Language as it Relates to Cognition


Language is a system of communication that a group of people uses. They use sounds, symbols, and words to express meaning, thought and idea. Each language is unique and has grammar. Language is also oral, systematic, symbolic as well as arbitrary- the fact that the sounds of words typically have no relationship to their meanings,” (Psycholinguistic Definitions, para 1). The use of language can be in various forms, for instance, primarily through written communication and oral communication. In addition, communication can occur through body language (Language Definition, para. 1). Language varies from one group of people to another this usually happens due to country boundaries, history, culture, and demographics. Each country has its own style of language that develops due to the blending of cultures, environment as well as other factors. For instance, countries such as the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom all use English but they have different accents, mannerisms, and words. Moreover, many dialects develop from a common language in different parts of the same country (Language Definition, para. 2). On the other hand, lexicon means all words that an individual knows in a certain language, which are “stored in an individual’s mental dictionary” as well as the associated information about each word (Psycholinguistic Definition, Lexicon, para. 1 ). The information deals with syntactic, phonological, semantic, pragmatic, and phonological properties of words. This paper explores the key features of language, the four levels of language structure and processing as well as the role of language processing in cognitive psychology.

Key features of language

Language has displacement- it finds application in the communication of meaning across time {Davis, 2000, para. 2). Language passes down generations and a psychologically normal person can acquire language in childhood. Such a person develops the ability to speak and hear the language by understanding the system of oral communication in that language. Oral communication comprises of set noises made through the vocal cords. Using the noises, people can communicate through expression of emotions, ideas, and feelings. Communicating in a language helps one to interact with others through various degrees. For instance, through language one can express friendliness or hostility. Communication is possible because language helps to convey meaning (Davis, 2000, para. 2).

Different languages comprise different systems of oral communication. This means that a speaker cannot understand a different language from another language community unless they learn the language first through second language acquisition. The other feature of language is that no two speakers of a language speak the same. Each person uses language differently in every language community. However, this does not mean that the individuals are using a different language. The differences in language do not inhibit mutual comprehension of the different language use by an individual an idiolect Therefore, one can differentiate speakers from their voices even on telephone conversations.

Typically, people develop a single language at first. This language is known as mother tongue or the first language. Normally the first language is acquired from the parents or guardians that bring up a child from infancy. Later, such a child can learn a second language depending on various factors, for instance, the number of languages spoken in the society. If one can master two languages well this is known as bilingualism. Children acquire two languages if they are brought up in homes that use one language and the wider society uses another. The intellectual level of acquiring a second language is different for people who grow up in monolingual societies and those in multilingual societies.

Human language is superior to that of animals. Even though animals are capable of communicating through noises or other means their communication is limited. On the contrary, human communication is infinite and involves creativity. No restrictions on what humans can speak in any language community. This means that the language in the human community keeps on changing and one has to keep learning can cope with the changes that occur now frequently. Human language is dynamic due to language productivity (Davies, 2000, para. 2).

Language serves different functions in the society. Using language people express identity at a local or national level. Normally, speakers of the same language belong to the same group. This is because they can communicate and understand one another. Cultures and practices are passed from one generation to another. Language plays a role in entertainment such as in puns and riddles.

Four levels of language

The four major levels of language are – phonology, morphology, syntax, and grammar. At the phonology level, we have the production of sound-articulatory phonetics and perception- acoustic phonetics. Combining sounds so that the sequences of sounds make meaning requires the use of rules. Each language has its own range of sounds and this difference makes learning a foreign language difficult or when one learns it, they have an accent. The spoken output depends on one’s knowledge of language rules. The basic unit in phonology is a phoneme and it has variants called allophones. The way one makes a sound can result in different meanings. Some differences may not be phonemic in one language but can cause differences in meaning in another language. Different sound ranges have different meanings in various languages. On the other hand, perception involves the way that human beings process speech and attach meanings to sounds produced in articulatory phonetics. Different people may decode similar sounds differently during language processing and this poses a challenge concerning the mental lexicon. This level in language structure is very important because it forms the basis of spoken language, a universal tool in human language (Davis, 2000, para. 3).

Morphology has two areas- semantics and morphology. Semantics concerns the meanings attached to words. On the other hand, morphology deals with word structures. The basic unit in morphology is a morpheme. Morphemes are bound together to form words. Morphemes are of two types -derivational and inflectional morphemes and linguists urge that derivational morphemes are necessary for word production as well as during perception. Therefore, human beings “must possess a mental lexicon” in which stems and bound morphemes are, stored and combined when the need arises to use words to communicate (Davis, 2000, para. 4). Another important thing to note is the lexical ambiguity. Some words represent many meanings and one may need to look at the context to perceive the intended meaning of ambiguous words.

Syntax deals with the structure of grammatical sentences. Native speakers of a language often possess implicit knowledge of the syntax of their particular language though most are unaware of their competence. Syntax also involves the study of phrase structure rules as well as lexical insertion rules to construct grammatical sentences (Davis, 2000, para. 5).

Grammar is a component of language structure. It deals with the relation of words in a sentence. Different words and phrases occupy different positions in a sentence. Consequently, different languages have different positions for words and phrases in sentences. Grammar encompasses more than the relation of words in a sentence encompasses and includes lexicon, intonation, orthography, and gender. For a person to speak or use a certain language correctly one must know the rules that govern all aspects of that language.

The role of language processing in cognitive psychology

Cognitive psychology involves the scientific investigation of human cognition. It entails how mental abilities enable man to reason, remember, think, understand, learn, and perceive. Language processing plays a role in understanding cognitive psychology. A human being can acquire language through exposure to its usage. Through cognition, children acquire language as spoken by their parents or guardians. In addition, if the children are brought up in multilingual societies they acquire a second language simultaneously with their first language.

Language processing involves human cognition. When we process language, we rely on cognitive resources to coordinate the large information we acquire from our surroundings. “we call up innumerable models and frames, set up multiple connections, coordinate large arrays of information, and engage in creative mappings, transfers, and elaborations” (Fauconnier, n.d, para, 6).

Language operates at different levels for instance semantics, phonology, grammar, and syntax. This is at the basic level and through cognitive resources. To produce figurative devices such as metaphors, puns, and metonymy higher level is used at a higher level. These devices require one to use their cognitive resources to produce them as well as make infer their meaning and this entails reasoning that is a cognitive ability (Fauconnier, n.d, para, 15).

To sum up, language plays a major role in cognitive psychology. Scientists have found the correlation between language processing and cognitive psychology through mappings, integration, thinking reasoning, and language acquisition. Therefore, language is powerful in explaining human cognition.

Reference List

Davis, J. (2000). Language representation and processing. Web.

Fauconnier, G. Meaning, language, cognition. Web.

Language definition. Unixl Education and Career Information Portal. Web.

Psycholinguistics definitions. Web.