The Foundations of Linguistics content category has about 22 multiple-choice questions, which accounts for about 18% of the test.
Concepts to Know
Let’s take a look at some concepts you definitely need to know for the test.
Derivational versus Inflectional Morphemes
A derivational morpheme is a prefix or suffix that when added to a word, creates a new form of that word or a new word. A derivational morpheme often changes the part of speech of a word and can also change the meaning of the word. For example, adding -er to the word “dance” changes it from a verb (dance) to a noun (dancer). Adding -ize to the word “critic” changes it from a noun (critic) to a verb (criticize).
An inflectional morpheme is different from a derivational morpheme, because it does not change the part of speech of a word. Instead, it is used to show past, present, and future tense, to show possession, to show if a word is singular or plural, or for comparisons. For example, adding -ing to dance changes the word to “dancing,” but it does not change the part of speech. Dance and dancing are both verbs. Similarly, adding -er to short changes it to “shorter.” This does not change the part of speech, because short and shorter are both adjectives. In the English language, there are only eight inflectional morphemes:
- -s to show plural form of a word
- -’s to show possession
- -er used for comparison
- -est used as a superlative
- -s to show 3rd person singular present tense
- -ed to show past tense
- -ing to show present tense
- -en used as a past participle
Cognates are words in different languages that have the same origin and the same or very similar meanings. Because they have the same origin, the spellings are very similar or identical, making them easier to learn than other words when learning another language. The pronunciation of these words are often slightly different. Some examples of English and Spanish cognates include:
- artist (English) and artista (Spanish)
- color (English) and color (Spanish)
- hour (English) and hora (Spanish)
- minute (English) and minuto (Spanish)
- piano (English) and piano (Spanish)
Pragmatics refers to the ways in which people use language to produce and comprehend meaning. This includes social conversational norms, how meaning can change based on context, and how the literal meaning of a phrase is not always what the phrase or expression really means.
When someone speaks or writes, they always have an intended meaning. Intended meaning is what they hope to convey, or what they are meaning to say. When someone is learning another language or is immersed in a different culture, they may have difficulty understanding the intended meaning of a statement or conversation. This can lead to pragmatic failure, meaning that they did not understand the intended meaning of what someone is saying.
A typical example of pragmatic failure is an English Language Learner misunderstanding an idiom or a phrase used in slang. For example, the phrase, “I’ll hit you up later” could be very confusing to a person who only understands the literal meanings of “hit” and “up” and does not understand that the speaker means they will call or contact them later.
Pragmatic failure can also include misunderstandings in conversational norms. For example, it is typical in American culture that when a stranger or acquaintance says, “How are you today,” we reply with a short, positive answer such as, “I’m doing well, how are you?” However, if a person isn’t used to this typical exchange, they might end up telling someone details about their day or how they aren’t doing well, making the person who asked the question feel slightly uncomfortable or unsure how to respond.
While these pragmatic failures often don’t cause major implications at the time, they can lead to confusion and misunderstandings, as well as stereotypes of different cultures.
Also included in pragmatics is “code switching.” This refers to a speaker of two or more languages alternating or “switching” between various language in conversation. Spanish and English speakers will frequently do this in informal settings. For example, a person who speaks both Spanish and English might include the Spanish word for “why” (porque) in the middle of an English sentence, by saying, “I need a new phone porque mine broke.”
World Englishes refers to the English language being used in numerous places throughout the world, and the fact that English is present even in countries that do not speak English. For example, most airport signs use English in addition to languages used in that country, and most instructions always include English. The concept of World Englishes also includes different varieties of English being used in different areas of the globe. For example, people in England have some words that are not used in America or are used differently, such as calling a cookie a biscuit.
Sociolinguistics is the study of the way language and language use is affected by cultural norms and cultural contexts. Sociolinguistics includes the study of dialects, sociolects, speech community norms, and social functions of a language. Each of these factors is explained below:
- A dialect is a form or variety of a language that is unique to a certain regional area. An example of dialect is people in the southern United States saying “y’all” instead of “you guys.”
- Sociolects, or a social dialect, is a variety of a language that is used by a certain socioeconomic class, age group, or other social group. An example of a sociolect is slang used by teens or terminology used in a certain profession.
- Speech community norms: A speech community is a group of people who share a similar language, but also share the same speech characteristics and linguistic norms. Speech communities are often thought of as being a smaller area, such as a city or small town, rather than an entire region such as the Southwest. An example of a speech community norm is the way people in the Boston area pronounce words with “r,” such as “cah” instead of “car.”
Minimal pairs are two words that differ by only one phoneme. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a word, so minimal pairs differ in only one sound. This does not mean that the words differ in only one letter, although this may sometimes be the case, as well. Examples of minimal pairs include:
- pass and path
- sink and think
- vent and tent
- light and right
- fairy and very
Minimal pairs can be difficult for someone who is learning a new language, because of the fact that only one sound is different. They can cause confusion when listening and when speaking.
And that’s some basic info about the Foundations of Linguistics content category.