Linguistics

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Write note on language as a system of systems.

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jhussung eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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We talk about language as a "system of systems" because it consists of interdependent systems that only become fully meaningful when combined. We cannot think of spoken language without phonology, the individual sounds that make up words, but these sounds would be meaningless if they did not correspond to words that we understand as meaningful. Similarly, language would be incredibly limited if we had words but no way to pronounce them.

In order for language to work, we need a way to say words (phonology), meaning attached to these words (morphology), an understanding of the meanings of words combine within a sentence (syntax), and an understanding of how greater, non-verbal context informs of the meaning of language (pragmatics). While it is easy to think of language as simple and automatic if you are fluent in a language, there are many different systems that all work in conjunction to give this effect. This is especially clear if you ever try to learn a new language and realize how many different pieces you have to learn before you can easily navigate the language.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Language is considered as a system primarily because it is made of linguistic units that are interdependent of each other. Since they are smaller units working within a whole system, by default, language becomes a system of systems. The basic premise of this concept is that the diversity of features that are found in language formation and production prevents it from being described in a diluted or generalized way. Instead, language study has to be pulled apart and studied by each of its multifunctional sub-systems. 

The idea of language being a system of systems comes primarily from an article written by Mulder and Hervey (1975) and publishedLa Linguistique(11,(2)). Mulder and Hervey's definition of language follows a functionalist perspective in which language is defined as a "genus" and, as such, it should be subdivided into a smaller sub-parts, or systems. 

Five sub-systems of language are identified as 

  1. Semantics- Rules of language content. It has a sub-system of its own based on vocabulary and word localization. 
  2. Pragmatics- Rules of language usage (function and appropriateness)
  3. Syntax- Rules for word order and arrangements
  4. Morphology- Rules for word formation. Also has its own sub-system of morphemes. 
  5. Phonology- Rules for how the language sounds, or should sound. 

Therefore, the complexity of language and the fact that it is a composite of various functional parts are the conditions that deem it, quite correctly, as a system of systems. 

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