Language and its different aspects

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It describes the aspects of language and also helps to create meaningful communication among individuals.
1. Aspects of Language
CHAPTER 1 : Definitions
CHAPTER 2 : Origin
CHAPTER 3 : Grammar
CHAPTER 4 : Usage and meaning
CHAPTER 5 : Philosophy of language
CHAPTER 6 : Mind and language
CHAPTER 7 : Programming language
CHAPTER 8 : Derivation and definitions
CHAPTER 9 : Ambiguity
CHAPTER 10 : Linguistics
CHAPTER 11 : Modern theories
CHAPTER 12 : Sign language
Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication,
and a language is any specific example of such a system. The scientific study of language is
called linguistics.
Estimates of the number of languages in the world vary between 6,000 and 7,000. However, any
precise estimate depends on a partly arbitrary distinction between languages and dialects. Natural
languages are spoken or signed, but any language can be encoded into secondary media using
auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli, for example, in graphic writing, braille, or whistling. This is
because human language is modality-independent. When used as a general concept, "language"
may refer to the cognitive ability to learn and use systems of complex communication, or to
describe the set of rules that makes up these systems, or the set of utterances that can be
produced from those rules. All languages rely on the process of semiosis to relate signs with
particular meanings. Oral and sign languages contain a phonological system that governs how
symbols are used to form sequences known as words or morphemes, and a syntactic system that
governs how words and morphemes are combined to form phrases and utterances.
Human language has the properties of productivity, recursivity, and displacement, and it relies
entirely on social convention and learning. Its complex structure affords a much wider range of
expressions than any known system of animal communication. Language is thought to have
originated when early hominins started gradually changing their primate communication
systems, acquiring the ability to form a theory of other minds and a shared intentionality. This
development is sometimes thought to have coincided with an increase in brain volume, and many
linguists see the structures of language as having evolved to serve specific communicative and
social functions. Language is processed in many different locations in the human brain, but
especially in Broca's and Wernicke's areas. Humans acquire language through social interaction
in early childhood, and children generally speak fluently when they are approximately three
years old. The use of language is deeply entrenched in human culture. Therefore, in addition to
4. its strictly communicative uses, language also has many social and cultural uses, such as
signifying group identity, social stratification, as well as for social grooming and entertainment.
Languages evolve and diversify over time, and the history of their evolution can be reconstructed
by comparing modern languages to determine which traits their ancestral languages must have
had in order for the later stages to have occurred. A group of languages that descend from a
common ancestor is known as a language family. The languages that are most spoken in the
world today belong to the Indo-European family, which includes languages such as English,
Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and Hindi; the Sino-Tibetan family, which includes Mandarin
Chinese, Cantonese, and many others; the Afro-Asiatic family, which includes Arabic, Amharic,
Somali, and Hebrew; the Bantu languages, which include Swahili, Zulu, Shona, and hundreds of
other languages spoken throughout Africa; and the Malayo-Polynesian languages, which include
Indonesian, Malay, Tagalog, Malagasy, and hundreds of other languages spoken throughout the
Pacific. The consensus is that between 50% and 90% of languages spoken at the beginning of the
twenty-first century will probably have become extinct by the year 2100.
Philosophy of language
The English word "language" derives ultimately from Indo-European "tongue, speech, language"
through Latin lingua, "language; tongue", and Old French language. The word is sometimes used
to refer to codes, ciphers, and other kinds of artificially constructed communication systems such
as those used for computer programming. A language in this sense is a system of signs for
encoding and decoding information. This article specifically concerns the properties of natural
human language as it is studied in the discipline of linguistics.
As an object of linguistic study, "language" has two primary meanings: an abstract concept, and
a specific linguistic system, e.g. "French". The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, who
defined the modern discipline of linguistics, first explicitly formulated the distinction using the
French word langage for language as a concept, langue as a specific instance of a language
system, and parole for the concrete usage of speech in a particular language.
5. When speaking of language as a general concept, definitions can be used which 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.
Mental faculty, organ or instinct
One definition sees language primarily as the mental faculty that allows humans to undertake
linguistic behaviour: to learn languages and to produce and understand utterances. This
definition stresses the universality of language to all humans and it emphasizes the biological
basis for the human capacity for language as a unique development of the human brain.
Proponents of the view that the drive to language acquisition is innate in humans often argue that
this is supported by the fact that all cognitively normal children raised in an environment where
language is accessible will acquire language without formal instruction. Languages may even
spontaneously develop in environments where people live or grow up together without a
common language, for example, creole languages and spontaneously developed sign languages
such as Nicaraguan Sign Language. This view, which can be traced back to Kant and Descartes,
often understands language to be largely innate, for example, in Chomsky's theory of Universal
Grammar, or American philosopher Jerry Fodor's extreme innatist theory. These kinds of
definitions are often applied by studies of language within a cognitive science framework and in
Formal Symbolic System
Another definition sees language as a formal system of signs governed by grammatical rules of
combination to communicate meaning. This definition stresses that human languages can be
described as closed structural systems consisting of rules that relate particular signs to particular
meanings.This structuralist view of language was first introduced by Ferdinand de Saussure, and
his structuralism remains foundational for most approaches to language today. Some proponents
of this view of language have advocated a formal approach which studies language structure by
identifying its basic elements and then by formulating a formal account of the rules according to
which the elements combine in order to form words and sentences. The main proponent of such a
theory is Noam Chomsky, the originator of the generative theory of grammar, who has defined
language as a particular set of sentences that can be generated from a particular set of rules.
6. Chomsky considers these rules to be an innate feature of the human mind and to constitute the
essence of what language is. Formal definitions of language are commonly used in formal logic,
in formal theories of grammar, and in applied computational linguistics.
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 understand the
grammatical structures of language to be the result of an adaptive process by which grammar
was "tailored" to serve the communicative needs of its users.
This view of language is associated with the study of language in pragmatic, cognitive, and
interactive frameworks, as well as in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. Functionalist
theories tend to study grammar as dynamic phenomena, as structures that are always in the
process of changing as they are employed by their speakers. This view places importance on the
study of linguistic typology, or the classification of languages according to structural features, as
it can be shown that processes of grammaticalization tend to follow trajectories that are partly
dependent on typology. In the philosophy of language, these views are often associated with
Wittgenstein's later works and with ordinary language philosophers such as Paul Grice, John
Searle and J. L. Austin.
The Unique Status Of Human Language
Main articles: Animal language and Great ape language
Human language is unique in comparison to other forms of communication, such as those used
by non-human animals. Communication systems used by other animals such as bees or non-
human apes are closed systems that consist of a closed number of possible things that can be
expressed. In contrast, human language is open-ended and productive, meaning that it allows
humans to produce an infinite set of utterances from a finite set of elements and to create new
words and sentences. This is possible because human language is based on a dual code, where a
finite number of meaningless elements (e.g. sounds, letters or gestures) can be combined to form
7. units of meaning (words and sentences). Furthermore, the symbols and grammatical rules of any
particular language are largely arbitrary, meaning 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. Several species
of animals have proven able to acquire forms of communication through social learning, such as
the Bonobo Kanzi, which learned to express itself using a set of symbolic lexigrams. Similarly,
many species of birds and whales learn their songs by imitating other members of their species.
However, while some animals may acquire large numbers of words and symbols, none have been
able to learn as many different signs as is generally known by an average 4 year old human, nor
have any acquired anything resembling the complex grammar of human language. Human
languages also differ from animal communication systems in that they employ grammatical and
semantic categories, such as noun and verb, present and past, to express exceedingly complex
meanings. Human language is also unique in having the property of recursivity: the way in
which, for example, a noun phrase is able to contain another noun phrase (as in "the
chimpanzee]'s lips]") or a clause is able to contain a clause (as in "[I see [the dog is running]]").
Human language is also the only known natural communication system that is modality
independent, meaning that it can be used not only for communication through one channel or
medium, but through several — for example, spoken language uses the auditive modality,
whereas sign languages and writing use the visual modality, and braille writing uses the tactile
With regard to the meaning that it may convey and the cognitive operations that it builds on,
human language is also unique in being able to refer to abstract concepts and to imagined or
hypothetical events as well as events that took place in the past or may happen in the future. This
ability to refer to events that are not at the same time or place as the speech event is called
displacement, and while some animal communication systems can use displacement (such as the
communication of bees that can communicate the location of sources of nectar that are out of
sight), the degree to which it is used in human language is also considered unique.
Main articles: Origin of language and Origin of speech
Theories about the origin of language differ in regards to their basic assumptions about what
language is. Some theories are based on the idea that language is so complex that one cannot
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 suddenly in the transition from pre-hominids to early man. These theories can be
defined as discontinuity-based. Similarly, theories based on Chomsky's Generative view of
language see language mostly as an innate faculty that is largely genetically encoded, whereas
functionalist theories see it as a system that is largely cultural, learned through social interaction.
Currently, the only prominent proponent of a discontinuity-based theory of human language
origins is linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky. 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." Though 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,
psychologist Steven Pinker, hold the precedents to be animal cognition, whereas those who see
language as a socially learned tool of communication, such as psychologist Michael Tomasello,
see it as having developed from animal communication, either primate gestural or vocal
communication to assist in cooperation. Other continuity-based models see language as having
developed from music, a view already espoused by Rousseau, Herder, Humboldt, and Charles
Darwin. A prominent proponent of this view today is archaeologist Steven Mithen. Stephen
Anderson states that the age of spoken languages is estimated at 60,000 to 100,000 years and
9. Researchers on the evolutionary origin of language generally find it plausible to suggest that
language was invented only once, and that all modern spoken languages are thus in some way
related, even if that relation can no longer be recovered … because of limitations on the methods
available for reconstruction.
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 australopithecines 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 the genus Homo some 2.5 million years ago. Some
scholars assume the development of primitive language-like systems (proto-language) as early as
Homo habilis (2.3 million years ago), while others place the development of primitive symbolic
communication only with Homo erectus (1.8 million years ago) or Homo heidelbergensis (0.6
million years ago), and the development oflanguage proper with Anatomically Modern Homo
sapiens with the Upper Paleolithic revolution less than 100,000 years ago
The study of language
The study of language, linguistics, has been developing into a science since the first grammatical
descriptions of particular languages in India more than 2000 years ago. Today, linguistics is a
science that concerns itself with all aspects of 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 examines the grammar of single languages, theoretical linguistics develops
theories on how best to conceptualize and define the nature of language based on data from the
10. various extant human languages, sociolinguistics studies how languages are used for social
purposes informing in turn the study of the social functions of language and grammatical
description, neurolinguistics studies how language is processed in the human brain and allows
the experimental testing of theories, computational linguistics builds on theoretical and
descriptive linguistics to construct computational models of language often aimed at processing
natural language or at testing linguistic hypotheses, and historical linguistics relies on
grammatical and lexical descriptions of languages to trace their individual histories and
reconstruct trees of language families by using the comparative method.
Early history
The formal study of language is often considered to have started in India with Pāṇini, the 5th
century BC grammarian who formulated 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology. However,
Sumerian scribes already studied the differences between Sumerian and Akkadian grammar
around 1900 BC. Subsequent grammatical traditions developed in all of the ancient cultures that
adopted writing.
In the 17th century AD, the French Port-Royal Grammarians developed the idea that the
grammars of all languages were a reflection of the universal basics of thought, and therefore that
grammar was universal. In the 18th century, the first use of the comparative method by British
philologist and expert on ancient India William Jones sparked the rise of comparative
linguistics.The scientific study of language was broadened from Indo-European to language in
general by Wilhelm von Humboldt. Early in the 20th century, Ferdinand de Saussure introduced
the idea of language as a static system of interconnected units, defined through the oppositions
between them.
By introducing a distinction between diachronic and synchronic analyses of language, he laid the
foundation of the modern discipline of linguistics. Saussure also introduced several basic
dimensions of linguistic analysis that are still fundamental in many contemporary linguistic
theories, such as the distinctions between syntagm and paradigm, and the Langue-parole
distinction, distinguishing language as an abstract system (langue), from language as a concrete
manifestation of this system (parole).
11. Contemporary Linguistics
In the 1960s, Noam Chomsky formulated the generative theory of language. According to this
theory, the most basic form of language is a set of syntactic rules that is universal for all humans
and which underlies the grammars of all human languages. This set of rules is called Universal
Grammar; for Chomsky, describing it is the primary objective of the discipline of linguistics.
Thus, he considered that the grammars of individual languages are only of importance to
linguistics insofar as they allow us to deduce the universal underlying rules from which the
observable linguistic variability is generated.
In opposition to the formal theories of the generative school, functional theories of language
propose that since language is fundamentally a tool, its structures are best analyzed and
understood by reference to their functions. Formal theories of grammar seek to define the
different elements of language and describe the way they relate to each other as systems of
formal rules or operations, while functional theories seek to define the functions performed by
language and then relate them to the linguistic elements that carry them out. The framework of
cognitive linguistics interprets language in terms of the concepts (which are sometimes universal,
and sometimes specific to a particular language) which underlie its forms. Cognitive linguistics
is primarily concerned with how the mind creates meaning through language.
Physiological and neural architecture of language and speech
Speaking is the default modality for language in all cultures. The production of spoken language
depends on sophisticated capacities for controlling the lips, tongue and other components of the
vocal apparatus, the ability to acoustically decode speech sounds, and the neurological apparatus
required for acquiring and producing language.The study of the genetic bases for human
language is still on a fairly basic level, and the only gene that has been positively implied in
language production is FOXP2, which may cause a kind of congenital language disorder if
affected by mutations.
The brain and language
12. Language Areas of the brain. The Angular Gyrus is represented in orange, Supramarginal Gyrus
is represented in yellow, Broca's area is represented in blue, Wernicke's area is represented in
green, and the Primary Auditory Cortex is represented in pink.
The brain is the coordinating center of all linguistic activity; it controls both the production of
linguistic cognition and of meaning and the mechanics of speech production. Nonetheless, our
knowledge of the neurological bases for language is quite limited, though it has advanced
considerably with the use of modern imaging techniques. The discipline of linguistics dedicated
to studying the neurological aspects of language is called neurolinguistics.
Early work in neurolinguistics involved the study of language in people with brain lesions, to see
how lesions in specific areas affect language and speech. In this way, neuroscientists in the 19th
century discovered that two areas in the brain are crucially implicated in language processing.
The first area is Wernicke's area, which is located in the posterior section of the superior
temporal gyrus in the dominant cerebral hemisphere. People with a lesion in this area of the brain
develop receptive aphasia, a condition in which there is a major impairment of language
comprehension, while speech retains a natural-sounding rhythm and a relatively normal sentence
structure. The second area is Broca's area, located in the posterior inferior frontal gyrus of the
dominant hemisphere. People with a lesion to this area develop expressive aphasia, meaning that
they know what they want to say, they just cannot get it out. They are typically able to
understand what is being said to them, but unable to speak fluently. Other symptoms that may be
present in expressive aphasia include problems with fluency, articulation, word-finding, word
repetition, and producing and comprehending complex grammatical sentences, both orally and in
writing. Those with this aphasia also exhibit ungrammatical speech and show inability to use
syntactic information to determine the meaning of sentences. Both expressive and receptive
aphasia also affect the use of sign language, in analogous ways to how they affect speech, with
expressive aphasia causing signers to sign slowly and with incorrect grammar, whereas a signer
with receptive aphasia will sign fluently, but make little sense to others and have difficulties
comprehending others' signs. This shows that the impairment is specific to the ability to use
language, not to the physiology used for speech production.
13. With technological advances in the late 20th century, neurolinguists have also adopted non-
invasive techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and
electrophysiology to study language processing in individuals without impairments.
Anatomy of speech
Speech production, Phonetics, and Articulatory phonetics
Spoken language relies on human physical ability to produce sound, which is a longitudinal
wave propagated through the air at a frequency capable of vibrating the ear drum. This ability
depends on the physiology of the human speech organs. These organs consist of the lungs, the
voice box (larynx), and the upper vocal tract - the throat, the mouth, and the nose. By controlling
the different parts of the speech apparatus, the airstream can be manipulated to produce different
speech sounds.
The sound of speech can be analyzed into a combination of segmental and suprasegmental
elements. The segmental elements are those that follow each other in sequences, which are
usually represented by distinct letters in alphabetic scripts, such as the Roman script. In free
flowing speech, there are no clear boundaries between one segment and the next, nor usually are
there any audible pauses between words. Segments therefore are distinguished by their distinct
sounds which are a result of their different articulations, and they can be either vowels or
consonants. Suprasegmental phenomena encompass such elements as stress, phonation type,
voice timbre, and prosody or intonation, all of which may have effects across multiple segments.
Consonants and vowel segments combine to form syllables, which in turn combine to form
utterances; these can be distinguished phonetically as the space between two inhalations.
Acoustically, these different segments are characterized by different formant structures, that are
visible in a spectrogram of the recorded sound wave (See illustration of Spectrogram of the
formant structures of three English vowels). Formants are the amplitude peaks in the frequency
spectrum of a specific sound. Vowels are those sounds that have no audible friction caused by
the narrowing or obstruction of some part of the upper vocal tract. They vary in quality
according to the degree of lip aperture and the placement of the tongue within the oral cavity.
Vowels are called close when the lips are relatively closed, as in the pronunciation of the vowel
(English "ee"), or open when the lips are relatively open, as in the vowel (English "ah"). If the
14. tongue is located towards the back of the mouth, the quality changes, creating vowels such as
(English "oo"). The quality also changes depending on whether the lips are rounded as opposed
to unrounded, creating distinctions such as that between (unrounded front vowel such as English
"ee") and (rounded front vowel such as German "ü").
Consonants are those sounds that have audible friction or closure at some point within the upper
vocal tract. Consonant sounds vary by place of articulation, i.e. the place in the vocal tract where
the airflow is obstructed, commonly at the lips, teeth, alveolar ridge, palate, velum, uvula, or
glottis. Each place of articulation produces a different set of consonant sounds, which are further
distinguished by manner of articulation, or the kind of friction, whether full closure, in which
case the consonant is called occlusive or stop, or different degrees of aperture creating fricatives
and approximants. Consonants can also be either voiced or unvoiced, depending on whether the
vocal cords are set in vibration by airflow during the production of the sound. Voicing is what
separates English in bus (unvoiced sibilant) from in buzz (voiced sibilant).
Some speech sounds, both vowels and consonants, involve release of air flow through the nasal
cavity, and these are called nasals or nasalized sounds. Other sounds are defined by the way the
tongue moves within the mouth: such as the l-sounds (called laterals, because the air flows along
both sides of the tongue), and the r-sounds (called rhotics) that are characterized by how the
tongue is positioned relative to the air stream.
By using these speech organs, humans can produce hundreds of distinct sounds: some appear
very often in the world's languages, whereas others are much more common in certain language
families, language areas, or even specific to a single language.
When described as a system of symbolic communication, language is traditionally seen as
consisting of three parts: signs, meanings, and a code connecting signs with their meanings. The
study of the process of semiosis, how signs and meanings are combined, used, and interpreted is
called semiotics. 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.
15. 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 by which signs can be combined to form words and phrases are called syntax or
grammar. The meaning that is connected to individual signs, morphemes, words, phrases, and
texts is called semantics. 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
Main articles: Semantics, Semiotics, and Meaning (linguistics)
Languages express meaning by relating a sign form to a meaning, or its content. Sign forms must
be something that can be perceived, for example, in sounds, images, or gestures, and then related
to a specific meaning by social convention. Because the basic relation of meaning for most
linguistic signs is based on social convention, linguistic signs can be considered arbitrary, in the
sense that the convention is established socially and historically, rather than by means of a
natural relation between a specific sign form and its meaning.
Thus, languages must have a vocabulary of signs related to specific meaning. The English sign
"dog" denotes, for example, a member of the species Canis familiaris. In a language, the array of
arbitrary signs connected to specific meanings is called the lexicon, and a single sign connected
to a meaning is called a lexeme. 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.
16. All languages contain the semantic structure of predication: a structure that predicates a property,
state, or action. Traditionally, semantics has been understood to be the study of how speakers and
interpreters assign truth values to statements, so that meaning is understood to be 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.
Sounds and symbols
Phonology and Writing
Depending on modality, language structure can be based on systems of sounds (speech), gestures
(sign languages), or graphic or tactile symbols (writing). The ways in which languages use
sounds or signs to construct meaning are studied in phonology. The study of how humans
produce and perceive vocal sounds is called phonetics. In spoken language, meaning is produced
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. Phonemes are abstract units of sound,
defined as the smallest units in a language that can serve to distinguish between the meaning of a
pair of minimally different words, a so-called minimal pair. In English, for example, the words
/bat/ [bat] and /pat/ [pʰat] form a minimal pair, in which the distinction between /b/ and /p/
differentiates the two words, which have different meanings. However, each language contrasts
sounds in different ways. For example, in a language that does not distinguish between voiced
and unvoiced consonants, the sounds [p] and [b] would be considered a single phoneme, and
consequently, the two pronunciations would have the same meaning. Similarly, the English
language does not distinguish phonemically between aspirated and non-aspirated pronunciations
of consonants, as many other languages do: the unaspirated /p/ in /spin/ [spin] and the aspirated
/p/ in /pin/ [pʰin] are considered to be merely different ways of pronouncing the same phoneme
(such variants of a single phoneme are called allophones), whereas in Mandarin Chinese, the
17. same difference in pronunciation distinguishes between the words [pʰá] "crouch" and [pá]
"eight" (the accent above the á means that the vowel is pronounced with a high tone).
All spoken languages have phonemes of at least two different categories, vowels and consonants,
that can be combined to form syllables. As well as segments such as consonants and vowels,
some languages also use sound in other ways to convey meaning. Many languages, for example,
use stress, pitch, duration, and tone to distinguish meaning. Because these phenomena operate
outside of the level of single segments, they are called suprasegmental. Some languages have
only a few phonemes, for example, Rotokas and Pirahã language with 11 and 10 phonemes
respectively, whereas languages like Taa may have as many as 141 phonemes. In sign languages,
the equivalent to phonemes (formerly called cheremes) are defined by the basic elements of
gestures, such as hand shape, orientation, location, and motion, which correspond to manners of
articulation in spoken language.
Writing systems represent language using visual symbols, which may or may not correspond to
the sounds of spoken language. The Latin alphabet (and those on which it is based or that have
been derived from it) was originally based on the representation of single sounds, so that words
were constructed from letters that generally denote a single consonant or vowel in the structure
of the word. In syllabic scripts, such as the Inuktitut syllabary, each sign represents a whole
syllable. In logographic scripts, each sign represents an entire word, and will generally bear no
relation to the sound of that word in spoken language.
Because all languages have a very large number of words, no purely logographic scripts are
known to exist. Written language represents the way spoken sounds and words follow one after
another by arranging symbols according to a pattern that follows a certain direction. The
direction used in a writing system is entirely arbitrary and established by convention. Some
writing systems use the horizontal axis (left to right as the Latin script or right to left as the
Arabic script), while others such as traditional Chinese writing use the vertical dimension (from
top to bottom). A few writing systems use opposite directions for alternating lines, and others,
such as the ancient Maya script, can be written in either direction and rely on graphic cues to
show the reader the direction of reading.
18. In order to represent the sounds of the world's languages in writing, linguists have developed the
International Phonetic Alphabet, designed to represent all of the discrete sounds that are known
to contribute to meaning in human languages.
Grammar is the study of how meaningful elements called 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 affixes. The way in which meaningful elements can be combined
within a language is governed by rules. The rules for the internal structure of words are called
morphology. The rules of the internal structure of 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
they 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 to a predicate, the encoding of temporal and spatial relations on predicates, and a
system of grammatical person 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 denotes things and concepts and a group of words that prototypically
denotes actions and events. The first group, which includes English words such as "dog" and
"song", are usually called nouns. The second, which includes "run" and "sing", are called verbs.
Another common category is the adjective: words that describe properties or qualities of nouns,
such as "red" or "big". Word classes can be "open" if new words can continuously be added to
the class, or relatively "closed" if there is a fixed number of words in a class. In English, the class
of pronouns is closed, whereas the class of adjectives is open, since infinite numbers of
adjectives can be constructed from verbs (e.g. "saddened") or nouns (e.g. with the -like suffix
20. "noun-like"). In other languages such as Korean, the situation is the opposite, and new pronouns
can be constructed, whereas the number of adjectives is fixed.
The word classes also carry out differing functions in grammar. Prototypically, verbs are used to
construct predicates, while nouns are used as arguments 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.
Many other word classes exist in different languages, such as conjunctions that serve to join two
sentences, articles that introduce a noun, interjections such as "agh!" or "wow!", or ideophones
that mimic the sound of some event. Some languages have positionals that describe the spatial
position of an event or entity. Many languages have classifiers that identify countable nouns as
belonging to a particular type or having a particular shape. For instance, in Japanese, the general
noun classifier for humans is nin (人), and it is used for counting humans, whatever they are
san-nin no gakusei (三人の学生) lit. "3 human-classifier of student" — three students
For trees, it would be:
san-bon no ki (三本の木) lit. "3 classifier-for-long-objects of tree" — three trees
In linguistics, the study of the internal structure of complex words and the processes by which
words are formed is called morphology. In most languages, it is possible to construct complex
words that are built of several morphemes. For instance, 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 independent morphemes, so-called
roots, or whether they can only co-occur attached to other morphemes. These bound morphemes
or affixes can be classified according to their position in relation to the root: prefixes precede the
root, suffixes follow the root, and infixes are inserted in the middle of a root. Affixes serve to
21. 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". This process is called ablaut. Furthermore, morphology distinguishes between
the process of inflection, which modifies or elaborates on a word, and the process of derivation,
which creates a new word from an existing one. In English, the verb "sing" has the inflectional
forms "singing" and "sung", which are both verbs, and the derivational form "singer", which is a
noun derived from the verb with the agentive suffix "-er".
Languages differ widely in how much they rely on morphological processes of word formation.
In some languages, for example, Chinese, there are no morphological processes, and all
grammatical information is encoded syntactically by forming strings of single words. This type
of morpho-syntax is often called isolating, or analytic, because there is almost a full
correspondence between a single word and a single aspect of meaning. Most languages have
words consisting of several morphemes, but they vary in the degree to which morphemes are
discrete units. In many languages, notably in most Indo-European languages, single morphemes
may have several distinct meanings that cannot be analyzed into smaller segments. For example,
in Latin, the word bonus, or "good", consists of the root bon-, meaning "good", and the suffix -
us, which indicates masculine gender, singular number, and nominative case. These languages
are called fusional languages, because several meanings may be fused into a single morpheme.
The opposite type of fusional languages are agglutinative languages, which construct words by
stringing morphemes together in chains, but with each morpheme as a discrete semantic unit. An
example of such a language is Turkish, where for example, the word evlerinizden, or "from your
houses", consists of the morphemes, ev-ler-iniz-den with the meanings house-plural-your-from.
The languages that rely on morphology to the greatest extent are traditionally called
polysynthetic languages. They may express the equivalent of an entire English sentence in a
single word. For example, in Persian the single word nafahmidamesh means I didn't understand
it consisting of morphemes na-fahm-id-am-esh with the meanings,
"". As another example with more complexity, in the Yupik word
tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq, which means "He had not yet said again that he was going to
hunt reindeer", the word consists of the morphemes tuntu-ssur-qatar-ni-ksaite-ngqiggte-uq with
the meanings, "reindeer-hunt-future-say-negation-again-third.person.singular.indicative", and
except for the morpheme tuntu ("reindeer") none of the other morphemes can appear in isolation.
22. Many languages use morphology to cross-reference words within a sentence. This is sometimes
called agreement. For example, in many Indo-European languages, adjectives must cross-
reference the noun they modify in terms of number, case, and gender, so that the Latin adjective
bonus, or "good", is inflected to agree with a noun that is masculine gender, singular number,
and nominative case. In many polysynthetic languages, verbs cross-reference their subjects and
objects. In these types of languages, a single verb may include information that would require an
entire sentence in English. For example, in the Basque phrase ikusi nauzu, or "you saw me", the
past tense auxiliary verb n-au-zu (similar to English "do") agrees with both the subject (you)
expressed by the n- prefix, and with the object (me) expressed by the -zu suffix. The sentence
could be directly transliterated as "see you-did-me
In addition to word classes, a sentence can be analyzed in terms of grammatical functions: "The
cat" is the subject of the phrase, "on the mat" is a locative phrase, and "sat" is the core of the
Another way in which languages convey meaning is through the order of words within a
sentence. The grammatical rules for how to produce new sentences from words that are already
known is called syntax. The syntactical rules of a language determine why a sentence in English
such as "I love you" is meaningful, but "*love you I" is not. Syntactical rules determine how
word order and sentence structure is constrained, and how those constraints contribute to
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 the 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. Conversely, in Latin, both Dominus servos vituperabat and Servos
vituperabat dominus mean "the master was reprimanding the slaves", because servos, or "slaves",
is in the accusative case, showing that they are the grammatical object of the sentence, and
dominus, or "master", is in the nominative case, showing that he is the subject. Latin uses
morphology to express the distinction between subject and object, whereas English uses word
order. Another example of how syntactic rules contribute to meaning is the rule of inverse word
order in questions, which exists in many languages. This rule explains why when in English, the
phrase "John is talking to Lucy" is turned into a question, it becomes "Who is John talking to?",
23. and not "John is talking to who?". The latter example may be used as a way of placing special
emphasis on "who", thereby slightly altering the meaning of the question. Syntax also includes
the rules for how complex sentences are structured by grouping words together in units, called
phrases, that can occupy different places in a larger syntactic structure. Sentences can be
described as consisting of phrases connected in a tree structure, connecting the phrases to each
other at different levels. To the right is a graphic representation of the syntactic analysis of the
English sentence "the cat sat on the mat". The sentence is analyzed 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. The reason
sentences can be seen as being composed of phrases is because each phrase would be moved
around as a single element if syntactic operations were carried out. For example, "the cat" is one
phrase, and "on the mat" is another, because they would be treated as single units if a decision
was made to emphasize the location by moving forward the prepositional phrase: "[And] on the
mat, the cat sat". There are many different formalist and functionalist frameworks that propose
theories for describing syntactic structures, based on different assumptions about what language
is and how it should be described. Each of them would analyze a sentence such as this in a
different manner.
Typology And Universals
Languages can be classified in relation to their grammatical types. Languages that belong to
different families nonetheless often have features in common, and these shared features tend to
correlate. For example, languages can be classified on the basis of their basic word order, the
relative order of the verb, and its constituents in a normal indicative sentence. In English, the
basic order is SVO: "The snake(S) bit(V) the man(O)", whereas for example, the corresponding
sentence in the Australian language Gamilaraay would be (Snake Man Bit), SOV. Word order
type is relevant as a typological parameter, because basic word order type corresponds with other
syntactic parameters, such as the relative order of nouns and adjectives, or of the use of
prepositions or postpositions. Such correlations are called implicational universals. For example,
most (but not all) languages that are of the SOV type have postpositions rather than prepositions,
and have adjectives before nouns. Through the study of various types of word order, it has been
discovered that not all languages group the relations between actors and actions into Subject,
24. Object and Verb, as English does. This type is called the nominative-accusative type. Some
languages called ergative, Gamilaraay among them, distinguish between Agents and Patients. In
English transitive clauses, both the subject of intransitive sentences ("I run") and transitive
sentences ("I love you") are treated in the same way, shown here by the nominative pronoun I. In
ergative languages, the single participant in an intransitive sentence, such as "I run", is treated
the same as the patient in a transitive sentence, giving the equivalent of "me run" and "you love
me". Only in transitive sentences would the equivalent of the pronoun "I" be used. In this way
the semantic roles can map onto the grammatical relations in different ways, grouping an
intransitive subject either with Agents (accusative type) or Patients (ergative type) or even
making each of the three roles differently, which is called the tripartite type. The shared features
of languages which belong to the same typological class type may have arisen completely
independently. Their co-occurrence might be due to the universal laws governing the structure of
natural languages, "language universals", or they might be the result of languages evolving
convergent solutions to the recurring communicative problems that humans use language to
Social Contexts of Use and Transmission
While humans have the ability to learn any language, they only do so if they grow up in an
environment in which language exists and is used by others. Language is therefore dependent on
communities of speakers in which children learn language from their elders and peers and
themselves transmit language to their own children. Languages are used by those who speak
them to communicate and to solve a plethora of social tasks. Many aspects of language use can
be seen to be adapted specifically to these purposes. Due to the way in which language is
transmitted between generations and within communities, language perpetually changes,
diversifying into new languages or converging due to language contact. The process is similar to
the process of evolution, where the process of descent with modification leads to the formation
of a phylogenetic tree.
However, languages differ from a biological organisms in that they readily incorporate elements
from other languages through the process of diffusion, as speakers of different languages come
into contact. Humans also frequently speak more than one language, acquiring their first
language or languages as children, or learning new languages as they grow up. Because of the
25. increased language contact in the globalizing world, many small languages are becoming
endangered as their speakers shift to other languages that afford the possibility to participate in
larger and more influential speech communities
Usage And Meaning
The semantic study of meaning assumes that meaning is located in a relation between signs and
meanings that are firmly established through social convention. However, semantics does not
study the way in which social conventions are made and affect language. Rather, when studying
the way in which words and signs are used, it is often the case that words have different
meanings, depending on the social context of use. An important example of this is the process
called deixis, which describes the way in which certain words refer to entities through their
relation between a specific point in time and space when the word is uttered. Such words are, for
example, the word, "I" (which designates the person speaking), "now" (which designates the
moment of speaking), and "here" (which designates the time of speaking). Signs also change
their meanings over time, as the conventions governing their usage gradually change. The study
of how the meaning of linguistic expressions changes depending on context is called pragmatics.
Deixis is an important part of the way that we use language to point out entities in the world.
Pragmatics is concerned with the ways in which language use is patterned and how these patterns
contribute to meaning. For example, in all languages, linguistic expressions can be used not just
to transmit information, but to perform actions. Certain actions are made only through language,
but nonetheless have tangible effects, e.g. the act of "naming", which creates a new name for
some entity, or the act of "pronouncing someone man and wife", which creates a social contract
of marriage. These types of acts are called speech acts, although they can of course also be
carried out through writing or hand signing.
The form of linguistic expression often does not correspond to the meaning that it actually has in
a social context. For example, if at a dinner table a person asks, "Can you reach the salt?", that is,
in fact, not a question about the length of the arms of the one being addressed, but a request to
26. pass the salt across the table. This meaning is implied by the context in which it is spoken; these
kinds of effects of meaning are called conversational implicatures. These social rules for which
ways of using language are considered appropriate in certain situations and how utterances are to
be understood in relation to their context vary between communities, and learning them is a large
part of acquiring communicative competence in a language.
Language Acquisition
All normal children acquire language if they are exposed to it in their first years of life, even in
cultures where adults rarely address infants and toddlers directly.
All healthy, normally-developing 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 sign or oral
languages. 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 Descent of
Man, naturalist Charles Darwin 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, producing the speech sounds or handshapes of the languages
used around them. Words appear around the age of 12 to 18 months; the average vocabulary of
an eighteen-month old child is around 50 words. A child's first utterances are holophrases
(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 will begin to produce telegraphic speech, or short
sentences that are less grammatically 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.
Acquisition of second and additional languages can come at any age, through exposure in daily
life or courses. Children learning a second language are more likely to achieve native-like
27. fluency than adults, but in general, it is very rare for someone speaking a second language to
pass completely for a native speaker. An important difference between first language acquisition
and additional language acquisition is that the process of additional language acquisition is
influenced by languages that the learner already knows.
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 speaks them. Languages do not differ only in
pronunciation, vocabulary, or grammar, but also through having different "cultures of speaking".
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, ethnolinguists, and linguistic anthropologists
have specialized in studying how ways of speaking vary between speech communities.
Linguists use the term "varieties" to refer to the different ways of speaking a language. This
term includes geographically or socioculturally defined dialects as well as the jargons or styles of
subcultures. Linguistic anthropologists and sociologists of language define communicative style
as the ways that language is used and understood within a particular culture.
Because norms for language use are shared by members of a specific group, communicative style
also becomes a way of displaying and constructing group identity. Linguistic differences may
become salient markers of divisions between social groups, for example, speaking a language
with a particular accent may imply membership of an ethnic minority or social class, one's area
of origin, or status as a second language speaker. These kinds of differences are not part of the
linguistic system, but are an important part of how language users use language as a social tool
for constructing groups.
However, many languages also have grammatical conventions that signal the social position of
the speaker in relation to others through the use of registers that are related to social hierarchies
or divisions. In many languages, there are stylistic or even grammatical differences between the
ways men and women speak, between age groups, or between social classes, just as some
languages employ different words depending on who is listening. For example, in the Australian
28. language Dyirbal, a married man must use a special set of words to refer to everyday items when
speaking in the presence of his mother-in-law. Some cultures, for example, have elaborate
systems of "social deixis", or systems of signalling social distance through linguistic means. In
English, social deixis is shown mostly through distinguishing between addressing some people
by first name and others by surname, and 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, Burmese, 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.
Writing, Literacy And Technology
An inscription of Swampy Cree using Canadian Aboriginal syllabics, an abugida developed by
Christian missionaries for Indigenous Canadian languages
Throughout history a number of different ways of representing language in graphic media have
been invented. These are called writing systems.
The use of writing has made language even more useful to humans. It makes it possible to store
large amounts of information outside of the human body and retrieve it again, and it allows
communication across distances that would otherwise be impossible. Many languages
conventionally employ different genres, styles, and register in written and spoken language, and
in some communities, writing traditionally takes place in an entirely different language than the
one spoken. There is some evidence that the use of writing also has effects on the cognitive
development of humans, perhaps because acquiring literacy generally requires explicit and
formal education.
The invention of the first writing systems is roughly contemporary with the beginning of the
Bronze Age in the late Neolithic period of the late 4th millennium BC. The Sumerian archaic
cuneiform script and the Egyptian hieroglyphs are generally considered to be the earliest writing
systems, both emerging out of their ancestral proto-literate symbol systems from 3400–3200 BC
with the earliest coherent texts from about 2600 BC. It is generally agreed that Sumerian writing
was an independent invention; however, it is debated whether Egyptian writing was developed
29. completely independently of Sumerian, or was a case of cultural diffusion. A similar debate
exists for the Chinese script, which developed around 1200 BC. The pre-Columbian
Mesoamerican writing systems (including among others Olmec and Maya scripts) are generally
believed to have had independent origins.
Language Change
The first page of the Beowulf poem written in Old English in the early medieval period (800 -
1100 AD). Although old English language is the direct ancestor of modern English language,
change has rendered it unintelligible to contemporary English speakers.
All languages change as speakers adopt or invent new ways of speaking and pass them on to
other members of their speech community. Language change happens at all levels from the
phonological level to the levels of vocabulary, morphology, syntax, and discourse. Even though
language change is often initially evaluated negatively by speakers of the language who often
consider changes to be "decay" or a sign of slipping norms of language usage, it is natural and
Changes may affect specific sounds or the entire phonological system. Sound change can consist
of the replacement of one speech sound or phonetic feature by another, the complete loss of the
affected sound, or even the introduction of a new sound in a place where there previously was
none. Sound changes can be conditioned in which case a sound is changed only if it occurs in the
vicinity of certain other sounds. Sound change is usually assumed to be regular, which means
that it is expected to apply mechanically whenever its structural conditions are met, irrespective
of any non-phonological factors. On the other hand, sound changes can sometimes be sporadic,
affecting only one particular word or a few words, without any seeming regularity. Sometimes a
simple change triggers a chain shift in which the entire phonological system is affected. This
happened in the Germanic languages when the sound change known as Grimm's law affected all
the stop consonants in the system. The original consonant *bʰ became /b/ in the Germanic
languages, the previous *b in turn became /p/, and the previous *p became /f/. The same process
applied to all stop consonants and explains why Italic languages such as Latin have p in words
like pater and pisces, whereas Germanic languages, like English, have father and fish.
30. Another example is the Great Vowel Shift in English, which is the reason that the spelling of
English vowels do not correspond well to their current pronunciation. This is because the vowel
shift brought the already established orthography out of synchronization with pronunciation.
Another source of sound change is the erosion of words as pronunciation gradually becomes
increasingly indistinct and shortens words, leaving out syllables or sounds. This kind of change
caused Latin mea domina to eventually become the French madame and American English
Change also happens in the grammar of languages as discourse patterns such as idioms or
particular constructions become grammaticalized. This frequently happens when words or
morphemes erode and the grammatical system is unconsciously rearranged to compensate for the
lost element. For example, in some varieties of Caribbean Spanish the final /s/ has eroded away.
Since Standard Spanish uses final /s/ in the morpheme marking the second person subject "you"
in verbs, the Caribbean varieties now have to express the second person using the pronoun tú.
This means that the sentence "what's your name" is ¿como te llamas?
'komo te 'jamas] in Standard Spanish, but ['komo 'tu te 'jama] in Caribbean Spanish. The simple
sound change has affected both morphology and syntax.[102] Another common cause of
grammatical change is the gradual petrification of idioms into new grammatical forms, for
example, the way the English "going to" construction lost its aspect of movement and in some
varieties of English has almost become a full fledged future tense (e.g. I'm gonna).
Language change may be motivated by "language internal" factors, such as changes in
pronunciation motivated by certain sounds being difficult to distinguish aurally or to produce, or
because of certain patterns of change that cause certain rare types of constructions to drift
towards more common types. Other causes of language change are social, such as when certain
pronunciations become emblematic of membership in certain groups, such as social classes, or
with ideologies, and therefore are adopted by those who wish to identify with those groups or
ideas. In this way, issues of identity and politics can have profound effects on language structure.
Language Contact
One important source of language change is contact between different languages and resulting
diffusion of linguistic traits between languages. Language contact occurs when speakers of two
31. or more languages or varieties interact on a regular basis. Multilingualism is likely to have been
the norm throughout human history, and today, most people in the world are multilingual. Before
the rise of the concept of the ethno-national state, monolingualism was characteristic mainly of
populations inhabiting small islands. But with the ideology that made one people, one state, and
one language the most desirable political arrangement, monolingualism started to spread
throughout the world. Nonetheless, there are only 250 countries in the world corresponding to
some 6000 languages, which means that most countries are multilingual and most languages
therefore exist in close contact with other languages.
When speakers of different languages interact closely, it is typical for their languages to
influence each other. Through sustained language contact over long periods, linguistic traits
diffuse between languages, and languages belonging to different families may converge to
become more similar. In areas where many languages are in close contact, this may lead to the
formation of language areas in which unrelated languages share a number of linguistic features.
A number of such language areas have been documented, among them, the Balkan language
area, the Mesoamerican language area, and the Ethiopian language area. Also, larger areas such
as South Asia, Europe, and Southeast Asia have sometimes been considered language areas,
because of widespread diffusion of specific areal features.
Language contact may also lead to a variety of other linguistic phenomena, including language
convergence, borrowing, and relexification (replacement of much of the native vocabulary with
that of another language). In situations of extreme and sustained language contact, it may lead to
the formation of new mixed languages that cannot be considered to belong to a single language
family. One type of mixed language called pidgins occurs when adult speakers of two different
languages interact on a regular basis, but in a situation where neither group learns to learn to
speak the language of the other group fluently. In such a case, they will often construct a
communication form that has traits of both languages, but which has a simplified grammatical
and phonological structure. The language comes to contain mostly the grammatical and
phonological categories that exist in both languages. Pidgin languages are defined by not having
any native speakers, but only being spoken by people who have another language as their first
language. But if a Pidgin language becomes the main language of a speech community, then
eventually children will grow up learning the pidgin as their first language. As the generation of
32. child learners grow up, the pidgin will often be seen to change its structure and acquire a greater
degree of complexity. This type of language is generally called a creole language. An example of
such mixed languages is Tok Pisin, the official language of Papua New-Guinea, which originally
arose as a Pidgin based on English and Austronesian languages; others are Kreyòl ayisyen, the
French based creole language spoken in Haiti, and Michif, a mixed language of Canada, based
on the Native American language Cree and French.
Languages And Dialects
There is no clear distinction between a language and a dialect, notwithstanding a famous
aphorism attributed to linguist Max Weinreich that "a language is a dialect with an army and
navy".For example, national boundaries frequently override linguistic difference in determining
whether two linguistic varieties are languages or dialects. Cantonese and Mandarin are, for
example, often classified as "dialects" of Chinese, even though they are more different from each
other than Swedish is from Norwegian. Before the Yugoslav civil war, Serbo-Croatian was
considered a single language with two dialects, but now Croatian and Serbian are considered
different languages and employ different writing systems. In other words, the distinction may
hinge on political considerations as much as on cultural differences, distinctive writing systems,
or degree of mutual intelligibility.
The world's languages can be grouped into language families consisting of languages that can be
shown to have common ancestry. Linguists currently recognize many hundreds of language
families, although some of them can possibly be grouped into larger units as more evidence
becomes available and in-depth studies are carried out. At present, there are also dozens of
language isolates: languages that cannot be shown to be related to any other languages in the
world. Among them is Basque, spoken in Europe, Zuni of New Mexico, P'urhépecha of Mexico,
Ainu of Japan, Burushaski of Pakistan, and many others.
The language family of the world that has the most speakers is the Indo-European languages,
spoken by 46% of the world's population. This family includes major world languages like
English, Spanish, Russian, and Hindustani (Hindi/Urdu). The Indo-European family achieved
prevalence first during the Eurasian Migration Period (c. 400–800 AD), and subsequently
through the European colonial expansion, which brought the Indo-European languages to a
33. politically and often numerically dominant position in the Americas and much of Africa. The
Sino-Tibetan languages are spoken by 21% of the world's population and include many of the
languages of East Asia, including Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, and hundreds of smaller
Africa is home to a large number of language families, the largest of which is the Niger-Congo
language family, which includes such languages as Swahili, Shona, and Yoruba. Speakers of the
Niger-Congo languages account for 6.4% of the world's population. A similar number of people
speak the Afroasiatic languages, which include the populous Semitic languages such as Arabic,
Hebrew language, and the languages of the Sahara region, such as the Berber languages and
The Austronesian languages are spoken by 5.9% of the world's population and stretch from
Madagascar to maritime Southeast Asia all the way to Oceania. It includes such languages as
Malagasy, Māori, Samoan, and many of the indigenous languages of Indonesia and Taiwan. The
Austronesian languages are considered to have originated in Taiwan around 3000 BC and spread
through the Oceanic region through island-hopping, based on an advanced nautical technology.
Other populous language families are the Dravidian languages of South Asia (among them Tamil
and Telugu), the Turkic languages of Central Asia (such as Turkish), the Austroasiatic (among
them Khmer), and Tai–Kadai languages of Southeast Asia (including Thai).
The areas of the world in which there is the greatest linguistic diversity, such as the Americas,
Papua New Guinea, West Africa, and South-Asia, contain hundreds of small language families.
These areas together account for the majority of the world's languages, though not the majority
of speakers. In the Americas, some of the largest language families include the Quechumaran,
Arawak, and Tupi-Guarani families of South America, the Uto-Aztecan, Oto-Manguean, and
Mayan of Mesoamerica, and the Na-Dene and Algonquian language families of North America.
In Australia, most indigenous languages belong to the Pama-Nyungan family, whereas Papua-
New Guinea is home to a large number of small families and isolates, as well as a number of
Austronesian languages.
Philosophy of language is concerned with four central problems: the nature of meaning, language
use, language cognition, and the relationship between language and reality. For continental
philosophers, however, the philosophy of language tends to be dealt with, not as a separate topic,
but as a part of logic (see the section "Language and continental philosophy" below).
First and foremost, philosophers of language prioritize their inquiry on the nature of meaning.
They seek to explain what it means to "mean" something. Topics in that vein include the nature
of synonymy, the origins of meaning itself, and how any meaning can ever really be known.
Another project under this heading of special interest to analytic philosophers of language is the
investigation into the manner in which sentences are composed into a meaningful whole out of
the meaning of its parts.
Secondly, they seek to better understand what speakers and listeners do with language in
communication, and how it is used socially. Specific interests may include the topics of language
learning, language creation, and speech acts.
Thirdly, they would like to know how language relates to the minds of both the speaker and the
interpreter. Of specific interest is the grounds for successful translation of words into other
Finally, philosophers of language investigate how language and meaning relate to truth and the
world. They tend to be less concerned with which sentences are actually true, and more with
what kinds of meanings can be true or false. A truth-oriented philosopher of language might
wonder whether or not a meaningless sentence can be true or false, or whether or not sentences
can express propositions about things that do not exist, rather than the way sentences are used.
Many aspects of the problem of the composition of sentences are addressed in the field of
linguistics of syntax. Philosophical semantics tends to focus on the principle of compositionality
to explain the relationship between meaningful parts and whole sentences. The principle of
compositionality asserts that a sentence can be understood on the basis of the meaning of the
parts of the sentence (i.e., words, morphemes) along with an understanding of its structure (i.e.,
syntax, logic).
35. It is possible to use the concept of functions to describe more than just how lexical meanings
work: they can also be used to describe the meaning of a sentence. Take, for a moment, the
sentence "The horse is red". We may consider "the horse" to be the product of a propositional
function. A propositional function is an operation of language that takes an entity (in this case,
the horse) as an input and outputs a semantic fact (i.e., the proposition that is represented by
"The horse is red"). In other words, a propositional function is like an algorithm. The meaning of
"red" in this case is whatever takes the entity "the horse" and turns it into the statement, "The
horse is red."
Linguists have developed at least two general methods of understanding the relationship between
the parts of a linguistic string and how it is put together: syntactic and semantic trees. Syntactic
trees draw upon the words of a sentence with the grammar of the sentence in mind. Semantic
trees, on the other hand, focus upon the role of the meaning of the words and how those
meanings combine to provide insight onto the genesis of semantic facts.
Nature of Meaning
Generally speaking, there have been at least seven distinctive explanations of what a linguistic
"meaning" is. Each has been associated with its own body of literature.
1. Idea theories of meaning, most commonly associated with the British empiricist
tradition of Locke, Berkeley and Hume, claim that meanings are purely mental
contents provoked by signs. Although this view of meaning has been beset by a number
of problems from the beginning (see the main article for details), interest in it has been
renewed by some contemporary theorists under the guise of semantic internalism.
2. Truth-conditional theories hold meaning to be the conditions under which an expression
may be true or false. This tradition goes back at least to Frege and is associated with a
rich body of modern work, spearheaded by philosophers like Alfred Tarski and Donald
3. Theories of language use, for example theories by the later Wittgenstein, helped
inaugurate the idea of "meaning as use", and a communitarian view of language.
Wittgenstein was interested in the way in which the communities use language, and how
36. far it can be taken. It is also associated with P. F. Strawson, John Searle, Robert
Brandom, and others.
4. Constructivist theories of language are connected to the revolutionary idea claiming that
speech is not only passively describing a given reality, but it can change the (social)
reality it is describing through speech acts, which for linguistics was as revolutionary a
discovery as for physics was the discovery that measurement itself can change the
measured reality itself. Speech act theory was developed by J. L. Austin, although other
previous thinkers have had similar ideas.
5. Reference theories of meaning, also known collectively as semantic externalism, view
meaning to be equivalent to those things in the world that are actually connected to signs.
There are two broad subspecies of externalism: social and environmental. The first is
most closely associated with Tyler Burge and the second with Hilary Putnam, Saul
Kripke and others.Verificationist theories of meaning are generally associated with the
early 20th century movement of logical positivism. The traditional formulation of such a
theory is that the meaning of a sentence is its method of verification or falsification. In
this form, the thesis was abandoned after the acceptance by most philosophers of the
Duhem–Quine thesis of confirmation holism after the publication of Quine's Two
Dogmas of Empiricism. However, Michael Dummett has advocated a modified form of
verificationism since the 1970s. In this version, the comprehension (and hence meaning)
of a sentence consists in the hearer's ability to recognize the demonstration
(mathematical, empirical or other) of the truth of the sentence.
6. A pragmatist theory of meaning is any theory in which the meaning (or understanding) of
a sentence is determined by the consequences of its application. Dummett attributes such
a theory of meaning to Charles Sanders Peirce and other early 20th century American
Investigations into how language interacts with the world are called theories of reference.
Gottlob Frege was an advocate of a mediated reference theory. Frege divided the semantic
content of every expression, including sentences, into two components: sense and meaning. The
37. sense of a sentence is the thought that it expresses. Such a thought is abstract, universal and
objective. The sense of any sub-sentential expression consists in its contribution to the thought
that its embedding sentence expresses. Senses determine reference and are also the modes of
presentation of the objects to which expressions refer. Referents are the objects in the world that
words pick out. The senses of sentences are thoughts, while their referents are truth values (true
or false). The referents of sentences embedded in propositional attitude ascriptions and other
opaque contexts are their usual senses.
Bertrand Russell, in his later writings and for reasons related to his theory of acquaintance in
epistemology, held that the only directly referential expressions are, what he called, "logically
proper names". Logically proper names are such terms as I, now, here and other indexicals. He
viewed proper names of the sort described above as "abbreviated definite descriptions". Hence
Barack H. Obama may be an abbreviation for "the current President of the United States and
husband of Michelle Obama". Definite descriptions are denoting phrases (see On Denoting)
which are analyzed by Russell into existentially quantified logical constructions. Such phrases
denote in the sense that there is an object that satisfies the description. However, such objects are
not to be considered meaningful on their own, but have meaning only in the proposition
expressed by the sentences of which they are a part. Hence, they are not directly referential in the
same way as logically proper names, for Russell.
On Frege's account, any referring expression has a sense as well as a referent. Such a "mediated
reference" view has certain theoretical advantages over Mill's view. For example, co-referential
names, such as Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain, cause problems for a directly referential view
because it is possible for someone to hear "Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens" and be surprised –
thus, their cognitive content seems different.
Despite the differences between the views of Frege and Russell, they are generally lumped
together as descriptivists about proper names. Such descriptivism was criticized in Saul Kripke's
Naming and Necessity.
Kripke put forth what has come to be known as "the modal argument" (or "argument from
rigidity"). Consider the name Aristotle and the descriptions "the greatest student of Plato", "the
founder of logic" and "the teacher of Alexander". Aristotle obviously satisfies all of the
38. descriptions (and many of the others we commonly associate with him), but it is not necessarily
true that if Aristotle existed then Aristotle was any one, or all, of these descriptions. Aristotle
may well have existed without doing any single one of the things for which he is known to
posterity. He may have existed and not have become known to posterity at all or he may have
died in infancy. Suppose that Aristotle is associated by Mary with the description ―the last great
philosopher of antiquity‖ and (the actual) Aristotle died in infancy. Then Mary’s description
would seem to refer to Plato. But this is deeply counterintuitive. Hence, names are rigid
designators, according to Kripke. That is, they refer to the same individual in every possible
world in which that individual exists. In the same work, Kripke articulated several other
arguments against "Frege-Russell" descriptivism..
Language And Thought
An important problem which touches both philosophy of language and philosophy of mind is to
what extent language influences thought and vice-versa. There have been a number of different
perspectives on this issue, each offering a number of insights and suggestions.
Linguists Sapir and Whorf suggested that language limited the extent to which members of a
"linguistic community" can think about certain subjects (a hypothesis paralleled in George
Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four). In other words, language was analytically prior to
thought. Philosopher Michael Dummett is also a proponent of the "language-first" viewpoint.
The stark opposite to the Sapir–Whorf position is the notion that thought (or, more broadly,
mental content) has priority over language. The "knowledge-first" position can be found, for
instance, in the work of Paul Grice. Further, this view is closely associated with Jerry Fodor and
his language of thought hypothesis. According to his argument, spoken and written language
derive their intentionality and meaning from an internal language encoded in the mind. The main
argument in favor of such a view is that the structure of thoughts and the structure of language
seem to share a compositional, systematic character. Another argument is that it is difficult to
explain how signs and symbols on paper can represent anything meaningful unless some sort of
meaning is infused into them by the contents of the mind. One of the main arguments against is
that such levels of language can lead to an infinite regress. In any case, many philosophers of
39. mind and language, such as Ruth Millikan, Fred Dretske and Fodor, have recently turned their
attention to explaining the meanings of mental contents and states directly.
Another tradition of philosophers has attempted to show that language and thought are
coextensive – that there is no way of explaining one without the other. Donald Davidson, in his
essay "Thought and Talk", argued that the notion of belief could only arise as a product of public
linguistic interaction. Daniel Dennett holds a similar interpretationist view of propositional
attitudes. To an extent, the theoretical underpinnings to cognitive semantics (including the notion
of semantic framing) suggest the influence of language upon thought. However, the same
tradition views meaning and grammar as a function of conceptualization, making it difficult to
assess in any straightfoward way.
Some thinkers, like the ancient sophist Gorgias, have questioned whether or not language was
capable of capturing thought at all.
―...speech can never exactly represent perciptibles, since it is different from them, and
perceptibles are apprehended each by the one kind of organ, speech by another. Hence, since the
objects of sight cannot be presented to any other organ but sight, and the different sense-organs
cannot give their information to one another, similarly speech cannot give any information about
perceptibles. Therefore, if anything exists and is comprehended, it is incommunicable. ‖
There are studies that prove that languages shape how people understand causality. Some of
them were performed by Lera Boroditsky. For example, English speakers tend to say things like
"John broke the vase" even for accidents. However, Spanish or Japanese speakers would be more
likely to say "the vase broke itself." In studies conducted by Caitlin Fausey at Stanford
University speakers of English, Spanish and Japanese watched videos of two people popping
balloons, breaking eggs and spilling drinks either intentionally or accidentally. Later everyone
was asked whether they could remember who did what. Spanish and Japanese speakers did not
remember the agents of accidental events as well as did English speakers. In another study,
English speakers watched the video of Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction",
accompanied by one of two written reports. The reports were identical except in the last sentence
where one used the agentive phrase "ripped the costume" while the other said "the costume
ripped." The people who read "ripped the costume" blamed Justin Timberlake more.
40. Russian speakers, who make an extra distinction between light and dark blue in their language,
are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue. The Piraha, a tribe in Brazil, whose
language has only terms like few and many instead of numerals, are not able to keep track of
exact quantities.
In one study German and Spanish speakers were asked to describe objects having opposite
gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way
predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a "key" — a word that is
masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use
words like "hard," "heavy," "jagged," "metal," "serrated," and "useful," whereas Spanish
speakers were more likely to say "golden," "intricate," "little," "lovely," "shiny," and "tiny." To
describe a "bridge," which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German
speakers said "beautiful," "elegant," "fragile," "peaceful," "pretty," and "slender," and the
Spanish speakers said "big," "dangerous," "long," "strong," "sturdy," and "towering." This was
the case even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender.
In a series of studies conducted by Gary Lupyan, people were asked to look at a series of images
of imaginary aliens. Whether each alien was friendly or hostile was determined by certain subtle
features but participants were not told what these were. They had to guess whether each alien
was friendly or hostile, and after each response they were told if they were correct or not, helping
them learn the subtle cues that distinguished friend from foe. A quarter of the participants were
told in advance that the friendly aliens were called "leebish" and the hostile ones "grecious",
while another quarter were told the opposite. For the rest, the aliens remained nameless. It was
found that participants who were given names for the aliens learned to categorize the aliens far
more quickly, reaching 80 per cent accuracy in less than half the time taken by those not told the
names. By the end of the test, those told the names could correctly categorize 88 per cent of
aliens, compared to just 80 per cent for the rest. It was concluded that naming objects helps us
categorize and memorize them.
In another series of experiments a group of people was asked to view furniture from an IKEA
catalog. Half the time they were asked to label the object - whether it was a chair or lamp, for
example - while the rest of the time they had to say whether or not they liked it. It was found that
when asked to label items, people were later less likely to recall the specific details of products,
41. such as whether a chair had arms or not. It was concluded that labeling objects helps our minds
build a prototype of the typical object in the group at the expense of individual features.
Mind and language
Innateness and learning
Some of the major issues at the intersection of philosophy of language and philosophy of mind
are also dealt with in modern psycholinguistics. Some important questions are How much of
language is innate? Is language acquisition a special faculty in the mind? What is the connection
between thought and language?
There are three general perspectives on the issue of language learning. The first is the behaviorist
perspective, which dictates that not only is the solid bulk of language learned, but it is learned
via conditioning. The second is the hypothesis testing perspective, which understands the child's
learning of syntactic rules and meanings to involve the postulation and testing of hypotheses,
through the use of the general faculty of intelligence. The final candidate for explanation is the
innatist perspective, which states that at least some of the syntactic settings are innate and
hardwired, based on certain modules of the mind.
There are varying notions of the structure of the brain when it comes to language. Connectionist
models emphasize the idea that a person's lexicon and their thoughts operate in a kind of
distributed, associative network. Nativist models assert that there are specialized devices in the
brain that are dedicated to language acquisition. Computation models emphasize the notion of a
representational language of thought and the logic-like, computational processing that the mind
performs over them. Emergentist models focus on the notion that natural faculties are a complex
system that emerge from simpler biological parts. Reductionist models attempt to explain higher-
level mental processes in terms of the basic low-level neurophysiological activity of the brain
Social Interaction and Language
42. A common claim is that language is governed by social conventions. Questions inevitably arise
on surrounding topics. One question is, "What exactly is a convention, and how do we study it?",
and second, "To what extent do conventions even matter in the study of language?" David
Kellogg Lewis proposed a worthy reply to the first question by expounding the view that a
convention is a rationally self-perpetuating regularity in behavior. However, this view seems to
compete to some extent with the Gricean view of speaker's meaning, requiring either one (or
both) to be weakened if both are to be taken as true. Some have questioned whether or not
conventions are relevant to the study of meaning at all. Noam Chomsky proposed that the study
of language could be done in terms of the I-Language, or internal language of persons. If this is
so, then it undermines the pursuit of explanations in terms of conventions, and relegates such
explanations to the domain of "meta-semantics". Metasemantics is a term used by philosopher of
language Robert Stainton to describe all those fields that attempt to explain how semantic facts
arise. One fruitful source of research involves investigation into the social conditions that give
rise to, or are associated with, meanings and languages. Etymology (the study of the origins of
words) and stylistics (philosophical argumentation over what makes "good grammar", relative to
a particular language) are two other examples of fields that are taken to be meta-semantic.
Not surprisingly, many separate (but related) fields have investigated the topic of linguistic
convention within their own research paradigms. The presumptions that prop up each theoretical
view are of interest to the philosopher of language. For instance, one of the major fields of
sociology, symbolic interactionism, is based on the insight that human social organization is
based almost entirely on the use of meanings.In consequence, any explanation of a social
structure (like an institution) would need to account for the shared meanings which create and
sustain the structure.
Rhetoric is the study of the particular words that people use to achieve the proper emotional and
rational effect in the listener, be it to persuade, provoke, endear, or teach. Some relevant
applications of the field include the examination of propaganda and didacticism, the examination
of the purposes of swearing and pejoratives (especially how it influences the behavior of others,
and defines relationships), or the effects of gendered language. It can also be used to study
linguistic transparency (or speaking in an accessible manner), as well as performative utterances
and the various tasks that language can perform (called "speech acts"). It also has applications to
43. the study and interpretation of law, and helps give insight to the logical concept of the domain of
Literary theory is a discipline that some literary theorists claim overlaps with the philosophy of
language. It emphasizes the methods that readers and critics use in understanding a text. This
field, an outgrowth of the study of how to properly interpret messages, is unsurprisingly closely
tied to the ancient discipline of hermeneutics.
Natural Language
This article is about natural language in neuropsychology and linguistics. For natural language in
computer systems, see Natural language processing.
In the philosophy of language, a natural language (or ordinary 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. Natural language is distinguished from constructed languages and formal
languages such as computer-programming languages or the "languages" used in the study of
formal logic, especially mathematical logic.
Defining Natural Language
Though the exact definition varies between scholars, natural language can broadly be defined in
contrast on the one hand to artificial or constructed languages, such as computer programming
languages like Python and international auxiliary languages like Esperanto, and on the other
hand to other communication systems in nature, such as the waggle dance of bees. Although
there are a variety of natural languages, any cognitively normal human infant is able to learn any
natural language. By comparing the different natural languages, scholars hope to learn something
about the nature of human intelligence and the innate biases and constraints that shape natural
language, which are sometimes called universal grammar.
The term "natural language" refers only a language that has developed naturally, and hence to
actual speech, rather than prescribed speech. Hence, unstandardized speech (such as African