Did you know our unique phonology makes us unique humans?
Communication, being an essential element of human life exhibits the structure of human language which is created by merging patterns of phonology. However, this concept is a part of a huge debate where, according to some, language is derived from a special genetic adaptation. It is only our increased knowledge combined with intelligent biological functioning that creates a structured system of language.
Iris Berent, a Psychology professor at Northeastern University discusses the concept of phonology in her book, The Phonological Mind. The capacity for creating a language is acquired from a certain genetic adaptation and this is based on syntax. Though syntax means arranging words and phrases to create well-formed sentences, the words too, are formed when you combine meaningless sounds. This is what Berent calls ‘Phonology’.
All the languages essentially use syntactical and phonological layers to construct the structure of their language. It is only by combining these layers, a method of communication is established. This method is also advanced in the case of sign languages where words in it track the syllables used. Though some linguistic rules are learned in childhood others are innately built in us. Therefore, Berent observes that different species have different structures of communication that govern their response to different elements of their environment.
Further, Berent says, “We don’t need distinct auditory elements for every word we speak; instead, we combine and reuse a select group of elements”. This is the quality that makes human language special. Though we have rules, we adapt to them according to our mechanical challenges. We, humans, have the potential to combines the two layers and form a different vocal pattern as compared to other animals.
Therefore, phonology is the most important element that makes human language unique. It is because of this phonological system, the fundamental component of language is formed and we find a systematic organisation of sounds in spoken languages and signs in sign languages.