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Here, we offer a general introduction to the topic of linguistics as it
pertains to professional American Sign Language interpreting. As we are
neither professional linguists nor researchers, we do not pretend to offer scholarly
treatment of the broader and complex subject. Excellent online resources
are available through universities and sites established by or for
professional linguists - you will find some of these sites linked here
and throughout this site.
Our introduction begins with
definitions because, after all, how can we discuss it if we don't know what it
The study of the nature, structure, and variation of language,
including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics,
Human thought that is expressed in an organized system of communication and is
spoken or signed.
A spoken or signed language might then be coded into a
written representation of the language. The written form of a language is
not the language itself, but is a coding (representation) of the language.
In addition to written forms, other coding possibilities may exist (Morse Code,
The absolute smallest part of a language that can change the meaning of a word.
The English word ace has meaning; but, when a p is added the word
becomes pace; alternatively, when an m is added the word
becomes mace.- neither pace nor mace has the meaning of ace,
so ace has been changed (by the addition of the p or the addition of the m)
and now means something altogether different. In these examples, the p
and the m are phonemes because they the smallest part of the words pace
and mace that, when they were added, changed the meaning of the word ace.
This one's tricky, we know.
A system of the speech sounds specific to a particular language.
The phonetics of English, for example, does not include a guttural
"click" (usually produced in the larynx), therefore such guttural
sounds are not phonetically correct when speaking English.
A discernable pattern of speech sounds within a particular language; the tendency
of a language's speech sounds, how they generally occur within a language.
Although the phonetics of English, for example, includes the ch and br sounds,
the phonology of English does not generally permit these sounds to appear consecutively
(within a single word) without a vowel sound between them.
A method used to teach beginning readers how to de-code a written language by
first understanding how its sounds are usually represented by letters and
combinations of letters into words.
Many English words began life elsewhere but have retained their original
spelling. Such words present challenges to new readers learning by the
The study of the structure and form of words - including inflection, derivation,
and the formation of compounds.
The smallest word or part of a word that carries meaning and cannot be further
reduced without the loss of its meaning.
A morpheme is not necessarily a syllable. The English word reentered
has three morphemes: re-; enter; and -ed. Each of the
three morphemes is meaningful -- the morpheme re- adds the meaning of again;
the morpheme enter adds the meaning to proceed into and is the
root (base); the morpheme -ed adds the meaning of past tense.
Together in this combination, the morphemes convey went into again.
The orderly arrangement of words into grammatically correct phrases or
The meaning of individual words or phrases.
When saying, "I really splurged on my new car," one person may
mean "I spent more than $25,000.00," while a different person may mean
"I spent more than $200,000.00." In this example, the meaning of
splurged is a matter of semantics.
How language and its use is shaped by a society or culture.
In spoken English, typically (but not always) a unit of sound beginning and
ending with at least one consonant with at least one vowel in the middle.
The English word fascistic is represented thusly: fas-cis-tic (three
... to be continued.
This page has been visited
July 17, 2008.
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TerpTopics™ is an
independent entity; as such does not claim or attempt to claim, represent,
or imply by any means whatsoever that it is associated with any other
entity that may or may not offer services, goods, or information of
interest to interpreter, Deaf, or student communities. The opinions
expressed here those of TerpTopics unless otherwise stated. Please
keep in mind that, while every effort is made to present correct,
appropriate, and reasonable information that is based on our experience,
anecdotal experiences of others, or developed during the general course of
study and professional development, we do not represent TerpTopics as
having cornered the market on wisdom (heck, no!) or experience; one reason
why links to several other good and reliable resources are made available
throughout this site, and we hope that earnest seekers of knowledge will
take advantage of them.
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