Theories of Language

There have been different theories of language. Essentially, they are the different perspectives to view the diverse and complex word of verbal communication. Below is a brief chronological description of different language theories.

In the classical Greece and Rome, the focus of language study was the effective use of language, especially on rhetorical structures and stylistic excellence. They had a mystical view of language because they found language had a supernatural power in cursing, blessing, divining and exorcism. They believed language had inherently embedded insights on the nature of reality.

About at the same time there was a different approach to language emerged in India, as exemplified by the Sanskrit grammar of Panini. This grammar, developed sometimes in the period of 352 to 150 B.C., details the features of sound, word formulation and syntax of classical Sanskrit.

During the medieval period language became the tool of philosophy and logic, and Latin grammar became the model for pedagogical grammars of most Western European languages.

At the end of the 18th century the discovery of the Panini’s Sanskrit grandma had greatly changed the scholarly views about language in Western Europe. Scholars realized that Sanskrit was closely related to almost all Western European languages. This encouraged a period of intense and exhaustive study on the history of and differences between various languages. 

Then a different view of languages, a descriptive approach, was established as exemplified in Saussure’s contribution which highlighted the distinction between a historical view of language development (diachronic) and a description of language at a particular point of time (synchronic).

There were important developments in the structural study of language. Weinreinch contributed significantly to the understanding of the role of semantics in language structure. The semantic approach became so popular that it was used to explain almost everything in language.

Then there appeared a great deal of suspicionon the role of semantics. Scholars in Eastern Europe and North American developed different views in the structural study of language. For example, the Prague School focused on phonology and discourse, while Bloomfield emphasized on item and arrangement which was later adapted to be known as Tagmemics – a system focuses on spots, filters and hierarchical structures.

By elaborating networks of relations within and between strata, a stratificational approach to language was prompted by Sydney Lamb and Adam Makkai. Then there was the famous transformational-generative grandma (T-G grammar) raised by Noam Chomsky who argued to look at language from the dynamic perspective – a series of transformations from an abstract underlying base to the surface structure. In this theory, syntax is focal.

The T-G grammar evoked critiques and also inspired developments in language study. A type of generative semantics was developed to start from an underlying semantics level rather than an abstract and underlying syntax. Also, T-G grammar has indirectly prompted the development of sociolinguistics – a theory with emphasis on language as used in a society.

During the 20th century a functional approach was rather popular in anatomizing languages. In the early stage the focus was on how languages work and then it was well developed by Halliday into a theory of systemic grammar which focuses on a dynamic system and can treat numerous phases of language.

Sperber and Wilson developed a new way to explore language which emphasizes the role of relevance in language design and practice. It was rather prevailing at then time to seek single principles and structures to explore language. For example, Chomsky employed “autonomous syntax”, while Halliday and Hasan applied cohesion as a unifying principle.

Semiotics has been the universal approach to languages, with Peirce and Wittenstein as the star contributors. Language has been recognized as a system of signs. Therefore, it is widely believed that semiotics could provide insights to understand how the linguistic code works.

Although no one theory is adequate enough to embody the complexity of verbal communication, all these different theories of language provide important insights into the nature of language.

Functions of language: Sociological

Generally, when people use language to relate to or influence others, they are applying the sociological functions of language. There are basically five types of such functions: interpersonal, informative, imperative, performative, and emotive.

As for the interpersonal function of language, it is about how people use language to negotiate and/or maintain social status. In most languages, there are distinct registers, such as ritual, formal, informal, casual and intimate speech. People make use of language in different registers to help establish themselves in society and maintain relations with one another. For example, people who want to increase their power often try to imitate the speech of those in power. A speaker or writer who wants to develop greater solidarity with the audience usually attempts to use the same register that the target audience uses and appreciates. Besides, it frequently happens that language is used not to say something relevant but just to maintain a relationship, which can be well explained by the cleverly social chattering at cocktail parties.

The use of speech or writing to influence the cognitive content or state of others is the informative function of language. This function is always part of other functions. Besides, to maximize the formative function of language it should be built on the existing cognitive state of the receptor.

The imperative function of language is about the attempts to influence the behavior of receptors. This can be done through commands, exhortations and even more effectively by means of smart jokes, suitable illustrations, searching questions, etc. Its application, with lots of a verbal negotiating, implies a measure of authority or power, although its effectiveness involves the receptor’s self-interest.

The performative function of language involves a change in the status of the receptor. The speeches themselves are expected to establish a different status of an object, such as the speech used in solemnizing a marriage. Mostly, performative language is highly ritualized and fixed in form which ensures the power and prestige of such speech.

The emotive function of language involves affecting the emotive state of receptors. For this reason, it profoundly exploits the associative or connotative meanings of words. This function may be understood as the most powerful and fearful aspect of language – because the emotions that can be influenced is unlimited. Language can kindle numerous emotions, from religious devotions to hilarious laughters. This function is the object for various groups, from professional linguists to powerful politicians.

In fact, most speeches and writings involve several different functions of language and in different proportions.

Functions of language: psychological

Language has diverse functions which are of two basic types: psychological and sociological. This short essay represents the psychological functions of language.

There are five essential psychological functions of language: naming, stating, modeling of reality, expression and cognition.

Finding names to experience and items is a psychological necessity. However, this need is so obvious that people mostly don’t realize its importance. It is essentially significant to have symbols/names to identify and even control things. In fact, finding the right word to symbolize some object or event seems to give some control over such things.

Stating is to say something about the object and event that are named. This is why there are subjective-predicate statements and topic-comment statements. Besides, since single propositions are too limited to meet certain psychological needs, it is natural to link together strings of sentences.

Modeling of the reality is the more profound function developed by people. In some sense, people instinctively felt words should provide a system for viewing the world – verbal symbols could reflect a reality, although imperfectly. From a different perspective, language is used to model reality in four major semantic classes of lexemes: 1) entities, e.g. daisy, water, tree, 2) activities, e.g. cry, laugh, run, 3) characteristics, primarily qualities and quantities, e.g. good, numerous, quickly, and 4) relations, e.g. in, because, during.

Another psychological function of language is expression – give vent to a person’s own feelings. It could be emotive responses to some event, e.g. ouch, damn it, and oh boy. It can also be a matter of playing with words which small children often love to do. Expressive language might be for the purpose of aesthetics. Words are arranged to form balance, proportion, symmetry and rhythm to formulate a certain psychological atmosphere.

Cognition, using language to think, is possibly the most important psychological function of language. Whatever style the thinking is performed, language is involved. This is a process of manipulating verbal symbols within brain.

Paradoxes of translating

Translating is an intricate and enchanting task.  There are many paradoxes in this particularly complex human practice. Below is a brief note from Language, Culture and Translating, the masterpiece of Eugene Nida, the theoretician of translation, father of dynamic equivalence theory.

It is popularly assumed that close and literal translation equals faithfulness to the source text. But the fact is that literal renderings are often misleading. Because there are many discrepancies between meanings and structures of different languages. Interestingly, while some people, who are concerned with figurative language and complex poetic structures, insist that translating is impossible, more and more translations are done and done well.

There is some contention about the validity of paraphrase (or adaptation if you well) when it comes to translating. Some argue that translating is valid but paraphrase is wrong. In fact, all translating involves differing degrees of paraphrase. It is out of the question that one can successfully translate word for word or structure for structure. The truth is that languages do not differ essentially in what they can say, but in how they say it. Therefore, paraphrase is inevitable. The key point is to ensure the semantic legitimacy of the paraphrase.

Another paradox holds that stylistic editing should be proceeded by a somewhat literal rendering – first produce a literal translating of the source and then improve it stylistically. However, style is the hard core which must be built into the translation from the very beginning. It can be put in this way: A few errors in the correspondences of lexical meanings are more excusable than missing the spirit and aesthetic quality of the source.

Then there is a paradox about translators themselves. It is true that translating is a skill which can be taught and then mastered by considerable practice. However, exceptional translators are born rather than made. They need to have outstanding aptitudefor the creative use of language. Well, this can be categorized into “Nature VS. Nurture”.

As the descending and thriving of computers and Internet, some people find it paradoxical for the existence of human translators. Modern technologies help human a lot, but when it comes to creative contents, such as advertising brochures and lyric poetry, computer printouts are basically useless. Human translators will always be indispensable as long as the text is stylistically appealing and semantically complex – which carry the essential message that is worth communicating in the target language. Human brain is not only digital and analogic but also has an established system of values which gives it a componentially incalculable advantage over machines.

Another paradox of translating is that there is never a completely perfect translation. Both the language and culture are in the process of change. Furthermore, language is an open system with overlapping meanings and fuzzy boundaries. Mostly, the biggest problem in translating is not to find the right equivalent in the target language but to thoroughly understand the designative and associative meaning of the source text.

A further paradox of translating is the general assumption that a bilingual person equals a translator or interpreter. The truth is that knowing two languages is far from enough. It is essential to be familiar with the respective cultures. Besides, the capacity to write well is another important quality to become a good translator. As for becoming a competent interpreter, it is imperative to have a quick mind to organize andformulate a response.

There is also a paradox of the language itself. Language not only represents reality but also distorts it. Sunsetand sunrise are the perfect examples of the parallax between language and reality – we all know the sun doesn’t set or rise. Unfortunately, people often don’t recognize such parallax in language and even are accustomed to accept verbal formulation as being the absolute truth. 

In general, the paradoxes of translating are basically the paradoxes of language and of culture.













比较惭愧的是,只在大学念书的时候看过一些莎剧节选,背过哈姆雷特那段To be or not to be的独白。后来,在一些喜爱的影视作品(比如《V字仇杀队》)和现代小说(比如《暮光之城》)中不时地看到故事人物提到莎剧,爱屋及乌,忍不住回来看莎剧。



当我被Stephanie Meyer在《暮光之城》中的人物心理描写功力震得一塌糊涂的时候,以为已经见到了泰山,但当我去念莎剧,它用台词和对白刻画出的人物心理和特质,让我甚至觉得莎先生是我们这个时代的人,不然怎么会写得那么真切?但也很合理,人文主义嘛,人的爱恨情仇总是有共性的,勤奋的天才巨匠来个妙笔生花实在是再合理不过的。不管怎样,让人感受到生活和生命的真实、残酷、人性、智慧,这才是莎剧经典永流传的根本。



时间 作品 中文名 类型 年龄
1590 Henry VI, Part I~II 亨利六世,上篇、中篇 历史剧 26岁
1591 Henry VI, Part III 亨利六世,下篇 历史剧 27
1592 Richard III. 理查三世 历史剧 28
  The Comedy of Errors 错误的喜剧/错尽错绝 喜剧  
1593 Titus Andronicus 泰特斯·安德洛尼克斯 悲剧 29
  The Taming of the Shrew 驯悍记 喜剧  
  Venus and Adonis 维纳斯和阿多尼斯 长篇叙事诗  
1594 The Two Gentlemen of Verona 维洛那二绅士 喜剧 30
  Love’s Labour’s Lost 爱的徒劳 喜剧  
  The Rape of Lucrece 鲁克丽丝失贞记 长篇叙事诗  
  Romeo and Juliet 罗密欧与朱丽叶 悲剧  
1595 Richard II 理查二世 历史剧 31
  A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream 仲夏夜之梦 喜剧  
1596 King John 约翰王 历史剧 32
  The Merchant of Venice 威尼斯商人 喜剧  
1597 Henry IV, Part I-II 亨利四世,上篇、下篇 历史剧 33
1598 Much Ado About Nothing 捕风捉影/无事生非 喜剧 34
  Henry V 亨利五世 历史剧  
  The Merry Wives of Windsor 温莎的风骚娘们 喜剧  
1599 Julius Caesar 尤里乌斯·凯撒 历史剧 35
  As You Like It 皆大欢喜 喜剧  
1600 Twelfth Night 第十二夜 喜剧 36
1601 Hamlet 哈姆雷特 悲剧 37
1602 Troilus and Cressida 特洛伊罗斯与克瑞西达 悲剧 38
  All’s Well That Ends Well 终成眷属 喜剧  
1604 Measure for Measure 一报还一报/自作自受 喜剧 39
  Othello 奥赛罗 悲剧  
1605 King Lear 李尔王 悲剧 40
  Macbeth 麦克白 悲剧  
1606 Antony and Cleopatra 安东尼与克里奥佩特拉 悲剧 41
1607 Coriolanus 科利奥兰纳斯 历史剧 42
  Timon of Athens 雅典的泰门 悲剧  
1608 Pericles 佩里克利斯 传奇剧 43
1609 Cymbeline 辛柏林   44
1610 The Winter’s Tale 冬天的故事 传奇剧 45
1612 The Tempest 暴风雨 传奇剧 47
  Henry VIII 亨利八世 历史剧  
1613 The Two Noble Kinsmen 两贵亲   48



我老家在北方乡下,家乡话真是土地的味道,土得可爱。比如有个词念作“gèi er gei”,第一个音重度,紧接着儿化音,最后一个音是轻读,有点像“咯儿咯”,意思是等会儿、过会儿,主要用作副词。比如想说公交车一会儿就到,可以说成:车gèi er gei 就来了。再比如别人催你,你想说马上就好、马上就来、稍等,可以直接喊说:gèi er gei!





在语音标准方面,“以北京语音为标准音” ,但并非是说在读音上全部照搬北京话,而是指以北京话的语音系统为标准,普通话并不等于北京话。






我体验的是Translator App上的语音翻译功能以及网页版Bing Microsoft Translator上的文本翻译功能。













杜嘉班纳原计划于本月20号在上海发布其品牌的时装大秀The Great Show,为了预热,发布了“致敬中国文化”的美食系列短片《起筷吃饭》。如果要列举中国和意大利的共同之处,美食无疑是最显著最安全的切入点。








Twilight Saga是Stephenie Meyer在十多年前写的美国奇幻青春爱情长篇小说,08年起陆续拍成同名电影。


青春爱情里会发生的心里活动,Stephenie Meyer用细腻自然的文字娓娓道来,你在听故事人物倾诉的同时,仿佛也在倾听自己。


为什么会产生爱情的化学反应?小说里讲得很妙,1. Edward有让人类不可抗拒的相貌、声音、体香,2. Bella的血液对Edward有着超乎超人的吸引力。爱情的火花就这样奇妙的产生了。