According fact very flexible in morphology (Pinker 129).

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, language is anarbitrary means of communicating through oral, written, spoken, and/or gesturedsymbols ( In his book The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker aims to enhance the readersknowledge about different aspects of language and explain the underlyingconcepts of how it is formed and used.

Whether the reader is familiar withconcepts of language or just reading for pleasure, Pinker is able toeffectively communicate and explain the many different principles that go intolanguage learning and how they affect our daily language use.            In The Sounds of Silence, Pinker talksabout the importance of sound, mainly in relation to speech and perception. Phonologyis very important in the role of an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacherbecause having extended knowledge on the pronunciations of my native languagecan help me to better assist non-native speakers in theirs. It will allow me tobetter guide others in improving their speech skills which can positivelyimpact their reading and writing skills. Teaching phonology can be difficultbecause the English language will not have the same number of phonemes as anygiven student’s L1. However, Pinker points out that this does not reallymatter, because in speech, we often do not hear the phonemes, rather we focuson the abstract units of language underlying the sounds that we hear (Pinker 191).He also goes into detail about how the sounds that we hear combine to createsyllables and then words and how the sounds that we make are merelycombinations of our six speech organs. For any student learning an L2, it isimperative that they learn to form the combinations of the L2 in order to mastertheir pronunciation.

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With this chapter, Pinker aims to show that English is nota phonetic language and that the phonemes are just a pattern of sounds thatoften do not not match up with the conventional spelling or pronunciation andimplies that the English languages depends more on a morphemic writing system.            In Words, Words, Words, Pinker focuses nowabout English syntax and morphology in comparison to other languages. Heparticularly talks about affixes and points out that the English language, althoughcontaining many, lacks in relation to other, less common languages.

What isinteresting about his comparison is that Pinker alludes to a discovery byRichard Sproat that pointed out that English is in fact very flexible in morphology(Pinker 129). The English language allows us to be able to almost infinitelyform words out of other words by adding morphemes, the smallest units oflanguage that have meaning, in their proper places. Although Pinker mentionsvarious affixes, he only talks about them in relation to how they are able toconvert the meaning of a stem.

Although affixes do not form words when isolated,apart from merely adding meaning, some also carry their own meaning. Understandingthis is essential to understand the language itself because it is the part oflanguage that allows us to create unique phrases. Understanding the morphology alongwith phonology of the English language is the basis of learning to use it as ameans of communication because they are the basis for forming words, phrases,and eventually sentences.            Inorder to be able to form meaningful phrases, and subsequently sentences, onemust understand how the structure of the language works. In order to understandthe structure, it helps to first parse it, especially for L2 learners.

Bybreaking down a phrase into its linguistic components, the learner is able tounderstand the fundamental elements of the learning language. This also assistswhen committing the lexical categories to memory. Pinker talks frequently aboutambiguity, but fails to mention one of the most common way to deal with this, byusing the garden path model. This model proposes a way to process sentences andasserts that when coming across sentences such as garden path ones, that onemeaning is interpreted, but that with reconsideration, one is able to see thepossibility of multiple meanings (Callysta 2).

Syntax plays a vital role inlanguage learning because if you cannot properly format a sentence so thatother speakers of the language can understand you, then you have notsuccessfully acquired the language. It can be problematic to communicate if aspeaker lacks knowledge of syntax and as an ESL teacher, it is essential toensure that students have proficient levels of comprehension and the ability toformulate coherent phrases. In order for them to do this, they must be taughthow to combine phonemes to create meaning and then combine meanings to createsentences and phrases.            Inorder to effectively teach English, it is important to understand its evolution.Although English is a very flexible language, it is also very inflexible in someinstances, such as word order. English has a strict SVO word order which is whymany learners struggle with translation from their L1.

Many languages have a whatPinker refers to as a “free-word-order” which allows languages to vary insyntax. (Pinker 235). The interesting thing about that English language that Ihad previously never thought about it that is it subject-prominent. I neverrealized that although a sentence may not necessarily have a subject thatrefers to an action, every sentence must still contain a subject. For example, Pinkeruses “It is raining.” and points out that the “it”, although it is technically thesubject, in fact does not refer to anything (Pinker 233). Although Pinker does notcompletely agree with Chomsky’s idea of universal grammar in he constantlyreferences it in relation to language history.

He believes that in addition tolanguage being innate, that there is also a learned aspect of it. He recognizesthat Chomsky is right in that we are born with a language acquisition device,but negates the idea of a total universal grammar since this would imply thatthere is at least one characteristic that connects all languages. He illustrateshis point by saying that language change does not always corelate with linguisticand grammar change (Pinker 234). He further defends his point of view that languagecannot fully be innate by referring to the fact that language is creative and everchangingand its grammar is constantly evolving.The variation and evolutionof language does not only affect the language, has a large impact on the abilityto learn it.

Nonetheless, we are all born with some linguistic ability, andthis can be attested to by various psychological experiments. Despite this, wedon’t really begin to use words until about a year. Up until the one-word stage,babies tend to just babble. It is amazing that within six months infants learn howto distinguish phonemes, but it takes them six more months to combine thosephonemes to make words, and six more months to combine those words with otherwords ending with exponential vocabulary growth. Despite their newly acquired lexis,according to Pinker, the actual language usage does not become more complex (Pinker271). The interesting thing about this is that although first language acquisitionhappens in relatively predictive stages, all children learn at different rates.

This is one of the issues that many ESL teachers face because of the variationin the students’ stages of language learning, although this can be partiallysolved through various methods including student mixing, and teaching stylevariation. Pinker claims that true grammar comprehension of a language is not contingenton practice and imitation, because it does not actually aid in a person’sunderstanding of a language (Pinker 280). While this can be true, this issomewhat flawed because as he also points out, children may take feedback and commitit to memorization, while in a way, still benefiting from this as shown intheir improved application of grammar rules.Finally, with grammarrules and understanding of a language come actual usage. Grammar is essentiallycategorized into prescriptive, being the strict rules that one must follow to achieve”correctness”, and descriptive, which studies the actual usage of a language. Tounderstand correctness, it is necessary to understand what constitutes as “grammatical”.

Prescriptivists typically define it as something that is in accordance with strictgrammar rules. I agree with Pinker in that prescriptivist don’t really have anyvalid authority for setting must-follow rules in a language, because odds are,they don’t follow the very rules that they make up. It’s important tounderstand that having a general English for purposes of mutual intelligibilityis important, but having one “standard” English is an impractical and ridiculousconcept. After reevaluating this, then we can begin to truly understandlanguage and its usage in real world application. However, pedagogical grammar is rather prescriptiveand what an average ESL teacher uses. Pedagogical grammar rules are about “correctness”of usage.

Nonetheless, it also concerns itself with descriptive grammar teachingin that it strives for the learner to be able to use the word in formal as wellas informal contexts. It is critical to combine both of these in an ESL contextin order for students to achieve true fluency. It is important to know theso-called rules of a language, but it is also important to understand that manynative speakers of a language disregard many of these rules. The onlyrequirement is essentially to be able to communicate to the point where othersare able to comprehend.Language is a part of ouridentity. The moment we open our mouths, people are instantly able to make judgements,whether true or false, about us.

This is because we adapt the speech that weour surrounded with, and subconsciously it becomes a part of who we are. The capacityof an infant to develop speech depends on the capability of the child to differentiatebetween phonemes. They must first decipher the sounds of speech and then wordswhich carry meaning and this whole process before the infant is even one-yearold. They are then able to replicate and imitate things that they hear and areeven able to create unique phrases. They show signs of ability to communicateverbally through babbling, single words, and then two-word speech until theyare able to speak at a level of fluency. This is highly similar to the processof second language acquisition and as an ESL teacher, being able to comprehendthis process is vital to the success in being able to effectively teachEnglish.

In Pinker’s book, he coherently explains various concepts concerningthe English language ranging from understanding the basic sound units, to reachingnativeness through the application of the underlying principles of the language.


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