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General Language Features


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acronym
A word composed of the initial characters of other words.
acrophony
The use of a graphic symbol originally representing a word (or the object to which it refers) to denote the initial syllable or sound of that word.
alphabet
A set of letters or symbols in a fixed order used to represent the basic set of speech sounds of a language.
applied linguistics
The branch of linguistics concerned with practical applications of language studies, for example language teaching, translation, and speech therapy.
competence
A person's subconscious knowledge of the rules governing the formation of speech in their first language.
context
A term referring to the environment in which an element (sound, word, phrase) occurs.
contrast
A difference between two linguistic items which can be exploited systematically.
convention
An agreement, usually reached unconsciously by speakers in a community, that relationships are to apply between linguistic items, between these and the outside world or to apply in the use of rules in the grammar of their language.
convergence
In a general sense a process whereby two languages or varieties come to resemble each other more and more.
conversation analysis
The techniques for examining and structuring conversations or any type of social interaction which involves verbal and non-verbal conduct.
corpus
Any structured and principled collection of data from a particular language.
cross-linguistic
Refers to phenomena which occur in several different languages or in investigations which draw on data from diverse languages.
descriptive
An approach to linguistics which is concerned with saying what language is like and not what it should be like.
diachronic
Refers to language viewed or studied over time.
dictionary
A book or electronic resource that lists the words of a language (typically in alphabetical order) and gives their meaning, or gives the equivalent words in a different language, often also providing information about pronunciation, origin, and usage.
discourse analysis
The investigation of the structure and patterning of discourse (human speech). It contrasts explicitly with analyses of written language or of contrived examples in linguistic works.
displacement
One of the key characteristics of human language which enables it to refer to situations which are not here and now.
etymology
The study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.
extralinguistic
Any phenomenon which lies outside of language. An extralinguistic reason for a linguistic feature would be one which is not to be found in the language itself.
figurative
Any use of a word in a non-literal sense.
formalist
An adjective referring to linguistic analyses which lay emphasis on relatively abstract conceptions of language structure.
general linguistics
A broad term for investigations which are concerned with the nature of language, procedures of linguistic analysis, etc. without considering to what use these can be put.
generative grammar
A linguistic theory that regards grammar as a system of rules that generates exactly those combinations of words that form grammatical sentences in a given language.
grammaticalisation
This is an historical process in language which refers to a change in status from lexical to grammatical for certain elements, frequently due to semantic bleaching (loss of lexical meaning).
head
The centre of a phrase or sentence which is possibly qualified by further optional elements.
hierarchy
Any order of elements from the most central or basic to the most peripheral.
language system
Invented, consciously designed system of communication, mostly designed by a small group of people, intended to be used by many.
language change
A process by which developments in a language are introduced and established. Language change is continual in every language and it is largely regular. However, the rate of language change is different among different languages.
language contact
Contact between two different (usually neighbouring) language communities, especially resulting in the development of common linguistic features; frequently attributive designating a situation in which this occurs.
language death
The process or phenomenon whereby a language, usually that of a cultural minority, disappears or falls into disuse.
language
A system which consists of a set of symbols (sentences) — realised phonetically by sounds — which are used in a regular order to convey a certain meaning. Apart from these formal characteristics, definitions of languages tend to highlight other aspects such as the fact that language is used regularly by humans and that it has a powerful social function.
linguistic area
A part of the world in which several genetically unrelated languages are spoken but which nonetheless show structural similarities. Such areas usually form an approximate geographical unit.
linguistic universals
A postulated set of linguistic features which are common to all languages.
linguistics
The study of language and its structure.
loan-word
A word adopted from a foreign language with little or no modification.
metalanguage
A form of language or set of terms used for the description or analysis of another language.
neologism
A newly coined word or expression.
paradigm
A set of linguistic items that form mutually exclusive choices in particular syntactic roles.
paralinguistic
A component of meta-communication that may modify or nuance meaning, or convey emotion, such as prosody, pitch, volume, intonation etc. It is sometimes defined as relating to nonphonemic properties only. Paralanguage may be expressed consciously or unconsciously.
performance
An individual's use of a language, i.e. what a speaker actually says, including hesitations, false starts, and errors.
pragmatics
The branch of linguistics dealing with language in use and the contexts in which it is used, including such matters as deixis, the taking of turns in conversation, text organization, presupposition, and implicature.
prescriptive
An approach to linguistics which is concerned with formal rules of correct usage of a language.
second language teaching
There are many views on how a second language is learned, above all in comparison with the relative perfection of first language acquisition. Research here tends to concentrate on developing models to explain the process and ideally they should be applied to the actually teaching of foreign languages to improve results.
sign language
A naturally developed communication system in which people exploit the visual-tactile modality, rather than the auditory-oral modality.
synchronic
A reference to the study of one point of time in a language. This may be the present but need not be.
taxonomic
A reference to linguistics in which the main aim is to list and classify features and phenomena. It is usually implied that no attempt for linguistic generalisations is made.
thesaurus
A work of reference that lists words in groups of synonyms and related concepts.
typology
A field of linguistics that studies and classifies languages according to their structural and functional features. Its aim is to describe and explain the common properties and the structural diversity of the world's languages.
vocabulary
The set of words in a language.
zero
Any element which is postulated by linguists but which has no realisation in a particular language.