Universal Human Commonalities (UHC)

Semantics

Semantics is the study of linguistic meaning and the relationships between words, phrases, and symbols that contribute to human communication and expression. A study observed how children learn the meanings of words in their native languages. It was determined that children can deduce the meanings of unknown words when they know the overall meaning of the sentence in which the unknown words are spoken. This allows the children to “acquire partial knowledge from ambiguous situations and combine such partial knowledge across situations,” until a complete understanding is achieved.

Semantic Memory

Semantic memory is a component of long-term memory, containing facts and general knowledge that do not pertain to specific events one has experienced. For example, when presented with the statement “A canary can fly,” one can usually determine it is true without recalling the specific time he/she learned this fact. This is because people can remember generalizations such as “Most birds can fly,” then make inferences that lead them to believe canaries can fly.

Politeness

Politeness is a universal human behavior, thought to result from a need for balanced interpersonal relationships. Studies of linguistic politeness do not usually attempt to identify specific polite behaviors because “politeness is a social matter, and hence culture-specific.” However, researchers generally agree that politeness has universal value as a verbal strategy that produces friction-free social interactions. Studies of politeness draw a distinction between universality and culture-specificity in order to obtain a more definitive understanding of this type of behavior.

Proverbs

Proverbs are simple, oft-repeated sayings that express some sort of truth or moral, usually originating from a society’s folklore, riddles, fables, and myths. Proverbs are found in all languages and may even pass from one language to another.

Proper Names

Proper names are names given to specific people, locations, or objects, such as Istanbul or The White House. Researchers have studied the ways children learn proper names, as well as the link between proper names and their appropriate interpretations. It was found that children learn proper names by utilizing “implicit semantic knowledge that they posses when they begin to acquire language.” This allows children to “map individual proper names onto their appropriate interpretations and to master the language-specific grammatical properties of expressions belonging to this class.”

Pronouns

Pronouns are a part of speech found in all languages, used to replace nouns so that sentences become less repetitive. Pronouns can become confusing if they are overused, since it can sometimes become difficult to determine which pronouns are referring to which nouns. Experiments were performed to test whether participants could correctly identify the referents of ambiguous pronouns.

Concept of Precedence

The concept of precedence describes something that came before something else, or something that has a higher priority than something else. In language, the ability to determine precedence among sounds is crucial for understanding speech. Listeners must be able to precisely identify which sounds came first from a speaker in order to determine what words were being spoken. Researchers studied the link between perception of precedence and understanding of language by testing participants’ ability to determine the order of two different tones with varying time differences.

Merging of Phonemes

All words in all languages are formed by the merging of phonemes, or the basic units of sound in a language. When phonemes merge together, their basic sounds may be altered to improve the flow and ease of speech, both within words and between subsequent words. The ways words are pronounced usually arise from specific rules regarding the ways phonemes are spoken and merged with each other.

Partonymy

In language, there are particular words and phrases used to refer to entities as a whole, as well as those used to refer to specific parts of those entities. Partonymy refers to the speech used to describe parts of a whole, such as using the words "hand" and "foot" when discussing the human body.

Inevitability of Phonemic Change

Languages consistently change and evolve over time, potentially developing into new languages distinct from the originals. Historical linguists are sure that languages evolve, but have found it difficult to formulate general principles regarding how a language’s unique sounds change over time. Besides the addition of new words to the vernacular, the most common way languages evolve is through subtle, though noticeable, changes to phonemes.

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