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Language and Lexicon

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What is language? What is lexicon? Language can be fundamental defined by most of the general public today, but lexicon may not easily be explained. In ones general opinion, language is a form of communicating ideas, emotions, and opinions. It varies according to the culture and generation of the individuals using it. This paper provides a definition of language and lexicon, the features of language, the levels of language, and the role of language in cognitive psychology. (Willingham, 2007)What is language? Language is communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols. Language is one of the most difficult to define because there is not really one word that can actually describe language. Language is known to be the structure of communication using words either spoken or symbolized with a writing system, typically structured with grammar. Within language there are properties that are considered to be crucial. (Willingham, 2007)What are the key elements of language?

The key elements of language are communicative, arbitrary, structured, generative, and dynamic. According to Willingham,Skinner argued that the principles of operant and classical conditioning could account for how children learn language. Chomsky argued that they could not because language is generative; behaviorist principles can account for whether someone is more likely to repeat an action taken previously, but a distinctive property of language is that we almost never say the same thing twice. In essence, Chomsky was saying that Skinners theory was bound to miss the mark because Skinner failed to appreciate what language is.

Communicative just allows language to permit back and forth between individuals. Arbitrary is just the relationship between the elements in language and the meaning. So for example, the word big does not have to be in some sense bigger than the word minuscule. Structurism is tied into to arbitrary because it simply shows the pattern of the symbols. Generative is just the basic unit of language. Dynamic is just the new upcoming of words and languages. These key elements then lead into the four levels of language structure. (Willingham, 2007)There are four levels to language structures. This is the most important part to language. The lowest level of is phonemes. This level is an analysis of sounds. For example the letter o is sounded as bob and boob. According to Willingham, English uses roughly 46 phonemes, but there are about 200 in use worldwide. There are many phonemes used daily in language. Words is the next level of the language structure. It is related to the phonemes. The 46 phonemes that are in the English language are what create words.

They produce approximately 600,000 words in the English language. These words then lead to sentences. Sentences are the next level of the language structure. Just like words, sentences are also related to phonemes. Word order is critical in grammatical sentences. For instance, Willingham gave perfect examples such as Ate I the to went yesterday carnival much and too, or more subtly, Yesterday I went to the carnival and eat too much. After the sentences lastly we have texts. Texts are related sentences forming a paragraph, for instance this paper. This paper starts out with phonemes then leads to words, next thing you know you have sentences that have created paragraphs. The thing with text is that you cannot just through some sentences together thinking that it would make a paragraph. These sentences have to flow with each other and make sense. If they do not then it just starts to sound like a bunch of babble. This then leads to lexicon. (Willingham, 2007)What is lexicon? Lexicon is the form and meaning of words and phrases.

The lexicon is in the mind. The lexicon is there to organize the mental vocabulary in the speakers mind. That means the speaker is thinking what he or she is going to say before they actually say it. (SIL International, 2004)What is the language processing in cognitive psychology? While linguistic approaches focus on the formal structures of languages and language use cognitive psychology has focused on language acquisition, language comprehension, language production, and the psychology of reading. Psycholinguistics has studied encoding and lexical access of words, sentence level processes of parsing and representation, and general representations of concepts, gist, inference, and semantic assumptions. Computational models have been developed for all of these levels, including lexical systems, parsing systems, semantic representation systems, and reading aloud.

The neuroscience of language has a long history in the analysis of lesions and has also been extensively studied with cognitive imaging. (Chomsky, 1965)It is important for one to learn it is crucial that they understand his or her particular language. If one does not recognize the structure of language whether it is the sounds that make language up, the words that are restricted within language or how to put these sounds and words together correctly, then is becomes difficult at best to learn. If we do not comprehend the syntax and semantics of language then we cannot put things into perspective. If we do not understand then we cannot make decisions and problem solving would be next to impractical.


Chomsky, N. (1965) Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

SIL International. (2004). What is a lexicon? Retrieved on March 15, 2009 fromhttp://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsALexicon.htmWillingham, D., (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal. 3e.Chapter 8: Memory Storage. ISBN:0131736884 . Prentice Hall, Inc. A Pearson Education Company

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