Human language is unique because it is a symbolic communication system that is learned instead of biologically inherited. Symbols are sounds or things which have meaning given to them by the users. The meaning is arbitrarily assigned. For example, the word "book" does not in any way physically resemble the object it stands for.
A word is one or more sounds that in combination have a specific meaning assigned by language. Dr. Lynne Nygaard, who visited Rollins on Thursday, November 3rd, from Emory University, spoke to students about human speech and communication. She completed her Ph.D. in Cognitive Science at Brown University in 1991 and joined the faculty of Emory University in 1995.
She is interested in using both linguistic and non-linguistic properties of the spoken language to understand more about human communication and how listeners interpret a speaker's intentional meaning, thoughts, and feelings. Linguistics is the scientific study of human language and communications. Linguistics focuses mainly on how humans can produce and use language.
An advantage of human language is that it is a learned symbolic communication system that is infinitely flexible. Dr. Nygaard has found that a person listening to someone else speaking must put together what is being said with how it is being said in order to completely understand.
It appears that in order for people to completely understand speech they must process the non-linguistic, (properties not relating to language), properties of speech. Non-linguistic properties of speech are preserved in representative forms. It also appears that non-linguistic and linguistic properties are processed separately.
Meanings can be changed and new symbols can be created. New words are invented daily and the meaning of old ones can change. When people learn new words they do not remember the unique voice qualities when they heard the new words. This allows people to respond linguistically to major environmental, historical, and social changes and able to understand the world better as the years go by.