Language is a unique attribute among human beings. Its usage is as old as human history. A simple outlook on the role of language indicates that human beings use language to facilitate communication from one individual to the other. However, updated and current researches have unearthed various functions of language as discussed later in this essay.
Most importantly, researchers have been interested in establishing the relationship between language and semantic memory and most findings indicate that semantic memory precede language acquisition due to the fact that semantic memory is like a granary where words and meanings present in one’s language are stored.
Contrastingly, the above presupposition has fueled emergence of contrasting debates between linguists and cognitive psychologists since each side tries to prove that language precede memory and vice versa. Needless to say, the human brain is a complex entity whose functioning remains a mystery among psychologists.
However, it is not within the scope of this paper to explore the mystique behind human brain, but to explore the relationship between semantic memory and language production. In order to explicitly explore the above concept clearly, other subtopics such as the nature and function of semantic memory, basic functions of language and stages of language production will also be investigated.
Nature and function of semantic memory
According to Newmeyer (2005), semantic memory is a dynamic and complex concept, yet it is very significant in child language acquisition.
The fact that semantic memory is part and parcel of long term memory that is responsible for storing words, symbols and interpreting their respective meaning further reinforces its significant role in the process of language acquisition (McNamara, 2009). The formation and functioning of semantic memory commences the moment a child starts recognizing words and symbols as they are being used by those around them (Newmeyer, 2005).
Once acquired, words, symbols and their meanings, representations and context of usage is stored in the brain via semantic memory. Apparently, being a long term memory, semantic memory may take some time before words and symbols in the input language can be effectively stored and encoded in this memory.
Better still, a child needs to be consistently exposed to words and symbols to facilitate full development of semantic memory. Newmeyer (2005) explains that one characteristic that sets out semantic memory from other types of memory is that semantic memory only stores the acquired concept minus the personal experiences that comes into play along the process.
For instance, a child will learn the meaning of the word ‘dog’ and its associated symbol, and never forget its meaning while the underlying personal experiences he/she went through during learning are easily forgotten. Correspondingly, the above notion implies that semantic memory is widely used during childhood when new language ideas and concepts are being acquired.
Basic functions of language
Researchers in linguistics concur that language performs three basic functions. To begin with is the obvious function of language is communication purpose whereby individuals exchange information amongst themselves (Newmeyer, 2005). This function of language is usually referred to as the informative function of language that enables individuals to exchange of factual or false ideas.
The latter may be visualized when giving directions in news reports or engaging in debates (Newmeyer, 2005). Secondly, language serves the expressive function whereby it either articulates or evokes feelings and attitudes towards the addressee (Newmeyer, 2005).
This particular function of language is most utilized in lyrics, literature and poetry either to articulate or evoke feelings of sadness or happiness, joy or pain ,anger or calmness and so on (Newmeyer, 2005). Lastly, language performs the directive function whereby an individual uses language to prevent or initiate some action (Newmeyer, 2005).
Newmeyer (2005) underscores that the directive is more of a command and request concept whereby the truth or falsity of the statements does not matter. For instance, telling someone to ‘close the door’ is directive. Additionally, it is imperative to mention that the three functions come into play interchangeably in any given communication context.
Stages of language production and their relationship to semantic memory
Similar to numerous controversies that encompass understanding of various aspects of language, the process of language production has not escaped from a similar tussle.
However, although the precise nature of language production is yet to be agreed upon by researchers, there is wide consensus view that the process of language production is not haphazard. Rather, it undergoes through four systematic stages that is conceptualization, planning , articulation and self-monitoring (McNamara,2009).
The underlying consensus behind language production accentuates that it’s a complex mental process that translates thought into speech via the stages named above (McNamara, 2009). In the conceptualization stage, an individual determines what he/she wants to say during a specific communication context (McNamara, 2009).
The above stage borrows heavily from planning process since it’s during this process when the pre-determined conceptualization concepts are arranged into a systematic order before they can be transferred to speech (McNamara, 2009).
The actual production of conceptualized and planned concepts is done in the articulation process (McNamara, 2009). Finally, an individual will commence reflecting on the effectiveness of the articulated speech in fulfilling the intended language function and by so doing such an individual is performing the self-monitoring process (McNamara, 2009).
The above analyses positively indicate that language is a complex process and the fact that it takes place within human mind further complicates its understanding.
On the same note, researchers have been at pain to shed light on the relationship between semantic memory and language production. Mostly, such researches tend to focus analyzing errors made during the articulation process of language production (McNamara, 2009). The fact that words, symbols and meanings are stored in semantic memory indicates that any internal or external factor that hinders the encoding process will also affect language production.
Research has shown that external and emotional elements have the ability to hinder memory reproduction and recall hence language production will also be inhibited due to the fact that language cannot function independent of memory (McNamara, 2009).
Additionally, successful language production process depends on semantic memory ability to link ideas and concepts especially during conceptualization process since any error will also be present during articulation process (McNamara, 2009).
Although some errors during language production are forgivable, some of them have devastating effects on an individual. For instance, a driver might be unable to link the stop symbol to its associated meanings and end up causing an accident. The above errors are likely to arise if the symbol, color or word in use is new from what was originally stored in the brain (McNamara, 2009).
In a nutshell, it is worthy to note that although there is no clear linkage between the concept of semantic memory and language production, the two entities portray some inseparable relationship. Whereas semantic memory acts as a granary for stored words, symbols and their underlying meanings, it is during the process of language production that actual ideas and concepts are put to test.
McNamara, T. P. (2009). Semantic priming: Perspectives from memory and world recognition. New York: Psychology Press.
Newmeyer, F. J. (2005). Language form and language function. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.