Language’s Components

Above I have sketched out some of the components of language. Using this diagram, let me discuss two topics.

Learning Another Language

We all start learning new languages by learning new vocabulary. Next we may add some grammar. But a large vocabulary and rich grammar are not enough. As you can see, to really have fun in another language, there is lots more to learn which is not often in text books.

Poor accents, for instance can be the result of the learning not paying attention to rhythm, stress, and intonations which are all rule bound in languages — and vary between dialects and ideolects of that same language. Next, add gestures and posture and a native speaker may begin to understand you even better. Add rhyme, alliterations and more, and you are cruising for fluent. Finally, understand the history of a language, the etymology of words and various uses over history and your have entered the native speaker’s linguistic playground.


The action and phonology aspects of language are fantastic at communicating feeling and emotion. Written poetry, not using these two parts of language, is handicapped and poets must rely on style, rhythm and phonetics to try a make up for that loss but are inevitably susceptible to a larger degree of subjectivity — something poetry readers can deeply enjoy. Depending on its use, however, subjectivity is both a weakness and a strength in poetry.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

6 responses to “Language’s Components

  1. If only it were that easy…

  2. You’ve hit a sore spot for me, Sabio–I’ve taken more years of French than most fluent speakers and I’m still unable to easily communicate or understand the language. I know enough words and grammar, but I’m at sea in a conversation. I finally accepted that, sadly, I don’t have an ear and I’ve given up–I’ll never be bilingual.
    As far as subjectivity in poetry goes, I can read a poem one day and the rhythm will be pitch perfect, the next day, it’s disappointingly dissonant. C’est la vie.

  3. @LW Words: Indeed

    @vbholmes: Yeah, there is a certain natural skill level with foreign languages and with physical skills and music etc. My best languages were learned living in another country and no classes — studying a foreign language outside of context is almost useless to me.

  4. tlacamazatl

    Reblogged this on Football Bats and commented:
    An interesting tidbit on learning another language.

  5. @Sabio: “studying a foreign language outside of context is almost useless to me.”

    You are perfectly right. I can confirm that through my own experience and also by observing others. A language, as you say, is much more than vocabulary and grammar. It’s an entirely different way of thinking about the world in some cases–I think. Besides context, we need motivation. From my own experience again, I formulated the following: to learn a language it is necessary that, at least, (i) we be able to communicate with native speakers and (ii) we have interesting material to read. This is true in every single language I (attempted to) learn (learned). If (i) and/or (ii) are violated then, by the above statement, it follows that it is impossible to learn the language. This happened to me in Sweden. Swedish people are not interested in communication and those who are are not interested in interesting communication. On the other hand, there is not much to read in Sweden, for example, all newspapers are terrible, they are either tabloids or have the look of a tabloid. So, I think, finding those reasons that would facilitate learning a language is important. And putting a language in context, as you rightly say.

    I just came back from Japan. Japanese (as you probably know) is an incredibly complex language not least because of its writing systems consisting of hiragana, katakana and kanji and–horror of horrors–the fact that every kanji character has at least two pronunciations. Nevertheless, I found Japanese people so much more interested in communicating that I could easily see myself interested in the language. Of course, attempting to learn it without context is rather crazy. I did manage to pick up a number of expressions and make up a few short sentences, including .learning 10 hiragana characters. On the positive side, pronunciation is rather easy (for me).

    Another thing I find useful in learning a language is paying attention to phonetics right from the beginning. A language seems to be easier if one can repeat exactly what the other person is saying, even without understanding. For example. I can hear Finnish and Russian and Japanese quite clearly, and can repeat them (provided they come in short chunks), but I can’t hear Swedish or Vietnamese clearly. Both are tonal languages and the former has the problem that pronunciation of a sentence consisting of, say, 4 words is very different from pronouncing these words separately (what is this phenomenon called? it must have a name in linguistics…), just like in french, except that french has rules about the joining of the word pronunciation that one can pick up.

    And, indeed, textbooks can be terrible. Many are written by people who may be able to speak a language or two fluently but have no understanding of it.

    Finally, since you mentioned the word dialect, there is a saying that a language is a dialect with an army and navy, right?

  6. Cool info Taki. Yeah, I’ve heard that saying.

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