Language

Language

Overview

Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication
Communication
Communication is the activity of conveying meaningful information. Communication requires a sender, a message, and an intended recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender's intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast...

, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication. The scientific study of language in any of its senses is called linguistics
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

.

The approximately 3000–6000 languages that are spoken by humans today are the most salient examples, but natural language
Natural language
In the philosophy of language, a natural language is any language which arises in an unpremeditated fashion as the result of the innate facility for language possessed by the human intellect. A natural language is typically used for communication, and may be spoken, signed, or written...

s can also be based on visual rather than auditory stimuli
Stimulus (physiology)
In physiology, a stimulus is a detectable change in the internal or external environment. The ability of an organism or organ to respond to external stimuli is called sensitivity....

, for example in sign language
Sign language
A sign language is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns to convey meaning—simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to fluidly express a speaker's...

s and written language
Written language
A written language is the representation of a language by means of a writing system. Written language is an invention in that it must be taught to children, who will instinctively learn or create spoken or gestural languages....

.
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Quotations

There is no mode of action, no form of emotion, that we do not share with the lower animals. It is only by language that we rise above them, or above each other---by language, which is the parent, and not the Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist (1891), Part I.

Verbing weirds language.

Bill Watterson, Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection (1994), p. 53.

Speech is the best show a man puts on.

Benjamin Lee Whorf, Language, thought and reality (1956), pg. 249.

In language, the ignorant have prescribed laws to the learned.

Richard Duppa (1768-1831), writer and draughtsman. Maxims No. 252 (1830)
Encyclopedia

Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication
Communication
Communication is the activity of conveying meaningful information. Communication requires a sender, a message, and an intended recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender's intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast...

, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication. The scientific study of language in any of its senses is called linguistics
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

.

The approximately 3000–6000 languages that are spoken by humans today are the most salient examples, but natural language
Natural language
In the philosophy of language, a natural language is any language which arises in an unpremeditated fashion as the result of the innate facility for language possessed by the human intellect. A natural language is typically used for communication, and may be spoken, signed, or written...

s can also be based on visual rather than auditory stimuli
Stimulus (physiology)
In physiology, a stimulus is a detectable change in the internal or external environment. The ability of an organism or organ to respond to external stimuli is called sensitivity....

, for example in sign language
Sign language
A sign language is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns to convey meaning—simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to fluidly express a speaker's...

s and written language
Written language
A written language is the representation of a language by means of a writing system. Written language is an invention in that it must be taught to children, who will instinctively learn or create spoken or gestural languages....

. Code
Code
A code is a rule for converting a piece of information into another form or representation , not necessarily of the same type....

s and other kinds of artificially constructed communication systems
Constructed language
A planned or constructed language—known colloquially as a conlang—is a language whose phonology, grammar, and/or vocabulary has been consciously devised by an individual or group, instead of having evolved naturally...

 such as those used for computer programming
Programming language
A programming language is an artificial language designed to communicate instructions to a machine, particularly a computer. Programming languages can be used to create programs that control the behavior of a machine and/or to express algorithms precisely....

 can also be called languages. A language in this sense is a system
System
System is a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole....

 of signs
Sign (linguistics)
There are many models of the linguistic sign . A classic model is the one by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. According to him, language is made up of signs and every sign has two sides : the signifier , the "shape" of a word, its phonic component, i.e...

 for encoding and decoding
Phonics
Phonics refers to a method for teaching speakers of English to read and write that language. Phonics involves teaching how to connect the sounds of spoken English with letters or groups of letters and teaching them to blend the sounds of letters together to produce approximate pronunciations...

 information
Information
Information in its most restricted technical sense is a message or collection of messages that consists of an ordered sequence of symbols, or it is the meaning that can be interpreted from such a message or collection of messages. Information can be recorded or transmitted. It can be recorded as...

. The English word derives ultimately from Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 lingua, "language, tongue", via Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

. When used as a general concept, "language" refers to the cognitive faculty that enables humans to learn and use systems of complex communication.

Language as a communication system is thought to be fundamentally different from and of much higher complexity than those of other species as it is based on a complex system of rules relating symbols to their meanings, resulting in an infinite number of possible innovative utterances from a finite number of elements. Language is thought to have originated when early hominids first started cooperating, adapting earlier systems of communication based on expressive signs to include a theory of other minds
Theory of mind
Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own...

 and shared intentionality
Intentionality
The term intentionality was introduced by Jeremy Bentham as a principle of utility in his doctrine of consciousness for the purpose of distinguishing acts that are intentional and acts that are not...

. This development is 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 functions. Language is processed
Neurolinguistics
Neurolinguistics is the study of the neural mechanisms in the human brain that control the comprehension, production, and acquisition of language. As an interdisciplinary field, neurolinguistics draws methodology and theory from fields such as neuroscience, linguistics, cognitive science,...

 in many different locations in the human brain
Human brain
The human brain has the same general structure as the brains of other mammals, but is over three times larger than the brain of a typical mammal with an equivalent body size. Estimates for the number of neurons in the human brain range from 80 to 120 billion...

, but especially in Broca’s
Broca's area
Broca's area is a region of the hominid brain with functions linked to speech production.The production of language has been linked to the Broca’s area since Pierre Paul Broca reported impairments in two patients. They had lost the ability to speak after injury to the posterior inferior frontal...

 and Wernicke’s area
Wernicke's area
Wernicke's area is one of the two parts of the cerebral cortex linked since the late nineteenth century to speech . It is involved in the understanding of written and spoken language...

s. Humans acquire
Language acquisition
Language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive, produce and use words to understand and communicate. This capacity involves the picking up of diverse capacities including syntax, phonetics, and an extensive vocabulary. This language might be vocal as with...

 language through social interaction in early childhood, and children generally speak fluently when they are around three years old. The use of language has become deeply entrenched in human culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

 and, apart from being used to communicate and share information, it also has social and cultural uses, such as signifying group identity
Identity (social science)
Identity is a term used to describe a person's conception and expression of their individuality or group affiliations . The term is used more specifically in psychology and sociology, and is given a great deal of attention in social psychology...

, social stratification
Social stratification
In sociology the social stratification is a concept of class, involving the "classification of persons into groups based on shared socio-economic conditions ... a relational set of inequalities with economic, social, political and ideological dimensions."...

 and for social grooming
Social grooming
In social animals, including humans, social grooming or allogrooming is an activity in which individuals in a group clean or maintain one another's body or appearance. It is a major social activity, and a means by which animals who live in proximity can bond and reinforce social structures, family...

 and entertainment
Entertainment
Entertainment consists of any activity which provides a diversion or permits people to amuse themselves in their leisure time. Entertainment is generally passive, such as watching opera or a movie. Active forms of amusement, such as sports, are more often considered to be recreation...

. The word "language" can also be used to describe the set of rules that makes this possible, or the set of utterances that can be produced from those rules.

All languages rely on the process of semiosis
Semiosis
Semiosis is any form of activity, conduct, or process that involves signs, including the production of meaning. Briefly – semiosis is sign process...

 to relate a sign
Sign (linguistics)
There are many models of the linguistic sign . A classic model is the one by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. According to him, language is made up of signs and every sign has two sides : the signifier , the "shape" of a word, its phonic component, i.e...

 with a particular meaning
Meaning (linguistics)
In linguistics, meaning is what is expressed by the writer or speaker, and what is conveyed to the reader or listener, provided that they talk about the same thing . In other words if the object and the name of the object and the concepts in their head are the same...

. Spoken and signed languages contain a phonological
Phonology
Phonology is, broadly speaking, the subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the sounds of language. That is, it is the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language, or the field of linguistics studying this use...

 system that governs how sounds or visual symbols are used to form sequences known as words or morpheme
Morpheme
In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language. The field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word,...

s, and a syntactic
Syntax
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

 system that governs how words and morphemes are used to form phrases and utterances. Written languages use visual symbols to represent the sounds of the spoken languages, but they still require syntactic rules that govern the production of meaning from sequences of words. Languages evolve
Language change
Language change is the phenomenon whereby phonetic, morphological, semantic, syntactic, and other features of language vary over time. The effect on language over time is known as diachronic change. Two linguistic disciplines in particular concern themselves with studying language change:...

 and diversify over time, and the history of their evolution can be reconstructed by comparing
Historical linguistics
Historical linguistics is the study of language change. It has five main concerns:* to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages...

 modern languages to determine which traits their ancestral languages must have had for the later stages to have occurred. A group of languages that descend from a common ancestor is known as a language family
Language family
A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestor, called the proto-language of that family. The term 'family' comes from the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a...

. The languages that are most spoken in the world today belong to the Indo-European family
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

, which includes languages such as English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

 and Hindi; the Sino-Tibetan languages
Sino-Tibetan languages
The Sino-Tibetan languages are a language family comprising, at least, the Chinese and the Tibeto-Burman languages, including some 250 languages of East Asia, Southeast Asia and parts of South Asia. They are second only to the Indo-European languages in terms of the number of native speakers...

, which include Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese
Cantonese
Cantonese is a dialect spoken primarily in south China.Cantonese may also refer to:* Yue Chinese, the Chinese language that includes Cantonese* Cantonese cuisine, the cuisine of Guangdong province...

 and many others; Semitic languages
Semitic languages
The Semitic languages are a group of related languages whose living representatives are spoken by more than 270 million people across much of the Middle East, North Africa and the Horn of Africa...

, which include Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

, Amharic and Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

; and the Bantu languages
Bantu languages
The Bantu languages constitute a traditional sub-branch of the Niger–Congo languages. There are about 250 Bantu languages by the criterion of mutual intelligibility, though the distinction between language and dialect is often unclear, and Ethnologue counts 535 languages...

, which include Swahili
Swahili language
Swahili or Kiswahili is a Bantu language spoken by various ethnic groups that inhabit several large stretches of the Mozambique Channel coastline from northern Kenya to northern Mozambique, including the Comoro Islands. It is also spoken by ethnic minority groups in Somalia...

, Zulu
Zulu language
Zulu is the language of the Zulu people with about 10 million speakers, the vast majority of whom live in South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa as well as being understood by over 50% of the population...

, Shona
Shona language
Shona is a Bantu language, native to the Shona people of Zimbabwe and southern Zambia; the term is also used to identify peoples who speak one of the Shona language dialects: Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika, Ndau and Korekore...

 and hundreds of other languages spoken throughout Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

.

Definitions


The word "language" has at least two basic meanings: language as a general concept, and "a language" (a specific linguistic system, e.g. "French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

"). In French, the language used by Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics...

 who first explicitly formulated the distinction, uses the word langage for language as a concept and langue as the specific instance of language.

When speaking of language as a general concept, several different definitions can be used that stress different aspects of the phenomenon. These definitions also entail different approaches and understandings of language, and they inform different and often incompatible schools of linguistic theory.

A mental faculty, organ or instinct


One definition sees language primarily as the mental faculty
Mind
The concept of mind is understood in many different ways by many different traditions, ranging from panpsychism and animism to traditional and organized religious views, as well as secular and materialist philosophies. Most agree that minds are constituted by conscious experience and intelligent...

 that allows humans to undertake linguistic behaviour: to learn languages and produce and understand utterances. This definition stresses the universality of language to all humans and the biological basis of the human capacity for language as a unique development of the human brain
Human brain
The human brain has the same general structure as the brains of other mammals, but is over three times larger than the brain of a typical mammal with an equivalent body size. Estimates for the number of neurons in the human brain range from 80 to 120 billion...

. This view often understands language to be largely innate, for example as in Chomsky's
Noam Chomsky
Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. Chomsky has been described as the "father of modern linguistics" and...

 theory of Universal Grammar
Universal grammar
Universal grammar is a theory in linguistics that suggests that there are properties that all possible natural human languages have.Usually credited to Noam Chomsky, the theory suggests that some rules of grammar are hard-wired into the brain, and manifest themselves without being taught...

, Jerry Fodor
Jerry Fodor
Jerry Alan Fodor is an American philosopher and cognitive scientist. He holds the position of State of New Jersey Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University and is the author of many works in the fields of philosophy of mind and cognitive science, in which he has laid the groundwork for the...

’s extreme innatist theory. These kinds of definitions are often applied by studies of language within a cognitive science
Cognitive science
Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary scientific study of mind and its processes. It examines what cognition is, what it does and how it works. It includes research on how information is processed , represented, and transformed in behaviour, nervous system or machine...

 framework and in neurolinguistics
Neurolinguistics
Neurolinguistics is the study of the neural mechanisms in the human brain that control the comprehension, production, and acquisition of language. As an interdisciplinary field, neurolinguistics draws methodology and theory from fields such as neuroscience, linguistics, cognitive science,...

.

A 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 the fact that human languages can be described as closed structural system
Structural Linguistics
Structural linguistics is an approach to linguistics originating from the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. De Saussure's Course in General Linguistics, published posthumously in 1916, stressed examining language as a static system of interconnected units...

s consisting of rules that relate particular signs to particular meanings. This structuralist
Structuralism
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

 view of language was first introduced by Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics...

, and his structuralism remains foundational for most approaches to language today. Some proponents of this view of language have advocated a formal approach to studying the structures of language, privileging the formulation of underlying abstract rules that can be understood to generate observable linguistic structures. The main proponent of such a theory is Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky
Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. Chomsky has been described as the "father of modern linguistics" and...

, who defines language as a particular set of sentences that can be generated from a particular set of rules. The structuralist viewpoint is commonly used in formal logic
Formal logic
Classical or traditional system of determining the validity or invalidity of a conclusion deduced from two or more statements...

, semiotics
Semiotics
Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes , indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication...

, and in formal
Formal grammar
A formal grammar is a set of formation rules for strings in a formal language. The rules describe how to form strings from the language's alphabet that are valid according to the language's syntax...

 and structural
Structural Linguistics
Structural linguistics is an approach to linguistics originating from the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. De Saussure's Course in General Linguistics, published posthumously in 1916, stressed examining language as a static system of interconnected units...

 theories of grammar
Theoretical linguistics
Theoretical linguistics is the branch of linguistics that is most concerned with developing models of linguistic knowledge. The fields that are generally considered the core of theoretical linguistics are syntax, phonology, morphology, and semantics...

, the most commonly used theoretical frameworks in linguistic description
Descriptive linguistics
In the study of language, description, or descriptive linguistics, is the work of objectively analyzing and describing how language is spoken by a group of people in a speech community...

. In the philosophy of language
Philosophy of language
Philosophy of language is the reasoned inquiry into the nature, origins, and usage of language. As a topic, the philosophy of language for analytic philosophers is concerned with four central problems: the nature of meaning, language use, language cognition, and the relationship between language...

 these views are associated with philosophers such as Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

, early Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. He was professor in philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1939 until 1947...

, Alfred Tarski
Alfred Tarski
Alfred Tarski was a Polish logician and mathematician. Educated at the University of Warsaw and a member of the Lwow-Warsaw School of Logic and the Warsaw School of Mathematics and philosophy, he emigrated to the USA in 1939, and taught and carried out research in mathematics at the University of...

 and Gottlob Frege
Gottlob Frege
Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege was a German mathematician, logician and philosopher. He is considered to be one of the founders of modern logic, and made major contributions to the foundations of mathematics. He is generally considered to be the father of analytic philosophy, for his writings on...

.

A tool for communication


Yet another definition sees language as a system of communication that enables humans to cooperate. 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 understands the grammatical structures of language to be the result of an adaptive process by which grammar was "tailored" to serve communicative needs of its users. This view of language is associated with the study of language in pragmatic
Pragmatics
Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, and linguistics. It studies how the...

, cognitive
Cognitive linguistics
In linguistics, cognitive linguistics refers to the branch of linguistics that interprets language in terms of the concepts, sometimes universal, sometimes specific to a particular tongue, which underlie its forms...

 and interactional frameworks, as well as in socio-linguistics and linguistic anthropology
Linguistic anthropology
Linguistic anthropology is the interdisciplinary study of how language influences social life. It is a branch of anthropology that originated from the endeavor to document endangered languages, and has grown over the past 100 years to encompass almost any aspect of language structure and...

. Functionalist theories tend to study grammar as a dynamic phenomenon]], as structures that are always in the process of changing as they are employed by their speakers. This view leads to the study of linguistic typology
Linguistic typology
Linguistic typology is a subfield of linguistics that studies and classifies languages according to their structural features. Its aim is to describe and explain the common properties and the structural diversity of the world's languages...

 being of importance, as it can be shown that processes of grammaticalization tend to follow trajectories that are partly dependent on typology. In the philosophy of language these views are often associated with Wittgenstein’s
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. He was professor in philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1939 until 1947...

 later works and with ordinary language philosophers such as G. E. Moore, Paul Grice
Paul Grice
Herbert Paul Grice , usually publishing under the name H. P. Grice, H...

, John Searle
John Searle
John Rogers Searle is an American philosopher and currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.-Biography:...

 and J. L. Austin
J. L. Austin
John Langshaw Austin was a British philosopher of language, born in Lancaster and educated at Shrewsbury School and Balliol College, Oxford University. Austin is widely associated with the concept of the speech act and the idea that speech is itself a form of action...

.

What makes human language unique


Human language is unique in comparison to other forms of communication, such as those used by animals
Animal communication
Animal communication is any behavior on the part of one animal that has an effect on the current or future behaviour of another animal. The study of animal communication, is sometimes called Zoosemiotics has played an important part in the...

, because it allows humans to produce an infinite set of utterances from a finite set of elements, and because the symbols and grammatical rules of any particular language are largely arbitrary, so that the system can only be acquired through social interaction. The known systems of communication used by animals, on the other hand, can only express a finite number of utterances that are mostly genetically transmitted. Human language is also unique in that its complex structure has evolved to serve a much wider range of functions than any other kinds of communication system.

The study of language



The study of language, linguistics
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, has been developing into a science since the first grammatical descriptions of particular languages in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 more than 2000 years ago. Today linguistics is a science that concerns itself with all aspects relating to language, examining it from all of the theoretical viewpoints described above.

The academic study of language is conducted within many different disciplinary areas and from different theoretical angles, all of which inform modern approaches to linguistics.: For example, Descriptive linguistics
Descriptive linguistics
In the study of language, description, or descriptive linguistics, is the work of objectively analyzing and describing how language is spoken by a group of people in a speech community...

 examines the grammar of single languages so that people can learn the languages; theoretical linguistics
Theoretical linguistics
Theoretical linguistics is the branch of linguistics that is most concerned with developing models of linguistic knowledge. The fields that are generally considered the core of theoretical linguistics are syntax, phonology, morphology, and semantics...

 develops theories how best to conceptualize language as a faculty, based on date from the various extant human languages; sociolinguistics
Sociolinguistics
Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and the effects of language use on society...

 studies how languages are used for social purposes informing in turn the study of the social functions of language and grammatical description; neurolinguistics
Neurolinguistics
Neurolinguistics is the study of the neural mechanisms in the human brain that control the comprehension, production, and acquisition of language. As an interdisciplinary field, neurolinguistics draws methodology and theory from fields such as neuroscience, linguistics, cognitive science,...

 studies how language is processed in the human brain, and allows the experimental testing of theories about the language faculty; computational linguistics
Computational linguistics
Computational linguistics is an interdisciplinary field dealing with the statistical or rule-based modeling of natural language from a computational perspective....

 builds on thoretical and descriptive linguistics to construct computational models of language often aimed at processing natural language, or at testing linguistic hypotheses; and historical linguistics
Historical linguistics
Historical linguistics is the study of language change. It has five main concerns:* to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages...

 relies on grammatical and lexical descriptions of languages to trace their individual histories and reconstruct trees of language families by using the comparative method
Comparative method
In linguistics, the comparative method is a technique for studying the development of languages by performing a feature-by-feature comparison of two or more languages with common descent from a shared ancestor, as opposed to the method of internal reconstruction, which analyzes the internal...

.

Early grammarians




The formal study of language began in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 with Pāṇini, the 5th century BC grammarian who formulated 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

. Pāṇini’s systematic classification of the sounds of Sanskrit into consonant
Consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...

s and vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s, and word classes, such as nouns and verbs, was the first known instance of its kind. In the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

 Sibawayh
Sibawayh
Abū Bishr ʻAmr ibn ʻUthmān ibn Qanbar Al-Bishrī , commonly known as Sībawayh , was an influential linguist and grammarian of the Arabic language. He was of Persian origin born ca...

 (سیبویه) made a detailed description of Arabic in 760 AD in his monumental work, Al-kitab fi al-nahw (الكتاب في النحو, The Book on Grammar), the first known author to distinguish between sounds
Phonetics
Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that comprises the study of the sounds of human speech, or—in the case of sign languages—the equivalent aspects of sign. It is concerned with the physical properties of speech sounds or signs : their physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory...

 and phonemes (sounds as units of a linguistic system)
Phonology
Phonology is, broadly speaking, the subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the sounds of language. That is, it is the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language, or the field of linguistics studying this use...

.

Western interest in the study of languages began as early as in the East, but the grammarians of the classical languages did not use the same methods or reach the same conclusions as their contemporaries in the Indic world. Early interest in language in the West was a part of philosophy, not of grammatical description. The first insights into semantic theory were made by Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 in his Cratylus dialogue
Cratylus (dialogue)
Cratylus is the name of a dialogue by Plato. Most modern scholars agree that it was written mostly during Plato's so-called middle period...

, where he argues that words denote concepts that are eternal and exist in the world of ideas. This work is the first to use the word etymology
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 to describe the history of a word's meaning.

Around 280 BC one of Alexander the Great’s successors founded a university (see Musaeum
Musaeum
The Musaeum or Mouseion at Alexandria , which included the famous Library of Alexandria, was an institution founded, according to Johannes Tzetzes, by Ptolemy I Soter or, perhaps more likely, by Ptolemy II Philadelphus at Hellenistic Alexandria in Egypt. The Mouseion remained supported by the...

) in Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

, where a school of philologists studied the ancient texts in and taught Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 to speakers of other languages. This school was the first to use the word "grammar
Grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

" in its modern sense, Plato had used the word in its original meaning as "téchnē grammatikḗ
Art of Grammar
The Art of Grammar is a treatise on Greek grammar attributed to Dionysius Thrax, and written in the 2nd century BC. It is the first work of grammar in Greek, and it sought mainly to help speakers of Koine Greek to be able to understand the language of Homer and other great poets of the past.It...

" (Τέχνη Γραμματική), the "art of writing," which is also the title of one of the most important works of the Alexandrine school by Dionysius Thrax
Dionysius Thrax
Dionysius Thrax was a Hellenistic grammarian and a pupil of Aristarchus of Samothrace. His place of origin was not Thrace as the epithet Thrax denotes, but probably Alexandria...

.

Throughout the Middle Ages the study of language was subsumed under the topic of philology, the study of ancient languages and texts, practiced by such educators as Roger Ascham
Roger Ascham
Roger Ascham was an English scholar and didactic writer, famous for his prose style, his promotion of the vernacular, and his theories of education...

, Wolfgang Ratke
Wolfgang Ratke
Wolfgang Ratke was a German educational reformer.-Early life:...

 and John Amos Comenius.

Historicism


In the 18th century, the first use of the comparative method
Comparative method
In linguistics, the comparative method is a technique for studying the development of languages by performing a feature-by-feature comparison of two or more languages with common descent from a shared ancestor, as opposed to the method of internal reconstruction, which analyzes the internal...

 by William Jones
William Jones (philologist)
Sir William Jones was an English philologist and scholar of ancient India, particularly known for his proposition of the existence of a relationship among Indo-European languages...

 sparked the rise of comparative linguistics
Comparative linguistics
Comparative linguistics is a branch of historical linguistics that is concerned with comparing languages to establish their historical relatedness....

. Bloomfield attributes "the first great scientific linguistic work of the world" to Jacob Grimm
Jacob Grimm
Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm was a German philologist, jurist and mythologist. He is best known as the discoverer of Grimm's Law, the author of the monumental Deutsches Wörterbuch, the author of Deutsche Mythologie and, more popularly, as one of the Brothers Grimm, as the editor of Grimm's Fairy...

, who wrote Deutsche Grammatik. It was soon followed by other authors writing similar comparative studies on other language groups of Europe. The scientific study of language was broadened from Indo-European to language in general by Wilhelm von Humboldt
Wilhelm von Humboldt
Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand Freiherr von Humboldt was a German philosopher, government functionary, diplomat, and founder of Humboldt Universität. He is especially remembered as a linguist who made important contributions to the philosophy of language and to the theory and practice...

, of whom Bloomfield asserts:
"This study received its foundation at the hands of the Prussian statesman and scholar Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767—1835), especially in the first volume of his work on Kavi, the literary language of Java, entitled Über die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues und ihren Einfluß auf die geistige Entwickelung des Menschengeschlechts (‘On the Variety of the Structure of Human Language and its Influence upon the Mental Development of the Human Race’)."

Structuralism


Early in the 20th century, de Saussure introduced the idea of language as a "semantic code." Substantial additional contributions similar to this came from Louis Hjelmslev
Louis Hjelmslev
Louis Hjelmslev was a Danish linguist whose ideas formed the basis of the Copenhagen School of linguistics. Born into an academic family , Hjelmslev studied comparative linguistics in Copenhagen, Prague and Paris...

, Émile Benveniste
Émile Benveniste
Émile Benveniste was a French Jewish structural linguist, semiotician, an apprentice of Antoine Meilletand his successor, who, in his later years, became enlightened by the structural view of language through the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, although he was unwilling to grasp it at first, being...

 and Roman Jakobson
Roman Jakobson
Roman Osipovich Jakobson was a Russian linguist and literary theorist.As a pioneer of the structural analysis of language, which became the dominant trend of twentieth-century linguistics, Jakobson was among the most influential linguists of the century...

, which are characterized as being highly systematic
Systematic
Systematic is an American hard rock band from Oakland, California. They were one of the first signings to Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich's record label, The Music Company, via Elektra Records. The band released two studio albums before disbanding in 2004....

.

Generativism


In the 1960'es Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky
Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. Chomsky has been described as the "father of modern linguistics" and...

 built on earlier work of Zellig Harris
Zellig Harris
Zellig Sabbettai Harris was a renowned American linguist, mathematical syntactician, and methodologist of science. Originally a Semiticist, he is best known for his work in structural linguistics and discourse analysis and for the discovery of transformational structure in language...

 to formulate the generative theory of language. According to this theory the most basic form of language is a set of syntactic rules that are universal for all humans and which underlies the grammars of all human languages. This set of rules is called Universal Grammar
Universal grammar
Universal grammar is a theory in linguistics that suggests that there are properties that all possible natural human languages have.Usually credited to Noam Chomsky, the theory suggests that some rules of grammar are hard-wired into the brain, and manifest themselves without being taught...

, and for Chomsky describing it is the primary objective of the discipline of linguistics. For this reason the grammars of individual languages are only of importance to linguistics, in so far as they allow us to discern the universal underlying rules from which the observable linguistic variability is generated.

Language and its parts


When described as a system of symbolic communication
Symbolic communication
Symbolic communication is exchange of messages that change a priori expectation of events. Examples of this are modern communication technology as also exchange of information amongst animals....

, language is traditionally seen as consisting of three parts: sign
Sign (semiotics)
A sign is understood as a discrete unit of meaning in semiotics. It is defined as "something that stands for something, to someone in some capacity" It includes words, images, gestures, scents, tastes, textures, sounds – essentially all of the ways in which information can be...

s, meaning
Meaning (semiotics)
In semiotics, the meaning of a sign is its place in a sign relation, in other words, the set of roles that it occupies within a given sign relation. This statement holds whether sign is taken to mean a sign type or a sign token...

s and a code
Code (semiotics)
In semiotics, a code is a set of conventions or sub-codes currently in use to communicate meaning. The most common is one's spoken language, but the term can also be used to refer to any narrative form: consider the color scheme of an image , or the rules of a board game In semiotics, a code is a...

 connecting signs with their meanings. The study of how signs and meanings are combined, used and interpreted is called semiotics
Semiotics
Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes , indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication...

. Signs can be composed of sounds, gestures, letters or symbols, depending on whether the language is spoken, signed or written, and they can be combined into complex signs such as words and phrases. When used in communication a sign is encoded and transmitted by a sender through a channel to a receiver who decodes it (a signal).

Some of the properties that define human language as opposed to other communication systems are: the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign, meaning that there is no predictable connection between a linguistic sign and its meaning; the duality of the linguistic system, meaning that linguistic structures are built by combining elements into larger structures that can be seen as layered, e.g. how sounds build words and words build phrases; the discreteness of the elements of language, meaning that the elements out of which linguistic signs are constructed are discrete units, e.g. sounds and words, that can be distinguished from each other and rearranged in different patterns; and the productivity of the linguistic system, meaning that the finite number of linguistic elements can be combined into a theoretically infinite number of combinations.

The rules under which signs can be combined to form words and phrases are called syntax
Syntax
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

 or grammar. The meaning that is connected to individual signs, words and phrases is called semantics
Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

. The division of language into separate but connected systems of sign and meaning goes back to the first linguistic studies of de Saussure and is now used in almost all branches of linguistics.

Semantics


Languages express meaning by relating a sign to a meaning. Thus languages must have a vocabulary
Vocabulary
A person's vocabulary is the set of words within a language that are familiar to that person. A vocabulary usually develops with age, and serves as a useful and fundamental tool for communication and acquiring knowledge...

 of signs related to specific meaning—the English sign "dog" denotes, for example, a member of the genus Canis
Canis
Canis is a genus containing 7 to 10 extant species, including dogs, wolves, coyotes, and jackals, and many extinct species.-Wolves, dogs and dingos:Wolves, dogs and dingos are subspecies of Canis lupus...

. In a language, the array of arbitrary signs connected to specific meanings is called the lexicon
Lexicon
In linguistics, the lexicon of a language is its vocabulary, including its words and expressions. A lexicon is also a synonym of the word thesaurus. More formally, it is a language's inventory of lexemes. Coined in English 1603, the word "lexicon" derives from the Greek "λεξικόν" , neut...

, and a single sign connected to a meaning is called a lexeme
Lexeme
A lexeme is an abstract unit of morphological analysis in linguistics, that roughly corresponds to a set of forms taken by a single word. For example, in the English language, run, runs, ran and running are forms of the same lexeme, conventionally written as RUN...

. Not all meanings in a language are represented by single words-often semantic concepts are embedded in the morphology or syntax of the language in the form of grammatical categories
Grammatical category
A grammatical category is a semantic distinction which is reflected in a morphological paradigm. Grammatical categories can have one or more exponents. For instance, the feature [number] has the exponents [singular] and [plural] in English and many other languages...

. All languages contain the semantic structure of predication
Predicate (grammar)
There are two competing notions of the predicate in theories of grammar. Traditional grammar tends to view a predicate as one of two main parts of a sentence, the other being the subject, which the predicate modifies. The other understanding of predicates is inspired from work in predicate calculus...

— a structure that predicates a property, state or action. Traditionally semantics has been understood as the study of how speakers and interpreters assign truth values to statements, so that meaning is understood as the process by which a predicate can be said to be true or false about an entity, e.g. "[x [is y]]" or "[x [does y]]." Recently, this model of semantics has been complemented with more dynamic models of meaning that incorporate shared knowledge about the context in which a sign is interpreted into the production of meaning. Such models of meaning are explored in the field of pragmatics
Pragmatics
Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, and linguistics. It studies how the...

.

Sounds and symbols



The ways in which spoken languages use sounds to construct meaning is studied in phonology
Phonology
Phonology is, broadly speaking, the subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the sounds of language. That is, it is the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language, or the field of linguistics studying this use...

. The study of how humans produce and perceive vocal sounds is called phonetics
Phonetics
Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that comprises the study of the sounds of human speech, or—in the case of sign languages—the equivalent aspects of sign. It is concerned with the physical properties of speech sounds or signs : their physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory...

. In spoken language meaning is constructed when sounds become part of a system in which some sounds can contribute to expressing meaning and others do not. In any given language only a limited number of the many distinct sounds that can be created by the human vocal apparatus contribute to constructing meaning.

Sounds as part of a linguistic system are called phonemes. All spoken languages have phonemes of at least two different categories: vowels and consonants that can be combined into forming syllable
Syllable
A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. For example, the word water is composed of two syllables: wa and ter. A syllable is typically made up of a syllable nucleus with optional initial and final margins .Syllables are often considered the phonological "building...

s. Apart from segments such as consonants and vowels, some languages also use sound in other ways to convey meaning. Many languages, for example, use stress
Stress (linguistics)
In linguistics, stress is the relative emphasis that may be given to certain syllables in a word, or to certain words in a phrase or sentence. The term is also used for similar patterns of phonetic prominence inside syllables. The word accent is sometimes also used with this sense.The stress placed...

, pitch
Pitch accent
Pitch accent is a linguistic term of convenience for a variety of restricted tone systems that use variations in pitch to give prominence to a syllable or mora within a word. The placement of this tone or the way it is realized can give different meanings to otherwise similar words...

, duration
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

 and tone to distinguish meaning. Because these phenomena operate outside of the level of single segments they are called suprasegmental.

Writing system
Writing system
A writing system is a symbolic system used to represent elements or statements expressible in language.-General properties:Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that the reader must usually understand something of the associated spoken language to...

s represent the sounds of human speech using visual symbols. The Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 (and those on which it is based or that have been derived from it) is based on the representation of single sounds, so that words are constructed from letters that generally denote a single consonant or vowel in the structure of the word. In syllabic scripts, such as the Inuktitut
Inuktitut
Inuktitut or Eastern Canadian Inuktitut, Eastern Canadian Inuit language is the name of some of the Inuit languages spoken in Canada...

 syllabary, each sign represents a whole syllable In logographic scripts each sign represents an entire word. Because all languages have a very large number of words, no purely logographic scripts are known to exist. In order to represent the sounds of the world’s languages in writing, linguists have developed an International Phonetic Alphabet
International Phonetic Alphabet
The International Phonetic Alphabet "The acronym 'IPA' strictly refers [...] to the 'International Phonetic Association'. But it is now such a common practice to use the acronym also to refer to the alphabet itself that resistance seems pedantic...

, designed to represent all of the discrete sounds that are known to contribute to meaning in human languages.

Grammar



Grammar is the study of how meaningful elements (morphemes) within a language can be combined into utterances. Morphemes can either be free or bound. If they are free to be moved around within an utterance, they are usually called words, and if they are bound to other words or morphemes, they are called affix
Affix
An affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes...

es. The way in which meaningful elements can be combined within a language is governed by rules. The rules obtaining for the internal structure of words are called morphology
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

. The rules of the internal structure of the phrases and sentences are called syntax.

Grammatical categories


Grammar can be described as a system of categories, and a set of rules that determine how categories combine to form different aspects of meaning.

Languages differ widely in whether categories are encoded through the use of categories or lexical units. However, several categories are so common as to be nearly universal. Such universal categories include the encoding of the grammatical relations of participants and predicates by grammatically distinguishing between their relations
Morphosyntactic alignment
In linguistics, morphosyntactic alignment is the system used to distinguish between the arguments of transitive verbs and those of intransitive verbs...

 to a predicate, the encoding of temporal
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...

 and spatial relations on predicates, and a system of grammatical person
Grammatical person
Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to a participant in an event; such as the speaker, the addressee, or others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns...

 governing reference to and distinction between speakers and addressees and those about whom they are speaking.

Word classes


Languages organize their parts of speech into classes according to their functions and positions relative to other parts. All languages, for instance, make a basic distinction between a group of words that prototypically denote things and concepts and a group of words that prototypically denote actions and events. The first group, which includes English words such as "dog" and "song," are usually called noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s. The second, which includes "run" and "sing," are called verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s. Other common categories are adjective
Adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

s, words that describe properties or qualities of nouns such as "red" or "big".

The word classes also carry out differing functions in grammar. Prototypically verbs are used to construct predicate
Predicate (grammar)
There are two competing notions of the predicate in theories of grammar. Traditional grammar tends to view a predicate as one of two main parts of a sentence, the other being the subject, which the predicate modifies. The other understanding of predicates is inspired from work in predicate calculus...

s, while nouns are used as argument
Argument
In philosophy and logic, an argument is an attempt to persuade someone of something, or give evidence or reasons for accepting a particular conclusion.Argument may also refer to:-Mathematics and computer science:...

s of predicates. In a sentence such as "Sally runs," the predicate is "runs," because it is the word that predicates a specific state about its argument "Sally." Some verbs such as "curse" can take two arguments, e.g. "Sally cursed John." A predicate that can only take a single argument is called intransitive, while a predicate that can take two arguments is called transitive
Transitive verb
In syntax, a transitive verb is a verb that requires both a direct subject and one or more objects. The term is used to contrast intransitive verbs, which do not have objects.-Examples:Some examples of sentences with transitive verbs:...

.

Many other word classes exist in different languages, such as conjunctions that serve to join two sentences and articles
Article (grammar)
An article is a word that combines with a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun. Articles specify the grammatical definiteness of the noun, in some languages extending to volume or numerical scope. The articles in the English language are the and a/an, and some...

 that introduces a noun.

Morphology


Many languages use the morphological processes of inflection
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 to modify or elaborate on the meaning of words. In some languages words are built of several meaningful units called morphemes, the English word "unexpected" can be analyzed as being composed of the three morphemes "un-", "expect" and "-ed". Morphemes can be classified according to whether they are roots to which other bound morphemes called affix
Affix
An affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes...

es are added, and bound morphemes can be classified according to their position in relation to the root: prefix
Prefix
A prefix is an affix which is placed before the root of a word. Particularly in the study of languages,a prefix is also called a preformative, because it alters the form of the words to which it is affixed.Examples of prefixes:...

es precede the root, suffix
Suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

es follow the root and infix
Infix
An infix is an affix inserted inside a word stem . It contrasts with adfix, a rare term for an affix attached to the end of a stem, such as a prefix or suffix.-Indonesian:...

es are inserted in the middle of a root. Affixes serve to modify or elaborate the meaning of the root. Some languages change the meaning of words by changing the phonological structure of a word, for example the English word "run" which in the past tense is "ran". Furthermore morphology distinguishes between processes of inflection which modifies or elaborates on a word, and derivation
Derivation (linguistics)
In linguistics, derivation is the process of forming a new word on the basis of an existing word, e.g. happi-ness and un-happy from happy, or determination from determine...

 which instead creates a new word from an existing one - for example in English "sing" which can become "singer" by adding the derivational morpheme -er which derives an agentive noun from a verb. Languages differ widely in how much they rely on morphology - some languages, traditionally called polysynthetic languages, make extensive use of morphology, so that they express the equivalent of an entire English sentence in a single word. For example the Greenlandic word "oqaatiginerluppaa" "(he/she) speaks badly about him/her" which consists of the root oqaa and six suffixes.

Syntax



Languages that use inflection to convey meaning often do not have strict rules for word order in a sentence. For example in Latin both Dominus servos vituperabat and Servos vituperabat dominus mean "the master was cursing the slaves", because servos "slaves" is in the accusative case
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

 showing that they are the grammatical object
Object (grammar)
An object in grammar is part of a sentence, and often part of the predicate. It denotes somebody or something involved in the subject's "performance" of the verb. Basically, it is what or whom the verb is acting upon...

 of the sentence and dominus "master" is in the nominative case
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

 showing that he is the subject. Other languages, however, use little or no inflectional processes and instead use the sequence of words in relation to each other to describe meaning. For example in English the two sentences "the slaves were cursing the master" and "the master was cursing the slaves" mean different things because the role of grammatical subject is encoded by the noun being in front of the verb and the role of object is encoded by the noun appearing after the verb.

Syntax then, has to do with the order of words in sentences, and specifically how complex sentences are structured by grouping words together in units, called phrase
Phrase
In everyday speech, a phrase may refer to any group of words. In linguistics, a phrase is a group of words which form a constituent and so function as a single unit in the syntax of a sentence. A phrase is lower on the grammatical hierarchy than a clause....

s, that can occupy different places in a larger syntactic structure. Below is a graphic representation of the syntactic analysis of the sentence "the cat sat on the mat". The sentence is analysed as being constituted by a noun phrase, a verb and a prepositional phrase; the prepositional phrase is further divided into a preposition and a noun phrase; and the noun phrases consist of an article and a noun.

Language acquisition



All healthy, normally-developing
Human development (biology)
Human development is the process of growing to maturity. In biological terms, this entails growth from a one-celled zygote to an adult human being.- Biological development:...

 human beings learn to use language. Children acquire the language or languages used around them – whichever languages they receive sufficient exposure to during childhood. The development is essentially the same for children acquiring signed
Sign language
A sign language is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns to convey meaning—simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to fluidly express a speaker's...

 or spoken language
Spoken language
Spoken language is a form of human communication in which words derived from a large vocabulary together with a diverse variety of names are uttered through or with the mouth. All words are made up from a limited set of vowels and consonants. The spoken words they make are stringed into...

s. This learning process is referred to as first-language acquisition, since unlike many other kinds of learning it requires no direct teaching or specialized study. In The Decent of Man
The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex
The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex is a book on evolutionary theory by English naturalist Charles Darwin, first published in 1871. It was Darwin's second great book on evolutionary theory, following his 1859 work, On The Origin of Species. In The Descent of Man, Darwin applies...

, naturalist Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

 called this process, "an instinctive tendency to acquire an art."

First language acquisition proceeds in a fairly regular sequence, though there is a wide degree of variation in the timing of particular stages among normally-developing infants. From birth, newborns respond more readily to human speech than to other sounds. Around one month of age, babies appear to be able to distinguish between different speech sounds. Around six months of age, a child will begin babbling
Babbling
Babbling is a stage in child development and a state in language acquisition, during which an infant appears to be experimenting with uttering sounds of language, but not yet producing any recognizable words...

, producing the speech sounds or handshape
Handshape
Handshape refers to specific shapes formed with that hand that are used in signed languages and manual communication methods such as American Sign Language, other international signed languages such as Signed Exact English, Australian Sign Language and cued speech among others.-Handshapes in...

s of the languages used around them. Words appear around the age of 12 to 18 months; the average vocabulary
Vocabulary
A person's vocabulary is the set of words within a language that are familiar to that person. A vocabulary usually develops with age, and serves as a useful and fundamental tool for communication and acquiring knowledge...

 of an eighteen-month old child is around 50 word
Word
In language, a word is the smallest free form that may be uttered in isolation with semantic or pragmatic content . This contrasts with a morpheme, which is the smallest unit of meaning but will not necessarily stand on its own...

s. A child's first utterance
Utterance
In spoken language analysis an utterance is a complete unit of speech. It is generally but not always bounded by silence.It can be represented and delineated in written language in many ways. Note that in such areas of research utterances do not exist in written language, only their representations...

s are holophrases
Holophrasis
Holophrasis is the prelinguistic use of a single word to express a complex idea. A holophrase may resemble an interjection, but whereas an interjection is linguistic, and has a specific grammatical function, a holophrase is simply a vocalization memorized by rote and used without grammatical...

 (literally "whole-sentences"), utterances that use just one word to communicate some idea. Several months after a child begins producing words, she or he will produce two-word utterances, and within a few more months begin to produce telegraphic speech
Telegraphic speech
Telegraphic speech, according to linguistics and psychology, is speech during the two-word stage of language acquisition in children, which is laconic and efficient....

, short sentences that are less grammatically
Grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

 complex than adult speech, but that do show regular syntactic structure. From roughly the age of three to five years, a child's ability to speak or sign is refined to the point that it resembles adult language.

Language and culture


Languages, understood as the particular set of speech norms of a particular community, are also a part of the larger culture of the community that speak them. Humans use language as a way of signalling identity with one cultural group and difference from others. Even among speakers of one language several different ways of using the language exist, and each is used to signal affiliation with particular subgroups within a larger culture. Linguists and anthropologists, particularly sociolinguists
Sociolinguistics
Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and the effects of language use on society...

, ethnolinguists
Anthropological linguistics
Anthropological linguistics is the study of the relations between language and culture and the relations between human biology, cognition and language...

 and linguistic anthropologists
Linguistic anthropology
Linguistic anthropology is the interdisciplinary study of how language influences social life. It is a branch of anthropology that originated from the endeavor to document endangered languages, and has grown over the past 100 years to encompass almost any aspect of language structure and...

 have specialized in studying how ways of speaking vary between speech communities.

A community's ways of using language is a part of the community's culture, just as other shared practices are, it is way of displaying group identity. Ways of speaking function not only to facilitate communication, but also to identify the social position of the speaker. Linguists use the term varieties
Variety (linguistics)
In sociolinguistics a variety, also called a lect, is a specific form of a language or language cluster. This may include languages, dialects, accents, registers, styles or other sociolinguistic variation, as well as the standard variety itself...

, a term that encompasses geographically or socioculturally defined dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s as well as the jargons
Register (sociolinguistics)
In linguistics, a register is a variety of a language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting. For example, when speaking in a formal setting an English speaker may be more likely to adhere more closely to prescribed grammar, pronounce words ending in -ing with a velar nasal...

 or styles of subculture
Subculture
In sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, a subculture is a group of people with a culture which differentiates them from the larger culture to which they belong.- Definition :...

s, to refer to the different ways of speaking a language. Linguistic anthropologists and sociologists of language define communicative style as the ways that language is used and understood within a particular culture.

Languages do not differ only in pronunciation, vocabulary or grammar, but also through having different "cultures of speaking". Some cultures for example have elaborate systems of "social deixis
Deixis
In linguistics, deixis refers to the phenomenon wherein understanding the meaning of certain words and phrases in an utterance requires contextual information. Words are deictic if their semantic meaning is fixed but their denotational meaning varies depending on time and/or place...

", systems of signalling social distance through linguistic means. In English, social deixis is shown mostly though distinguishing between addressing some people by first name and others by surname, but also in titles such as "Mrs.", "boy", "Doctor" or "Your Honor", but in other languages such systems may be highly complex and codified in the entire grammar and vocabulary of the language. For instance, in several languages of east Asia, such as Thai
Thai language
Thai , also known as Central Thai and Siamese, is the national and official language of Thailand and the native language of the Thai people, Thailand's dominant ethnic group. Thai is a member of the Tai group of the Tai–Kadai language family. Historical linguists have been unable to definitively...

, Burmese
Burmese language
The Burmese language is the official language of Burma. Although the constitution officially recognizes it as the Myanmar language, most English speakers continue to refer to the language as Burmese. Burmese is the native language of the Bamar and related sub-ethnic groups of the Bamar, as well as...

 and Javanese, different words are used according to whether a speaker is addressing someone of higher or lower rank than oneself in a ranking system with animals and children ranking the lowest and gods and members of royalty as the highest.

Origin




Theories about the origin of language can be divided according to their basic assumptions. Some theories are based on the idea that language is so complex that one can not imagine it simply appearing from nothing in its final form, but that it must have evolved from earlier pre-linguistic systems among our pre-human ancestors. These theories can be called continuity based theories. The opposite viewpoint is that language is such a unique human trait that it cannot be compared to anything found among non-humans and that it must therefore have appeared fairly suddenly in the transition from pre-hominids to early man. These theories can be defined as discontinuity based. Similarly some theories see language mostly as an innate faculty that is largely genetically encoded, while others see it as a system that is largely cultural, that is learned through social interaction. Currently the only prominent proponent of a discontinuity theory of human language origins is Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky
Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. Chomsky has been described as the "father of modern linguistics" and...

. Chomsky proposes that 'some random mutation took place, maybe after some strange cosmic ray shower, and it reorganized the brain, implanting a language organ in an otherwise primate brain'. While cautioning against taking this story too literally, Chomsky insists that 'it may be closer to reality than many other fairy tales that are told about evolutionary processes, including language'. Continuity based theories are currently held by a majority of scholars, but they vary in how they envision this development. Those who see language as being mostly innate, for example Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker
Steven Arthur Pinker is a Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and popular science author...

, hold the precedents to be animal cognition
Animal cognition
Animal cognition is the title given to the study of the mental capacities of non-human animals. It has developed out of comparative psychology, but has also been strongly influenced by the approach of ethology, behavioral ecology, and evolutionary psychology...

, whereas those who see language as a socially learned tool of communication, such as Michael Tomasello
Michael Tomasello
Michael Tomasello is an American developmentalpsychologist. He is a co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.-Life:...

 see it as having developed from animal communication
Animal communication
Animal communication is any behavior on the part of one animal that has an effect on the current or future behaviour of another animal. The study of animal communication, is sometimes called Zoosemiotics has played an important part in the...

, either primate gestural or vocal communication. Other continuity based models see language as having developed from music.

Because the emergence of language is located in the early prehistory of man, the relevant developments have left no direct historical traces and no comparable processes can be observed today. Theories that stress continuity often look at animals to see if, for example, primates display any traits that can be seen as analogous to what pre-human language must have been like. Alternatively early human fossils can be inspected to look for traces of physical adaptation to language use or for traces of pre-linguistic forms of symbolic behaviour.

It is mostly undisputed that pre-human australopithecine
Australopithecine
The term australopithecine refers generally to any species in the related genera Australopithecus or Paranthropus. These species occurred in the Plio-Pleistocene era, and were bipedal and dentally similar to humans, but with a brain size not much larger than modern apes, lacking the...

s did not have communication systems significantly different from those found in great apes in general, but scholarly opinions vary as to the developments since the appearance of Homo
Homo
Homo may refer to:*the Greek prefix ὅμο-, meaning "the same"*the Latin for man, human being*Homo, the taxonomical genus including modern humans...

some 2.5 million years ago. Some scholars assume the development of primitive language-like systems (proto-language) as early as Homo habilis
Homo habilis
Homo habilis is a species of the genus Homo, which lived from approximately at the beginning of the Pleistocene period. The discovery and description of this species is credited to both Mary and Louis Leakey, who found fossils in Tanzania, East Africa, between 1962 and 1964. Homo habilis Homo...

, while others place the development of primitive symbolic communication only with Homo erectus
Homo erectus
Homo erectus is an extinct species of hominid that lived from the end of the Pliocene epoch to the later Pleistocene, about . The species originated in Africa and spread as far as India, China and Java. There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H...

(1.8 million years ago) or Homo heidelbergensis
Homo heidelbergensis
Homo heidelbergensis is an extinct species of the genus Homo which may be the direct ancestor of both Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and Homo sapiens. The best evidence found for these hominins date between 600,000 and 400,000 years ago. H...

(0.6 million years ago) and the development of language proper with Homo sapiens sapiens less than 100,000 years ago.

Linguistic analysis, used by Johanna Nichols
Johanna Nichols
Linguist Johanna Nichols is a professor emerita on active duty in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests include the Slavic languages, the linguistic prehistory of northern Eurasia, language typology, ancient linguistic...

, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

, to estimate the time required to achieve the current spread and diversity in modern languages today, indicates that vocal language arose at least 100,000 years ago.

Natural languages


Human languages are usually referred to as natural languages, and the science of studying them falls under the purview of linguistics. A common progression for natural languages is that they are considered to be first spoken and then written, and then an understanding and explanation of their grammar is attempted.

Languages live, die, polymorph, move from place to place, and change with time. Any language that ceases to change or develop is categorized as a dead language. Conversely, any language that is in a continuous state of change is known as a living language or modern language
Modern language
A modern language is any human language that is currently in use. The term is used in language education to distinguish between languages which are used for day-to-day communication and dead classical languages such as Latin, Attic Greek, Sanskrit, and Classical Chinese, which are studied for...

. It is for these reasons that the biggest challenge for a speaker of a foreign language is to remain immersed in that language in order to keep up with the changes of that language.

Making a principled distinction between one language and another is sometimes nearly impossible. For instance, there are a few dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s of German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 similar to some dialects of Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

. The transition between languages within the same language family
Language family
A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestor, called the proto-language of that family. The term 'family' comes from the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a...

 is sometimes gradual (see dialect continuum
Dialect continuum
A dialect continuum, or dialect area, was defined by Leonard Bloomfield as a range of dialects spoken across some geographical area that differ only slightly between neighboring areas, but as one travels in any direction, these differences accumulate such that speakers from opposite ends of the...

).

Some like to make parallels with biology
Biology
Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Biology is a vast subject containing many subdivisions, topics, and disciplines...

, where it is not possible to make a well-defined distinction between one species and the next. In either case, the ultimate difficulty may stem from the interaction
Interaction
Interaction is a kind of action that occurs as two or more objects have an effect upon one another. The idea of a two-way effect is essential in the concept of interaction, as opposed to a one-way causal effect...

s between languages and population
Population
A population is all the organisms that both belong to the same group or species and live in the same geographical area. The area that is used to define a sexual population is such that inter-breeding is possible between any pair within the area and more probable than cross-breeding with individuals...

s. (See Dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

 or August Schleicher
August Schleicher
August Schleicher was a German linguist. His great work was A Compendium of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-European Languages, in which he attempted to reconstruct the Proto-Indo-European language...

 for a longer discussion.)

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

A sign language
Sign language
A sign language is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns to convey meaning—simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to fluidly express a speaker's...

 (also signed language) is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns (manual communication, body language) to convey meaning—simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to fluidly express a speaker's thoughts. Hundreds of sign languages are in use around the world and are at the cores of local Deaf cultures.

Artificial languages



An artificial language is a language the phonology
Phonology
Phonology is, broadly speaking, the subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the sounds of language. That is, it is the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language, or the field of linguistics studying this use...

, grammar
Grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

, and/or vocabulary
Vocabulary
A person's vocabulary is the set of words within a language that are familiar to that person. A vocabulary usually develops with age, and serves as a useful and fundamental tool for communication and acquiring knowledge...

 of which have been consciously devised or modified by an individual or group, instead of having evolved natural
Natural language
In the philosophy of language, a natural language is any language which arises in an unpremeditated fashion as the result of the innate facility for language possessed by the human intellect. A natural language is typically used for communication, and may be spoken, signed, or written...

ly. There are many possible reasons to construct a language: to ease human communication
Communication
Communication is the activity of conveying meaningful information. Communication requires a sender, a message, and an intended recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender's intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast...

 (see international auxiliary language
International auxiliary language
An international auxiliary language or interlanguage is a language meant for communication between people from different nations who do not share a common native language...

 and code
Code
A code is a rule for converting a piece of information into another form or representation , not necessarily of the same type....

); to bring fiction
Fiction
Fiction is the form of any narrative or informative work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary—that is, invented by the author. Although fiction describes a major branch of literary work, it may also refer to theatrical,...

 or an associated constructed world to life; for linguistic
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

 experimentation; for artistic creation
Artistic language
An artistic language is a constructed language designed for aesthetic pleasure. Unlike engineered languages or auxiliary languages, artistic languages usually have irregular grammar systems, much like natural languages. Many are designed within the context of fictional worlds, such as J. R. R....

; and for language games.

The expression "planned language" is sometimes used to mean international auxiliary languages and other languages designed for actual use in human communication. Some prefer it to the term "artificial" which may have pejorative connotations in some languages. Outside the Esperanto community, the term language planning
Language planning
Language planning is a deliberate effort to influence the function, structure, or acquisition of languages or language variety within a speech community. It is often associated with government planning, but is also used by a variety of non-governmental organizations, such as grass-roots...

 means the prescriptions given to a natural language to standardize it; in this regard, even "natural languages" may be artificial in some respects. Prescriptive grammars, which date to ancient times for classical languages such as Latin, Sanskrit, and Chinese are rule-based codifications of natural languages, such codifications being a middle ground between naive natural selection and development of language and its explicit construction.
Mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

, Logics and computer science
Computer science
Computer science or computing science is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems...

 use artificial entities called formal language
Formal language
A formal language is a set of words—that is, finite strings of letters, symbols, or tokens that are defined in the language. The set from which these letters are taken is the alphabet over which the language is defined. A formal language is often defined by means of a formal grammar...

s (including programming language
Programming language
A programming language is an artificial language designed to communicate instructions to a machine, particularly a computer. Programming languages can be used to create programs that control the behavior of a machine and/or to express algorithms precisely....

s and markup language
Markup language
A markup language is a modern system for annotating a text in a way that is syntactically distinguishable from that text. The idea and terminology evolved from the "marking up" of manuscripts, i.e. the revision instructions by editors, traditionally written with a blue pencil on authors' manuscripts...

s, and some that are more theoretical in nature). These often take the form of character strings, produced by a combination of formal grammar
Formal grammar
A formal grammar is a set of formation rules for strings in a formal language. The rules describe how to form strings from the language's alphabet that are valid according to the language's syntax...

 and semantics of arbitrary complexity.

A programming language
Programming language
A programming language is an artificial language designed to communicate instructions to a machine, particularly a computer. Programming languages can be used to create programs that control the behavior of a machine and/or to express algorithms precisely....

 is a formal language endowed with semantics
Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 that can be utilized to control the behavior of a machine, particularly a computer, to perform specific tasks. Programming languages are defined using syntactic and semantic rules, to determine structure and meaning respectively.

Programming languages are employed to facilitate communication about the task of organizing and manipulating information, and to express algorithms precisely. Some authors restrict the term "programming language" to those languages that can express all possible algorithms; sometimes the term "computer language" is applied to artificial languages that are more limited.

Animal communication


The term "animal language
Animal language
Animal language is the modeling of human language in non human animal systems. While the term is widely used, researchers agree that animal languages are not as complex or expressive as human language....

s" is often used for non-human systems of communication. Linguists and semioticians do not consider these to be true "language", but describe them as animal communication
Animal communication
Animal communication is any behavior on the part of one animal that has an effect on the current or future behaviour of another animal. The study of animal communication, is sometimes called Zoosemiotics has played an important part in the...

 on the basis on non-symbolic sign systems, because the interaction between animals in such communication is fundamentally different in its underlying principles from human language. According to this approach, since animals aren't born with the ability to reason the term "culture", when applied to animal communities, is understood to refer to something qualitatively different than in human communities. Language, communication and culture are more complex amongst humans. A dog may successfully communicate an aggressive emotional state with a growl, which may or may not cause another dog to keep away or back off. Similarly, when a human screams in fear, it may or may not alert other humans of impending danger. Both of these examples communicate, but both are not what would generally be called language.

In several publicized instances, non-human animals have been taught to understand certain features of human language. Karl von Frisch
Karl von Frisch
Karl Ritter von Frisch was an Austrian ethologist who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973, along with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz....

 received the Nobel Prize in 1973 for his proof of the sign communication and its variants of the bees. Chimpanzee
Chimpanzee
Chimpanzee, sometimes colloquially chimp, is the common name for the two extant species of ape in the genus Pan. The Congo River forms the boundary between the native habitat of the two species:...

s, gorilla
Gorilla
Gorillas are the largest extant species of primates. They are ground-dwelling, predominantly herbivorous apes that inhabit the forests of central Africa. Gorillas are divided into two species and either four or five subspecies...

s, and orangutan
Orangutan
Orangutans are the only exclusively Asian genus of extant great ape. The largest living arboreal animals, they have proportionally longer arms than the other, more terrestrial, great apes. They are among the most intelligent primates and use a variety of sophisticated tools, also making sleeping...

s have been taught hand signs based on American Sign Language
American Sign Language
American Sign Language, or ASL, for a time also called Ameslan, is the dominant sign language of Deaf Americans, including deaf communities in the United States, in the English-speaking parts of Canada, and in some regions of Mexico...

. The African Grey Parrot
African Grey Parrot
The African Grey Parrot , also known as the Grey Parrot, is a medium-sized parrot found in the primary and secondary rainforest of West and Central Africa. Experts regard it as one of the most intelligent birds. They feed primarily on palm nuts, seeds, fruits, leafy matter, but have been observed...

, Alex
Alex (parrot)
Alex was an African Grey Parrot and the subject of a thirty-year experiment by animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg, initially at the University of Arizona and later at Harvard University and Brandeis University. Pepperberg bought Alex in a regular pet shop when he was about one year old...

, which possessed the ability to mimic human speech with a high degree of accuracy, is suspected of having had sufficient intelligence to comprehend some of the speech it mimicked. Though animals can be taught to understand parts of human language, they are unable to develop a language.

While proponents of animal communication systems have debated levels of semantics
Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

, these systems have not been found to have anything approaching human language syntax
Syntax
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

.

See also


Study of language
  • Synchronic analysis
    Synchronic analysis
    In linguistics, a synchronic analysis is one that views linguistic phenomena only at one point in time, usually the present, though a synchronic analysis of a historical language form is also possible. This may be distinguished from diachronics, which regards a phenomenon in terms of developments...

  • Alphabet
    Alphabet
    An alphabet is a standard set of letters—basic written symbols or graphemes—each of which represents a phoneme in a spoken language, either as it exists now or as it was in the past. There are other systems, such as logographies, in which each character represents a word, morpheme, or semantic...

  • Sentence processing


Types of language and language relationships
  • Extinct language
    Extinct language
    An extinct language is a language that no longer has any speakers., or that is no longer in current use. Extinct languages are sometimes contrasted with dead languages, which are still known and used in special contexts in written form, but not as ordinary spoken languages for everyday communication...

  • Word game
    Word game
    Word games and puzzles are spoken or board games often designed to test ability with language or to explore its properties.Word games are generally engaged as a source of entertainment, but have been found to serve an educational purpose as well...



Non-spoken forms of communication
  • Reading comprehension
    Reading comprehension
    Reading comprehension is defined as the level of understanding of a text. This understanding comes from the interaction between the words that are written and how they trigger knowledge outside the text. ....

  • Readability
    Readability
    Readability is the ease in which text can be read and understood. Various factors to measure readability have been used, such as "speed of perception," "perceptibility at a distance," "perceptibility in peripheral vision," "visibility," "the reflex blink technique," "rate of work" , "eye...

  • Whistled language
    Whistled language
    Whistled languages use whistling to emulate speech and facilitate communication. A whistled language is a system of whistled communication which allows fluent whistlers to transmit and comprehend a potentially unlimited number of messages over long distances...

  • Drum (communication)
    Drum (communication)
    Developed from hollow tree trunks, and used by cultures living in deforested areas, drums served as an early form of long distance communication, and were used during ceremonial and religious functions.-Pressure drum:...

     Drum languages
  • Nonverbal communication
    Nonverbal communication
    Nonverbal communication is usually understood as the process of communication through sending and receiving wordless messages. Messages can be communicated through gestures and touch , by body language or posture, by facial expression and eye contact...

  • Visual language
    Visual language
    A visual language is a system of communication using visual elements. Speech as a means of communication cannot strictly be separated from the whole of human communicative activity which includes the visual and the term 'language' in relation to vision is an extension of its use to describe the...



Origins of language
  • Evolutionary linguistics
    Evolutionary linguistics
    Evolutionary linguistics is the scientific study of the origins and development of language. The main challenge in this research is the lack of empirical data: spoken language leaves practically no traces. This led to an abandonment of the field for more than a century...

  • Biolinguistics
    Biolinguistics
    Biolinguistics is the study of the biology and evolution of language. It is a highly interdisciplinary field, including linguists, biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, mathematicians, and others...

  • Proto-Human language
    Proto-Human language
    The Proto-Human language is the hypothetical most recent common ancestor of all the world's languages.The concept of "Proto-Human" presupposes monogenesis of all recorded spoken human languages....

  • FOXP2
    FOXP2
    Forkhead box protein P2 also known as FOXP2 is a protein that in humans is encoded by the FOXP2 gene, located on human chromosome 7 . FOXP2 orthologs have also been identified in all mammals for which complete genome data are available...

     - gene implicated in cases of specific language impairment (SLI)

Religion and mythology
  • Adamic language
    Adamic language
    The Adamic language is, according to certain sects within Abrahamic traditions, the language spoken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, i.e., either the language used by God to address Adam, or the language invented by Adam ....

  • Myth
  • Logos
    Logos
    ' is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "a ground", "a plea", "an opinion", "an expectation", "word," "speech," "account," "reason," it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus ' is an important term in...

  • Verbum
    Verbum
    Verbum may refer to:*Word*Utterance*Verb*Logos*Dei Verbum is one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council.*Verbum...



Education and public policy
  • Language education
    Language education
    Language education is the teaching and learning of a foreign or second language. Language education is a branch of applied linguistics.- Need for language education :...

  • Language school
    Language school
    A language school is a school where one studies a foreign language. Classes at a language school are usually geared towards, but not limited to, communicative competence in a foreign language...

  • Language policy
    Language policy
    Many countries have a language policy designed to favour or discourage the use of a particular language or set of languages. Although nations historically have used language policies most often to promote one official language at the expense of others, many countries now have policies designed to...

  • Language reform
    Language reform
    Language reform is a type of language planning by massive change to a language. The usual tools of language reform are simplification and purification. Simplification makes the language easier to use by regularizing vocabulary and grammar...

  • Linguistic purism
    Linguistic purism
    Linguistic purism or linguistic protectionism is the practice of defining one variety of a language as being purer than other varieties. The ideal of purity is often opposed in reference to a perceived decline from an "ideal past" or an unwanted similarity with other languages, but sometimes simply...

     (protectionism)
  • Official language
    Official language
    An official language is a language that is given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically a nation's official language will be the one used in that nation's courts, parliament and administration. However, official status can also be used to give a...

  • Multilingualism
    Multilingualism
    Multilingualism is the act of using, or promoting the use of, multiple languages, either by an individual speaker or by a community of speakers. Multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world's population. Multilingualism is becoming a social phenomenon governed by the needs of...



Communication with other species
  • Great ape language
    Great Ape language
    Research into non-human great ape language has involved teaching chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans to communicate with human beings and with each other using sign language, physical tokens, and lexigrams; see Yerkish...



Semiotics
  • Symbolic linguistic representation
    Symbolic linguistic representation
    A symbolic linguistic representation is a representation of an utterance that uses symbols to represent linguistic information about the utterance, such as information about phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, or semantics...

  • Metacommunicative competence
    Metacommunicative competence
    Metacommunicative competence is the ability to intervene within difficult conversations and to correct communication problems by utilizing the different ways of practical communication:...

  • Musivisual Language
    Musivisual Language
    In art, the musivisual language is a semiotic system that is the synchronous union between the language of music and the language of image. The term was first coined by the Spanish composer Alejandro Román, and indicates the existence of an own unique language of film music.For over a century, film...


Lists
:Category:Lists of languages
  • Ethnologue
    Ethnologue
    Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a web and print publication of SIL International , a Christian linguistic service organization, which studies lesser-known languages, to provide the speakers with Bibles in their native language and support their efforts in language development.The Ethnologue...

     - list of languages, locations, population and genetic affiliation
  • Outline of linguistics
  • List of language regulators
  • Lists of languages
  • List of official languages


Other
  • Translation
    Translation
    Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. Whereas interpreting undoubtedly antedates writing, translation began only after the appearance of written literature; there exist partial translations of the Sumerian Epic of...

  • Second language
    Second language
    A second language or L2 is any language learned after the first language or mother tongue. Some languages, often called auxiliary languages, are used primarily as second languages or lingua francas ....

  • Phonetic transcription
    Phonetic transcription
    Phonetic transcription is the visual representation of speech sounds . The most common type of phonetic transcription uses a phonetic alphabet, e.g., the International Phonetic Alphabet....

  • Dyslexia
    Dyslexia
    Dyslexia is a very broad term defining a learning disability that impairs a person's fluency or comprehension accuracy in being able to read, and which can manifest itself as a difficulty with phonological awareness, phonological decoding, orthographic coding, auditory short-term memory, or rapid...

  • ISO 639
    ISO 639
    ISO 639 is a set of standards by the International Organization for Standardization that is concerned with representation of names for language and language groups....

    - 2- and 3-letter ID codes for languages

Further reading





External links