Before one proceeds to discuss that language is communication, one needs to differentiate as to what constitutes language and communication.

What is communication? Communication involves the transfer of an idea, a thought or feelings to others and receiving them from others. In the communication process, two parties are involved – the sender and the receiver. During communication, both the sender and the receiver are using their five senses to perceive everything either by direct observation or by messages that they receive from others. An explanation of sensation and perception will be helpful at this stage.

There is a very close connection between the body and the mind. The body has five senses – it can SEE, HEAR, TOUCH, TASTE and SMELL. These are the gateways into the mind through the body. Everything we experience comes to us originally through one or more of these five senses. We have either seen it, heard it, felt it, tasted it or smelt it.

Experience comes to us by two or more of the senses at once, e.g., if we look at a moving car we both see it and hear it, or if we have to take some nasty medicine we see it, smell it and taste it. Things that we experience through two or more of the senses stick in the mind much more clearly than things experienced through one sense only.

When a person uses one of the senses to get to know something, a message is passed from the body to the mind. Any message coming in from the body is called a SENSATION.

When that sensation is experienced and the message is in the mind, the mind tries to make sense out of it. The action of the mind in giving meaning to a sensation is called PERCEPTION.

Now we move to a consideration of what constitutes language. All languages are alike in one important way. They all share the same set of characteristics. They all use sounds, they all use symbols, they all have structure and they all convey meaning.

The English language for example, has a structure unique in its own right. The most commonly used structure is that of SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT (S-V-O). The two examples of S-V-O below will show the difference in meaning much clearly.

a)                The man rode the horse.

b)               The horse rode the man.

Sentence a) makes complete sense. Sentence b) does not make any sense at all even though it is structurally a correct sentence of the S-V-O type. Hence, in English a change in the position of words often changes the meaning of a sentence. Position, or word order, in English, is of basic importance to understanding the functions of words and the meanings of sentences.

That the English language is made up of structures was pointed out by the Dane, Otto Jespersen. He has written several books pertaining to the English language. There are 20 or more commonly used structures in the English language. It is not enough for a language to have structures. These structures must convey a logical meaning. As stated earlier, sentence b) does not convey a logical meaning despite being structurally sound.

The ingredients of the English language are of three kinds:-

a)                  Word order.

b)                  Structural words.

c)                  A few inflexions.

In English, the order of the words is very important. Notice the difference between Column A and Column B.

1. Jim Saw Harry. Harry saw Jim.
2. Fish eat. Eat fish!
3. a foot long a long foot.

After word order, the next important thing in English is the structural words. These are pronouns (I, me, he, her), prepositions (in, on, under, at, from), the auxiliary verbs (be, have, do, shall, will, may), adjectives (a, the, this, that, all, each) and adverbs (ago, again, also, even, ever, no, not).

The third principle in English is the use of a small number of inflexions. In grammar, inflexion is a variation in the form of a word to mark a variation in its use. For example:-

a)      verbs (I go, You go, He goes, She goes, It goes)

b)      nouns (one boy, two boys, a boy’s book)

c)      adjectives and adverbs (quick, quicker, quickest).

As word order in English is fixed, the models for the different kinds of English sentences are fixed also. Thus, the S-V-O type is a fixed sentence pattern.

The English language is made up of many sentence patterns. The question arises, what is the purpose of a sentence in a language? Its purpose is to communicate. The sentence is the basic unit of communication. Words, phrases and clauses – the structural elements of communication – derive their meaning from sentence context.

Therefore, the transfer of an idea, a thought or feelings to others and vice versa takes the form of sentences in a language. When this transfer takes place, it is called communication. I am of the opinion and belief that the purpose of a language is to communicate with others.


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