Human beings are said to distinguish themselves from other species by their unique language capacity. However, at the same time, they also differ from other human beings by the variety of languages they speak. This rather contradictory observation also underlies the myth of the tower of Babel, which asks the following question with respect to language: “Why are there so many different languages? Why isn’t there one universal language? After all, such a universal language would make communication a lot easier …”.
In order to answer this question and related ones, we will show in the first part of this course that language variation and language change are inevitable and constitute an essential property of human language. In doing so, we will amongst other things look into the origin and evolution of language. We will also give attention to the close relation between language and culture and ask to what extent language is innate and whether, despite all language variation, there does exist some kind of universal grammar.
In the second part of the course, we will offer an introduction to the different disciplines of linguistics and their fundamental notions: phonetics and phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. We will do so while adopting the point of view according that language is a dynamic phenomenon and that language structures emerge from language use.
Translation and translators are front and center in these lectures. These two concepts will be defined and the historical context of translation and translators will be discussed. The relations between translation on the one hand and language and literature on the other will also be examined. A final foca point constitues the role that technology plays in the translation process. In these lectures general tendencies will be presented and discussed using a number of specific examples.