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MEG-04: Aspects of Language

MEG-04: Aspects of Language

IGNOU Solved Assignment Solution for 2023-24

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Assignment Code: MEG-04/TMA/2023-2024

Course Code: MEG-04

Assignment Name: Aspects of Language

Year: 2023-2024

Verification Status: Verified by Professor

Q1. i) Write short note on theories on the origin of language.

Ans) Theories on the origin of language have fascinated linguists, philosophers, and scientists for centuries. These theories attempt to explain how human language, a complex system of communication, emerged and evolved over time.

Divine Creation:

In ancient civilizations, many believed that language was a divine gift from gods or a higher power. According to this theory, language was not a human invention but a divine creation.

The biblical story of the Tower of Babel is an example of this belief, where the confusion of languages is attributed to divine intervention.


The onomatopoeic theory suggests that language originated from imitating natural sounds and the noises made by animals and objects. Early humans may have used these imitative sounds as a rudimentary form of communication. While some words in modern languages are onomatopoeic (e.g., "buzz" or "moo"), this theory cannot explain the complexity and diversity of human languages.

Bow-Wow Theory:

The bow-wow theory proposes that language developed from the sounds associated with the environment, such as the cries of animals or natural phenomena. Over time, these sounds evolved into meaningful words. Critics argue that this theory oversimplifies the complexity of human language and does not account for the abstract and symbolic nature of words.

Pooh-Pooh Theory:

The pooh-pooh theory, also known as the interjection theory, suggests that language began as emotional expressions or exclamations. These emotional sounds gradually evolved into words.

While emotions and exclamations are essential aspects of language, this theory does not fully explain the grammatical and structural complexities of languages.

Gesture and Sign Language:

Some theories propose that early humans communicated primarily through gestures and sign language. These visual forms of communication may have laid the foundation for spoken language. Evidence from studies of sign languages and the importance of gestures in communication supports this theory to some extent.

Social Interaction and Protolanguage:

The social interaction theory suggests that language emerged as a means for early humans to cooperate, share information, and build social bonds. Protolanguage, a rudimentary form of communication, gradually evolved into more complex language systems. This theory aligns with the idea that language evolved to fulfil social and cognitive needs.

Evolutionary Biology and Genetics:

Some contemporary theories draw on evolutionary biology and genetics to explain the origin of language. They suggest that genetic mutations in early humans led to the development of the brain structures necessary for language. The FOXP2 gene, associated with language development, has been of particular interest in this context.

Cognitive and Symbolic Development:

Cognitive theories propose that language emerged because of human cognitive development, particularly the ability to think symbolically and abstractly. Language allowed humans to express and share complex thoughts and ideas. This theory emphasizes the role of human cognition and the need for a symbolic system of communication.

Q1. ii) Write short note on the articulatory system.

Ans) The articulatory system is a crucial component of the human vocal apparatus responsible for producing speech sounds, also known as phonemes. It encompasses various anatomical structures and processes that work together to manipulate airflow and create distinct sounds.


Articulators are the movable parts of the vocal tract that come into contact or approach each other to shape the vocal tract and produce specific speech sounds. They include the lips, tongue, teeth, alveolar ridge, hard palate, soft palate (or velum), and the glottis.

Place of Articulation:

The term "place of articulation" refers to the specific location in the vocal tract where two articulators come into contact or approximate each other to produce a speech sound. Examples of different places of articulation include bilabial (using both lips, as in /p/ and /b/), alveolar (using the tongue against the alveolar ridge, as in /t/ and /d/), and velar (using the back of the tongue against the velum, as in /k/ and /g/).

Manner of Articulation:

Manner of articulation describes how the airflow is restricted or modified by the articulators to produce different speech sounds. Examples of manner of articulation include stops (complete closure of airflow, as in /p/, /t/, /k/), fricatives (partial constriction causing turbulence, as in /f/, /s/, /v/), and approximants (close but not complete approximation, as in /w/ and /r/).

Vocal Folds and Glottis:

The vocal folds, located in the larynx, play a crucial role in speech production. They can vibrate when air passes through, creating voiced sounds, or remain apart for voiceless sounds. The glottis refers to the space between the vocal folds. Its manipulation can produce sounds like glottal stops, as in the English word "uh-oh."


Coarticulation is the phenomenon where the articulators adjust their positions in anticipation of adjacent speech sounds, resulting in smoother and more efficient speech production. It helps in the transition between phonemes.

Articulatory Gestures:

Articulatory gestures are coordinated movements of the articulators during speech production. These gestures are essential for producing the specific speech sounds of a language. Different languages have different sets of articulatory gestures, leading to the wide variety of speech sounds across languages.

Suprasegmental Features:

In addition to individual speech sounds, the articulatory system is responsible for suprasegmental features such as stress, intonation, and rhythm. These features contribute to the prosody of speech and convey meaning beyond individual words.

Speech Disorders:

Problems with the articulatory system can lead to speech disorders. For example, articulation disorders can result in difficulty pronouncing specific sounds correctly. Fluency disorders like stuttering can also be related to articulatory coordination.

Dialectal Variations:

Different dialects and accents can be characterized by variations in articulatory patterns. For example, some dialects may use different places or manners of articulation for certain speech sounds compared to standard varieties.

Q2) Examine the salient features of the Sapir-Whorf hypotheses.

Ans) The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, also known as linguistic relativity or linguistic determinism, is a theory in the field of linguistics that explores the relationship between language and thought. It was formulated by Benjamin Lee Whorf and his mentor Edward Sapir in the early 20th century. The hypothesis posits that language has a significant influence on the way individuals perceive and conceptualize the world around them. While the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has undergone modifications and critiques over the years, it remains a fundamental concept in the study of language and cognition.

Linguistic Relativity:

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that the structure and vocabulary of a language can shape the way its speakers perceive and think about the world. In other words, different languages may influence cognitive processes and worldviews.

Strong and Weak Versions:

There are two main versions of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: the strong version and the weak version. The strong version, also known as linguistic determinism, posits that language entirely determines thought. It suggests that speakers of different languages have fundamentally different cognitive experiences and cannot think about concepts that do not exist in their language.

The weak version, also known as linguistic relativity, suggests that language influences thought but does not entirely determine it. It acknowledges that thought is not solely constrained by language and that individuals may still have some degree of flexibility in their cognitive processes.

Grammatical and Lexical Differences:

The hypothesis argues that both grammatical structures and vocabulary in a language can influence thought. Grammatical differences, such as the presence or absence of tenses, articles, or gendered nouns, may shape the way speakers conceptualize time, objects, or relationships.

Lexical differences can also impact thought, as languages may have specific words or terms for concepts that other languages lack. For example, the presence of multiple words for different types of snow in some Indigenous languages reflects the importance of snow in their culture and environment.

Cultural Embeddedness:

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis emphasizes the cultural embeddedness of language. It suggests that language is intimately connected to a culture's values, beliefs, and practices. As a result, differences in linguistic structures can reflect and reinforce cultural distinctions.

Empirical Research:

Researchers have conducted numerous studies to investigate the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Some studies have provided evidence of language influencing thought in specific domains, such as spatial perception or colour categorization.

For example, research on colour terms has shown that languages with more specific colour categories (e.g., separate words for shades of green) can lead speakers to perceive and discriminate between colours differently from languages with fewer colour categories.

Critiques and Challenges:

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has faced criticism and challenges. Some argue that the strong version is overly deterministic and not supported by empirical evidence. The weak version, which posits a more nuanced relationship between language and thought, has gained greater acceptance. Critics also contend that cultural and environmental factors play significant roles in shaping thought and perception, in addition to language.

Linguistic Relativity and Bilingualism:

Studies on bilingualism have explored how individuals who speak multiple languages may have distinct cognitive experiences in each language. Bilingual speakers can exhibit differences in thought and behaviour depending on the language they are using, supporting the idea of linguistic relativity.

Influence on Anthropology and Cognitive Science:

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has had a profound impact on fields beyond linguistics, including anthropology, psychology, and cognitive science. It has encouraged scholars to consider the role of language in shaping cultural practices, worldviews, and cognitive processes.

Q3) Discuss in detail the changes in English sounds with reference to changes in consonant sounds, the vowel system and spellings.

Ans) The evolution of English sounds, both consonants and vowels, has undergone significant changes over the centuries. These transformations in pronunciation have had a profound impact on the language's phonological system and its spelling conventions.

Changes in Consonant Sounds:

Old English to Middle English (c. 11th to 15th Century):

During this period, Old English underwent the loss of several distinctive consonant sounds, mainly due to the influence of Norman French following the Norman Conquest in 1066.The Old English dental fricatives /θ/ (as in "thin") and /ð/ (as in "this") were gradually replaced by /θ/ (spelled "th") and /ð/ (spelled "th") sounds, which still exist in Modern English. The Old English voiced velar fricative /ɣ/ (as in "night") shifted towards the Modern English /ɡ/ sound (as in "go").

Consonant clusters at the beginning of words were simplified, leading to the disappearance of certain initial consonants, such as /h/ (e.g., "hnutu" became "nut").The loss of inflectional endings in Middle English also affected consonant sounds, leading to simplifications in word endings.

Great Vowel Shift (c. 15th to 18th Century):

The Great Vowel Shift was a crucial phonological change that affected English vowels, but it indirectly influenced consonant sounds as well. It resulted in significant alterations to the pronunciation of long vowels, causing them to shift upward and forward in the mouth. This shift contributed to the modern pronunciation of words with long vowels.

Changes in Vowel System:

Vowel Shifts:

The Great Vowel Shift led to a restructuring of the English vowel system. Vowels that were once pronounced differently have shifted to their modern pronunciations. For example, the Middle English "ride" would have been pronounced more like "reed," reflecting a change in the pronunciation of the vowel /i/.

The vowel /a/ underwent significant shifts, affecting words like "name" (pronounced as "nahmuh" in Middle English) and "made" (pronounced as "mah-duh" in Middle English).

The vowel /u/ also underwent shifts, changing words like "house" (pronounced as "hoos" in Middle English).

Vowel Reduction:

English vowels have undergone reduction in unstressed syllables, leading to the schwa sound /ə/ (as in the first syllable of "sofa"). This sound was not as prevalent in earlier stages of English.

Changes in Spellings:

Inconsistent Spelling Patterns:

The changes in pronunciation over time have made English spelling notoriously irregular. Many words are spelled in ways that do not accurately reflect their pronunciation. The remnants of older pronunciation patterns can still be seen in modern spellings. For example, the "gh" in words like "night" and "through" used to represent the /x/ sound (like the German "ch" in "Bach").

Orthographic Changes:

Attempts were made to reform English spelling to better match pronunciation during the 16th and 17th centuries. However, these reforms were only partially successful and did not standardize English spelling completely.

Spelling conventions introduced by figures like Samuel Johnson in the 18th century have had a lasting influence on English orthography.

Silent Letters:

The presence of silent letters in English words is often a result of historical pronunciation. For instance, the "k" in "knight" was once pronounced but is now silent.

Loanwords and Foreign Influences:

The influx of loanwords from other languages has introduced new spelling conventions into English. Words borrowed from languages like Latin, French, and Greek often retain their original spellings, even if they do not align with English pronunciation rules.

Q4) Discuss with examples the main speech mechanism with reference to three systems: the Respiratory System, the Phonatory System and the Articulatory System.

Ans) The production of speech involves a complex interplay between three main systems: the respiratory system, the phonatory system, and the articulatory system. Each of these systems plays a crucial role in the generation and articulation of speech sounds.

Respiratory System:

The respiratory system provides the necessary airflow and pressure for speech production. The primary components involved are the lungs, diaphragm, and other respiratory muscles.

Lungs: The lungs act as the air reservoir for speech. During exhalation, air flows out of the lungs and passes through the vocal tract to create speech sounds.

Diaphragm: The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle located below the lungs. It contracts during inhalation, expanding the thoracic cavity and drawing air into the lungs. When it relaxes during exhalation, it pushes air out of the lungs and into the vocal tract.

Intercostal Muscles: These muscles, situated between the ribs, assist in expanding and contracting the chest cavity, aiding in inhalation and exhalation.

Example: When producing a prolonged vowel sound like /a/ in the word "father," the diaphragm contracts to initiate airflow. This airflow is then modified by the other speech systems to create the specific sound.

Phonatory System:

The phonatory system involves the production of voiced sounds through the vibration of the vocal folds, also known as vocal cords.

Vocal Folds: The vocal folds are in the larynx or voice box. When air from the respiratory system passes through them, they can vibrate, producing voiced sounds.

Glottis: The gap between the vocal folds is called the glottis. It can open and close, allowing airflow to pass through or preventing it to create variations in sound.

Example: When pronouncing the /z/ sound in the word "zebra," the vocal folds come together, allowing air to pass through and causing them to vibrate. This vibration creates the voiced /z/ sound.

Articulatory System:

The articulatory system involves the precise shaping and manipulation of the vocal tract, including the tongue, lips, teeth, and palate, to create distinct speech sounds.

Tongue: The tongue is one of the most flexible and critical components of the articulatory system. It can move to various positions within the oral cavity, influencing the shape of the vocal tract.

Lips: The lips play a crucial role in articulation, particularly for labial sounds (sounds involving the lips). Examples include /p/, /b/, and /m/.

Teeth: The interaction between the tongue and teeth contributes to the production of dental sounds like /θ/ and /ð/.

Palate: The hard palate (roof of the mouth) and soft palate (velum) help shape sounds like /k/ and /g/.

Example: When pronouncing the word "ship," the articulatory system involves the tongue moving upward and close to the alveolar ridge to create the /ʃ/ sound, while the lips remain unrounded. The tongue then moves back for the /ɪ/ sound, and the lips round for the /p/ sound.

Interplay of Systems:

The three systems work in coordination to produce speech sounds. For example, to produce the word "sing," the respiratory system generates airflow, the vocal folds vibrate to create voicing, and the articulatory system shapes the /s/, /ɪ/, and /ŋ/ sounds. The precise coordination of these systems allows to produce a wide range of speech sounds and the ability to convey meaning through spoken language.

Q5) What do you think is the role of English vis-à-vis the Indian languages in modern India?

Ans) The role of English in modern India is a complex and multifaceted issue. English has a unique position in the linguistic landscape of the country, and its role has evolved significantly since India gained independence in 1947.

Official Language and Lingua Franca:

English holds the status of an associate official language alongside Hindi at the national level. This arrangement was made to accommodate linguistic diversity and regional sensitivities. English serves as a lingua franca that bridges linguistic gaps between various regions of India. It allows people from different linguistic backgrounds to communicate effectively, both within and across states.

Education and Employment:

English is often seen as a language of opportunity and upward mobility in India. Proficiency in English can open doors to better educational and employment opportunities. Many prestigious educational institutions in India, including universities and professional colleges, use English as the medium of instruction. This has led to a growing demand for English proficiency among students.

Global Communication:

English is a global language, and its proficiency is valuable for international communication, trade, and diplomacy. India's proficiency in English can facilitate global interactions and economic partnerships.

Cultural and Literary Exchange:

English literature and culture have a significant presence in India. Indian authors writing in English, such as Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, and Vikram Seth, have gained international acclaim. Indian English literature contributes to the country's rich literary tapestry.

Socioeconomic Divide:

The prominence of English has led to a socioeconomic divide in India. Those who have access to English-medium education and can communicate fluently often have better job prospects and social mobility. This has raised concerns about equity and access to opportunities.

Regional Languages:

India is incredibly diverse linguistically, with over 1,600 languages spoken. Each state in India has its official language(s), and there is a rich tapestry of regional languages. The promotion and preservation of regional languages are essential for maintaining cultural diversity and heritage. Some argue that the dominance of English may lead to a decline in the use and preservation of regional languages.

Language Policy Debates:

The role of English in Indian society has been a subject of ongoing debate and controversy. The tension between Hindi and English as official languages has led to language policy debates and occasional protests.

Bilingual and Multilingual Education:

Efforts are being made to promote bilingual and multilingual education in India. Some states have introduced policies that emphasize the importance of students learning both English and their regional language.

Technology and Media:

English plays a significant role in the Indian media and technology sectors. Many newspapers, television channels, and websites use English to reach a wider audience.

Cultural Exchange and Soft Power:

English language and culture contribute to India's soft power on the global stage. India's film industry, which often uses English in its productions, has a global following.

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