Hockett’s Design Essay

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In a world where scientists are incessantly attempting to examine theintelligence of life forms other than humans, linguists have presented the ideathat language in itself is reserved strictly for humans. One therefore, mustattempt to solve that dilemma and come to a conclusion regarding the question islanguage unique to humans? If language is viewed solely as a system ofcommunication, then it could be said that many differing species possess theability to communicate. Humans also use certain systems other than language tocommunicate with others.
The questions remains, are the kinds of grammars thatrepresent linguistic knowledge unique to man. Most humans acquiring languageutilize speech sounds, made up of an utterance act and illocutionary act, toexpress meanings, but such sounds are not necessary, which is evident by thedeafs ability to communicate through sign language (Fromkin et al. , 1997). Conversely, when animals produce noises to communicate and vocally imitate humanutterances, it is not the same as having the ability to communicate throughlanguage (Fromkin et al. , 1997). Language is a system that relates sounds andgestures to meanings, something animals do not possess (Fromkin et al.
, 1997). This will further be examined when looking at linguist and anthropologistCharles Hocketts Design Features and how they define what communication mustentail to qualify distinctly as a language. The first of Hocketts DesignFeatures is arbitrariness (Hockett, 1958). A word like dog, for example,does not have a distinct meaning and sound relationship.
The word dog isnot synonymous in all languages; while it means the same thing universally, theword used to depict it differs; hunt in German, perro in Spanish,and chien in French. The next characteristic is duality, the fact thatwords have two levels, one that is meaningless and the other meaningful (Hockett,1958). When looking the word PIG, the meaningless level is the letters whichmake up the word p-i-g; by themselves they have no meaning. Conversely when theletters p-i-g are grouped together they form the word PIG which is meaningful.
Next, the characteristic is displacement in time and space which means thatlanguage must be able to refer to things in the distance (Hockett, 1958). Next,language must have structure dependence (Hockett, 1958). This means that thesubject must be distinguishable from the pronoun and vice versa. The sentencethe dog bites the man must differ structurally from the man bites thedog. The fifth characteristic is creativity which means that a form ofcommunication must be able to have an infinite sentence (Hockett, 1997).
AsChomsky noted, language in itself must be infinite, and by this it is meant thatthe set of sentences are infinite and new sentences are continuously made andunderstood (Fromkin et al. , 1997). The sixth characteristic is semanticity whichmeans that the form of communication must have the capacity to refer to eventsand objects – this is similar to displacement in time and space (Hockett, 1958). Next is cultural transmission, the ability to speak the language of the culturefrom which you are born (Hockett, 1958). Finally, the last of Hocketts DesignFeatures is vocal auditory channel which means that in order for communicationto be a language one must use the vocal auditory channel (Hockett, 1958).
Theexception to this would be the speech impaired who use sign language which isstill recognised as a language despite its inability to fulfill Hockettslast feature (Fromkin et al. , 1997). Thus, to answer the question is languageunique to humans one must consider all the above mentioned information foranalysis. First, arbitrariness is not unique to the human species since birdshave the ability to have a bird call in the Eastern US which will differ fromone in the Western US (Fromkin et al. , 1997).
Next, duality is also not uniqueto humans since the notes in bird songs are only meaningful when they are puttogether and not alone (Fromkin et al. , 1997). As for displacement in time andspace, birds are not able to do this while bees, with what is known as thebee dance, are able to tell others where the honey is amongst other things(Fromkin et al. , 1997). When looking at structure dependence, vocal auditorychannel and cultural transmission, it appears that bird grammars exist, howeverunstructured, that birds can learn other bird calls while among other birds, andthat all animals have the ability to use the vocal auditory channel tocommunicate therefore none of these characteristics are unique to humans (Fromkinet al. , 1997).
Finally it comes down to the question of creativity. Scientistshave looked at this aspect of language to determine whether this is unique tohumans and what they have discovered is that no discovered animal language iscreative (Fromkin et al. , 1997). The reason for this is that animals are limitedin the types of messages that they can convey to one another, this includeschimps, bees and birds. Therefore, is language unique to humans? The answer isyes.
No animal language currently possesses all of the above required DesignFeatures as stated by Hockett. Of course, with the ever changing world of today,who knows, maybe one day we will be proved wrong. BibliographyAndersen, Julie Tetel. Linguistics in America 1769-1924.
New York, New York:Routledge, 1990. Fromkin, Victoria, et al. An Introduction to Language. Toronto,Ontario: Harcourt Brace ; Company, 1997. Hockett, Charles F.
. A Course inModern Linguistics. New York, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1958.

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