Formal Linguistics - an overview (2022)

Americas, Sociocultural Overviews: Mexico

Paul Liffman, in , 2015

Linguistic Anthropology

Despite the diverse fieldsites where linguistic anthropologists (many of them US-trained) have worked since the 1970s, they often share approaches inspired by semiotician CS Peirce and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. Jane Hill has contributed both formal linguistic analyses and broadly anthropological work, originally with Nahuatl speakers inthe Sierra Norte de Puebla. John Haviland's work inChiapas spans the linguistic marking of social status to legal anthropology and most recently the interface between Tzotzil Mayan speakers and sign-language users. John Lucy has updated Benjamin Lee Whorf with his examination of Yucatec Mayan language and thought. William Hanks hasa broad ethnographic and ethnohistorical corpus on Yucatec, expanding the purview of deixis to link language, geographical space, cosmology, and social hierarchy. Teresa Carbó's discourse analysis has taken formal structural description (the central concern of Mexican linguistics) to an ontological turn. Among the emerging generation of linguistic anthropologists, Hilary Parsons Dick (2011) has published on Bakhtinian chronotopes of movement in Spanish, with a focus on migration.

Many scholars (e.g., Nancy Hornberger) continue to focus on indigenous language revitalization in Latin America, especially where Amerindian speech and writing still have multiple socioeconomic and political functions. However, Shaylih Muehlmann (2013) shows how Cucupá youths' Rabelaisian mistranslations for nonspeakers subvert the official reliance on native language use as an ethnic marker – for them a vestige of indigenista paternalism and national patrimony discourses that neoliberal multiculturalism has only resuscitated.

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Area and International Studies: Linguistics

L.A. Janda, in , 2001

2 A Brief History of Relevant Linguistic Developments

In the early part of the twentieth century (approximately 1900–40), linguistics was dominated by Sapir and Whorf, whose objective was to explore how languages reveal people's worldviews and explain cultural behaviors. This view of language as a direct artifact of the collective philosophy and psychology of a given society was inherently friendly to the goals of understanding nations and their interactions. The Sapir-Whorf emphasis on the relationship between language and its socio-geographical context (later retooled as ‘functional linguistics’) might have engendered significant cross-disciplinary efforts, but unfortunately, its heyday was largely over before area and international studies became firmly established as academic disciplines.

By the time the US government made its first Title VI appropriations in the late 1950s, a landmark event in the founding and building of area and international studies as known at the end of the 1990s, linguistics had moved on to a fascination with mathematical models that would predominate (at least in the US) well into the 1980s. The theoretical purpose of an algebraic approach to the explanation of grammatical phenomena is to provide a formal analysis of the universal features of language. This theoretical perspective of ‘formal linguistics’ marginalizes or excludes issues relevant to area and international studies since language context is not considered a primary factor in language form. The relationship of pure math as opposed to applied mathematical sciences (economics, statistics, etc.) is analogous to the relationship between formal and functional linguistics and their relative sensitivity to contextual factors: the objective of both pure math and formal linguistics is analysis independent of context, whereas functional linguistics and applied math make reference to concrete domains (extra-linguistic or extra-mathematical).

The popularity of mathematical models was widespread in the social sciences in the late twentieth century, creating tension between the so-called ‘number-crunchers’ and area and international studies scholars, and disadvantaging the latter in hiring and promotion. Formal linguistics has played a similar role in the broader discipline of linguistics and yielded a framework that does not focus on language pedagogy or the geographic distribution and differing worldviews of peoples. Formal linguistics has been primarily inspired by the work of Noam Chomsky, whose framework has been successively known as generative grammar, the government binding theory, and the minimalist program. Other important formalist theories include relational grammar and head-driven phrase structure grammar.

Since the 1980s there has been renewed interest in the relationship between language function and language form, known as ‘functional linguistics.’ Though functionalist approaches are not a retreat into the past, they comport well with pre-Chomskyan theories, enabling linguists to build on previous achievements. Functional linguistics is also more compatible with many linguistic traditions outside the US, especially in areas where Chomsky is not well known (for example the former Soviet Bloc countries, where Chomsky's linguistic work was banned in reaction to his political writings), or in areas where there has been sustained focus on mapping and codifying indigenous languages (such as Australia, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union). The most significant functionalist movement is known as cognitive linguistics, and has George Lakoff and Ronald Langacker as its primary proponents. Cognitive linguistics has rapidly gained popularity in Western and Eastern Europe, in the countries of the former Soviet Union, Japan, and Australia. In addition to cognitive linguistics, many traditional sub-disciplines of linguistics continue their commitment to functionalist principles, among them dialectology, discourse analysis, historical linguistics, and typology. These traditional endeavors and cognitive linguistics bear a mutual affinity since both focus on language-specific data (as opposed to language universals). Because the context of language and its role in meaning are central to the functionalist view of linguistics, the potential contribution of functional linguistics to area and international studies is great. And because functionalist linguistics tends to avoid intricate formal models, it is more accessible to specialists in other disciplines, and its results are transferable to language pedagogy.

At the time of writing, formalist and functionalist linguistics are engaged in an often-antagonistic competition. (For further information on the history and present state of formal vs. functional linguistics, see Generative Grammar; Functional Approaches to Grammar; Cognitive Linguistics; Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis; and Newmeyer 1998, Lakoff 1991, Croft 1998).

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Sign Language: Psychological and Neural Aspects

David P. Corina, in , 2015

Structure of ASL

A sign consists of a hand configuration that travels about a movement path and is directed to or about a specific body location. Sign languages differ from one another in the inventories and compositions of handshapes, movements, and locations used to signal linguistic contrasts just as spoken language differ from one another in the selection of sounds used, and how those sounds are organized into words. Many sign languages incorporate a subsystem in which orthographic symbols used in the surrounding spoken language communities are represented manually on the hands. One example is the American English manual alphabet, which is produced on one hand and allows users of ASL to represent English lexical items.

All human languages, whether spoken or signed, exhibit levels of structure that govern the composition and formation of word forms and specify how words combine into sentences. In formal linguistic analyses, these structural levels are referred to as phonology, morphology, and the syntax of the language. In this context, phonological organization refers to the patterning of the abstract formational units of a natural language (Coulter and Anderson, 1993). Compared to spoken languages in which contrastive units (for example, phonemes) are largely arranged in a linear fashion, signed languages exhibit simultaneous layering of information. For example, in a sign, a handshape will co-occur with, rather than follow sequentially, a distinct movement pattern.

ASL exhibits complex morphology. Morphological markings in ASL are expressed as dynamic movement patterns overlaid on a more basic sign form. These nested morphological forms stand in contrast to the linear suffixation common in spoken languages (Klima and Bellugi, 1979). The prevalence of simultaneous layering of phonological content and the nested morphological devices observed across many different sign languages likely reflect an influence of modality on the realization of linguistic structure. Thus the shape of human languages reflects the constraints and affordances imposed by the articulator systems involved in transmission of the signal (i.e., oral vs manual) and the receptive mechanisms for decoding the signal (i.e., auditory vs visual).

A unique property of ASL linguistic structure is the reliance upon visuospatial mechanisms to signal linguistic contrasts and relations. One example concerns the use of facial expressions in ASL. In ASL, certain syntactic and adverbial constructions are marked by specific and obligatory facial expressions (Liddell, 1980). These linguistic facial expressions differ significantly in appearance and execution of affective facial expressions. A second example concerns the use of inflectional morphology to express subject and object relationships. At the syntactic level, nominals introduced into the discourse are assigned arbitrary reference points along a horizontal plane in the signing space. Signs with pronominal function are directed toward these points, and the class of verbs that require subject/object agreement obligatorily move between these points (Lillo-Martin and Klima, 1990). Thus, whereas many spoken languages represent grammatical functions through case marking or linear ordering, in ASL grammatical function is expressed through spatial mechanisms. This same system of spatial reference, when used across sentences, serves as a means of discourse cohesion (Winston, 1995).

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Skinner, Burrhus Frederick (1904–90)

Marc N. Richelle, in , 2015

Language and Consciousness

Skinner devoted special attention to verbal behavior, the importance of which in the human species justified special treatment. He presented his book Verbal Behavior as ‘an essay in interpretation,’ proposing a functional analysis of the verbal exchanges composing the global episode of speaker-listener communication. In spite of the violent criticisms expressed by the linguist Chomsky (1959), Skinner's analysis foreshadowed some aspects of the pragmatic approach adopted some years later by many psycholinguists, aware of the insufficiency of formal grammars to account for central features characterizing the use of language. He viewed verbal behavior as shaped by the linguistic community, and exerting a genuine type of control over an individual's behavior, distinct from the action of the physical environment. A large part of human behavior is, in his terms, rule governed, that is, controlled by words, rather than shaped by contingencies, that is, through direct exposure to the physical world. Many behaviors can have one or the other origin: avoidance of fire flame can derive from direct experience with fire, or from warnings received during education. Once endowed with verbal behavior, individuals can use it to describe and anticipate their own behavior, or to develop it in its own right, as in literary composition. Were it not for the unfortunate use of the term ‘rule,’ which makes for confusion, on one hand, with the word as used in formal linguistics and, on the other hand, with the notion of coercive control, what Skinner was pointing to was akin to a distinction now familiar to contemporary psychology and neurosciences between top-down versus bottom-up causation.

Given the widespread renewal of interest for the scientific study of consciousness in the last 25years, it is appropriate to ask the question: What was Skinner's view on consciousness? More often than not, behaviorists have been blamed for rejecting the study of consciousness out of the field of scientific enquiry, and for having in fact imposed a taboo on the whole scientific community. Such opinion refers to the supposed negation of consciousness by Watson – while he simply denounced the methodological dead end of relying on conscious introspection in accounting for psychological reality. The alleged taboo has not prevented psychologists of various orientations from taking interest in conscious processes. Nor has it prevented members of the behaviorist school to do so, as was the case of Lashley, then in his behaviorist period, who published a long and important paper on the question (Lashley, 1923).

Be that as it may, Skinner was explicitly concerned with the problem of consciousness. He viewed it as a by-product of verbal activity shaped by the verbal community, providing individual speakers with tools for self-description and for reporting to others and to themselves their actions, feelings, and ideas. This approach is essentially similar with Vygotsky's thesis on the socio-discursive origin of consciousness, adopted and further elaborated by his followers, notably Luria. There is no evidence that Skinner was aware of the convergence with these Russian authors.

Also of interest in relation with the issue of consciousness is the discussion published in 1969 on the now very popular issue in Artificial Intelligence circles: could a machine be conscious? Skinner argues that “… the one currently irreducible difference between men and machines” is that: “They are built differently. The ultimate difference is in componentry … To be conscious or aware of itself as a man is conscious of himself a machine would have to be built like a man and would, of course, be a man.” Far from ignoring consciousness, Skinner treated it recurrently with the attention it deserves in contemporary debates.

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Klaus B Jensen, in , 2015

Applications: Media, Communication, and Culture

It was the application of semiotics to questions of meaning beyond logic and linguistics that served to consolidate semiotics as a recognizable, if still heterogeneous field from the 1960s onwards. Drawing on additional traditions of aesthetic and social inquiry – from rhetoric and hermeneutics to critical theory – this emerging field began to operationalize the study of ‘the life of signs within society.’ The objects of analysis ranged widely, from classical artworks to popular culture, and from premodern societies to modern mass media. At the same time, studies were united by a common emphasis on culture, in the broad sense of worldviews that orient social interaction. The work of Claude Lévi-Strauss (1963/1958) on structural anthropology was characteristic of, and highly influential on, this perspective. Structuralism in studies of culture and communication suggested that certain shared, but largely preconscious systems of interpretation help to explain both the ways in which individuals orient themselves and act in specific contexts, and the cultural horizons of an entire society or epoch. It was Saussure's approach to signs as an abstract system (langue) which manifests itself in concrete uses (parole) that provided the model for structuralism in several fields. The general model was extended, for example, to theories about social power (Althusser, 1977/1965) and about the unconscious understood as a language (Lacan, 1977).

Of the predominantly French scholars who were instrumental in the consolidation of semiotic forms of analysis, Roland Barthes, along with A.J. Greimas, stands out as a particularly innovative and systematic theorist. His specific model of two levels of signification, outlined in Figure2, has been one of the most widely applied approaches to the relationship between concrete sign vehicles, such as texts and images, and the ideologies or myths that they articulate and may reinforce. Building on Louis Hjelmslev's (1963/1943) formal linguistics, Barthes (1973/1957) suggested that the combination of signifier and signified (expressive form and conceptual content) in one sign (e.g., a picture of a black man in a French uniform saluting the flag) may, in a next step, become the expressive form of a further, ideological content (e.g., that French imperialism is not a discriminatory or oppressive system). Barthes' critical agenda, shared by much semiotic scholarship since then, was that this discursive mechanism serves to naturalize particular worldviews, while oppressing others, and should be exposed through analytical deconstruction.

Formal Linguistics - an overview (1)

Figure2. Two levels of signification.

Adapted from Barthes, R., 1973. Mythologies. Paladin, London. (Original work published 1957.)
(Video) MEG 04।।Aspects of Language।।Formal Linguistics An Introduction।।most important।।must watch

In a current perspective, social sciences can be seen to have appropriated and redeveloped semiotics in two different ways. On the one hand, semiotics offers rigorous, yet nuanced methodologies for examining how signs enter into social interactions at the individual, group, and institutional levels. Overlapping, in part, with discourse analysis, such methodologies represent the predominant application of the tradition outside philosophy and the subspecialty of semiotics. On the other hand, some scholars have adopted semiotics as a comprehensive theoretical framework, suggesting that not just texts and images, but also societies and psyches, even biology and cosmology, may be conceptualized as semiotic processes (Posner etal., 1997–98).

This last position points to an abiding dilemma for semiotics, namely, its scope and domain of relevance. A conception of semiotics as a theory-of-everything holds several pitfalls, and has given rise to reservations and criticisms. For one thing, such an extension and overlay of logical and linguistic concepts onto other fields and disciplines may conflate different levels of analysis. For another thing, semiotic studies have sometimes focused on the formal aspects of signs and semiotic processes to such an extent that the substantive aspects of the social or cultural domains in question have been neglected. A case in point is research on visual communication, which, in some instances, has referred to Saussure's principle of arbitrariness, deriving from verbal language, to account for both still and moving images. Early work by Christian Metz (1974) did specify that the medium of film does not constitute a language system, analogous to verbal language, but a language or form of communication drawing on several semiotic registers. Later work has reemphasized that audiovisual media, to a significant extent, operate on different perceptual and cognitive modalities than speech and writing, communicating through natural rather than conventional signs (Messaris, 1994).

A related reservation arises from the ambition of much semiotic research to arrive at conclusions regarding the difference that signs make in social practice. Given the predominant focus of semiotic studies on texts and other cultural artifacts, inferences from texts to readings to effects on individuals, groups, or institutions may not be warranted. The textual focus may also exaggerate the extent to which signs in themselves, rather than the social conditions circumscribing them, determine the life of both signs and societies. In recent decades, these concerns have led to efforts at formulating a social semiotics, or sociosemiotics (for overview, see Cobley and Randviir, 2009), integrating semiotic methodology with social theory and communication studies (Hodge and Kress, 1988; Jensen, 1995).

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Saussure, Ferdinand de (1857–1913)

Andrea Cossu, in , 2015

Saussure after the Cours: Reception and Adaptation

Saussure's legacy as one of the most prominent linguists of his generation was secured, ironically, by words he had not written and by positions that were made probably more radical than he had originally thought. Like many classic works (Max Weber's Economy and Society, Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks, or Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations), it mattered less what he had actually said, and more the use one could make of his words. The decades that passed after the publication of the Cours have thus been characterized by the attempt to reconcile different – sometimes radically different – visions of Saussure: the comparativist, the founding father of structuralism, the institutionalist, the scholar who promised – but did not realize – the foundation of a new science like semiology (Harris, 2003; Sanders, 2004).

To all the parties involved in this retrospective reconstruction, the Cours is still the door to Saussure's vision of linguistics. One could work, however, with the Cours or despite the shadow it casts on his ‘author.’ This tension often meant the effort to gobeyond the published work and reconstruct a more authentic Saussure with the aid of his original writings.

The reception of the Cours came in waves. Even in its 1916 incarnation and other editions (1922, 1931) the Cours took some time before it was perceived as a foundational work in linguistics, and again it happened thanks to the mediation of scholars who stretched some of the main positions it contained in order to fit their own goals. Early reviews were mixed, and the reception of the Cours took place in a milieu still characterized by different research paradigms (historical linguistics in France and descriptivism in the United States) that were at odds with Saussure's emphasis on synchronic analysis, although the Cours found some champions in both countries, like Meillet and Leonard Bloomfield (1887–1949). On their part, Soviet linguistics criticized the Cours for its lack of attention to extralinguistic forces, despite Saussure's own caveats and his insistence on the existence of an ‘external linguistics’ (a sociological critique advanced by philosopher Valentin Voloshinov, 1929).

The trajectory of the Cours' appreciation turned for the better at the end of the 1920s, when linguistic structuralism was about to become a recognized tendency. Louis Hjelmslev (1899–1965) in Copenhagen and Nikolai Trubetzkoy (1890–1938) and Roman Jakobson (1896–1982) in Prague acted as the main agents in this new appreciation of the Cours, one that– despite criticism and substantial changes – stayed true to the book's perceived program of static, synchronic, and formal linguistics. However, they also called for a renewed attention to problems that Saussure had dismissed or neglected, like the relation between form and substance, the type of function established between a signifier and a signified, the importance of the phonological level, and issues of semantics and pragmatics that are not present in the Cours (although some of these problems are hinted at in the Writings on General Linguistics).

Hjelmslev's and Jakobson's work (Hjelmslev, 1928, 1953; Jakobson, 1995) was at the same time more formal than Saussure's and more explicit in the definition of the conceptual boundaries of semiotics as a discipline. Saussure had defined linguistics as a discipline that could analyze the role of signs in the context of social life, but had devoted just a few suggestive pages to the role of semiology and its position vis-à-vis the other psychological and sociological disciplines. To him, general linguistics was part of semiology insofar as it could describe the systemic character of la langue and its units (signs). But, when it came to semiology, he characterized it as a science that did not yet exist.

Hjelmslev started mainly from these premises, but criticized three crucial aspects of Saussure's approach to the langue: his cognitivism (the langue is embedded in the human mind), his attention to the orality of language, and the lack of analysis of the semantic level. From Saussure, Hjelmslev derived a hierarchical vision and an inclination for dichotomic classification, in some cases specifying Saussure's ideas, and in others creating a new conceptual toolbox that complemented Saussure's: form and substance, expression and content in lieu of signifier and signified, system and process as internal patterns of relations.

Jakobson's work proved even more influential in the popularization of Saussure, even though he always remained very critical with regards to the rigor of the categories that Saussure had adopted. Starting from work on phonology in the 1920s, Jakobson became the true herald of structuralism in linguistics. However, he also developed a line of inquiry that was broader than Saussure, even when he seemed to change little from Saussure's ideas: Jakobson's notions of code and message are note a mere translation of Saussure's langue and parole, but the attempt to integrate linguistics with information theory; his idea of syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations is more formal than Saussure's, without the focus on the open-endedness of chains of signs that assigned to associative relations; his model of communication describes functions that apply to any kind of manifestation of language, including poetic texts.

While Saussure was commonly perceived as the originator of structuralism, it was however through the work of these scholars that structuralism became a true intellectual force starting from the 1940s (Dosse, 1998a,b). Saussure's ideas were incorporated in this attempt to shape structuralism (and, within structuralism, semiotics) as a theory and a method. From this point of view, this meant a reversal of the Cours' insistence on linguistics as a province of semiology. Rather, linguistics became the paradigm for the development of semiotics, insofar as all semiotic phenomena were organized as a language or could be analyzed as a language (Barthes, 1968).

The rise, and the almost sudden wane, of structuralism meant another turn in Saussure's reception. The Cours' editors had imagined and portrayed Saussure as a generalist interested in synchronic analysis. Barthes and those associated with structuralism (among the most prominent ones, one could mention Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jacques Lacan, Roman Jakobson, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Algirdas Greimas) offered another mediation, that focused on linguistics as a discipline that could offer a paradigm, as well as a vocabulary modeled after Saussure but highly different from Saussure's intent and scope: a toolbox made of binary oppositions, codes and messages, deep structures, generative models, that could be stretched in the effort to be connected to Saussure's ideas, but which represented also a creative (and fruitful) betrayal of Saussure as much as they were a betrayal of the Cours.

Meanwhile, Saussure's figure and work were being subject to a more careful scrutiny in order to come to a genealogical reconstruction of his ideas (Godel, 1957; Koerner, 1973). Saussurean studies were less interested in extending the application of Saussure's ideas than they were in trying to figure out how the Cours represented the synthesis of reflections that Saussure had made during his entire life.

This genealogical work took several directions, and the rediscovery of Saussure as a general linguist was not without surprises. It was possible to trace Saussure's interest for theoretical issues back to his Paris years. The appearance – and then publication – of Saussure's Writings in General Linguistics (2006) allowed for more careful consideration of the path that had led him to formulate his vision of the linguistic sign, the role of semiology and the tasks of the discipline. While new scholarship on Saussure did not radically change the picture, some of the assumptions that scholars had made about the course had to be tuned according to the availability of handwritten notes that included – crucially – his own lecture notes for the Cours, which complemented the students' notebooks critically edited by Eisuke Komatsu (Saussure, 1993, 1996, 1997).

Thus, we can argue that today there are many Saussures, depending on the prevalence of either a philological approach or a creative reconstruction of his image. Both camps, however, pay homage to a highly original thinker, regardless of the many mediations that have made his work available. While linguistics, semiotics, and cultural studies have fruitfully moved ‘beyond Saussure,’ he is still a relevant turning point, the originator of lines of inquiry, even when theoretical reflection goes against his positions. The very fact that we think of all these approaches as developments that took place ‘after Saussure’ and thanks to this work, is perhaps the best testimony of his intellectual legacy and of the conceptual power of his proposals.

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(Video) Formal Linguistics l Functional Linguistics l Contemporary Approaches l English Lectureship

What Do Monkey Calls Mean?

Philippe Schlenker, ... Klaus Zuberbühler, in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2016

Human Languages as Formal Languages: Syntax, Semantics, and Pragmatics

In linguistics, formal syntax sought to specify rules that predict which strings are well formed [6,7] (syntax in the narrow sense is concerned with the way in which words are combined, but in a broad sense it should include questions of phonology and morphology, which pertain to the organization of sounds and words). Formal semantics [8–10] sought to specify rules that predict in which situations a syntactically well-formed message is true. In both fields the formal approach was integrated into a cognitive one – almost from the beginning in syntax [7] and in later developments in semantics [11–13]. For our purposes what matters is the program of analyzing natural communication systems as formal languages rather than the specific assumptions made by one framework or another, especially since the formal properties of monkey calls are very different from those of human language (see [14,15] for surveys of diverse formal frameworks for syntax and semantics, respectively).

A key insight of contemporary studies of meaning is that the information conveyed by a sentence is due not just to its semantics (i.e., meaning as it is linguistically encoded) but also to pragmatic inferences, which are drawn by reasoning on the speaker's motives for uttering one sentence rather than another (e.g., [16]).

A textbook example involves the information conveyed by the disjunction S or S’. One will quickly realize that in some cases or appears to be exclusive (S or S’ is true when exactly one of S and S’ is true), as in the sentence ‘I will invite Ann or Mary’, which usually gives rise to the inference that I will invite Ann or Mary but not both. In other cases, by contrast, or appears to be inclusive (S or S’ is true when at least one of S and S’ is true). This is the case in the sentence ‘I doubt that I’ll invite Ann or Mary’, which is understood as ‘I doubt that I’ll invite (Ann or Mary or both)’.

Rather than positing an ambiguity, contemporary linguistics has devised a better theory: the meaning of or is inclusive, but a sentence with or automatically evokes the corresponding sentence with and. As a result, if the speaker is maximally informative and utters a sentence with or which is less informative than its competitor with and, one can infer that the latter could not be uttered – typically because it was false. In a simple sentence such as ‘I will invite Ann or Mary’, or will overall convey an exclusive meaning. However, it will retain its bare inclusive meaning in ‘I doubt that I’ll invite Ann or Mary’ because, due to the negative expression ‘doubt’, the sentence with and is now less informative than that with or [5] (L.R. Horn, PhD thesis, University of California, Los Angeles).

The key to this analysis is the Informativity Principle, which can be stated as follows.

If the speaker uttered a sentence S that evokes (‘competes with’) a sentence S’, if S’ is more informative than S, infer that S’ is false (for if S’ were true, the speaker should have uttered it).

In linguistics, the Informativity Principle is usually taken to follow from humans’ ability to communicate cooperatively and to reconstruct the intentions of language users. As we see below, however, this principle does not require such mind-reading abilities as it is solely based on a relation of competition among possible messages and differences of informativity among some of them. Although it takes young children some time to correctly apply the Informativity Principle, this is primarily thought to be due to the difficulty of computing which sentences compete with a given sentence [12,17].

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Depth of processing in language comprehension: not noticing the evidence

Anthony J. Sanford, Patrick Sturt, in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2002


Underspecification has been a growing concern in formal and computational linguistics. We have presented evidence from several disparate literatures showing that underspecification occurs during human language understanding [29], (see also [30]). Until now, there has been relatively little exchange between disciplines on these issues although underspecification could easily be considered within most approaches (there are hints in both connectionist approaches [31], and symbolic accounts [32]). We believe that it will be shown to play an important, and probably central role in future process models.

Underspecified representations are more tolerant in that they are not so likely to be disturbed by changes in interpretation forced by subsequent linguistic input. Given the fact that natural speech deviates greatly from most notions of strict grammaticality, such tolerances are essential. Indeed, although we have concentrated on reading in this article, it is quite possible that underspecification is greater with spoken language, given the fact that the rate of information uptake is not under the control of the listener, resulting in time pressures.

Underspecification also fits the fact that discourse has a thread: it is about some things, and not about other things [33]. The task of the producer is to cause the receiver to process the thread, and not irrelevant ramifications. Subordination and focus represent ways of signalling what is important in a discourse, and we have seen how they play a role in determining depth of processing. It is an empirical question, for instance, whether reference resolution can be determined at a finer grain in main clauses, or for focussed entities, than for subordinate, or unfocussed ones. Signalling importance is a general issue, and a theory of discourse comprehension must address this and its relation to processing. Another means of signalling importance is through focalization in narrative [34]. In narratives with more than one character, it is typical to find that the perspective of one character (the main character, or a narrator) is adopted in the text. There is evidence that inferences concerning the main character are made more easily than ones concerning a secondary character [35]. This is because the narrative thread is carried by the main character, and we would expect processing to be more shallow with respect to secondary characters.

Exploring how underspecification is used in relation to the task demands of language processing is a challenge to current theories of comprehension, and the development of new techniques, such as text-change blindness, should provide the tools to take up the challenge.

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(Video) Defining Formal Language (Brief Intro to Formal Language Theory 1)

Individual Differences in Language Acquisition and Processing

Evan Kidd, ... Morten H. Christiansen, in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2018

Theoretical Traditions in Language Acquisition and Processing

Different theoretical traditions within language acquisition and processing make different predictions about each of the three questions described above. Traditional formal linguistic approaches, which have typically assumed vertical faculties, predict IDs for vocabulary but not readily for formal components of the language system. In this approach, IDs in other linguistic domains, such as grammar, are largely attributed to performance limitations caused by variation in external cognitive systems that interface with, but are separate from, language [e.g., working memory (WM)]. The argument is that the implementation of formal rules is largely invariable and not particularly influenced by IDs elsewhere in the system (e.g., vocabulary), but can be perturbed in instances of high computational burden. There is some debate regarding how systematic an effect IDs in external cognitive systems may have on language processing (e.g., [11,12]). Suffice to say, insofar as language must be encoded and processed in real time, variations in sensory and cognitive processing have some role [13]. However, the crucial point is that such effects do not shape the core representational properties of the linguistic system.

In acquisition, the formal approach assumes the existence of abstract innate knowledge of language at birth (i.e., linguistic principles), coupled with formal computational machinery that enables structure building. This constitutes universal grammar (UG), which historically has only been predicted to be subject to IDs in exceptional cases (e.g., neurocognitive disorders [14]). However, recent proposals incorporate concepts that may predict IDs. Experience with language is argued to affect language and, by implication, variation in input may in principle result in variable rates of development [15]. Thus, differences in rates of occurrence of individual syntactic phenomena in the input (e.g., wh-questions in English) could result in variations in age of acquisition because they will increase or decrease the rate in which the language-specific grammatical options from UG are identified, or even lead children to set different grammatical options. Other ‘third factors’, which are once again external to UG but are implicated in the process of acquiring a native language, are also argued to have a role. Several proposals exist, such as statistical learning (SL), inductive inference, and ‘computational efficiency’ [15,16]. However, in many cases, the influence of these third variables is expected to be minor, especially where UG constrains the child’s hypothesis space and, therefore, differences in final attainment are not expected.

Overall, formal approaches predict a variable profile of IDs in the linguistic system. IDs in vocabulary are expected because words are specific to individual languages and, therefore, must be learnt. However, IDs in formal systems, such as grammar, are expected to be comparatively minimal because, as vertical faculties, the range of variation across development is restricted by innate knowledge structures and the largely invariant nature of the end state.

At the other end of the theoretical spectrum, emergentist approaches to language, such as the usage-based approach to acquisition [17] and experience, or constraint-based approaches to language processing [18,19], differ from formal approaches on several dimensions and, therefore, predict a different pattern of individual differences. Most clearly, these approaches place a larger emphasis on the input in both acquisition and adult processing, and claim that language must be largely learnt via analyses of, and generalization from, the input. In acquisition, this means that children must induce knowledge about key properties of the language with little language-specific prior knowledge. The approach does not assume sharp boundaries between linguistic subsystems (e.g., [18–22]); for instance, unlike formal theories, emergentist theories assume a tight integration of form and meaning (i.e., syntax and semantics). They also predict meaningful interactions between levels of language that are themselves subject to IDs. One commonly reported interaction is between vocabulary and grammar [23,24]. In acquisition, vocabulary development is closely coupled with early grammatical development. The emergentist explanation is that grammatical generalisations are made over vocabulary items and, thus, IDs in vocabulary development will affect the rate of grammatical development. For other structures, the frequency of vocabulary items guides both acquisition and grammatical processing (e.g., [25,26]), the implication being that the acquisition and implementation of grammatical routines could be affected by IDs in experience with individual vocabulary items across different syntactic environments.

The emphasis that emergentist approaches place on the input necessitates the existence of learning mechanisms powerful enough to make the right kind of generalizations from the input [20,27]. Such mechanisms may also be subject to individual variation, which, in combination with differences in the input, will jointly determine IDs in language acquisition and, ultimately, adult processing and attainment. Crucially, although any account of language must specify what mechanisms enable humans to learn from their input, exactly what learning mechanisms support the analysis of the input and how they do so is currently unclear. Therefore, mapping variation in both candidate mechanisms and the target system is crucial to theory building and testing in the language sciences.

Overall, emergentist approaches predict a more widespread pattern of IDs due to the greater emphasis placed on the input and learning mechanisms in jointly contributing to language acquisition and use. Strong patterns of interaction both within the linguistic system and between language and other cognitive systems are expected. Therefore, although we have inevitably used broad brushstrokes, it is clear that different approaches to language make different assumptions regarding our three ID imperatives and, thus, that they predict different patterns of IDs. We next review the current evidential base bearing upon these three imperatives.

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The semantics of syntactic structures

Edward Kako, Laura Wagner, in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2001

To what extent are verb–structure pairings constrained by formal properties of language, and to what extent are they constrained by conceptual factors? The sentence ‘Susan thought the book to John’ strikes most people as highly peculiar at best. One explanation for the oddity of this sentence is that the verb think, because of its formal, linguistic properties, is not permitted in a structure that is typically reserved for verbs of transfer. Another is that the event that it describes is not possible in the world as we know it. But if this sentence is preceded by a sort of science-fiction context specifying that Susan has the power to move objects with her mind, its acceptability improves considerably. How easily can judgments of acceptability be manipulated with context?

There are good reasons to believe that the mappings between meaning and form are at least partially innate, but there is also a good deal of cross-linguistic variability in the details of these mappings. How, then, do early learners exploit these mappings when they have not yet mastered the surface properties of their native language (such as how the subjects of sentences are grammatically marked)?

When do children acquire enough syntactic knowledge to be able to exploit it for word learning? Can we predict what words will enter a child's vocabulary by knowing what words can be learned without TSOSS, what words require it, and how children's knowledge of TSOSS develops?

The syntax of noun phrases is more variable cross-linguistically than that of verb phrases: while there are languages that do not make the mass–count distinction, there are no languages that do not have different morpho-syntactic structures for transitive and intransitive verbs. Similarly, TSOSS appear to be more crucial for acquiring verbs than for acquiring nouns. What is the relationship between these two facts? Is the first a cause of the second?

How are TSOSS represented and accessed? One possibility is that their semantics are computed in real time by applying in reverse the rules that link the semantics of lexical items to their associated syntax. Alternatively, syntactic forms might come to bear meanings directly, such that listeners can look up the semantics of a syntactic structure much as they would the semantics of a word. What kind of evidence would help to distinguish these two representational models?

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How do you describe formal language? ›

Formal language is less personal than informal language. It is used when writing for professional or academic purposes like university assignments. Formal language does not use colloquialisms, contractions or first person pronouns such as 'I' or 'We'. Informal language is more casual and spontaneous.

What are examples of formal language? ›

In formal language, grammar is more complex and sentences are generally longer. For example: We regret to inform you that the delivery will be delayed due to adverse weather conditions [formal] Sorry, but the delivery will be late because of the weather [informal]

Do you think linguistics will help you understand language Defend your answer? ›

Linguistics helps us understand our world

Apart from simply understanding the intricacies of world languages, this knowledge can be applied to improving communication between people, contributing to translation activities, assisting in literacy efforts, and treating speech disorders.

What is formal analysis in linguistics? ›

Formal linguistics is the branch of linguistics which uses applied mathematical methods for the analysis of natural languages. Such methods include formal languages, formal grammars and first-order logical expressions. Formal linguistics also forms the basis of computational linguistics.

Why is formal language important? ›

When to Use Formal Language. When your purpose is to explain a topic or idea to a teacher, a classmate, or the public, use formal language. Formal language is serious and interesting, as if you are teaching your readers. This language works best in explanatory essays, research reports, and most other academic writing.

Why do we need to study formal language? ›

Formal Languages and Automat Theory deals with the concepts of automata, formal languages, grammar, algorithms, computability, decidability, and complexity. The reasons to study Formal Languages and Automat Theory are Automata Theory provides a simple, elegant view of the complex machine that we call a computer.

How do you write a formal sentence? ›

Formal Writing Voice
  1. Do not use first-person pronouns ("I," "me," "my," "we," "us," etc.). ...
  2. Avoid addressing readers as "you." ...
  3. Avoid the use of contractions. ...
  4. Avoid colloquialism and slang expressions. ...
  5. Avoid nonstandard diction. ...
  6. Avoid abbreviated versions of words. ...
  7. Avoid the overuse of short and simple sentences.

What is difference between formal and informal letter? ›

The main difference between formal and informal letters is that formal letters professionally address someone, and informal letters address someone in a personal way. Other differences include: Formal letters follow a specific format, while informal letters can follow any format.

What is the most important for linguistic? ›

Hence, we conclude that the Dictionary and grammar is the most important for linguists.

What are the 3 purposes of linguistics? ›

The informative, expressive, and directive purposes of language.

How do you apply linguistics in everyday life? ›

Language use is an essential human ability: Whether it's telling a joke, naming a baby, using voice recognition software, or helping a relative who's had a stroke, you'll find the study of language reflected in almost everything you do.

What is the impact of formal languages in human behavior? ›

One factor that might impact engagement is the formality of language used to communicate with participants throughout the study. Prior work has found that language formality can convey social cues and power hierarchies, affecting people's responses and actions.

What is formal analysis in English? ›

Formal analysis involves a close reading of the literary elements of a text. A formal analysis examines elements such as setting, imagery, characters, tone, form/structure, and language. The goal of a formal analysis is to create meaning by exploring how these elements work together in any given text.

What difference is there between formal linguistics and functional linguistics? ›

In other words, the formal approach focuses on the little technical components that build a language and the functional approach focuses on what the components do as a whole.

Which of these situations would need formal language? ›

In English, formal language is used in situations that are more serious, for example when you're in a job interview or emailing your university professor. It can also be used when you're speaking to someone you don't know very well and want to make sure you sound respectful.

How formal languages are different from natural languages? ›

Natural languages are full of ambiguity, which people deal with by using contextual clues and other information. Formal languages are designed to be nearly or completely unambiguous, which means that any statement has exactly one meaning, regardless of context.

What are two types of linguistics? ›

What are the two types of linguistics? Comparative and descriptive.

What are the main characteristics of linguistics? ›

What are some common linguistic characteristics of heritage language learners?
  • Native-like pronunciation.
  • Strong listening and speaking skills.
  • Intuitive (if simplified) understanding of grammatical structures.
  • Strong command of high-frequency vocabulary learned at home/in the community.

Who is the first linguistic? ›

The Sanskrit grammarian Pāṇini (c. 520 – 460 BC) is the earliest known linguist and is often acknowledged as the founder of linguistics. He is most famous for formulating the 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology in the text Aṣṭādhyāyī, which is still in use today.

What is formal writing style? ›

Formal writing is written for an audience you don't know on a personal level. It's typically more complex than informal writing. Formal writing has a less personal tone and the language is more proper.

How do you start a formal paragraph? ›

  1. Each paragraph should begin with a topics sentence which introduces the topic of the paragraph.
  2. It is followed by so called body sentences which develop the topic, by providing, for example:
  3. The paragraph should end with a final sentence which concludes the paragraph by:
Jul 18, 2017

What are the examples of formal essay? ›

All formal essays should be at least five paragraphs and include an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Some common types of formal essays include the illustration essay, the compare and contrast essay, the cause and effect essay, and the argument essay.

What are features of formal letter? ›

The different parts of a formal letter are the addresses and date, thee salutation, the subject, body of the letter, complimentary closing and the sign off. The parts of the letter mentioned above are necessary and must be present in the letter. These are going to be explained in detail.

How many types of formal letter are there? ›

3. What are the types of formal letter? Ans. A variety of letters that fall within the category of formal letters such as Business letters, Official letters, Social letters, Circular letters, Employment letters.

What is formal letter format? ›

A formal letter should include the sender's address, date, receiver's address, subject, salutation, body of the letter, complimentary closing and finally, the signature with name (in block letters) and designation.

What is the role of linguistics? ›

Linguistics is a major that provides insight into one of the most intriguing aspects of human knowledge and behavior. Majoring in linguistics means learning about many aspects of human language, including sounds (phonetics, phonology), words (morphology), sentences (syntax), and meaning (semantics).

What is the role of linguistics in language teaching? ›

Linguistics is needed in English language teaching because it helps teachers explain the English components and structures to the students. Every language has a system or linguistic rules that can be learned in terms of phonology, morphology. syntax, and semantics.

What are the four linguistic skills? ›

Benefits of testing the four skills (reading, listening, writing and speaking) When we say that someone 'speaks' a language fluently, we usually mean that they have a high level in all four skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Which is one of the major aims of linguistics? ›

Its aim is to describe and explain the structural diversity and the common properties of the world's languages.

What are the 4 functions of language? ›

Specifically, language has four functions. They are expressive, informative, directive and survival. The first use of language is defined as expressive, it allows people to express how they feel. It is a combination of multiple form of languages.

What are the components of linguistics? ›

Linguists have identified five basic components (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) found across languages.

What is linguistics and its importance? ›

Linguistics is concerned with the nature of language and communication. It deals both with the study of particular languages, and the search for general properties common to all languages or large groups of languages.

How does linguistics affect society? ›

The language that we speak influences our cultural identities and our social realities. We internalize norms and rules that help us function in our own culture but that can lead to misunderstanding when used in other cultural contexts. We can adapt to different cultural contexts by purposely changing our communication.

What are the advantages of linguistics? ›

Studying linguistics not only teaches you about languages, but also improves practical and intellectual skills! Linguistics research involves talking with native speakers of different languages and collaborating with a team to develop experiments.

How can you tell the difference between formal and informal writing? ›

Formal writing is that form of writing which is used for the business, legal, academic or professional purpose. On the other hand, informal writing is one which is used for personal or casual purpose. Formal writing must use a professional tone, whereas a personal and emotional tone can be found in informal writing.

What is formal communication? ›

Formal communication refers to the flow of official information through proper, predefined channels and routes. The flow of information is controlled and needs deliberate effort to be properly communicated. Formal communication follows a hierarchical structure and chain of command.


1. Automata Theory and Formal Language - Introduction to Finite Automata Theory
2. Formal and Functional Approaches in Linguistics
3. Formal Language – An Introduction + An Example Analysis
(Dmitri Dalla-Riva)
4. Automata Theory and Formal Language - Introduction to Finite Automata Theory (Part 2)
5. Defining a Formal Grammar (Brief Intro to Formal Language Theory 3)
(Isabel Cooke McKay)
6. Automata Theory and Formal Language - Introduction to Theoretical Computer Science

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