Double articulation

Double articulation, or duality of patterning[1] is a concept used in linguistics and semiotics. It refers to the two-level structure inherent to a sign system, insofar as it is composed by two kinds of elements: 1) significant or meaningful, and 2) distinctive or meaningless.


Double articulation[2] refers to the twofold structure of the stream of speech, which can be primarily divided into meaningful signs (like words or morphemes), and then secondarily into distinctive elements (like letters or phonemes). For example, the meaningful English word "cat" is composed of the sounds [k], [æ], and [t], which are meaningless as separate individual sounds (and which can also be combined to form the separate words "tack" and "act", with distinct meanings). These sounds, called phonemes, represent the secondary and lowest level of articulation in the hierarchy of the organization of speech. Higher, primary, levels of organization (including morphology, syntax, and semantics) govern the combination of these individually meaningless phonemes into meaningful elements.


The French concept of double articulation was first introduced by André Martinet in 1949.[3] The English calque double articulation has been criticised as inaccurate and is often replaced by duality of patterning.[4]

According to Charles F. Hockett and other linguists, this duality is an important property of human languages, since it allows for the expression of a potentially infinite number of meaningful language sequences. Strictly speaking, however, such expressiveness follows from generativity or productivity (a finite number of components combining via rules to produce a potentially infinite arrangement of novel utterances), not of duality per se (one could have a system with 2 levels of the kind referred to as duality, and yet have only finite productivity).[citation needed] For further discussion, see figurae, as well as Hockett's design features, which treats productivity and duality as distinct essential properties of language.

Sign languages may have less double articulation because more gestures are possible than sound and able to convey more meaning without double articulation.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Trask, R.L. (1999). Language: the basics. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-20089-X.
  2. ^ Occasionally also "double segmentation".
  3. ^ André Martinet, Éléments de linguistique générale, Colin, 1961.
  4. ^ de Boer, B; Sandler, W; Kirby, S (2012). "New perspectives on duality of patterning: Introduction to the special issue". Lang Cogn. 4: 251–259. doi:10.1515/langcog-2012-0014. PMC 3935606. PMID 24587833.
  5. ^ Sedivy, Julie. "The Unusual Language That Linguists Thought Couldn't Exist". Nautilus. Retrieved 23 September 2014.

External links

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