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Written language represents the way spoken sounds and words follow one after another by arranging symbols according to a pattern that follows a certain direction. The direction used in a writing system is entirely arbitrary and established by convention. Some writing systems use the horizontal axis left to right as the Latin script or right to left as the Arabic script , while others such as traditional Chinese writing use the vertical dimension from top to bottom.

A few writing systems use opposite directions for alternating lines, and others, such as the ancient Maya script, can be written in either direction and rely on graphic cues to show the reader the direction of reading. In order to represent the sounds of the world's languages in writing, linguists have developed the International Phonetic Alphabet , designed to represent all of the discrete sounds that are known to contribute to meaning in human languages.

Grammar is the study of how meaningful elements called morphemes within a language can be combined into utterances. Morphemes can either be free or bound. If they are free to be moved around within an utterance, they are usually called words , and if they are bound to other words or morphemes, they are called affixes. The way in which meaningful elements can be combined within a language is governed by rules.

The rules for the internal structure of words are called morphology. The rules of the internal structure of phrases and sentences are called syntax.

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Grammar can be described as a system of categories and a set of rules that determine how categories combine to form different aspects of meaning. However, several categories are so common as to be nearly universal.

Such universal categories include the encoding of the grammatical relations of participants and predicates by grammatically distinguishing between their relations to a predicate, the encoding of temporal and spatial relations on predicates, and a system of grammatical person governing reference to and distinction between speakers and addressees and those about whom they are speaking. Languages organize their parts of speech into classes according to their functions and positions relative to other parts.

All languages, for instance, make a basic distinction between a group of words that prototypically denotes things and concepts and a group of words that prototypically denotes actions and events. The first group, which includes English words such as "dog" and "song", are usually called nouns. The second, which includes "run" and "sing", are called verbs.

Another common category is the adjective : words that describe properties or qualities of nouns, such as "red" or "big".


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Word classes can be "open" if new words can continuously be added to the class, or relatively "closed" if there is a fixed number of words in a class. In English, the class of pronouns is closed, whereas the class of adjectives is open, since an infinite number of adjectives can be constructed from verbs e.

In other languages such as Korean , the situation is the opposite, and new pronouns can be constructed, whereas the number of adjectives is fixed.

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Word classes also carry out differing functions in grammar. Prototypically, verbs are used to construct predicates , while nouns are used as arguments of predicates. In a sentence such as "Sally runs", the predicate is "runs", because it is the word that predicates a specific state about its argument "Sally". Some verbs such as "curse" can take two arguments, e. A predicate that can only take a single argument is called intransitive , while a predicate that can take two arguments is called transitive.

Many other word classes exist in different languages, such as conjunctions like "and" that serve to join two sentences, articles that introduce a noun, interjections such as "wow! Some languages have positionals that describe the spatial position of an event or entity. Many languages have classifiers that identify countable nouns as belonging to a particular type or having a particular shape. In linguistics, the study of the internal structure of complex words and the processes by which words are formed is called morphology.

In most languages, it is possible to construct complex words that are built of several morphemes. For instance, the English word "unexpected" can be analyzed as being composed of the three morphemes "un-", "expect" and "-ed". Morphemes can be classified according to whether they are independent morphemes, so-called roots , or whether they can only co-occur attached to other morphemes.

These bound morphemes or affixes can be classified according to their position in relation to the root: prefixes precede the root, suffixes follow the root, and infixes are inserted in the middle of a root. Affixes serve to modify or elaborate the meaning of the root. Some languages change the meaning of words by changing the phonological structure of a word, for example, the English word "run", which in the past tense is "ran".

This process is called ablaut. Furthermore, morphology distinguishes between the process of inflection , which modifies or elaborates on a word, and the process of derivation , which creates a new word from an existing one. In English, the verb "sing" has the inflectional forms "singing" and "sung", which are both verbs, and the derivational form "singer", which is a noun derived from the verb with the agentive suffix "-er". Languages differ widely in how much they rely on morphological processes of word formation.

In some languages, for example, Chinese, there are no morphological processes, and all grammatical information is encoded syntactically by forming strings of single words. This type of morpho-syntax is often called isolating , or analytic, because there is almost a full correspondence between a single word and a single aspect of meaning. Most languages have words consisting of several morphemes, but they vary in the degree to which morphemes are discrete units. In many languages, notably in most Indo-European languages, single morphemes may have several distinct meanings that cannot be analyzed into smaller segments.

For example, in Latin, the word bonus , or "good", consists of the root bon- , meaning "good", and the suffix - us , which indicates masculine gender, singular number, and nominative case. These languages are called fusional languages , because several meanings may be fused into a single morpheme. The opposite of fusional languages are agglutinative languages which construct words by stringing morphemes together in chains, but with each morpheme as a discrete semantic unit.

An example of such a language is Turkish , where for example, the word evlerinizden , or "from your houses", consists of the morphemes, ev-ler-iniz-den with the meanings house-plural-your-from. The languages that rely on morphology to the greatest extent are traditionally called polysynthetic languages. They may express the equivalent of an entire English sentence in a single word. For example, in Persian the single word nafahmidamesh means I didn't understand it consisting of morphemes na-fahm-id-am-esh with the meanings, "negation.

As another example with more complexity, in the Yupik word tuntussuqatarniksatengqiggtuq , which means "He had not yet said again that he was going to hunt reindeer", the word consists of the morphemes tuntu-ssur-qatar-ni-ksaite-ngqiggte-uq with the meanings, "reindeer-hunt-future-say-negation-again-third.

Many languages use morphology to cross-reference words within a sentence. This is sometimes called agreement. For example, in many Indo-European languages, adjectives must cross-reference the noun they modify in terms of number, case, and gender, so that the Latin adjective bonus , or "good", is inflected to agree with a noun that is masculine gender, singular number, and nominative case. In many polysynthetic languages, verbs cross-reference their subjects and objects.

In these types of languages, a single verb may include information that would require an entire sentence in English. For example, in the Basque phrase ikusi nauzu , or "you saw me", the past tense auxiliary verb n-au-zu similar to English "do" agrees with both the subject you expressed by the n - prefix, and with the object me expressed by the — zu suffix.

The sentence could be directly transliterated as "see you-did-me" [86]. Another way in which languages convey meaning is through the order of words within a sentence. The grammatical rules for how to produce new sentences from words that are already known is called syntax. Conversely, in Latin , both Dominus servos vituperabat and Servos vituperabat dominus mean "the master was reprimanding the slaves", because servos , or "slaves", is in the accusative case , showing that they are the grammatical object of the sentence, and dominus , or "master", is in the nominative case , showing that he is the subject.

Latin uses morphology to express the distinction between subject and object, whereas English uses word order. Another example of how syntactic rules contribute to meaning is the rule of inverse word order in questions , which exists in many languages.

Language Acquisition

This rule explains why when in English, the phrase "John is talking to Lucy" is turned into a question, it becomes "Who is John talking to? The latter example may be used as a way of placing special emphasis on "who", thereby slightly altering the meaning of the question. Syntax also includes the rules for how complex sentences are structured by grouping words together in units, called phrases , that can occupy different places in a larger syntactic structure. Sentences can be described as consisting of phrases connected in a tree structure, connecting the phrases to each other at different levels.

The acquisition of verbs and their grammar: the effect of particular languages - Semantic Scholar

The sentence is analyzed as being constituted by a noun phrase, a verb, and a prepositional phrase; the prepositional phrase is further divided into a preposition and a noun phrase, and the noun phrases consist of an article and a noun. The reason sentences can be seen as being composed of phrases is because each phrase would be moved around as a single element if syntactic operations were carried out.

For example, "the cat" is one phrase, and "on the mat" is another, because they would be treated as single units if a decision was made to emphasize the location by moving forward the prepositional phrase: "[And] on the mat, the cat sat". Each of them would analyze a sentence such as this in a different manner. Languages can be classified in relation to their grammatical types. Languages that belong to different families nonetheless often have features in common, and these shared features tend to correlate.