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Language is a social tool which comprises of a structured system of symbols and rules.  It’s a complex combination of several rule arrangements. Every language like Hindi, English or Chinese has a set symbol system and a fixed rule structure. This fixed system of symbol representation gives the speaker a way of communicating and expressing his thoughts and ideas.

Language can be divided into 3 major components (Bloom & Lahey, 1978);

  • Form – comprises of syntax, morphology & phonology
  • Content – comprises of semantics
  • Use- comprises of pragmatics

Syntax

The rules of syntax govern the structure of a sentence. They specify –

  • word order
  • sentence organization
  • relationships between words
  • word classes
  • sentence constituents

Syntax specifies which sentence combinations are acceptable and grammatical. Word sequences follow definite word order rules. It also which words come under ‘verb’ and which come under ‘nouns’ etc and also what is the relationship between the two classes.

Morphology

It is the study of the morphemes. It involves understanding the internal organization of words in a language. Morphemes are smallest units of grammar (or a word). Small units like – s as used in a plural form is a morpheme. For example in the word dog – dog’s’. The ‘s’ changed the meaning of the word! Hence Morphology enables the language user to modify word meanings and produce different classes of words such as plurals, verb tenses ( talk – talked), possession ( Sia- Sia’s).

There are 2 varieties of morphemes, free and bound.

  • Free morphemes can be used independently. They form words or part words, such as cat, small, happy.
  • Bound morphemes are grammatical markers that cannot function independently and must be attached to free morphemes or to other bound morphemes. For example- ‘s, er, un-, and –ly. By combining these free and bound morphemes we can create new words like cats, smaller, unhappily.

Phonology

Each language has specific speech sounds or ‘phonemes’ and some sound combinations that are distinctive to that language. Phonemes are the smallest meaningful units of speech sounds and are combined in ways to form words.

Phonological rules govern the distribution and sequencing of phonemes within a language.

Semantics

Semantics represents the meaning of the words in a language. Meaning is an arbitrary system for dividing reality into categories and units. These categories and units group similar objects, actions, and relationships and distinguish dissimilar ones. Some units are mutually exclusive – walk and ride. A human being cant do both at once. Other words with similar meanings – walk, run and jog.

Semantics is concerned with the relationship of language form to objects, events and relationships and with word combinations.

Words do not represent reality but rather, each language user’s ideas or concepts of reality.

Words may share features, and the more they do so, they mean alike. Words with identical features are synonyms. Example – big and large, little and small are synonyms. Words with opposite features are antonyms. Example – long and short, happy and sad.

Pragmatics

This is the social usage and appropriateness of language. Language is mainly concerned with discourse and conversational skills.

Two aspects of language use include

  • Language functions – Language may be used to interact with others, regulate behavior and can be used to fulfil the speaker’s needs by controlling others.
  • Choice of words to be used.

Pragmatic rules govern

  • sequential organization and coherence of conversations – These include turn taking, opening, maintaining and closing a conversation, establishing and maintaining a topic and making relevant contributions to the conversation.
  • repair of errors – includes giving and receiving feedback
  • role skills – include establishing and maintaining a role and switiching linguistic codes for each role
  • speech acts – includes coding of intentions of relative to the communicative context

A child acquiring language and speech, automatically picks up these rules of that language. If there is a delay in language acquisition, then errors might be seen in any of the aforementioned areas of his expressive /receptive language.