Unit 2: Language systems

Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should:

  • have tried to identify patterns in a text
  • be able to name 12 language systems
  • understand the differences between these systems
  • know the 5 systems that affect verb phrases

Activity 1: Pattern detection in texts

Read the passage (highlighted in yellow) to answer these questions.

  1. What does the paragraph describe?
  2. Are the events and states described in chronological order?
  3. Who is the likely reader of this paragraph?
  4. What is a selection panel?

Once the CV is received, the selection panel begins the process of shortlisting. The shortlist is drawn up and offers of interviews are sent out to those candidates. At interview, relevant questions are asked and the interviewers answer any questions that the interviewee asks. Finally, an offer is sent to the successful candidate.

Work with a partner. Compare your answers.

Each language can be represented by systems. Many language have both a spoken and a written form. The paragraph below is the written form of English.

Work in pairs or threes. Identify as many patterns as you can in this paragraph.

tense signpost

Activity 2: Language systems


A simple website can be divided into three language systems each with its own rules: content, format and behaviour systems. The content is controlled by html, format is controlled by css and behaviour can be controlled using JavaScript.

In the same way human languages can be divided into different systems. There are many ways to divide language. The 12 systems listed below are commonly used. However, it should be noted that these systems interact with each other and then are alternative ways of organizing them. Linguists may argue about the specific differences, but to help non-linguistics understand what each system focuses a pithy description is given.

  1. orthographical: the signs, letters or characters used to write the language
  2. phonetic: sounds
  3. phonological: production of sounds
  4. semantic: meaning
  5. morphological: parts of words
  6. lexical: words
  7. grammatical: the form and sequence of language
    1. syntactical: the organisation of words in sentences
    2. discoursal: organisation of sentences in texts
  8. pragmatic: how context affects language choice
    1. situational: the language used in a particular place, e.g. in a taxi
    2. functional: the language used for a particular purpose, e.g. request, refuse, agree
tense and aspect

Courtesy of Collins ELT

Activity 3: Analysis of a sentence

Read the following analysis of this sentence:

Can I hand in my homework on Monday?

  1. orthographical: eight words and one punctuation mark
  2. phonetic: -
  3. phonological -
  4. semantic: a request for permission to submit homework on a specific day
  5. morphological: home-work, Mon-day
  6. lexical: hand in, homework, Monday
  7. grammatical: can, I, my, on
  8. syntactical: Can + pronoun + verb * object + time adverbial
  9. discoursal: -
  10. pragmatic: informal request
  11. situational: conversation between teacher and student
  12. functional: request permission

Work with a partner. Explain the analysis to a partner in Japanese and then in English.

Activity 4: Analysis of sentence

Complete the analysis of the sentence in the audio file using the 12 language systems. Work alone or in pairs.

  1. orthographical:
  2. phonetic:
  3. phonological
  4. semantic:
  5. morphological:
  6. lexical:
  7. grammatical:
  8. syntactical:
  9. discoursal:
  10. pragmatic:
  11. situational:
  12. functional:

When you have finished, compare your analyses with a different partner.

Activity 5: Labelling language systems

Work alone. Label each of the examples below with the name of the language system represented.

  1. ! ; ? A a :
  2. SV, SVC, SVO, SVOO :
  3. You should... I recommend you ... If I were you, I'd...
  4. is done, are done, do, will do:
  5. red, orange, yellow, green :
  6. /ˈkanʌɪn/:
  7. un-want-ed:

When you have finished, compare your answers with a partner.

Activity 6: Verb phrases

Read the following passage to understand the patterns that English verbs follow.

English verbs may be classified into three broad categories, namely: lexical verb, auxiliary verb or modal auxiliary verb. Lexical verbs carry the meaning of the word. Auxiliary verbs (do, have and be) are used to create grammatical tenses (or aspects). Modal auxiliary verbs are used to express modality, e.g. ability e.g. can, could), necessity (e.g. need) or possibility (e.g. can, could, may, might).

Verbs may carry tense or they may not carry tense. Verbs that carry a tense are finite. Verbs that cannot carry a tense are non-finite. There are some simple checks that you can use to confirm whether verb is finite or not.

Non-finite verbs do not change form when the tense shifts and in present tenses do not agree with the grammatical subject. However, finite verbs conjugate to form present and future forms. In present forms, the verb shows agreement with the grammatical subject. In past forms, verbs do not show agreement (apart from the verb be, which uses was or were depending on the subject). In English singular and plural subjects necessite changes in the form of the verb, which is most commonly realized by adding the suffix -s when the grammatical subject is third-person singular, e.g. he, she or it.

English verbs can be in either present tense or past tense. There is no future tense in English, but we express the future using aspect (e.g. will do, be doing, be going to do).

Verbs are usually used in active voice or passive voice. Active voice is the most common, particularly in spoken English.

Verbs take two aspects: perfect aspect (e.g. have done, had done) or progressive aspect (e.g am doing, will be doing). Although not common, both aspects can be used together to create perfect progressive aspect (e.g. have been doing, will have been doing). Future is also expressed through aspect often using auxiliary and.or modal auxiliary verbs.

Verbs can also be classified based on whether a grammatical object is present. Verbs that do not take an object are intransitive (vi) (e.g. walk, live). Verbs that take an object are transitive (vt) (e.g. help me, eat it. Transitive verbs have the possibility to be used in passive voice. However, intransitive verbs cannot be used in passive voice. Some verbs are both transitive and instransitive. A summary of this information is given below.

  1. Verb types: lexical, auxiliary, modal auxiliary
  2. Finiteness: finite, non-finite
  3. Tense: present, past
  4. Aspect: perfect, progressive, future
  5. Voice: passive, active
  6. Transitivity: intransitive, transitive
  7. Agreement: subject-verb agreement

Activity 7: Describing the patterns of verbs

Share your ideas on the underlined verbs in class or the Unit forum on ELMS.

  1. There was torrential rain yesterday.
  2. I wanted to check my tomato plants but decided not to.
  3. The weather forecast reported that it will rain for 24 hours.
  4. By next week, my tomato patch will have turned into a pond.
  5. I have been trying to grow tomatoes for three years, but without much success.
  6. I started growing tomatoes because my friend said it was simple.

Activity 8: Watching

Watch and listen to a short explanation (3 min 50 sec) of tense, modality and aspect.

Knowledge and application

Activity 9: Analyzing language

Analyze how the verb increase is used to describe trends. Consider the relevant language systems. Make sure your submission includes:

  1. Three example sentences in different tenses
  2. Description with specific details of at least three language systems

Submit your work in pdf format via ELMS

tense signpost


Make sure you can describe the following language systems in simple English:

  1. orthographical
  2. phonetic
  3. phonological
  4. semantic
  5. morphological
  6. lexical
  7. grammatical
  8. syntactical
  9. discoursal
  10. pragmatic
  11. situational
  12. functional

Make sure you can explain the differences between the following in simple English:

  1. phonetic vs. phonological
  2. syntactic vs. discoursal
  3. lexical vs. grammatical
  4. situational vs. functional
  5. grammatical vs. pragmatic

Make sure you can name the following:

  1. Three verb types
  2. Two types of finiteness
  3. Two tenses
  4. Three aspects
  5. Two voices
  6. Two types of transitivity
  7. One type of agreement

Running count: 40 of 71 pattern-related concepts covered so far.

"Humans are pattern-seeking story-telling animals, and we are quite adept at telling stories about patterns, whether they exist or not." - Michael Shermer, American writer

Copyright John Blake, 2021