Folium: How to Understand the Deep Structures of Language via Scientific American

Folium: How to Understand the Deep Structures of Language via Scientific American

Folium: How to Understand the Deep Structures of Language via Scientific American


If you have ever seen a silent film then you have probably picked up on some examples of the unspoken language all humans speak to one another. Although we do not hear what is being said, the non-verbal communication a lot of times speaks louder than words themselves. Joshua K. Hartshorne makes a solid point when he states “around the world, we cry when we are sad, smile when we are happy, and laugh when something is funny, but the languages we use to describe this are different.” To understand the importance of Communicative Language Teaching, let’s first investigate the complexity of language itself.

(ed. Charlie Chaplin, master of the “unspoken language”.)

Language works in a variety of ways and depending on the language or the country words and sentences are subject to change. Hartshorne goes about explaining that often we call mathematics “the universal language” but even that language lacks verb agreement and subject/object distinction. When I first arrived to a different country with a different language it was hard for me to pick up the grammar and sentence structure and I struggled for about six months until I really had a grasp on the language.

Learning the language means living the language, and that takes time!

There is a way in which our brains understand and translate different languages and our brains sometimes struggle with processing it all. We have different streams of information like what words were uttered and what order they were uttered in. Every language is different. In English, an adjective comes before a noun such as “red house”, whereas in Spanish, the adjective comes after “casa (house) roja (red).” In German, you can put noun after noun together to form giant compound words; in Chinese, the pitch of your voice determines the meaning of your words.

“To understand a sentence, you have to determine which character is doing what: was it Yasu who saw the bird, or was it the other way around – Hartshorne 

As part of the wave-like nature of language in general, every language is characterized by variation within the speech communities that use it. Since language is the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way we assume that it is only spoken or written but there is also another form.

There are hundreds of sign languages in the world, created and used by deaf people. Sign Language by definition is a system of communication using visual gestures and signs, as used by deaf people. Often there is only mention of verbal languages, but when there is much more to language than we could ever possible understand.

(ed. American Sign Language – ASL vs. Spanish Sign – SSL) 

Hartshorne wraps up his article stating that human languages are complex, and by simply skimming the surface will not bring you to a conclusion. He says that Overall this paper provides one of the clearest examples yet of where an important tendency in human language. This was really eye opening to see the different examples and studies that were done to show that the structure of language is a necessary human communication skill.

Julie Martin
LEAF Editor & Contributor