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Understanding language A basic look at language 

Every time we argue or explain something, we use language—regardless of whether we are thinking to ourselves or communicating with others. As children, we learn to use language so ‘naturally’ that we tend to take its use for granted. In fact, there are many subtleties and complexities in language. Knowing something about these can help our reasoning by giving us more conscious control over the material (language) with which we are reasoning. There are four distinct ‘levels’ of languageuse that build together to create ‘language’ as we know it. The first level is a word—for example, ‘student’ or ‘reasoning’—which is the basic unit of language.

Words have meanings, usually more than one, and often multiple meanings are ‘denotative’ (that is, what the word explicitly says) or ‘connotative’ (the more subtle, ‘hidden’ meanings of words). We will see, through this book, that definitions of words are important but, for the moment, we are just interested in words insofar as they can form statements. When we put some words together, we get the second level of language: a statement, such as ‘there are several hundred students who have studied smart thinking at Curtin University’. We probably think of statements as being the same things as sentences, but they are not. In the following example we can see how one sentence can be made up of more than one statement: ‘

We use reasoning everyday of our lives, but most of us have no formal training, and the more practice and the more training, the better we will be at it’. The first statement is ‘We use reasoning everyday of our lives’; the next is ‘most of us have no formal training [in reasoning]’; the third is ‘the more practice and the more training, the better we will be at it [reasoning]’. The third level of language-use is the text, which is made up of any group of statements, such as the sentence above. Now, usually, the texts we encounter are much longer than just a few statements (for example, this book is a text, as is a newspaper article).

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But, remembering that we are talking about something different to ‘natural’ things we read and hear, we define a text as a group of statements that is of any length, so long as there is more than one statement and these statements are related to one another in some way. Texts are not just lists of statements; they are groups of connected statements. In the example of a multi-statement sentence from the previous paragraph, as well as in single statements, words like ‘but’ or ‘and’, and punctuation like commas and semi-colons, are not included in the statements.

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They act both to distinguish one statement from another and, at the same time, to join together the various statements to make a text. Practical communication via texts depends on the way these words connect the statements.

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