate endings only in the possessive case and the plural number. Verbs have both a strong conjugation—shown in older words—with internal vowel change, for example, sing, sang, sung, and a weak conjugation with dental suffixes indicating past tense, as in play, played. The latter is the predominant type. Only 66 verbs of the strong type are in use; newer verbs invariably follow the weak pattern. The third person singular has an -s ending, as in does. The structure of English verbs is thus fairly simple, compared with that of verbs in similar languages, and includes only a few other endings, such as -ing or -en; but verb structure does involve the use of numerous auxiliaries such as have, can, may, or must. Monosyllabic and some disyllabic adjectives are inflected for degree of comparison, such as larger or happiest; other adjectives express the same distinction by compounding with more and most. Pronouns, the most heavily inflected parts of speech in English, have objective case forms, such as me or her, in addition to the nominative (I, he, we) and possessive forms (my, his, hers, our).


Although many grammarians still cling to the Graeco-Latin tradition of dividing words into eight parts of speech, efforts have recently been made to reclassify English words on a different basis. The American linguist Charles Carpenter Fries, in his work The Structure of English (1952), divided most English words into four great form classes that generally correspond to the noun, verb, adjective, and adverb in the standard classification. He classified 154 other words as function words, or words that connect the main words of a sentence and show their relations to one another. In the standard classification, many of these function words are considered pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions; others are considered adverbs, adjectives, or verbs.


Three main stages are usually recognized in the history of the development of the English language. Old English, known formerly as Anglo-Saxon, dates from ad 449 to 1066 or 1100. Middle English dates from 1066 or 1100 to 1450 or 1500. Modern English dates from about 1450 or 1500 and is subdivided into Early Modern English, from about 1500 to 1660, and Late Modern English, from about 1660 to the present time.

A Old English Period

Old English, a variant of West Germanic, was spoken by certain Germanic peoples (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) of the regions comprising present-day southern Denmark and northern Germany who invaded Britain in the 5th century ad; the Jutes were the first to arrive, in 449, according to tradition. Settling in Britain (the Jutes in Kent, southern Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight; the Saxons in the part of England south of the Thames; and the Angles in the rest of England as far north as the Firth of Forth), the invaders drove the indigenous Celtic-speaking peoples, notably the Britons, to the north and west. As time went on, Old English evolved further from the original Continental form, and regional dialects developed. The four major dialects recognized in Old English are Kentish, originally the dialect spoken by the Jutes; West Saxon, a branch of the dialect spoken by the Saxons; and Northumbrian and Mercian, subdivisions of the dialects spoken by the Angles. By the 9th century, partly through the influence of Alfred, king of the West Saxons and the first ruler of all England, West Saxon became prevalent in prose literature. The Latin works of St Augustine, St Gregory, and the Venerable Bede were translated, and the native poetry of Northumbria and Mercia were transcribed in the West Saxon dialect. A Mercian mixed dialect, however, was preserved for the greatest poetry, such as the anonymous 8th-century epic poem Beowulf and the contemporary elegiac poems.

Old English was an inflected language characterized by strong and weak verbs; a dual number for pronouns (for example, a form for “we two” as well as “we”), two different declensions of adjectives, four declensions of nouns, and grammatical distinctions of gender. These infections meant that word order was much freer than in the language today. There were two tenses: present-future and past. Although rich in word-building possibilities, Old English was sparse in vocabulary. It borrowed few proper nouns from the language of the conquered Celts, primarily those such as Aberdeen (“mouth of the Dee”) and Inchcape (“island cape”) that describe geographical features. Scholars believe that ten common nouns in Old English are of Celtic origin; among these are bannock, cart, down, and mattock. Although other Celtic words not preserved in literature may have been in use during the Old English period, most Modern English words of Celtic origin, that is, those derived from Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, or Irish, are comparatively recent borrowings.

The number of Latin words, many of them derived from the Greek, which was introduced during the Old English period has been estimated at 140. Typical of these words are the altar, mass, priest, psalm, temple, kitchen, palm, and pear. A few were probably introduced through the Celtic; others were brought to Britain by the Germanic invaders, who previously had come into contact with Roman culture. By far the largest number of Latin words was introduced as a result of the spread of Christianity. Such words included not only ecclesiastical terms but many others of less specialized significance.

About 40 Scandinavian (Old Norse) words were introduced into Old English by the Norsemen, or Vikings, who invaded Britain periodically from the late 8th century onwards. Introduced first were words pertaining to the sea and battle, but shortly after the initial invasions other words used in the Scandinavian social and administrative system—for example, the word law—entered the language, as well as the verb form are and such widely used words as taking, cut, both, ill, and ugly.

B Middle English Period

At the beginning of the Middle English period, which dates from the Norman Conquest of 1066, the language was still inflectional; at the end of the period, the relationship between the elements of the sentence depended basically on word order. As early as 1200 the three or four grammatical case forms of nouns in the singular had been reduced to two, and to denote the plural the noun ending -es had been adopted.

The declension of the noun was simplified further by dropping the final n from five cases of the fourth, or weak, declension; by neutralizing all vowel endings to e (sounded like the a in Modern English sofa), and by extending the masculine, nominative, and accusative plural ending -as, later neutralized also to -es, to other declensions and other cases. Only one example of a weak plural ending, oxen, survives in Modern English; kine and brethren are later formations. Several representatives of the Old English modification of the root vowel in the plural, such as man, men, and foot, feet, also survive.

With the levelling of inflections, the distinctions of grammatical gender in English were replaced by those of natural gender. During this period the dual number fell into disuse, and the dative and accusative of pronouns were reduced to a common form. Furthermore, the Scandinavian they, them were substituted for the original hie, hem of the third person plural, and who, which, and that acquired their present relative functions. The conjugation of verbs was simplified by the omission of endings and by the use of a common form of the singular and plural of the past tense of strong verbs.

In the early period of Middle English, a number of utilitarian words, such as egg, sky, sister, window, and get, came into the language from Old Norse. The Normans brought other additions to the vocabulary. Before 1250 about 900 new words had appeared in English, mainly words, such as baron, noble, and feast, that the Anglo-Saxon lower classes required in their dealings with the Norman-French nobility. Eventually, the Norman nobility and clergy, although they had learned English, introduced from the French words pertaining to the government, the Church, the army, and the fashions of the court, in addition to others proper to the arts, scholarship, and medicine. Another effect of the Norman Conquest was the use of Carolingian script and a change in spelling. Norman scribes write Old English y as u and ū as ou. Cw was changed to qu, hw to wh, and ht to ght.

Midland, the dialect of Middle English derived from the Mercian dialect of Old English, became important during the 14th century, when the counties in which it was spoken developed into centres of university, economic, and courtly life. East Midland, one of the subdivisions of Midland, had by that time become the speech of the entire metropolitan area of the capital, London, and probably had spread south of the River Thames into Kent and Surrey. The influence of East Midland was strengthened by its use in the government offices of London, by its literary dissemination in the works of the 14th-century poets Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and John Lydgate, and ultimately by its adoption for printed works by William Caxton. These and other circumstances gradually contributed to the direct development of the East Midland dialect into the Modern English language.

During the period of this linguistic transformation, the other Middle English dialects continued to exist, and dialects descending from them are still spoken in the 21st century. Lowland Scottish, for example, is a development of the Northern dialect.

C The Great Vowel Shift

The transition from Middle English to Modern English was marked by a major change in the pronunciation of vowels during the 15th and 16th centuries. This change, termed the Great Vowel Shift by the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen, consisted of a shift in the articulation of vowels with respect to the positions assumed by the tongue and the lips. The Great Vowel Shift changed the pronunciation of 18 of the 20 distinctive vowels and diphthongs of Middle English. Spelling, however, remained unchanged and was preserved from then on as a result of the advent of printing in England in about 1475, during the shift. (In general, Middle English orthography was much more phonetic than Modern English; all consonants, for example, were pronounced, whereas now letters such as the l preserved in walking are silent).

All long vowels, with the exception of /i:/ (pronounced in Middle English somewhat like ee in need) and /u:/ (pronounced in Middle English like oo in food), came to be pronounced with the jaw position one degree higher. Pronounced previously in the highest possible position, the /i:/ became diphthongized to “ah-ee”, and the /u:/ to “ee-oo”. The Great Vowel Shift, which is still in progress, caused the pronunciation in English of the letters a, e, i, o, and u to differ from that used in most other languages of Western Europe. The approximate date when words were borrowed from other languages can be ascertained by means of these and other sound changes. Thus it is known that the old French word dame was borrowed before the shift, since its vowel shifted with the Middle English /e:/ from a pronunciation like that of the vowel in calm to that of the vowel in name.

D Modern English Period

In the early part of the Modern English period the vocabulary was enlarged by the widespread use of one part of speech for another and by increased borrowings from other languages. The revival of interest in Latin and Greek during the Renaissance brought new words into English from those languages. Other words were introduced by English travellers and merchants after their return from journeys to continental Europe. From Italian came cameo, stanza, and violin; from Spanish and Portuguese, alligator, peccadillo, and sombrero. During its development, Modern English borrowed words from more than 50 different languages.

In the late 17th century and during the 18th century, certain important grammatical changes occurred. The formal rules of English grammar were established during that period. The pronoun it came into use, replacing the genitive form his, which was the only form used by the translators of the King James Bible (1611). The progressive tenses developed from the use of the participle as a noun preceded by the preposition on; the preposition gradually weakened to a and finally disappeared. Thereafter only the simple ing form of the verb remained in use. After the 18th century, this process of development culminated in the creation of the progressive passive form, for example, “The job is being done”.

The most important development begun during this period and continued without interruption throughout the 19th and 20th centuries concerned vocabulary. As a result of the colonial expansion, notably in North America but also in other areas of the world, many new words entered the English language. From the indigenous peoples of North America, the words raccoon and wigwam were borrowed; from Peru, llama, and quinine; from the Caribbean, barbecue and cannibal; from Africa, chimpanzee and zebra; from India, bandanna, curry, and punch; and from Australia, kangaroo and boomerang. In addition, thousands of scientific terms were developed to denote new concepts, discoveries, and inventions. Many of these terms, such as neutron, penicillin, and supersonic, were formed from Greek and Latin roots; others were borrowed from modern languages, as with blitzkrieg from German and sputnik from Russian.

E Present-Day English

In Great Britain there exists an accent that is not region-specific, known as Received Pronunciation (RP). A class dialect rather than a regional dialect (it used to be exclusively associated with the educated and rich), it is based on the type of speech cultivated at public schools and at such older universities as Oxford and Cambridge. Many English people who speak regional dialects in their childhood acquire Received Pronunciation while attending school and university. Its influence became even stronger in the recent past because of its use by public media such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (RP is also known as “BBC English”).

RP is not intrinsically superior to other varieties of English and is, itself, only one particular accent with its own system of phonological rules (just as, say, Scouse, which has an equally valid set of rules). RP is estimated to be spoken by less than 4 percent of the population of Great Britain.

Widely differing regional and local dialects are still employed in the various counties of Great Britain. Other important regional dialects have also developed; for example, the English language in Ireland has retained certain individual characteristics of pronunciation, such as the pronunciation of lave for leave and fluther for flutter; certain syntactical characteristics, such as the use of after following forms of the verb be; and certain differences in vocabulary, including the use of archaic words such as adown (for down) and Celtic borrowings such as banshee. The Lowland Scottish language, sometimes called Scots, first made known throughout the English-speaking world by the songs of the 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns, contains differences in pronunciation also, such as neebour (“neighbour”) and guid (“good”), and words of Scandinavian origin peculiar to the dialect, such as braw and bairn that have influenced the English spoken in Scotland. Australian English, with its marked diphthongization of vowels, also makes use of special words, retained from English regional dialect usages, or taken over from indigenous Australian terms.

F American English

An important development of English outside Great Britain occurred with the colonization of North America. American English may be considered to include the English spoken in Canada, although the Canadian variety retains some features of British pronunciation, spelling, and vocabulary. The most distinguishing differences between American English and British English are in pronunciation and vocabulary. There are slighter differences in spelling, pitch, and stress as well. Written American English also has a tendency to be more rigid in matters of grammar and syntax, but at the same time appears to be more tolerant of the use of neologisms. Despite these differences, it is often difficult to determine—apart from context—whether serious literary works have been written in Great Britain or the United States/Canada—or, for that matter, in Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa.

G English Around the World

Since the mid 20th century, the English language has become so widespread it is often considered the world language. The fast spread of English was facilitated by a number of factors, including the dominance of the United States as a world power and the remnants of British colonial power around the world. Nowadays, the English spoken around the world is quite different from that spoken in the UK where it originated, with many different varieties existing and evolving across the globe. The majority of World English speakers use English as a second or third language, and live in an environment where multilingualism is the norm, although English may be the official language. In many countries, including Singapore and Nigeria, English is the main language of instruction in schools (especially after primary education level) and is used in business and other official transactions. Just as UK English differs from US English, Indian English, Singaporean English, Nigerian English, and others are all varieties of English that have individual syntactic, lexical, and phonological systems, often influenced by the other languages in daily use. In fact some of these varieties are so distinct that some linguists suggest that they are separate, although related, languages.

H Basic English

A simplified form of the English language based on 850 keywords was developed in the late 1920s by the English psychologist Charles Kay Ogden and publicized by the English educator I. A. Richards. Known as Basic English, it was used mainly to teach English to non-English-speaking people and promoted as an international language. The complexities of English spelling and grammar, however, were major hindrances to the adoption of Basic English as a second language.

The fundamental principle of Basic English was that any idea, however complex, may be reduced to simple units of thought and expressed clearly by a limited number of everyday words. The 850-word primary vocabulary was composed of 600 nouns (representing things or events), 150 adjectives (for qualities and properties), and 100 general “operational” words, mainly verbs and prepositions. Almost all the words were in common use in English-speaking countries; more than 60 percent were one-syllable words. The abbreviated vocabulary was created in part by eliminating numerous synonyms and by extending the use of 18 “basic” verbs, such as make, get, do, have, and be. These verbs were generally combined with prepositions, such as up, among, under, in, and forward. For example, a Basic English student would use the expression “go up” instead of “ascend”.

I Pidgin English

English also enters into a number of simplified languages that arose among non-English-speaking peoples. Chinese Pidgin English, spoken in the Melanesian islands, New Guinea, Australia, the Philippines, and Hawaii and on the Asian shores of the Pacific Ocean, developed as a means of communication between Chinese and English traders. The Chinese adopted many English words and a few indispensable non-English words and created a means of discourse, using a simple grammatical apparatus. Chinook Jargon, used by a small number of Canadians and North Americans contains English, French, and Native American words; its grammatical structure is based on that of the Chinook language. West African Pidgin English (WAPE) is spoken in various West African countries (from Gambia to Cameroon). It is mutually intelligible across some of these countries and has become a creole in some areas. WAPE arose in the 16th century through contact between West Africans and English traders.


The influence of the mass media appears likely to result in a more standardized pronunciation, more uniform spelling, and eventually a spelling closer to actual pronunciation. Despite the likelihood of such standardization, a unique feature of the English language remains its tendency to grow and change. Despite the warnings of linguistic purists, new words are constantly being coined and usages modified to express new concepts—change is inherent in language so this is an infinite process that can never be halted. The vocabulary of the English language is constantly enriched by linguistic borrowings, particularly by cross-fertilizations from American English. Global media, the Internet, and ever-improving technology are just some of the reasons why English is fast becoming a world language, but as predictions about language are very difficult to make, this situation could easily change very quickly.