chapter  1
14 Pages

Structures in languages

All human languages have two kinds of structure: a phonological structure and a morphosyntactic structure. Before this point can be made, we need to make it clear what it means for languages to have ‘structure’. We will do this in section 1.2, where we also point out that languages vary in the extent to which they allow particular kinds of structure to be ‘seen’, or observed. Phonological structure is not the same as the orthography in alphabetic writing systems, and we urge you to keep the notions of ‘letter’ and ‘sound’ distinct in your thinking about pronunciation. In section 1.3, we explain briefly what is meant by morphosyntactic structure, and then move on to a thought experiment in which you are invited to imagine a world without phonological structure, a mental exercise that is intended to make you see more clearly what phonological structure really is. Its independence from the morphosyntactic structure is brought out by another thought experiment, where we imagine a world in which all languages have the same phonological structure. Finally, we will make the point that all languages have phonological structures, but that sign languages express their phonological elements visually, as manual and facial gestures, rather than acoustically.