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The extreme complexity of speech and language

Taken together, speech and language constitute the most complex system known to science. And yet they are effortlessly acquired by the overwhelming majority of children with no necessary help in about ten years. There is effectively a normal destiny. This would be quite unachievable unless speech and language were built as structures. Most of the terminology for describing this we get from studies in Ancient Greece and Rome. Syllables are built from consonants and vowels. Consonants and vowels are built from what are sometimes known as ‘features’. Syllables combine with each other to form structures known as ‘feet’. Feet and parts of feet combine to form words. Words combine to form phrases. Phrases combine to form sentences.

All languages define their grammar on phrases, rather than words. So in English we say “the rightful head of the commonwealth’s responsibilities” with the ‘S at the end of the phrase the rightful head of the commonwealth rather than after the word head.

Written by Doctor Aubrey Nunes

I have four degrees, in sociology, in theoretical linguistics, in speech and language therapy, and my PhD. I try to use all of them. Developing one of the themes of my PhD, I am now researching how the evolution of the speech and language faculty in human beings bears on the different sorts of developmental disorder.

Published on June 18, 2022