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Psy 360 - Language and Lexicon Paper

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Language Paper


October 3, 2011


Language is used all over the world, it is the most common form of human interaction as it allows individuals to communicate with one another and is essential to the functioning of our daily lives and the way in which the world works. This paper will cover an explanation of language as it relates to human cognition. The overall goal of this paper will be to provide a strong understanding of the definition of language and its difference from lexicon, as well as an evaluation of the structure and processes of language and an analysis of the role of language processing in cognitive psychology.


Language is a attribute that only humans are possess. The Merriam Webster Dictionary (2011) defines language as "the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them, used and understood by a community as a system of communication (para.1). In order to fully understand the definition, one must understand that there are several features of language; communication, the elements, structure, ability and development. The main purpose of language is communication. Languages make it possible for individuals to communicate and understand each other. The reason that there is communication and understanding comes from the relationship between the elements in the language and the fact that the meaning of the elements is arbitrary. No special reason exists regarding why one word has the meaning that it does. Randomness is a key characteristic of symbols. A sound may stand for a meaning but what sound stands for what meaning is arbitrary (Willingham, 2007).

The third feature of language is structure, the fact that a balance exists between the patterns of symbols. There is a major difference when saying, 'The mother comforted a crying child' and 'A child comforted the crying mother.' Each sentence takes on a different meaning when the words are rearranged. Supporting the fact that structure plays a major role in the development and use of language. The fourth key feature of language is that it is generative, it can be built upon. In language, words can be assembled in such a way that they can produce an infinite number of meanings. The last feature of language is that it is developing. Language is constantly changing and progressing, as new words are created and as the rules of grammar change. Some languages die out and are no longer in use whereas individuals create new languages (Willingham, 2007).


A lexicon is a "book containing the alphabetical arrangements of words and their definitions" ("Lexicon," 2011, para. 1). In language, "Most researchers believe that people recognize words through a matching process in which a spoken word is compared with a lexicon" (Willingham, 2007, p. 453). The recognition comes from a imaginary, mental dictionary of words that each individual is familiar with in an effort to have the ability to structure and develop sentences and words during a conversations or when using language skills.

Four Levels of Language

The four levels of language include phonemes, words, sentences, and texts. Each level has special rules governing what is acceptable at that level and what is not. Phonemes are individual sounds that combine to form words, which combine to form sentences, and proceed to combine to form texts. Phonemes are basically the individual speech sounds of the letters of the alphabet. Some letters have two different sounds such as how one pronounces the letter "a" differently in the words baby and back. Approximately 46 phonemes are present in the English language but there are about 200 in use worldwide. A potential differentiation of phonemes may occur in instances such as if two closely related sounds are to be considered different phonemes. An example of this would be noticed with the letter "p" in words such as pool and spool. If people hold their hand close to their mouth as each word is said, they can feel a puff of air when pool is said but not when spool is said (Willingham, 2007).

The 46 English phonemes combine in various



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