Language

A mural in Teotihuacan, Mexico (c. 2nd century) depicting a person emitting a speech scroll from his mouth, symbolizing speech
Cuneiform is the first known form of written language, but spoken language predates writing by at least tens of thousands of years.
Two girls learning American Sign Language
Braille writing, a tactile variant of a writing system

Language is a system that consists of the development, acquisition, maintenance and use of complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so; and a language is any specific example of such a system.

The scientific study of language is called linguistics. Questions concerning the philosophy of language, such as whether words can represent experience, have been debated at least since Gorgias and Plato in ancient Greece. Thinkers such as Rousseau have argued that language originated from emotions while others like Kant have held that it originated from rational and logical thought. 20th-century philosophers such as Wittgenstein argued that philosophy is really the study of language. Major figures in linguistics include Ferdinand de Saussure and Noam Chomsky.

Estimates of the number of human languages in the world vary between 5,000 and 7,000. However, any precise estimate depends on a partly arbitrary distinction between languages and dialects. Natural languages are spoken or signed, but any language can be encoded into secondary media using auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli – for example, in whistling, signed, or braille. This is because human language is modality-independent. Depending on philosophical perspectives regarding the definition of language and meaning, when used as a general concept, "language" may refer to the cognitive ability to learn and use systems of complex communication, or to describe the set of rules that makes up these systems, or the set of utterances that can be produced from those rules. All languages rely on the process of semiosis to relate signs to particular meanings. Oral, manual and tactile languages contain a phonological system that governs how symbols are used to form sequences known as words or morphemes, and a syntactic system that governs how words and morphemes are combined to form phrases and utterances.

Human language has the properties of productivity and displacement, and relies entirely on social convention and learning. Its complex structure affords a much wider range of expressions than any known system of animal communication. Language is thought to have originated when early hominins started gradually changing their primate communication systems, acquiring the ability to form a theory of other minds and a shared intentionality.[1][2] This development is sometimes thought to have coincided with an increase in brain volume, and many linguists see the structures of language as having evolved to serve specific communicative and social functions. Language is processed in many different locations in the human brain, but especially in Broca's and Wernicke's areas. Humans acquire language through social interaction in early childhood, and children generally speak fluently by approximately three years old. The use of language is deeply entrenched in human culture. Therefore, in addition to its strictly communicative uses, language also has many social and cultural uses, such as signifying group identity, social stratification, as well as social grooming and entertainment.

Languages evolve and diversify over time, and the history of their evolution can be reconstructed by comparing modern languages to determine which traits their ancestral languages must have had in order for the later developmental stages to occur. A group of languages that descend from a common ancestor is known as a language family. The Indo-European family is the most widely spoken and includes languages as diverse as English, Russian and Hindi; the Sino-Tibetan family includes Mandarin, Bodo and the other Chinese languages, and Tibetan; the Afro-Asiatic family includes Arabic, Somali, and Hebrew; the Bantu languages include Swahili, and Zulu, and hundreds of other languages spoken throughout Africa; and the Malayo-Polynesian languages include Indonesian, Malay, Tagalog, and hundreds of other languages spoken throughout the Pacific. The languages of the Dravidian family, spoken mostly in Southern India, include Tamil Telugu and Kannada. Academic consensus holds that between 50% and 90% of languages spoken at the beginning of the 21st century will probably have become extinct by the year 2100.

Definitions

The English word language derives ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *dn̥ǵʰwéh₂s "tongue, speech, language" through Latin lingua, "language; tongue", and Old French language.[3] The word is sometimes used to refer to codes, ciphers, and other kinds of artificially constructed communication systems such as formally defined computer languages used for computer programming. Unlike conventional human languages, a formal language in this sense is a system of signs for encoding and decoding information. This article specifically concerns the properties of natural human language as it is studied in the discipline of linguistics.

As an object of linguistic study, "language" has two primary meanings: an abstract concept, and a specific linguistic system, e.g. "French". The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, who defined the modern discipline of linguistics, first explicitly formulated the distinction using the French word langage for language as a concept, langue as a specific instance of a language system, and parole for the concrete usage of speech in a particular language.[4]

When speaking of language as a general concept, definitions can be used which stress different aspects of the phenomenon.[5] These definitions also entail different approaches and understandings of language, and they also inform different and often incompatible schools of linguistic theory.[6] Debates about the nature and origin of language go back to the ancient world. Greek philosophers such as Gorgias and Plato debated the relation between words, concepts and reality. Gorgias argued that language could represent neither the objective experience nor human experience, and that communication and truth were therefore impossible. Plato maintained that communication is possible because language represents ideas and concepts that exist independently of, and prior to, language.[7]

During the Enlightenment and its debates about human origins, it became fashionable to speculate about the origin of language. Thinkers such as Rousseau and Herder argued that language had originated in the instinctive expression of emotions, and that it was originally closer to music and poetry than to the logical expression of rational thought. Rationalist philosophers such as Kant and Descartes held the opposite view. Around the turn of the 20th century, thinkers began to wonder about the role of language in shaping our experiences of the world – asking whether language simply reflects the objective structure of the world, or whether it creates concepts that it in turn imposes on our experience of the objective world. This led to the question of whether philosophical problems are really firstly linguistic problems. The resurgence of the view that language plays a significant role in the creation and circulation of concepts, and that the study of philosophy is essentially the study of language, is associated with what has been called the linguistic turn and philosophers such as Wittgenstein in 20th-century philosophy. These debates about language in relation to meaning and reference, cognition and consciousness remain active today.[8]

Mental faculty, organ or instinct

One definition sees language primarily as the mental faculty that allows humans to undertake linguistic behaviour: to learn languages and to produce and understand utterances. This definition stresses the universality of language to all humans, and it emphasizes the biological basis for the human capacity for language as a unique development of the human brain. Proponents of the view that the drive to language acquisition is innate in humans argue that this is supported by the fact that all cognitively normal children raised in an environment where language is accessible will acquire language without formal instruction. Languages may even develop spontaneously in environments where people live or grow up together without a common language; for example, creole languages and spontaneously developed sign languages such as Nicaraguan Sign Language. This view, which can be traced back to the philosophers Kant and Descartes, understands language to be largely innate, for example, in Chomsky's theory of Universal Grammar, or American philosopher Jerry Fodor's extreme innatist theory. These kinds of definitions are often applied in studies of language within a cognitive science framework and in neurolinguistics.[9][10]

Formal symbolic system

Another definition sees language as a formal system of signs governed by grammatical rules of combination to communicate meaning. This definition stresses that human languages can be described as closed structural systems consisting of rules that relate particular signs to particular meanings.[11] This structuralist view of language was first introduced by Ferdinand de Saussure,[12] and his structuralism remains foundational for many approaches to language.[13]

Some proponents of Saussure's view of language have advocated a formal approach which studies language structure by identifying its basic elements and then by presenting a formal account of the rules according to which the elements combine in order to form words and sentences. The main proponent of such a theory is Noam Chomsky, the originator of the generative theory of grammar, who has defined language as the construction of sentences that can be generated using transformational grammars.[14] Chomsky considers these rules to be an innate feature of the human mind and to constitute the rudiments of what language is.[15] By way of contrast, such transformational grammars are also commonly used to provide formal definitions of language are commonly used in formal logic, in formal theories of grammar, and in applied computational linguistics.[16][17] In the philosophy of language, the view of linguistic meaning as residing in the logical relations between propositions and reality was developed by philosophers such as Alfred Tarski, Bertrand Russell, and other formal logicians.

Tool for communication

A conversation in American Sign Language

Yet another definition sees language as a system of communication that enables humans to exchange verbal or symbolic utterances. This definition stresses the social functions of language and the fact that humans use it to express themselves and to manipulate objects in their environment. Functional theories of grammar explain grammatical structures by their communicative functions, and understand the grammatical structures of language to be the result of an adaptive process by which grammar was "tailored" to serve the communicative needs of its users.[18][19]

This view of language is associated with the study of language in pragmatic, cognitive, and interactive frameworks, as well as in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. Functionalist theories tend to study grammar as dynamic phenomena, as structures that are always in the process of changing as they are employed by their speakers. This view places importance on the study of linguistic typology, or the classification of languages according to structural features, as it can be shown that processes of grammaticalization tend to follow trajectories that are partly dependent on typology.[17] In the philosophy of language, the view of pragmatics as being central to language and meaning is often associated with Wittgenstein's later works and with ordinary language philosophers such as J.L. Austin, Paul Grice, John Searle, and W.O. Quine.[20]

Unique status of human language

A number of features, many of which were described by Charles Hockett and called design features[21] set human language apart from other known systems of communication, such as those used by non-human animals.

Communication systems used by other animals such as bees or apes are closed systems that consist of a finite, usually very limited, number of possible ideas that can be expressed.[22] In contrast, human language is open-ended and productive, meaning that it allows humans to produce a vast range of utterances from a finite set of elements, and to create new words and sentences. This is possible because human language is based on a dual code, in which a finite number of elements which are meaningless in themselves (e.g. sounds, letters or gestures) can be combined to form an infinite number of larger units of meaning (words and sentences).[23] However, one study has demonstrated that an Australian bird, the chestnut-crowned babbler, is capable of using the same acoustic elements in different arrangements to create two functionally distinct vocalizations.[24] Additionally, pied babblers have demonstrated the ability to generate two functionally distinct vocalisations composed of the same sound type, which can only be distinguished by the number of repeated elements.[25]

Several species of animals have proved to be able to acquire forms of communication through social learning: for instance a bonobo named Kanzi learned to express itself using a set of symbolic lexigrams. Similarly, many species of birds and whales learn their songs by imitating other members of their species. However, while some animals may acquire large numbers of words and symbols,[note 1] none have been able to learn as many different signs as are generally known by an average 4 year old human, nor have any acquired anything resembling the complex grammar of human language.[26]

Human languages also differ from animal communication systems in that they employ grammatical and semantic categories, such as noun and verb, present and past, which may be used to express exceedingly complex meanings.[26] Human language is also unique in having the property of recursivity: for example, a noun phrase can contain another noun phrase (as in "[[the chimpanzee]'s lips]") or a clause can contain another clause (as in "[I see [the dog is running]]").[2] Human language is also the only known natural communication system whose adaptability may be referred to as modality independent. This means that it can be used not only for communication through one channel or medium, but through several. For example, spoken language uses the auditive modality, whereas sign languages and writing use the visual modality, and braille writing uses the tactile modality.[27]

Human language is also unique in being able to refer to abstract concepts and to imagined or hypothetical events as well as events that took place in the past or may happen in the future. This ability to refer to events that are not at the same time or place as the speech event is called displacement, and while some animal communication systems can use displacement (such as the communication of bees that can communicate the location of sources of nectar that are out of sight), the degree to which it is used in human language is also considered unique.[23]

Other Languages
Acèh: Bahsa
Afrikaans: Taal
Alemannisch: Sprache
አማርኛ: ቋንቋ
Ænglisc: Sprǣc
العربية: لغة
aragonés: Luengache
armãneashti: Limbâ
arpetan: Lengoua
অসমীয়া: ভাষা
asturianu: Llinguaxe
Avañe'ẽ: Ñe'ẽ
Aymar aru: Aru
azərbaycanca: Dil
تۆرکجه: دیل
bamanankan: Kan
বাংলা: ভাষা
Bân-lâm-gú: Giân-gú
Basa Banyumasan: Basa
беларуская: Мова
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Мова
भोजपुरी: भाषा
Boarisch: Sproch
བོད་ཡིག: སྐད་རིགས།
bosanski: Jezik
brezhoneg: Yezh
буряад: Хэлэн
català: Llenguatge
Чӑвашла: Чĕлхе
Cebuano: Pinulongan
Chamoru: Lengguahe
chiShona: Mutauro
Cymraeg: Iaith
dansk: Sprog
davvisámegiella: Giella
Deitsch: Schprooch
Deutsch: Sprache
ދިވެހިބަސް: ބަސް
eesti: Keel
Ελληνικά: Γλώσσα
emiliàn e rumagnòl: Langua
español: Lenguaje
Esperanto: Lingvo
estremeñu: Lenguagi
euskara: Hizkuntza
فارسی: زبان
Fiji Hindi: Bhasa
føroyskt: Mál
français: Langage
Frysk: Taal
furlan: Lengaç
Gàidhlig: Cànan
galego: Linguaxe
ГӀалгӀай: Мотт
贛語: 語言
گیلکی: زوان
ગુજરાતી: ભાષા
गोंयची कोंकणी / Gõychi Konknni: भास आनी भासविज्ञान
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Ngî-ngièn
한국어: 언어
հայերեն: Լեզու
हिन्दी: भाषा
hrvatski: Jezik
Ido: Linguo
Ilokano: Pagsasao
Bahasa Indonesia: Bahasa
interlingua: Linguage
Interlingue: Lingue
Iñupiak: Uqautchit
Ирон: Æвзаг
isiXhosa: Ulwimi
íslenska: Tungumál
italiano: Linguaggio
עברית: שפה
Basa Jawa: Basa
kalaallisut: Oqaatsit
ಕನ್ನಡ: ಭಾಷೆ
къарачай-малкъар: Тил
ქართული: ენა
kernowek: Yeth
Kiswahili: Lugha
коми: Кыв
Kongo: Ndînga
Kreyòl ayisyen: Lang (pawòl)
kurdî: Ziman
Кыргызча: Тил
ລາວ: ພາສາ
latgaļu: Volūda
Latina: Lingua
latviešu: Valoda
Lëtzebuergesch: Sprooch
лезги: ЧIал
lietuvių: Kalba
Limburgs: Taol
lingála: Lokótá
Lingua Franca Nova: Lingua
la .lojban.: bangu
lumbaart: Idioma
magyar: Nyelv
मैथिली: भाषा
македонски: Јазик
Malagasy: Fiteny
മലയാളം: ഭാഷ
मराठी: भाषा
მარგალური: ნინა
مصرى: لغه
مازِرونی: زوون
Bahasa Melayu: Bahasa
Baso Minangkabau: Bahaso
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Ngṳ̄-ngiòng
монгол: Хэл
မြန်မာဘာသာ: ဘာသာစကား
Nederlands: Taal
Nedersaksies: Taol
नेपाली: भाषा
नेपाल भाषा: भाषा
日本語: 言語
Napulitano: Lengua
Nordfriisk: Spräke (iinjtål)
Norfuk / Pitkern: Laenghwij
norsk: Språk
norsk nynorsk: Språk
Nouormand: Laungue
Novial: Lingues
occitan: Lengatge
олык марий: Йылме
ଓଡ଼ିଆ: ଭାଷା
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Til
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਭਾਸ਼ਾ
पालि: भाषा
پنجابی: بولی
Papiamentu: Idioma
پښتو: ژبه
Patois: Languij
Перем Коми: Кыв
ភាសាខ្មែរ: ភាសា
Picard: Langache
Piemontèis: Langagi
Tok Pisin: Tokples
Plattdüütsch: Spraak
português: Linguagem
Ripoarisch: Sprooch
Romani: Chhib
rumantsch: Lingua
Runa Simi: Rimay
русиньскый: Язык
русский: Язык
саха тыла: Тыл (саҥарар)
ᱥᱟᱱᱛᱟᱲᱤ: ᱯᱟᱹᱨᱥᱤ
Gagana Samoa: Gagana
संस्कृतम्: भाषा
sardu: Limbas
Scots: Leid
Seeltersk: Sproake
Sesotho: Dipuo
සිංහල: භාෂාව
Simple English: Language
سنڌي: ٻولي
slovenčina: Jazyk (jazykoveda)
словѣньскъ / ⰔⰎⰑⰂⰡⰐⰠⰔⰍⰟ: Ѩꙁꙑкъ
ślůnski: Godka
Soomaaliga: Luuqad
کوردی: زمان
Sranantongo: Tongo
српски / srpski: Језик
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Jezik
Basa Sunda: Basa
suomi: Kieli
svenska: Språk
Tagalog: Wika
தமிழ்: மொழி
татарча/tatarça: Тел
తెలుగు: భాష
ไทย: ภาษา
тоҷикӣ: Забон
ತುಳು: ಭಾಷೆ
Türkçe: Dil
Türkmençe: Dil
українська: Мова
اردو: زبان
Vahcuengh: Vah
vèneto: Łéngua
vepsän kel’: Kel'
Tiếng Việt: Ngôn ngữ
Volapük: Pük
walon: Lingaedje
文言: 語言
Winaray: Yinaknan
Wolof: Kàllaama
吴语: 語言
Xitsonga: Ririmi
ייִדיש: שפראך
Yorùbá: Èdè
粵語: 語言
Zeêuws: Taele
žemaitėška: Kalba
中文: 語言