Five Levels of Language Analysis


Language : the set of all acceptable, well formed sentences in the language.


Three Levels of analysis involve Grammar : The complete set of rules that will generate or produce all of the acceptable sentences, and will not produce unacceptable sentences.

Three Levels of Grammar :

Phonology : Rules of how a language sounds, and how and when certain sounds can be combined.

Syntax : rules concerning word order

Semantics : combining separate word meanings into a sensible, meaningful whole.



Those three levels are the primary focus of linguists.

Psycholinguists are also interested in two higher levels of analysis :

Conceptual Knowledge :

Beliefs :

The following sentence show the importance of adding these two levels of analysis.

‘John and Mary saw the mountains while flying to California’

Questions like "Who saw the mountains ?"

"What did John and Mary see ? "

Can be easily answered with the first three levels of analysis.

However, to answer the question "Who(what) was flying ?" Draws on conceptual knowledge and beliefs about the probability that mountains.

Assessing Language Fluency


One key difference first raised by Chomsky is the distinction between :

Language Competence : the basic knowledge of language and its rules that fluent speakers have.

Language Performance : the actual language behavior a speaker generates.

Language performance typically underestimates true language competence,

We can usually understand more language than we will produce.

Language performance frequently suffers from dysfluencies , irregularities and errors in language production.




Three Levels of Grammar in More Depth

Phonology : the sounds of language.

Lets examine Individual speech sounds first, and then look at how we combine these sounds.

Phone : The smallest unit of sound

Phoneme : a language category, within which different phones are classified as the same

About 200 phonemes exist world wide, English uses only 46 different phonemes; Native Hawaiian speakers only use 15.

The P in "Spot, Pot, Spoon, Pat" are phonetically different (the acoustic pattern is not identical), but all represent the same phoneme.





Phonetics: examines how language sounds are produced.

We can define consonant phoneme production with respect to three factors.

1. Place of Articulation : Where is the airflow in the vocal tract obstructed when producing a particular phoneme ?

From the front of the mouth to the throat

Bilabial (P,B) : Labiodental (F,V) : Dental (TH,TH) : Alveolar (T,D) : Velar (K,G): Glottal (H) :


2. Manner of Articulation : Is the air flow fully stopped, as in P,B,T,D,K,G (STOPS)

Fricatives :or only partially stopped, as in F,V,S,Z,H

Nasals : M, N, NG,

Liquids : R

Glides : W, Y

Third characteristic of Phoneme production

3. Voicing : Do the vocal chords vibrate immediately after the air is stopped (or partially obstructed), or is there a short delay.

Voiced : vocal chord starts vibrating immediately,

Voiceless : There is a short delay after the release of air before the vocal chords vibrate.

Voiced Stops : B, D, G

Voiceless Stops : P, T, K


Vowels, on the other hand, are produced by varying tongue position as air flows through the vocal tract.

The tongue may be held in a low, middle or high position; and may arch in different positions : Front of mouth, center of mouth, or the back of the mouth.

Spectrographs and language production :

Spectrographs are the visual representation of acoustical information.

Spectrographs display concentrations of physical energy in the spoken signal.

These concentrations, which show up as dark bands, are called formants.

Multiple formants make up each intelligible speech sound.

Categorical Perception : we perceive physically different sounds as the same phoneme , Cool and Keep

If however, the two phones are similar in sound but cross a phonemic barrier, then we will perceive the two sounds as different phonemes.

Lieberman et. Al. (57) used a computer synthesized speech signal to explore phonemic boundaries.

Combining Phonemes into words


Very young, we learn the phonemic rules for combining sound. This learning is automatic, and occurs without intention.

Yet, as adults we know that "abt" is not a word when we hear it, although we have no problem with "apt".

We have extensive knowledge of Phonemic Competence, even though we may be unable to list the rules we use in daily speech.

Parallel Transmission : separate phonemes are transmitted at the same time.

This is also referred to as coarticulation : different phonemes within a syllable or word are articulated simultaneously.

Top Down processing, which involves the understanding of the context in which language is spoken, is vital in understanding words.

Pollack & Pickett (1964)

Recorded several conversations.

Subjects in their experiment had to identify the words in the conversation.

When Pollack & Pickett spliced individual words out of the conversation and then presented them auditorily, subjects identified the correct word only 47% of the time.

The longer the segment of speech from the conversation played, the more intelligible the individual words became.

Speech analysis is both Bottom Up and Top Down. The conceptual knowledge helps to aid the identification of basic phonetic utterances.