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Biplob Prodhan
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Introduction to Linguistics Short Handnote Series


Q.1. In what sense language is arbitrary? [‘13,‘17]

Ans. Arbitrariness is one of the major features of language. It means that there is no natural connection between linguistic form and its meaning.

Language is arbitrary in the sense that there is no inherent relation between the words of language and their meanings or the ideas conveyed by them. For example, there is no reason why a female adult human being be called a ‘woman’ in English, ‘aurat’ in Urdu, ‘zen’ in Persian and ‘femine’ in French.

The choice of a word selected to mean a particular thing or idea is purely arbitrary, but once a word is selected for a particular referent, it comes to stay as such.

However, had language not been arbitrary, there would have been only one language in the world.

Q.2. Why is linguistics considered as a science? [‘13,‘16,‘18]

Ans. The scientific study of human language is called linguistics. It bridges the social sciences, the humanities and the natural sciences.

The study of linguistics would be especially beneficial to anyone with an interest in languages, psychology, sociology, communication disorders, computer sciences and anthropology.

Linguistics may be defined as the science of language. In linguistics, we study two things – language and scientific. Language is the medium of communication. It is the expression of ideas, thoughts and feelings. Scientific indicates objectivity, systematically, exactness, precision and empirical.

Knowledge of linguistics is helpful to learn the internal structure of a language. Therefore, linguistics has all the qualities of science. That is why, linguistics is called a science.

Q.3. What are the differences between langue and parole? [‘12,‘15,‘17]

Ans. Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure introduced the concept of langue and parole. According to him, langue is the system of language while parole is how the rules are put into action by the speakers of that language.

Saussure compared these concepts to chess. According to his theory, langue represents the rules for chess that both players must use in order to play just as all speakers of a language must accept the rules of the language in order for effective communication to take place.

On the other hand, parole represents all the possible moves that an individual chess player may make just as two speakers of a language will speak exactly in the same way.

However, langue is the actual language spoken, for instance; French, German or English, the language of the speaker while parole is the individual speech act.

Romantic and humanistic readings influence one’s parole.

Q.4. What are the differences between competence and performance?


Ans. A distinction is often made between competence and performance in the study of language. These concepts were introduced by Noam Chomsky in 1965.

According to Chomsky, competence is the ideal speaker-hearer knowledge about a language. It’s a linguistic theory, especially in generative grammar, to refer to person’s knowledge of his language. This knowledge is like a power of judgement about a language. An ideal speaker-hearer can judge which sentences are correct and which are not through this knowledge.

On the other hand, performance consists of the comprehension and production of language. It occurs in real situations and is subject to many non-linguistic influences. It varies from context to context, i.e. formal and informal. It requires extralinguistic knowledge such as an awareness of the speaker, audience and the context which crucially determines how speech is constructed and analysed.

However, Chomsky’s distinction between competence and performance is similar to Saussure’s concept of langue and parole. Like competence, langue also reflects cognitive linguistic knowledge and like performance, parole refers to the actual speech used by the speakers of a language.

Q.5. Define diphthong. Mention the eight diphthongal phonemes of English language. [‘12,‘15,‘17]

Ans. In phonetics, a diphthong is a vowel in which there is a noticeable sound change within same syllable. The process of moving from one vowel sound to another is called gliding and that is why another name for a diphthong is gliding vowel.

In English, there are 8 diphthongs. These are:

  1. /aɪ/ : This diphthong creates sounds similar to “eye” and most often occurs with letter combinations that include /i/, /igh/, and /y/. Examples: crime, like, lime.
  2. /eɪ/ : This diphthong creates sounds similar to “great” and is most often used with letter combinations that include /ey/, /ay/, /ai/ and /a/. Examples: break, rain, weight.
  3. /əʊ/ : This diphthong creates sounds similar to “boat” and most often occurs with letter combinations that include /ow/, /oa/ and /o/. Examples: slow, moan, though.
  4. /aʊ/ : This diphthong creates sounds similar to “ow!” and most often occurs with letter combinations that include /ou/ and /ow/. Examples: brown, hound, now.
  5. /eə/ : This diphthong creates sounds similar to “air” and most often occurs with letter combinations that include /ai/, /a/, and /ea/. Examples: lair, stair, bear.
  6. /ɪə/ : This diphthong creates sounds similar to “ear” and most often occurs with letter combinations that include /ee/, /ie/ and /ea/. Examples: beer, near, pier.
  7. /ɔɪ/ : This creates sounds similar to “boy” and most often occurs with letter combinations that include /oy/ and /oi/. Examples: oil, toy, coil.
  8. /ʊə/ : This diphthong creates sounds similar to “sure” and most occurs with letter combinations that include /oo/, /ou/, /u/, and /ue/. Examples: lure, pure, fur.

Q.6. Define triphthong. Show English triphthongs with examples. [‘14]

Ans. A triphthong is a glide from one vowel to another and then to a third, all produced rapidly and without interruption. For example, a careful pronunciation of the word ‘hour’ begins with a vowel quality similar to ɑ:’, goes on to ʊ’ then ends in ə’. It’s called /aʊə/.

English triphthongs are composed of five closing diphthongs with ə’ added on the end as discussed below:

  1. The sound /eɪə/: which is composed of the closing diphthong /eɪ/ and the schwa /ə/; thus, /eɪ/ + /ə/ = /eɪə/ as in the following words: layer = /leɪə/, player = /pleɪə/, sayer = /seɪə/.
  2. The sound /aɪə/: composed of the closing diphthong /aɪ/ and the schwa sound /ə/; thus, /aɪ/ + /ə/ = /aɪə/ as in the following words: liar = /laɪə/, admire = /ədmaɪə/, buyer = /baɪə/, tyre = /taɪə/, tier = /taɪə/, tire = /taɪə/, flier = /flaɪə/.
  3. The sound /ɔɪə/: composed of the closing diphthong /ɔɪ/ and the schwa sound /ə/; thus, /ɔɪ/ + /ə/ = /ɔɪə/ as in the following words: employer = /ɪmplɔɪə/, destroyer = /dɪstrɔɪə/, enjoyable = /ɪndʒɔɪəbl/, buoyant = /bɔɪənt/.
  4. The sound /əʊə /: composed of the closing diphthong /əʊ/ and the schwa sound /ə/; thus, /əʊ/ + /ə/ = /əʊə/ as in the following words: goer = /gəʊə/, borrower = /bɒrəʊə/, lower = /ləʊə/, thrower = /θrəʊə/, mower = /məʊə/.
  5. The sound /aʊə /: composed of the closing diphthong /aʊ/ and the schwa sound /ə/; thus, /aʊ/ + /ə/ = /aʊə/ as in the following words: hour = /aʊə/, flour = /flaʊə/, flower = /flaʊə/, power = /paʊə/.

Q.7. What are voiced and unvoiced sounds? [‘15,‘17]

Ans. There are 26 letters in English alphabet, but there are 39 sounds (15 vowel sounds and 24 consonant sounds) produced by these letters. All the sounds produced in English are either voiced or unvoiced.

Voiced sounds occur when the vocal cords vibrate during the production of sound. English consonants voiced sounds are: /b/, /d/, /g/, /v/, /z/, /ð/, /ʒ/, /dʒ/, /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /l/, /r/, /w/, /j/.

There is no vocal cord vibration when producing unvoiced sounds. English consonants unvoiced sounds are: /p/, /t/, /k/, /f/, /θ/, /s/, /ʃ/, /tʃ/, /h/.

However, if we put our fingers on our vocal cords as we say these sounds, we will notice that for one of the sounds (the voiced) we will feel a vibration and the other sound (unvoiced) we will not.

Q.8. What are the functions of intonation? [‘13,‘16,‘18]

Ans. Intonation and stress work together to express meaning. Intonation makes it easier for a listener to understand what a speaker is trying to convey. However, intonation performs mainly four functions. The four functions of intonation are briefly discussed below.

  1. Attitudinal FunctionIntonation enables the speaker to express emotions and attitudes which add a special meaning to spoken language as a difference from its written counterpart.
  2. Accentual FunctionIntonation helps to produce the effect of prominence on syllables that should be perceived as stressed while tonic stress on a particular syllable marks the word as the most important in the tone unit.
  3. Grammatical FunctionThe listener recognizes better grammar and what is being said by using the information contained in intonation such as – clauses and sentences, difference between questions and statements, use of grammatical subordination etc.
  4. Discourse Function: Intonation can signal to the listener what is to be taken as new information within the act of speaking when the speaker is indicating a contract or link with the material from previous tone units and it can also make the listener feel what kind of response is expected.

Q.9. What is elision? Mention the ruler of elision. [‘14,‘16,‘18]

Ans. ElisionThe disappearance of a sound under certain circumstances in fluent and rapid speech is called elision. It often occurs with clusters of consonants.

Ruler of Elision:

  1. a)Loss of weak vowel after /p, t, k/ : potato [pʰteɪtəʊ], tomato [tʰmɑ:təʊ] etc.
  2. b)Weak vowel plus /n, l or r/ becoming syllabic consonant: tonight [tnaɪt], police [pli:s] etc.
  3. c)Avoidance of complex consonant clusters: acts [æks], scripts [skrɪps] etc.
  4. d)Loss of final /v/ in ‘of’ before consonants: lots of them [lɒts əv ðəm], waste of money [weɪst əv mʌni] etc.

Q.10. Define stress and tone. [‘12,‘16]

Ans. StressThe pronunciation of a word or syllable with more force than the rest of the words or syllables is called stress. The nature of stress is simple enough. Practically, we all would agree that the first syllable of the word mother’, the middle syllable of the word ‘department’ and the last syllable of the word ‘guarantee receive more stress while the other syllables do not. Thus, we feel and know the differences between a stressed and an unstressed syllable.

ToneA tone is a syllable which stands out because it initiates a contrast in pitch level or direction. In other words, tone is the height of pitch and change of pitch which is associated with the pronunciation of syllable or words and which affects the meaning of the word. Tone can be ‘level’ or ‘moving’. In intonation, tone has three possibilities. These are:

Level – Yes – No

Falling \ Yes \ No

Rising / Yes / No

Q.11. What is the difference between tone and pitch? [‘14]

Ans. Pitch is defined in term of high and low voice auditory sensation experienced by the hearers. We are not interested in all aspects of a speaker’s pitch but in those that carry some linguistic information. Speakers have control over their own pitch of voice and the possibility of choice. Therefore, pitch differences are perceptible.

On the other hand, tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning. In other words, tone is the height of pitch and change of pitch which is associated with the pronunciation of syllable or words and which affects the meaning of the word. Tone has broader area whereas pitch is narrower terms. Intonation refers to listening speaker’s pitch and recognizing what it is doing.

Q.12. What is the difference between phonetics and phonology? [‘15]

Ans. PhoneticsThe scientific study of speech sound is called phonetics. It is the branch of linguistics which deals with the production, description and representation of speech sounds by written symbols. It deals with voiced and voiceless sounds, vibration in glottis, nasal and oral sound, tongue movement and so on.

PhonologyPhonology is concerned with the abstract grammatical characterization of systems of sounds or signs. It deals with systems of sound in a particular language, particularly the system of relationships among the speech sounds that constitute the fundamental components of a language. In other words, it deals with the patterns in speech sound of a particular language phoneme, phone, allophone, minimal pair, distinctive, non-distinctive, overlapping and so on. It studies how sound function in a language.

However, phonology deals with the system and structure of speech while phonetics focus more narrowly on articulation and acoustics.

Q.13. What is grammatical morphemes? [‘12]

Ans. A grammatical morpheme is a kind of free morpheme that has a relatively less-specific meaning than a content morpheme. The grammatical morphemes are very limited in numbers and can be used independently. They have little or no meaning of their own but demonstrate grammatical relationship into sentences.

However, the grammatical morphemes usually include auxiliary verbs (e.g. is, can, may etc.), determiners (e.g. a, the, much, little, each etc.), prepositions (e.g. to, on, into, up, by, etc.), conjunction (e.g. and, but, or, yet etc.).

Q.14. What are allomorphs? [‘14,‘18]

Ans. In linguistics, allomorphs are variants of a morpheme that differ in pronunciation but are semantically identical. Allomorphs are used in linguistics to explain the comprehension of variations in sound for a specific morpheme.

English has several morphemes that vary in sound but not in meaning. For example, in English, a past tense morpheme is ‘ed’. It occurs in several allomorphs depending on its phonological environment, assimilating, voicing of the previous segment.

However, allomorphs vary in shape or pronunciation according to their condition of use but not as to meaning.

Q.15. Explain the difference between free morphemes and bound morphemes. [‘15,‘17]

Ans. Morphemes can be divided into two major classes. These are: free morphemes and bound morphemes.

Free morphemesThe morphemes that can function independently, are called free morphemes. For example: man, boy, girl, cow, mango, cruelty, beauty, is, and, but and so on. Free morphemes are of two types. These are:

  1. Lexicalfree morphemes, 2. Grammatical free morphemes.

Bound morphemesThere are some morphemes that cannot function alone and are added to root words. This type of morpheme is called bound morphemes. For example: -less, -ness, pre-, -ment, un-, im- and so on. Bound morphemes are of two types. These are:

  1. Bound roots,
  2. Affixes.

Q.16. What is PS Grammar? [‘15,‘18]

Ans. Noam Chomsky introduced the term PS Grammar or phrase-structure grammar. A grammar in which relations among words and morphemes of a sentence are described but not deeper or semantic relations, is called PS Grammar. It is a model of the generative grammar employed to analyze the structure of different sentence types in a particular language. PS Grammar mainly describes the rules which are used to break sentences of language into their constituents. PS Grammar forces a hierarchical arrangement among different parts of sentences. Its purpose is to describe the syntax of a given language.

However, PS Grammar is an alternative way of expressing the information found in a tree diagram by means of ‘re-write’ rules.

Q.17. Explain deep and surface structures. [‘12,‘14,‘16,‘18]

Ans. One of the most important concepts proposed by Noam Chomsky is the concept of deep and surface structure.

Deep StructureSentences may be presented in the brain at two levels. Simple, basic or Kernel sentences consisting of ideas or rough meanings must be presented at a deep level. The way these sentences are formed at that level is known as deep structure. One cannot see or hear the deep structure as it is an abstract or theoretical concept. The deep level is assumed since the brain or mind first assembles certain concepts which is a basic sentence.

Surface Structure: Surface structure can be defined as the syntactic form they take as actual sentences. In other words, it is formed of sentences resulted from modification/transformation. In contrast of deep structure, one can hear or see only the surface structure.

However, transformation functions as a link between deep structure of sentences and their surface structures. For example:

Surface Structure: Visiting doctors can be nuisance.

Deep Structure: 1. We visit doctors. It can be nuisance.

  1. Doctors visit us. They can be nuisance.

Q.18. How is cohesion different from coherence? [‘13]

Ans. Cohesion and coherence are terms used in discourse analysis and text linguistics to describe the properties of written texts.

Cohesion and coherence are two different things. A text is cohesive if its elements are linked together. On the other hand, a text is coherence if it makes sense. However, a text may be cohesive (linked together) but incoherent (meaningless).

Cohesion refers to connectivity in a text while coherence refers to how easy it is to understand the writing. Again, cohesion means the connection of ideas at the sentence level while coherence means the connection of ideas at the idea level.

The cohesion of writing focuses on the grammatical aspects of writing. On the other hand, coherence refers to the rhetorical aspects of writing which include developing and supporting arguments, synthesising and integrating readings, organizing and clarifying ideas.

However, coherence refers to the semantic unity created between the ideas, sentences, paragraphs and sections of a piece of writing. It is an invisible tie. But cohesive ties are visible.


Q.19. Discuss code-switching. [‘16]

Ans. People who are bilingual or multilingual, are required to select a particular code whenever they choose to speak and they may also decide to switch from one code to another or to mix codes even within sometimes very short utterances and thereby create a new code in a process known as code-switching.

Code-switching is moving from one language to another within a single sentence or phrase. This is a phenomenon found among bilinguals who feels it is appropriate to change languages perhaps to say something which can only be said in the language switched to.

Code-switching can occur in conversation between speaker’s turns or within a single speaker’s truth. In the later case, it can occur between sentences or within a single sentence.

However, code-switching can arise from individual choice or be used as a major identity marker for a group of speakers who must deal with more than one language in their common pursuits.


Q.20. Explain telegraphic speech. [‘12,‘16]

Ans. The telegraphic speech refers to the speech of the final stage of language acquisition which is known as telegraphic stage. This stage is named as it is because it is similar to what is seen in a telegram which contains just enough information for the sentence to make sense. This stage contains more than two words sentences.

Sometimes, during this stage, the child begins to see the links between words and objects and therefore, overgeneralization comes in. No function words are used by the child, only open-class content words. Examples of sentences in the telegraphic stage are: “Mummy eat carrot.”, “What her name?” etc.

However, during this stage, a child’s vocabulary expands from 50 words to up to 13,000 words. At the end of this stage, the child starts to incorporate plurals, joining words and attempts to get a grip on tenses.


BIBLIOGRAPHY – Textbook (FBC), A Study Guide (FBC), Handnote Series (Lecture) & Various Sources of Internet.

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Biplob Prodhan
Biplob Prodhan Founder & Director EDNOUB Foundation Ednoub Private Program

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