Language

People have attempted to define language in a number of ways. Example definitions include the following:

  1. a system for representing things, actions, ideas and states
  2. a tool people use to communicate their concepts of reality into the minds of others
  3. a system of meanings shared among people
  4. a code that members of a linguistic community use to mediate between form and meaning
  5. a set of grammatically correct utterances (i.e. words, sentences, etc.)
  6. a set of utterances that could be understood by a linguistic community
  7. thought

Ferdinand de Saussure, the founder of modern linguistics, made a distinction between langue and parole.

In any case, human language is the most central meaning of language. The study of language is called linguistics.

Making a principled distinction between one human language and another is often not possible. One major issue is the dialect continuum phenomena, where the boundaries between named language groups are necessarily arbitrary. For instance, there are dialects of German very similar to Dutch which are not mutually intelligible with other dialects of (what we call) German.

Note that there are parallels to biology, where it is not always possible to make a principled distinction between one species and the next. In either case (at least given the standard view on the evolution of the species), the ultimate difficulty stems from both languages and species descending from one another, with modification. (See dialect or August Schleicher for a longer discussion.)

The concepts of Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache, and Dachsprache are used to make finer distinctions about the degree of difference between languages or dialects.

One of the most prominent artificial languages called Esperanto was created by L. L. Zamenhof. It is a compilation of various elements of different languages with the goal of being an easy to learn language.

Some linguists, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, have created fantasy languages, often for literary purposes. One of his languages is called Quenya, which is a form of Elvish. It includes its own alphabet and pronunciations in addition to being able to be spoken by humans.

Animal Language

While the term "animal languages" is widely used, most researchers agree that they are not as complex or expressive as the human language. They argue that there are significant differences separating human language from animal communication even at its most complex, and that the underlying principles are not related.

Other researchers argue that an evolutionary continuum exists between the communication methods these animals use and human language. Everybody agrees that human language is more complex than communication between animals. For more on communication among non-human animals, see The Animal Communication Project.

These are the properties of human language that are argued to separate it from animal communication:

  • 'Arbitrariness:' There is no relationship between a sound or sign and its meaning.
  • 'Cultural transmission:' Language is passed from one language user to the next, consciously or unconsciously.
  • 'Discreteness:' Language is composed of discrete units that are used in combination to create meaning.
  • 'Displacement:' Languages can be used to communicate ideas about things that are not in the immediate vicinity either spatially or temporally.
  • 'Duality:' Language works on two levels at once, a surface level and a semantic (meaningful) level.
  • 'Metalinguistics:' Ability to discuss language itself.
  • 'Productivity:' A finite number of units can be used to create an infinite number of ideas.

Research with apes, such as the research Francine Patterson has done with Koko, suggests the animals may be capable of using language that meets some of these requirements. Koko's achievements were with a human language that she was taught, so her example only shows that animals are capable of using language, but not that they are necessarily capable of inventing one on their own.

Arbitrariness has been noted in meerkat calls; bee dancess show some elements of spatial displacement; and cultural transmission has occurred with the offspring of many of the great apes who have been taught sign languages, the celebrated bonobos Kanzi and Panbanisha being examples. However, these single features alone do not qualify such instances of communication as being true language.

The most studied examples of animal languages are:

  • Bee dance - used to comunicate direction of food source in many species of bees
  • Bird songs - songbirds can be very articulate. African Grey Parrots are famous for their ability to repeat human language, and seem to show signs of understanding it.
  • Whale songs - it is still a mystery what these very social and intelligent animals really communicate - although very different from the human language, whale songs can not be easily dismissed as not being complex or expressive enough.

Mathematical languages

Mathematics and computer science use artificial entities called formal languages (including programming languages), which may or may not count as "true" languages.

Information about language on wikipedia

The Linguistics article examines different theoretical perspectives on human language in detail. This is perhaps becoming Wikipedia's most useful introductory article about language.

The Language families and languages article provides more information on particular languages and their interconnections.

The Common phrases in different languages article may be of interest to travelers.

List of languages, ISO 639

See also

External links

See also: simple:Language



copyright 2004 FactsAbout.com