Design features of language
The Design Features of Language was a phrase coined in the 1960s by the American linguist Charles Hockett. Hockett believed that there existed 16 features of human language that distinguished human communication from that of animals. Charles Hockett also articulated that even the most basic human languages contained all 16 features. While the list initially contained 13 features, in a subsequent article Hockett expanded his list with three more features, for a total of sixteen:
- Vocal-Auditory Channel – Spoken language is produced in the vocal tract and transmitted/heard as sound, whereas sign language is produced with the hands and transmitted by light.
- Broadcast transmission and directional reception – The audible sound of language is heard in all directions but listeners will interpret it as coming from one specific direction.
- Rapid fading – The sound made by speech diminishes quickly after being released.
- Interchangeability – The speaker has the ability to receive and also send the same message.
- Total feedback – Individuals are able to hear and internalize a message they have sent.
- Semanticity – Speech sounds can be linked to specific meanings.
- Arbitrariness – There is no direct connection between the signal and its meaning.
- Discreteness – Each unit of communication can be separated and unmistakable.
- Specialization – Speech is produced for communication, not chiefly for some other function, such as echolocation.
- Displacement – The ability to talk about things that are not physically present.
- Productivity – The ability to create new messages by combining already-existing signs.
- Traditional transmission – The learning of language occurs in social groups.
- Duality of patterning – Meaningful signs (words) are made of—and distinguished from one another by—meaningless parts (sounds, letters). A finite number of meaningless parts are combined to make a potentially infinite number of meaningful utterances.
- Prevarication – The ability to make false statements (to lie). Involves the purposeful manipulation of a given shared communication system in order to fool other members of the communicating group.
- Reflexiveness – Language can be used to refer to (i.e., describe) itself.
- Learnability – Speakers of one language can learn to speak another.
It was Hockett's belief that the first nine features were characteristics of communication held by all primates. Hockett determined that the last seven features are what distinguishes human language from all others.
- "Generativity and duality of patterning". The Open University: From sound to meaning; hearing, speech and language. The Open University. Retrieved 20 March 2012.
- Hockett, Charles F. and Altmann, Stuart. 1968. A note on design features. In Sebeok, Thomas A., (ed), Animal communication; techniques of study and results of research, pp. 61–72. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- Ottenheimer, H.J. 2007. The Anthropology of Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Kansas State: Thomson Wadsworth.