Language Diversity Reading Ielts Answers and Questions

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IELTS Reading Passage: Language diversity

Language diversity

A. The concept of universal grammar is one of the most influential in the study of languages. (UG). It is widely interpreted as meaning that all languages are fundamentally the same and that the human brain is born language-ready, with an in-built program capable of interpreting the common rules underlying any mother tongue. It was proposed by Noam Chomsky in the 1960s. This notion persisted for five decades, influencing work in linguistics, psychology, and cognitive science. It implied that in order to understand language, you must ignore the vast diversity of languages and focus on their common human core.

B. Linguists have discovered numerous universal language rules since the UG theory was proposed. There are, however, almost always exceptions. It was once thought that if a language had syllables that started with a vowel and ended with a consonant (VC), it would also have syllables that started with a consonant and ended with a vowel. (CV). This universal lasted until 1999 when linguists discovered that Arrernte, a language spoken by Indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory around Alice Springs, has VC syllables but no CV syllables.

C. Other non-universal universals describe the fundamental rules of word formation. Consider the rule that every language has four fundamental word classes: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Several languages lack an open adverb class, which means that new adverbs cannot be easily formed, unlike in English, where you can turn any adjective into an adverb, for example, ‘soft’ into ‘softly’. Others, like Lao, which is spoken in Laos, have no adjectives at all. More controversially, some linguists argue that a few languages, such as Straits Salish, spoken by indigenous peoples in North America’s northwestern regions, lack distinct nouns and verbs. Instead, they have a single-word class that includes events, objects, and qualities.

D. Even seemingly indisputable universals have been discovered to be deficient. This includes recursion, or the ability to infinitely place one grammatical unit inside a similar unit, such as ‘Jack thinks that Mary thinks that … the bus will be on time’. It is widely regarded as the most important feature of human language, distinguishing it from the communications of all other animals. However, Dan Everett of Illinois State University recently published controversial research demonstrating that Amazonian Piraha lacks this quality.

E. But what if language diversity is the key to understanding human communication? Linguists Nicholas Evans of the Australian National University in Canberra and Stephen Levinson of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, believe that languages do not follow the same set of rules. Instead, they argue that the sheer variety of human communication is a distinguishing feature not found in other animals. While there is no doubt that human thinking influences the shape of language, Evans and Levinson argue that language shapes our brains. This suggests that humans are more diverse than we previously thought, with differences in our brains depending on the language environment in which we grew up. And this leads to a disturbing conclusion: when a language dies, humanity loses an important piece of its diversity.

F. How are languages created if they do not follow a single set of shared rules? ‘Instead of universals, you get standard engineering solutions that languages adopt repeatedly, and then you get outliers,’ Evans says. He and Levinson contend that this is due to the fact that any given language is a complex system shaped by a variety of factors such as culture, genetics, and history. They claim that there are no absolutely universal language traits, only tendencies. And the ‘bio-cultural’ mix that we call language is characterized by a mix of strong and weak tendencies.

G. The strong tendencies, according to the two linguists, explain why many languages exhibit common patterns. A variety of factors, such as brain structure, speech biology, and communication efficiencies, tend to push language in a similar direction. Widely shared linguistic elements may also be based on a uniquely human type of reasoning. For example, most languages use these grammatical categories because we perceive the world before we learn to speak as a place full of things causing actions (agents) and things having actions done to them (patients).

H. Weak tendencies, on the other hand, are explained by language idiosyncrasies. Evans and Levinson argue that many aspects of a population’s natural history can influence its language. For example, Andy Butcher of Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia, has discovered that indigenous Australian children have by far the highest incidence of chronic middle-ear infection of any population on the planet and that most indigenous Australian languages lack many sounds that are common in other languages but are difficult to hear when one has a middle-ear infection. According to Evans, it is unknown whether this condition shaped the sound systems of these languages, but it is important to consider the idea.

I. Levinson and Evans are not the first to question the theory of universal grammar, but no one has summarized and spread these ideas as effectively. As a result, their arguments have sparked widespread interest, particularly among linguists tired of trying to fit their findings into the straitjacket of “absolute universals.” According to some, this is the final nail in UG’s coffin. Michael Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has long argued that all languages follow the same set of rules. ‘Universal grammar is extinct,’ he claims.

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Language diversity IELTS Reading Questions

Questions 1-6

Do the following statements agree with the views of the writer in Reading Passage? Write

YES                       if the statement agrees with the claims of the writer
NO                         if the statement contradicts the claims of the writer
NOT GIVEN          if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this

  1. The search for brand-new, universal language norms is essentially over.
  2. The human race may be affected if one or more languages disappear.
  3. If Evans and Levinson are correct, then language does not affect how a person develops.
  4. In the latter half of the 20th century, a single theory of language acquisition predominated.
  5. Linguists disagree on a particular point of Straits Salish grammar.
  6. Most of the UG guidelines put forth by linguists do hold true for all human languages.

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Questions 7-11

Choose the correct letter, A, B, C, or D.

7. What is the author’s opinion of Evans and Levinson’s theory of language acquisition?

  • Other linguists have largely rejected it.
  • It is not backed up by facts.
  • It had not been thought of before.
  • It is presented in an effective manner.

8. What purpose does the mention of a middle ear infection serve in the eighth paragraph?

  • the potential origin of something.
  • the most likely outcome of something.
  • an explanation of something.
  • an opposition to something.

9. Evans and Levinson suggest that apparent similarities between languages could be caused by

  • similar ways of perceiving.
  • narrow systems of description.
  • close interpersonal ties.
  • error in analysis.

10. Which of the following language-related beliefs do Evans and Levinson share?

  • There are only a few universal aspects of language.
  • The traits of other languages have an impact on each language.
  • The development of every language occurs independently.
  • Languages differ from one another more often than they are similar.

11. Which of the following best sums up the author’s motivation?

  • to determine the shared features of specific languages.
  • to describe different points of view on language’s nature.
  • to outline the development of cognitive science.
  • to support a long-held theory about language acquisition.

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Questions 12-14

Complete each sentence with the correct ending, A-E, below. Write the correct letter, A-E.

12. Recently, it has been asserted that Amazonia Piraha lacks – _____

13. There are deficiencies in the Lao language – _____

14. The Arrernte language deviates from a “rule” regarding – _____

A.The most fundamental feature is language. 
B. sentences that go beyond the limit. 
C. words that can be used in multiple contexts. 
D. words that fit a specific grammar pattern. 
E. a series of noises that UG predicted.

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Language diversity Reading Answers

1. Not given
2. Yes
3. No
4. Yes
5. Yes
6. No
7. D
8. A
9. A
10. C
11. B
12. A
13. D
14. E


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