Linguistics Crash Course!

Enjoy a laugh from this short clip from Singin' in the Rain:

Now imagine we have recently moved in among a people group and we are learning language. We have just observed these two ladies saying what seem to be the same words, but using different sounds to say them (they each said their "t" differently, as well as each vowel- "a", "e", "i", "o", and "u"). What do we do with that information?! (or...what is Lisa learning in LINGUISTICS?)

1) We write down each sound as we hear it, and make a list of all the sounds (consonants and vowels) in the language. These sounds and words are our 'data'.
2) We then INTERPRET the data to determine if there are vowel clusters (multiple vowels next to each other) or consonant clusters that are better written as a single sound/segment. Then we change our data accordingly.
3) Next we ANALYZE each sound. Why? Because although the two ladies said "t" two different ways, in their minds they might very well be saying the exact same thing! The first lady's "t" sounded different than the second lady's "t". But do the words they said that start with "t" mean the same thing? OR does saying the "t" differently change the meaning?

  • If the meaning is the same even though the sounds are different, we can UNITE the two "t"s in our alphabet/orthography into one sound (phoneme) to represent them both.
  • If the meaning changes, we must leave them as separate sounds (phones) and indicate in our analysis how to distinguish between the sounds (when to use [t] and when to use [tʰ], for example).
4) Once we have analyzed all the sounds and compiled them in charts and 'lists', we can create our alphabet (Orthography)...

...from which we will ultimately teach literacy, translate the Bible, and one day share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them in their own heart language!

I guess a 'walk-away' from our brief glance into LINGUISTICS is this question:

Is it important/worth it to spend the time and effort to learn a person's heart language?
(YES, YES, and YES!!!!)

p.s. - if you're confused after all that, welcome to my world. :)