The Building Blocks of Language

The Building Blocks of Language

Language is made up of much more than merely the words we can find in a dictionary or the fancy sentences we can write! Language is a complex interplay of a small number of individually meaningless symbols which when combined according to a number of agreed upon rules forms an infinite number of messages. It is furthermore believed that language is the most complex knowledge we as humans can acquire. Children acquire and master this knowledge at a relatively early age with some children acquiring speech before they can walk.

The Building Blocks of Language

Researchers have identified five areas of knowledge which needs to be acquired in order for an individual to be deemed to be proficient in the language. These five areas of knowledge, or building blocks of language are:

1.       Phonology;

2.       Morphology;

3.       Semantics;

4.       Syntax;

5.       Pragmatics.


Phonology refers to the basic units of sounds which is found within the language as well as the rules which applies when combining these sounds. A child must learn how to discriminate, produce and combine these sounds in order to fully comprehend what is being said to them and to speak the language. Phonology is therefore concerned with the discrimination of the sounds in the language.


Morphology refers to the rules which governs the formation of meaningful words from the sounds used in the language. Morphology supplies the guidelines according to which phonemes are properly combined to form meaningful words. A simple example of morphology is the rule to add -s to the end of a word to change from singular to plural.


Morphology tree for the word independently.


Semantics refers to the meanings which is expressed by the words in a sentence. Morphemes are the smallest, meaningful, parts of language. We can distinguish between free and bound morphemes. Free morphemes are words which can stand alone, such as girl. Bound morphemes cannot stand alone and are used to change the meaning of the free morpheme when added to the free morpheme; such as adding an -s to girl to form the word girls.


Syntax refers to the rules which governs the combination of words to form meaningful phrases and sentences. The rules of syntax govern the interaction between semantics and sentence structure in order to ensure that the sentence (combining of words) conveys the intended meaning. Children only fully understand syntax at a later stage in life, mostly during their formal schooling.


Pragmatics refers to the principles which guides the effective and appropriate use of language in social contexts. This involves acquiring the knowledge to understand that one need to take into account where you are, with whom you are speaking and what the listener already knows, needs and want to hear.


Some helpful tools...