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People have attempted to define language in a number of ways. Example
1. a system for representing things, actions, ideas and states
2. a tool people use to communicate their concepts of reality into the
minds of others
3. a system of meanings shared among people
4. a code that members of a linguistic community use to mediate between
form and meaning
5. a set of grammatically correct utterances (i.e. words, sentences, etc.)
6. a set of utterances that could be understood by a linguistic community
In any case, human language is the most central meaning of "language". The
study of language is called linguistics.
Making a principled distinction between one human language and another can
often be difficult. Chomsky (1986) points out that "some dialects of German
are very close to dialects that we call 'Dutch' and are not mutually
intelligible with others that we call 'German'". Note that there are
parallels to biology, where it is not always possible to make a principled
distinction between one species and the next. In either case (at least given
the standard view on the evolution of the species), the ultimate difficulty
stems from both languages and species descending from one another, with
modification. (See dialect for a longer discussion.)
One of the most prominent artificial languages called Esperanto was created
by L. L. Zamenhof. It is a compilation of various elements of different
languages with the goal of being an easy to learn language.
Some linguists, such as J.R.R. Tolkein, have created fantasy languages,
often for literary purposes. One of his languages is called Quenya, which is
a form of Elvish. It includes its own alphabet and pronunciations in
addition to being able to be spoken by humans.
While the term "animal languages" is widely used, most researchers agree
that they are not as complex or expressive as the human language. They argue
that there are significant differences separating human language from animal
communication even at its most complex, and that the underlying principles
are not related.
Other researchers argue that an evolutionary continuum exists between the
communication methods these animals use and human language. Everybody agrees
that human language is far more complex than communication between animals.
For more on communication among non-human animals, see The Animal
These are the properties of human language that are argued to separate it
from animal communication:
* 'Arbitrariness:' There is no relationship between a sound or sign and
* 'Cultural transmission:' Language is passed from one language user to
the next, consciously or unconsciously.
* 'Discreteness:' Language is composed of discrete units called morphemes
that are used in combination to create meaning.
* 'Displacement:' Languages can be used to communicate ideas about things
that are not in the immediate vicinity either spatially or temporally.
* 'Duality:' Language works on two levels at once, a surface level and a
semantic (meaningful) level.
* 'Metalinguistics:' Ability to discuss language itself.
* 'Productivity:' A finite number of units can be used to create an
infinite number of ideas.
Research with apes, such as the research Francine Patterson has done with
Koko, suggests the animals may be capable of using language that meets some
of these requirements. Koko's achievements were with a human language that
she was taught, so her example only shows that animals are capable of using
language, but not that they are necessarily of inventing one on their own.
The most studied examples of animal languages are:
* Bee dance - used to comunicate direction of food source in many species
* Bird songs - songbirds can be very articulate. African Grey Parrots are
famous for their ability to repeat human language, and seem to show
signs of understanding it.
* Whale songs - it is still a mystery what these very social and
intelligent animals really communicate - although very different from
the human language, whale songs can not be easily dismissed as not
being complex or expressive enough.
Mathematics and computer science use artificial entities called formal
languages (including programming languages), which may or may not count as
Information about language on wikipedia
The Linguistics article examines different theoretical perspectives on human
language in detail. This is perhaps becoming Wikipedia's most useful
introductory article about language.
The Language families and languages article provides more information on
particular languages and their interconnections.
The Common phrases in different languages article may be of interest to travelers.