Language and Communication

By George A. Miller | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
THE PHONETIC APPROACH

Language is a poor thing. You fill your lungs with wind and shake a little slit in your throat, and make mouths, and that shakes the air; and the air shakes a pair of little drums in my head--a very complicated arrangement, with lots of bones behind--and my brain seizes your meaning in the rough. What a roundabout way, and what a waste of time!

-- DU MAURIER

Communication takes place when there is information at one place or person and we want to get it to another place or another person. The first step in getting it there is to encode the information in a set of symbols. The definition of a 'code' is quite broad. It may consist of spoken sounds, of written squiggles, the motions of a flagman's arms, the clatter of a telegraph key, the gestures of a deaf-mute, or whatever other set of symbols is convenient. The coded message travels the intervening space and is decoded by the person who receives it.

Our analysis of communication begins with the most important encoding procedure of all--human vocalization. Other ways of encoding information could be studied instead, but certainly speech is the first learned and most widely used. In many respects speech is the basic coding procedure. Some linguists reserve the term 'language' exclusively for the code of vocal symbols; writing, gestures, Braille, etc., are also codes that can be used for communication but are not dignified by the title of languages. In this narrow sense of the term, we begin our analysis of communicative behavior with the study of language.

Encoding information into the sounds of the human voice is a kind of behavior and, like all behavior, is limited by the nature of the bodily machinery that must do the work. The first task, therefore, is to examine this machinery. Then the acoustic product, the speech sounds themselves, are discussed, and the communicative aspects of these sounds are considered. The scientific study of this process is called phonetics. Physiological or motor phonetics deals with the manner in which the sounds are produced, and acoustic phonetics is concerned with the physical analysis of the sound waves of speech.

To produce sound a physical system must include a source of energy and a vibrating body. Usually resonators are added to provide characteristic quality to the sound. In the speech mechanism the source of energy is the breath

-10-

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Language and Communication
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Preface to Revised Edition vi
  • Preface vi
  • Contents ix
  • Foreword to the Teacher xi
  • Chapter 1 - By Way of Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Phonetic Approach 10
  • Selected References 46
  • Chapter 3 - The Perception of Speech 47
  • Selected References 79
  • Chapter 4- The Statistical Approach 80
  • Selected References 99
  • Chapter 5 - Rules for Using Symbols 100
  • Selected References 118
  • Chapter 6 - Individual Differences 119
  • Selected References 139
  • Chapter 7 - The Verbal Behavior of Children 140
  • Selected References 158
  • Chapter 8 - The Role of Learning 159
  • Selected References 173
  • Chapter 9 - Verbal Habits 174
  • Selected References 198
  • Chapter 10 - Some Effects of Verbal Habits 199
  • Selected References 222
  • Chapter 11 - Words, Sets, and Thoughts 223
  • Selected References 248
  • Chapter 12 - The Social Approach 275
  • Bibliography 276
  • Index 287
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