Language is a system that consists of the development, acquisition,
maintenance and use of complex systems of communication, particularly
the human ability to do so; and a language is any specific example of
such a system.
The scientific study of language is called linguistics. Questions
concerning the philosophy of language, such as whether words can
represent experience, have been debated at least since
Plato in ancient Greece. Thinkers such as
Rousseau have argued that
language originated from emotions while others like Kant have held
that it originated from rational and logical thought. 20th-century
philosophers such as Wittgenstein argued that philosophy is really the
study of language. Major figures in linguistics include Ferdinand de
Saussure and Noam Chomsky.
Estimates of the number of human languages in the world vary between
5,000 and 7,000. However, any precise estimate depends on a partly
arbitrary distinction between languages and dialects. Natural
languages are spoken or signed, but any language can be encoded into
secondary media using auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli –
for example, in whistling, signed, or braille. This is because human
language is modality-independent. Depending on philosophical
perspectives regarding the definition of language and meaning, when
used as a general concept, "language" may refer to the cognitive
ability to learn and use systems of complex communication, or to
describe the set of rules that makes up these systems, or the set of
utterances that can be produced from those rules. All languages rely
on the process of semiosis to relate signs to particular meanings.
Oral, manual and tactile languages contain a phonological system that
governs how symbols are used to form sequences known as words or
morphemes, and a syntactic system that governs how words and morphemes
are combined to form phrases and utterances.
Human language has the properties of productivity and displacement,
and relies entirely on social convention and learning. Its complex
structure affords a much wider range of expressions than any known
system of animal communication.
Language is thought to have originated
when early hominins started gradually changing their primate
communication systems, acquiring the ability to form a theory of other
minds and a shared intentionality. This development is sometimes
thought to have coincided with an increase in brain volume, and many
linguists see the structures of language as having evolved to serve
specific communicative and social functions.
Language is processed in
many different locations in the human brain, but especially in Broca's
and Wernicke's areas. Humans acquire language through social
interaction in early childhood, and children generally speak fluently
by approximately three years old. The use of language is deeply
entrenched in human culture. Therefore, in addition to its strictly
communicative uses, language also has many social and cultural uses,
such as signifying group identity, social stratification, as well as
social grooming and entertainment.
Languages evolve and diversify over time, and the history of their
evolution can be reconstructed by comparing modern languages to
determine which traits their ancestral languages must have had in
order for the later developmental stages to occur. A group of
languages that descend from a common ancestor is known as a language
family. The Indo-European family is the most widely spoken and
includes languages as diverse as English, Russian and Hindi; the
Sino-Tibetan family, which includes Mandarin, Bodo and the other
Chinese languages, and Tibetan; the Afro-Asiatic family, which
includes Arabic, Somali, and Hebrew; the Bantu languages, which
include Swahili, and Zulu, and hundreds of other languages spoken
throughout Africa; and the Malayo-Polynesian languages, which include
Indonesian, Malay, Tagalog, and hundreds of other languages spoken
throughout the Pacific. The languages of the Dravidian family that are
spoken mostly in Southern
India include Tamil and Telugu. Academic
consensus holds that between 50% and 90% of languages spoken at the
beginning of the 21st century will probably have become extinct by the
1.1 Mental faculty, organ or instinct
1.2 Formal symbolic system
1.3 Tool for communication
1.4 Unique status of human language
3.2 Early history
3.3 Contemporary linguistics
4 Physiological and neural architecture of language and speech
4.1 The brain
4.2 Anatomy of speech
5.2 Sounds and symbols
5.3.1 Grammatical categories
5.4 Typology and universals
6 Social contexts of use and transmission
6.1 Usage and meaning
6.4 Writing, literacy and technology
7 Linguistic diversity
7.1 Languages and dialects
Language families of the world
8 See also
9.1 Commentary notes
10 Works cited
11 External links
Main article: Philosophy of language
The English word language derives ultimately from Proto-Indo-European
*dn̥ǵʰwéh₂s "tongue, speech, language" through
"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 formally defined computer
languages used for computer programming. Unlike conventional human
languages, a formal language in this sense is a system of signs for
encoding and decoding information. This article specifically concerns
the properties of natural human language as it is studied in the
discipline of linguistics.
As an object of linguistic study, "language" has two primary meanings:
an abstract concept, and a specific linguistic system, e.g. "French".
The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, who defined the modern
discipline of linguistics, first explicitly formulated the distinction
using the French word langage for language as a concept, langue as a
specific instance of a language system, and parole for the concrete
usage of speech in a particular language.
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 also inform different and often incompatible
schools of linguistic theory. Debates about the nature and origin
of language go back to the ancient world. Greek philosophers such as
Plato debated the relation between words, concepts and
Gorgias argued that language could represent neither the
objective experience nor human experience, and that communication and
truth were therefore impossible.
Plato maintained that communication
is possible because language represents ideas and concepts that exist
independently of, and prior to, language.
During the Enlightenment and its debates about human origins, it
became fashionable to speculate about the origin of language. Thinkers
Rousseau and Herder argued that language had originated in the
instinctive expression of emotions, and that it was originally closer
to music and poetry than to the logical expression of rational
thought. Rationalist philosophers such as Kant and Descartes held the
opposite view. Around the turn of the 20th century, thinkers began to
wonder about the role of language in shaping our experiences of the
world – asking whether language simply reflects the objective
structure of the world, or whether it creates concepts that it in turn
imposes on our experience of the objective world. This led to the
question of whether philosophical problems are really firstly
linguistic problems. The resurgence of the view that language plays a
significant role in the creation and circulation of concepts, and that
the study of philosophy is essentially the study of language, is
associated with what has been called the linguistic turn and
philosophers such as Wittgenstein in 20th-century philosophy. These
debates about language in relation to meaning and reference, cognition
and consciousness remain active today.
Mental faculty, organ or instinct
One definition sees language primarily as the mental faculty that
allows humans to undertake linguistic behaviour: to learn languages
and to produce and understand utterances. This definition stresses the
universality of language to all humans, and it emphasizes the
biological basis for the human capacity for language as a unique
development of the human brain. Proponents of the view that the drive
to language acquisition is innate in humans argue that this is
supported by the fact that all cognitively normal children raised in
an environment where language is accessible will acquire language
without formal instruction. Languages may even develop spontaneously
in environments where people live or grow up together without a common
language; for example, creole languages and spontaneously developed
sign languages such as Nicaraguan Sign Language. This view, which can
be traced back to the philosophers Kant and Descartes, understands
language to be largely innate, for example, in Chomsky's theory of
Universal Grammar, or American philosopher Jerry Fodor's extreme
innatist theory. These kinds of definitions are often applied in
studies of language within a cognitive science framework and in
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 many approaches to language.
Some proponents of Saussure's view of language have advocated a formal
approach which studies language structure by identifying its basic
elements and then by presenting a formal account of the rules
according to which the elements combine in order to form words and
sentences. The main proponent of such a theory is Noam Chomsky, the
originator of the generative theory of grammar, who has defined
language as the construction of sentences that can be generated using
transformational grammars. Chomsky considers these rules to be an
innate feature of the human mind and to constitute the rudiments of
what language is. By way of contrast, such transformational
grammars are also commonly used to provide formal definitions of
language are commonly used in formal logic, in formal theories of
grammar, and in applied computational linguistics. In the
philosophy of language, the view of linguistic meaning as residing in
the logical relations between propositions and reality was developed
by philosophers such as Alfred Tarski, Bertrand Russell, and other
Tool for communication
A conversation in American Sign Language
Yet another definition sees language as a system of communication that
enables humans to exchange verbal or symbolic utterances. This
definition stresses the social functions of language and the fact that
humans use it to express themselves and to manipulate objects in their
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, the view of pragmatics as being central to
language and meaning is often associated with Wittgenstein's later
works and with ordinary language philosophers such as J. L. Austin,
Paul Grice, John Searle, and W. O. Quine.
Unique status of human language
Animal language and
Great ape language
A number of features, many of which were described by Charles Hockett
and called design features set human language apart from other
known systems of communication, such as those used by non-human
Communication systems used by other animals such as bees or apes are
closed systems that consist of a finite, usually very limited, number
of possible ideas that can be expressed. In contrast, human
language is open-ended and productive, meaning that it allows humans
to produce a vast range of utterances from a finite set of elements,
and to create new words and sentences. This is possible because human
language is based on a dual code, in which a finite number of elements
which are meaningless in themselves (e.g. sounds, letters or gestures)
can be combined to form an infinite number of larger units of meaning
(words and sentences). However, one study has demonstrated that an
Australian bird, the chestnut-crowned babbler, is capable of using the
same acoustic elements in different arrangements to create two
functionally distinct vocalizations. Additionally, pied babblers
have demonstrated the ability to generate two functionally distinct
vocalisations composed of the same sound type, which can only be
distinguished by the number of repeated elements.
Several species of animals have proved to be able to acquire forms of
communication through social learning: for instance a bonobo named
Kanzi learned to express itself using a set of symbolic lexigrams.
Similarly, many species of birds and whales learn their songs by
imitating other members of their species. However, while some animals
may acquire large numbers of words and symbols,[note 1] none have been
able to learn as many different signs as are generally known by an
average 4 year old human, nor have any acquired anything resembling
the complex grammar of human language.
Human languages also differ from animal communication systems in that
they employ grammatical and semantic categories, such as noun and
verb, present and past, which may be used to express exceedingly
Human language is also unique in having the
property of recursivity: for example, a noun phrase can contain
another noun phrase (as in "[[the chimpanzee]'s lips]") or a clause
can contain another clause (as in "[I see [the dog is running]]").
Human language is also the only known natural communication system
whose adaptability may be referred to as modality independent. This
means that it can be used not only for communication through one
channel or medium, but through several. For example, spoken language
uses the auditive modality, whereas sign languages and writing use the
visual modality, and braille writing uses the tactile modality.
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
Origin of language
Origin of language and Origin of speech
See also: Proto-
"The Tower of Babel" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Oil on board, 1563.
Humans have speculated about the origins of language throughout
history. The Biblical myth of the
Tower of Babel
Tower of Babel is one such account;
other cultures have different stories of how language arose.
Theories about the origin of language differ in regard 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
One 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 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 in primates: either 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 is archaeologist Steven Mithen. Stephen Anderson states that
the age of spoken languages is estimated at 60,000 to 100,000
years and that:
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 language emerged in the early prehistory of man, before the
existence of any written records, its early development has left no
historical traces, and it is believed that 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.
And early human fossils can be inspected for traces of physical
adaptation to language use or pre-linguistic forms of symbolic
behaviour. Among the signs in human fossils that may suggest
linguistic abilities are: the size of the brain relative to body mass,
the presence of a larynx capable of advanced sound production and the
nature of tools and other manufactured artifacts.
It was mostly undisputed that pre-human australopithecines did not
have communication systems significantly different from those found in
great apes in general. However, a 2017 study on Ardipithecus ramidus
challenges this belief. 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)
Homo heidelbergensis (0.6 million years ago), and the development
of language proper with Anatomically Modern
Homo sapiens with the
Upper Paleolithic revolution less than 100,000 years ago.
William Jones discovered the family relation between
Sanskrit, laying the ground for the discipline of historical
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure developed the structuralist approach to studying
Noam Chomsky is one of the most important linguistic theorists of the
Linguistics and History of linguistics
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, after the development of the Brahmi
script. Modern 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 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.
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).
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
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.[note 2] 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 at
an early stage: the only gene that has definitely been implicated in
language production is FOXP2, which may cause a kind of congenital
language disorder if affected by mutations.
Language processing in the brain
Language Areas of the brain. The
Angular Gyrus is represented in
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
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 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, 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.
With technological advances in the late 20th century, neurolinguists
have also incorporated 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
The human vocal tract.
Spectrogram of American English vowels [i, u, ɑ] showing the formants
f1 and f2
Real time MRI scan of a person speaking in Mandarin Chinese
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
Spectrogram of the formant structures of three English vowels).
Formants are the amplitude peaks in the frequency spectrum of a
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 [i] (English "ee"), or open when the lips are relatively
open, as in the vowel [a] (English "ah"). If the tongue is located
towards the back of the mouth, the quality changes, creating vowels
such as [u] (English "oo"). The quality also changes depending on
whether the lips are rounded as opposed to unrounded, creating
distinctions such as that between [i] (unrounded front vowel such as
English "ee") and [y] (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 [s] in bus (unvoiced
sibilant) from [z] 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.
Ancient Tamil inscription at Thanjavur
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
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
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
A spectrogram showing the sound of the spoken English word "man",
which is written phonetically as [mæn]. Note that in flowing speech,
there is no clear division between segments, only a smooth transition
as the vocal apparatus moves.
The syllable "wi" in the
The sign for "wi" in
Korean Sign Language (see Korean manual alphabet)
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 [bæt] and pat [pʰæt] 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] (if they both occur) could 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 like Korean and
Hindi do: the
unaspirated /p/ in spin [spɪn] and the aspirated /p/ in pin [pʰɪn]
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 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
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
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.
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.
Main article: Grammar
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.
Main article: Grammatical category
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.
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".
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 an infinite number of adjectives can be
constructed from verbs (e.g. "saddened") or nouns (e.g. with the -like
suffix, as in "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.
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 like "and" that serve to join two sentences, articles
that introduce a noun, interjections such as "wow!", or ideophones
like "splash" 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 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 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, "negation.understand.past.I.it". As another example with
more complexity, in the Yupik word tuntussuqatarniksatengqiggtuq,
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,
and except for the morpheme tuntu ("reindeer") none of the other
morphemes can appear in isolation.
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"
Main article: Syntax
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 predicate.
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.[note 3]
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?", 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
Linguistic typology and Linguistic universal
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 d̪uyugu
n̪ama d̪ayn yiːy (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.
All languages structure sentences into Subject, Verb, and Object, but
languages differ in the way they classify the relations between actors
and actions. English uses the nominative-accusative word typology: in
English transitive clauses, the subjects of both intransitive
sentences ("I run") and transitive sentences ("I love you") are
treated in the same way, shown here by the nominative pronoun I. Some
languages, called ergative, Gamilaraay among them, distinguish instead
between Agents and Patients. 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". 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 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 solve.
Social contexts of use and transmission
Wall of Love
Wall of Love in Paris, where the phrase "I love you" is featured
in 250 languages of the world
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
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 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 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
Main article: Pragmatics
The semantic study of meaning assumes that meaning is 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 position 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
Deixis is an important part of the way that we use
language to point out entities in the world.
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 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 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
Language acquisition, Second-language acquisition,
Second language, and
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
Charles Darwin called this process "an instinctive
tendency to acquire an art".
A lesson at Kituwah Academy on the
Qualla Boundary in North Carolina,
Cherokee language is the medium of instruction from
pre-school on up and students learn it as a first language
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, he or
she 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. Studies published in 2013 have
indicated that unborn fetuses are capable of language acquisition to
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 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.
Arnold Lakhovsky, The Conversation (c. 1935)
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 differ not only in
pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, but also through having
different "cultures of speaking." Humans use language as a way of
signalling identity with one cultural group as well as 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 people 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 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 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 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
Writing and Literacy
An inscription of Swampy Cree using Canadian Aboriginal syllabics, an
abugida developed by Christian missionaries for Indigenous Canadian
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 registers 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
The invention of the first writing systems is roughly contemporary
with the beginning of the
Bronze Age in 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
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 and Grammaticalization
The first page of the poem Beowulf, written in
Old English in the
early medieval period (800–1100 AD). Although
Old English is the
direct ancestor of modern English, it is 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 inevitable.
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 had
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
Italic languages such as
Latin have p in words like pater
and pisces, whereas Germanic languages, like English, have father and
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
Latin mea domina to eventually become the French madame and
American English ma'am.
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? [ˈkomo te ˈjamas] in Standard Spanish, but [ˈkomo ˈtu
te ˈjama] in Caribbean Spanish. The simple sound change has affected
both morphology and syntax. 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 through patterns of
change that cause some 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.
Main article: language contact
One important source of language change is contact and resulting
diffusion of linguistic traits between languages.
occurs when speakers of two or more languages or varieties interact on
a regular basis.
Multilingualism is likely to have been the norm
throughout human history and most people in the modern 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 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
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.
Lists of languages and List of languages by total number of
329 [note 4]
SIL Ethnologue defines a "living language" as "one that has at least
one speaker for whom it is their first language". The exact number of
known living languages varies from 6,000 to 7,000, depending on the
precision of one's definition of "language", and in particular, on how
one defines the distinction between languages and dialects. As of
2016, Ethnologue cataloged 7,097 living human languages. The
Ethnologue establishes linguistic groups based on studies of mutual
intelligibility, and therefore often includes more categories than
more conservative classifications. For example, the Danish language
that most scholars consider a single language with several dialects is
classified as two distinct languages (Danish and Jutish) by the
According to the Ethnologue, 389 languages (nearly 6%) have more than
a million speakers. These languages together account for 94% of the
world's population, whereas 94% of the world's languages account for
the remaining 6% of the global population. To the right is a table of
the world's 10 most spoken languages with population estimates from
the Ethnologue (2009 figures).
Languages and dialects
Dialect or language
Multi-lingual sign outside the mayor's office in Novi Sad, written in
the four official languages of the city: Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak,
and Pannonian Rusyn
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
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
Language families of the world
Language family, Dialectology, Historical linguistics,
and List of language families
Principal language families of the world (and in some cases geographic
groups of families). For greater detail, see Distribution of languages
in the world.
The world's languages can be grouped into language families consisting
of languages that can be shown to have common ancestry. Linguists
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 are Basque,
spoken in Europe, Zuni of New Mexico, Purépecha 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
politically and often numerically dominant position in the Americas
and much of Africa. The
Sino-Tibetan languages are spoken by 20%
of the world's population and include many of the languages of East
Asia, including Hakka, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, and hundreds of
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 6.9% of the world's population. A similar
number of people speak the Afroasiatic languages, which include the
Semitic languages such as Arabic, Hebrew language, and the
languages of the
Sahara region, such as the
Berber languages and
Austronesian languages are spoken by 5.5% 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
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
Kannada 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, Iroquoian, and Algonquian language
families of North America. In Australia, most indigenous languages
belong to the Pama-Nyungan family, whereas New Guinea is home to a
large number of small families and isolates, as well as a number of
Main articles: Endangered language,
Language shift, and
Together, the eight countries in red contain more than 50% of the
world's languages. The areas in blue are the most linguistically
diverse in the world, and the locations of most of the world's
Language endangerment occurs when a language is at risk of falling out
of use as its speakers die out or shift to speaking another language.
Language loss occurs when the language has no more native speakers,
and becomes a dead language. If eventually no one speaks the language
at all, it becomes an extinct language. While languages have always
gone extinct throughout human history, they have been disappearing at
an accelerated rate in the 20th and 21st centuries due to the
processes of globalization and neo-colonialism, where the economically
powerful languages dominate other languages.
The more commonly spoken languages dominate the less commonly spoken
languages, so the less commonly spoken languages eventually disappear
from populations. The total number of languages in the world is not
known. Estimates vary depending on many factors. The consensus is that
there are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages spoken as of 2010,
and that between 50–90% of those will have become extinct by the
year 2100. The top 20 languages, those spoken by more than 50
million speakers each, are spoken by 50% of the world's population,
whereas many of the other languages are spoken by small communities,
most of them with less than 10,000 speakers.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO) operates with five levels of language endangerment: "safe",
"vulnerable" (not spoken by children outside the home), "definitely
endangered" (not spoken by children), "severely endangered" (only
spoken by the oldest generations), and "critically endangered" (spoken
by few members of the oldest generation, often semi-speakers).
Notwithstanding claims that the world would be better off if most
adopted a single common lingua franca, such as English or Esperanto,
there is a consensus that the loss of languages harms the cultural
diversity of the world. It is a common belief, going back to the
biblical narrative of the tower of Babel in the Old Testament, that
linguistic diversity causes political conflict, but this is
contradicted by the fact that many of the world's major episodes of
violence have taken place in situations with low linguistic diversity,
such as the Yugoslav and American Civil War, or the genocide of
Rwanda, whereas many of the most stable political units have been
Many projects aim to prevent or slow this loss by revitalizing
endangered languages and promoting education and literacy in minority
languages. Across the world, many countries have enacted specific
legislation to protect and stabilize the language of indigenous speech
communities. A minority of linguists have argued that language loss is
a natural process that should not be counteracted, and that
documenting endangered languages for posterity is sufficient.
Category:Lists of languages
International auxiliary language
List of language regulators
List of official languages
Outline of linguistics
Problem of religious language
Father Tongue hypothesis
^ The gorilla Koko reportedly uses as many as 1000 words in American
Sign Language, and understands 2000 words of spoken English. There are
some doubts about whether her use of signs is based on complex
understanding or simple conditioning; Candland (1993).
^ "Functional grammar analyzes grammatical structure, as do formal and
structural grammar; but it also analyzes the entire communicative
situation: the purpose of the speech event, its participants, its
discourse context. Functionalists maintain that the communicative
situation motivates, constrains, explains, or otherwise determines
grammatical structure, and that a structural or formal approaches not
merely limited to an artificially restricted data base, but is
inadequate even as a structural account. Functional grammar, then,
differs from formal and structural grammar in that it purports not to
model but to explain; and the explanation is grounded in the
communicative situation"; Nichols (1984)
^ The prefixed asterisk * conventionally indicates that the sentence
is ungrammatical, i.e. syntactically incorrect.
^ Ethnologue's figure is based on numbers from before 1995. A more
recent figure is 420 million; "Primer estudio conjunto del Instituto
Cervantes y el British Council sobre el peso internacional del
español y del inglés". Instituto Cervantes (www.cervantes.es).
^ Tomasello (1996)
^ a b Hauser, Chomsky & Fitch (2002)
^ "language". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
(3rd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1992.
^ Lyons (1981:2)
^ Lyons (1981:1–8)
^ Trask (2007):129–31
^ Bett 2010.
^ Devitt & Sterelny 1999.
^ Hauser & Fitch (2003)
^ a b c Pinker (1994)
^ Trask 2007, p. 93.
^ a b Saussure (1983)
^ Campbell (2001:96)
^ Trask 2007, p. 130.
^ Chomsky (1957)
^ Trask (2007:93, 130)
^ a b c d Newmeyer (1998:3–6)
^ a b c Evans & Levinson (2009)
^ Van Valin (2001)
^ Nerlich 2010, p. 192.
^ Hockett, Charles F. The Problem of Universals in Language. 1966.
Retrieved from "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10
November 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
^ Hockett (1960); Deacon (1997)
^ a b Trask (1999):1–5
^ Engesser, Sabrina; Crane, Jodie S.; Savage, James L.; Russel, Andrew
F.; Townsend, Simon W. (29 June 2015). "Experimental Evidence for
Phonemic Contrasts in a Nonhuman Vocal System". PLOS Biology. 13 (6):
e1002171. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002171. PMC 4488142 .
PMID 26121619. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
^ Engesser, Sabrina; Ridley, Amanda R.; Townsend, Simon W. (20 July
2017). "Element repetition rates encode functionally distinct
information in pied babbler 'clucks' and 'purrs'". Animal Cognition.
20 (5): 953–960. doi:10.1007/s10071-017-1114-6. PMID 28730513.
Retrieved 18 August 2017.
^ a b Deacon (1997)
^ Trask (2007:165–66)
^ a b Haugen (1973)
^ a b Ulbaek (1998)
^ a b Chomsky 2000, p. 4.
^ Tomasello (2008)
^ Fitch 2010, pp. 466–507.
^ Anderson (2012:107)
^ Anderson (2012:104)
^ Fitch 2010, pp. 250–92.
^ Clark, Gary; Henneberg, Maciej (2017). "Ardipithecus ramidus and the
evolution of language and singing: An early origin for hominin vocal
capability". HOMO. 68 (2): 101–121. doi:10.1016/j.jchb.2017.03.001.
^ Foley 1997, pp. 70–74.
^ Fitch 2010, pp. 292–93.
^ Newmeyer (2005)
^ Trask (2007)
^ Campbell (2001:82–83)
^ Bloomfield 1914, p. 310
^ Clarke (1990):143–44
^ Foley (1997:82–83)
^ Croft & Cruse (2004:1–4)
^ Trask (1999:11–14, 105–13)
^ Fisher, Lai & Monaco (2003)
^ a b Lesser (1989:205–06)
^ Trask (1999:105–07)
^ Trask (1999:108)
^ Sandler & Lillo-Martin (2001:554)
^ MacMahon (1989:2)
^ a b c d MacMahon (1989:3)
^ a b
International Phonetic Association
International Phonetic Association (1999:3–8)
^ MacMahon (1989:11–15)
^ MacMahon (1989:6–11)
^ a b Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996)
^ a b Lyons (1981:17–24)
^ Trask (1999:35)
^ Lyons (1981:218–24)
^ a b Levinson (1983)
^ Goldsmith (1995)
International Phonetic Association
International Phonetic Association (1999)
International Phonetic Association
International Phonetic Association (1999:27)
^ a b Trask (2007:214)
International Phonetic Association
International Phonetic Association (1999:4)
^ Stokoe, William C. (1960). Sign
Language Structure: An Outline of
Communication Systems of the American Deaf, Studies in
linguistics: Occasional papers (No. 8). Buffalo: Dept. of Anthropology
and Linguistics, University of Buffalo.
^ Stokoe, William C.; Dorothy C. Casterline; Carl G. Croneberg (1965).
A dictionary of American sign languages on linguistic principles.
Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet College Press
^ Sandler & Lillo-Martin (2001:539–40)
^ Trask (2007:326)
^ a b Coulmas (2002)
^ Trask (2007:123)
^ Lyons (1981:103)
^ Allerton (1989)
^ Payne (1997)
^ Trask (2007:208)
^ Trask (2007:305)
^ Senft (2008)
^ Aronoff & Fudeman (2011:1–2)
^ Bauer (2003); Haspelmath (2002)
^ Payne (1997:28–29)
^ Trask (2007:11)
^ Baker (2001:265)
^ Trask (2007:179)
^ Baker 2001, pp. 269–70.
^ a b Trask (2007:218–19)
^ Nichols (1992);Comrie (1989)
^ a b Croft (2001:340)
^ Greenberg (1966)
^ Comrie (2009:45); MacMahon (1994:156)
^ Croft (2001:355)
^ "Wall of Love – Mur des Je t'aime – Montmartre".
Travel France Online. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
^ Campbell (2004)
^ Austin & Sallabank (2011)
^ Levinson (1983:54–96)
^ Levinson (1983:226–78)
^ Levinson (1983:100–69)
^ Bonvillian, John D.; Michael D. Orlansky; Leslie Lazin Novack
(December 1983). "Developmental milestones:
Sign language acquisition
and motor development". Child Development. 54 (6): 1435–45.
doi:10.2307/1129806. PMID 6661942.
^ O'Grady, William; Cho, Sook Whan (2001). "First language
acquisition". Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction (fourth ed.).
Boston: Bedford St. Martin's.
^ Kennison (2013)
^ "First Impressions: We start to pick up words, food preferences and
hand-eye coordination long before being born", Scientific American,
vol. 313, no. 1 (July 2015), p. 24.
^ Beth Skwarecki, "Babies Learn to Recognize Words in the Womb",
Science, 26 August 2013 
^ Macaro, Ernesto, ed. (2010). Continuum companion to second language
acquisition. London: Continuum. pp. 137–57.
^ Duranti (2003)
^ Foley (1997)
^ Agha (2006)
^ Dixon (1972:32–34)
^ a b Foley (1997:311–28)
^ Olson (1996)
^ Aitchison (2001); Trask (1999:70)
^ Clackson (2007:27–33)
^ Aitchison (2001:112)
^ Zentella (2002:178)
^ Labov (1994)
^ Labov (2001)
^ Thomason (2001:1)
^ Romaine (2001:513)
^ Campbell (2002)
^ Aikhenvald (2001)
^ Thomason & Kaufman (1988); Thomason (2001); Matras & Bakker
^ a b c Lewis (2009)
^ "Ethnologue statistics". Summary by world area Ethnologue.
^ Rickerson, E.M. "What's the difference between dialect and
language?". The Five Minute Linguist. College of Charleston. Archived
from the original on 19 December 2010. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
^ Lyons (1981:26)
^ a b Katzner (1999)
^ a b c d Lewis (2009), "Summary by language family"
^ a b c Comrie (2009); Brown & Ogilvie (2008)
^ a b c Austin & Sallabank (2011)
^ Moseley (2010): "Statistics"
^ Austin & Sallabank (2011:10–11)
^ Ladefoged (1992)
Agha, Agha (2006).
Language and Social Relations. Cambridge University
Aikhenvald, Alexandra (2001). "Introduction". In Alexandra Y.
Aikhenvald; R. M. W. Dixon. Areal diffusion and genetic inheritance:
problems in comparative linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Aitchison, Jean (2001).
Language Change: Progress or Decay? (3rd (1st
edition 1981) ed.). Cambridge, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge
Allerton, D. J. (1989). "
Language as Form and Pattern:
Grammar and its
Categories". In Collinge, N.E. An Encyclopedia of Language.
Anderson, Stephen (2012). Languages: A Very Short Introduction.
Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-959059-9.
Aronoff, Mark; Fudeman, Kirsten (2011). What is Morphology. John Wiley
Austin, Peter K; Sallabank, Julia (2011). "Introduction". In Austin,
Peter K; Sallabank, Julia. Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages.
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-88215-6.
Baker, Mark C. (2001). "Syntax". In Mark Aronoff; Janie Rees-Miller.
The Handbook of Linguistics. Blackwell. pp. 265–95.
Bauer, Laurie (2003). Introducing linguistic morphology (2nd ed.).
Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
Bett, R. (2010). "
Plato and his Predecessors". In Alex Barber &
Robert J Stainton (eds.). Concise Encyclopedia of Philosophy of
Language and Linguistics. Elsevier. pp. 569–70. CS1 maint:
Extra text: editors list (link)
Bloomfield, Leonard (1914). An introduction to the study of language.
New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Brown, Keith; Ogilvie, Sarah, eds. (2008). Concise Encyclopedia of
Languages of the World. Elsevier Science.
Clackson, James (2007). Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction.
Cambridge University press.
Campbell, Lyle (2002). "Areal linguistics". In Bernard Comrie, Neil J.
Smelser and Paul B. Balte. International Encyclopedia of Social and
Behavioral Sciences. Oxford: Pergamon. pp. 729–33.
Campbell, Lyle (2004). Historical Linguistics: an Introduction (2nd
ed.). Edinburgh and Cambridge, MA: Edinburgh University Press and MIT
Campbell, Lyle (2001). "The History of Linguistics". In Mark Aronoff;
Janie Rees-Miller. The Handbook of Linguistics. Blackwell.
Candland, Douglas Keith (1993). Feral Children and Clever Animals:
Human Nature. Oxford University Press US.
pp. 293–301. ISBN 0-19-510284-3.
Chomsky, Noam (1957). Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton.
Chomsky, Noam (2000). The Architecture of Language. Oxford: Oxford
Clarke, David S. (1990). Sources of semiotic: readings with commentary
from antiquity to the present. Carbondale: Southern Illinois
Comrie, Bernard (1989).
Language universals and linguistic typology:
Syntax and morphology (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Comrie, Bernard, ed. (2009). The World's Major Languages. New York:
Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-35339-7.
Coulmas, Florian (2002).
Writing Systems: An Introduction to Their
Linguistic Analysis. Cambridge University Press.
Croft, William; Cruse, D. Alan (2004).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Croft, William (2001). "Typology". In Mark Aronoff; Janie Rees-Miller.
The Handbook of Linguistics. Blackwell. pp. 81–105.
Crystal, David (1997). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cysouw, Michael; Good, Jeff (2013). "Languoid, doculect and glossonym:
Formalizing the notion 'language'".
Language Documentation and
Conservation. 7: 331–59.
Deacon, Terrence (1997). The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of
Language and the Brain. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Devitt, Michael; Sterelny, Kim (1999).
Language and Reality: An
Introduction to the Philosophy of Language. Boston: MIT Press.
Dixon, Robert M. W. (1972). The Dyirbal
Language of North Queensland.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-08510-1.
Duranti, Alessandro (2003). "
Culture in U.S. Anthropology:
Three Paradigms". Current Anthropology. 44 (3): 323–48.
Evans, Nicholas; Levinson, Stephen C. (2009). "The myth of language
Language diversity and its importance for cognitive
science". Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 32 (5): 429–92.
"First Impressions: We start to pick up words, food preferences and
hand-eye coordination long before being born", Scientific American,
vol. 313, no. 1 (July 2015), p. 24.
Fisher, Simon E.; Lai, Cecilia S.L.; Monaco, Anthony P. (2003).
"Deciphering the Genetic Basis of
Annual Review of Neuroscience. 26: 57–80.
doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.26.041002.131144. PMID 12524432.
Fitch, W. Tecumseh (2010). The
Evolution of Language. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Foley, William A. (1997). Anthropological Linguistics: An
Goldsmith, John A (1995). "Phonological Theory". In John A. Goldsmith.
The Handbook of Phonological Theory. Blackwell Handbooks in
Linguistics. Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 1-4051-5768-2.
Greenberg, Joseph (1966).
Language Universals: With
to Feature Hierarchies. The Hague: Mouton & Co.
Haspelmath, Martin (2002). Understanding morphology. London: Arnold,
Oxford University Press. (pbk)
Haugen, Einar (1973). "The Curse of Babel". Daedalus. 102 (3, Language
Human Problem): 47–57.
Hauser, Marc D.; Chomsky, Noam; Fitch, W. Tecumseh (2002). "The
Faculty of Language: What Is It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve?".
Science. 298 (5598): 1569–79. doi:10.1126/science.298.5598.1569.
Hauser, Marc D.; Fitch, W. Tecumseh (2003). "What are the uniquely
human components of the language faculty?". In M.H. Christiansen and
Language Evolution: The States of the Art (PDF). Oxford
University Press. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 August
Hockett, Charles F. (1960). "Logical considerations in the study of
animal communication". In W.E. Lanyon; W.N. Tavolga. Animals sounds
and animal communication. pp. 392–430.
International Phonetic Association
International Phonetic Association (1999). Handbook of the
International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the
International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press. ISBN 0-521-65236-7.
Katzner, Kenneth (1999). The Languages of the World. New York:
Kennison, Shelia (2013). Introduction to
Labov, William (1994). Principles of Linguistic Change vol.I Internal
Labov, William (2001). Principles of Linguistic Change vol.II Social
Ladefoged, Peter (1992). "Another view of endangered languages".
Language. 68 (4): 809–11. doi:10.1353/lan.1992.0013.
Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The sounds of the world's
languages. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 329–30.
Lesser, Ruth (1989). "
Language in the Brain: Neurolinguistics". In
Collinge, N.E. An Encyclopedia of Language. London:NewYork:
Levinson, Stephen C. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge
Lewis, M. Paul (ed.) (2009). "Ethnologue: Languages of the World,
Sixteenth edition". Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. CS1 maint:
Extra text: authors list (link)
Lyons, John (1981).
Language and Linguistics. Cambridge University
Press. ISBN 0-521-29775-3.
Macaro, Ernesto, ed. (2010). Continuum companion to second language
acquisition. London: Continuum. pp. 137–57.
MacMahon, April M.S. (1994). Understanding
Language Change. Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 0-521-44119-6.
MacMahon, M.K.C. (1989). "
Language as available sound:Phonetics". In
Collinge, N.E. An Encyclopedia of Language. London:NewYork:
Matras, Yaron; Bakker, Peter, eds. (2003). The Mixed
Theoretical and Empirical Advances. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
Moseley, Christopher, ed. (2010). Atlas of the World's Languages in
Danger, 3rd edition. Paris:
Nerlich, B. (2010). "History of pragmatics". In L. Cummings. The
Pragmatics Encyclopedia. London/New York: Routledge.
Newmeyer, Frederick J. (2005). The History of Linguistics. Linguistic
Society of America. ISBN 0-415-11553-1.
Newmeyer, Frederick J. (1998).
Language Form and
(PDF). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Nichols, Johanna (1992). Linguistic diversity in space and time.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-58057-1.
Nichols, Johanna (1984). "Functional Theories of Grammar". Annual
Review of Anthropology. 13: 97–117.
Olson, David R. (1996). "
Language and Literacy: what writing does to
Language and Mind". Annual Review of Applied Linguistics. 16: 3–13.
Payne, Thomas Edward (1997). Describing morphosyntax: a guide for
field linguists. Cambridge University Press. pp. 238–41.
Pinker, Steven (1994). The
Language Instinct: How the
Romaine, Suzanne (2001). "Multilingualism". In Mark Aronoff; Janie
Rees-Miller. The Handbook of Linguistics. Blackwell.
Saussure, Ferdinand de (1983) . Bally, Charles; Sechehaye,
Albert, eds. Course in General Linguistics. Translated by Roy Harris.
La Salle, Illinois: Open Court. ISBN 0-8126-9023-0.
Sandler, Wendy; Lillo-Martin, Diane (2001). "Natural Sign Languages".
In Mark Aronoff; Janie Rees-Miller. The Handbook of Linguistics.
Blackwell. pp. 533–63.
Senft, Gunter, ed. (2008). Systems of Nominal Classification.
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-06523-8.
Swadesh, Morris (1934). "The phonemic principle". Language. 10 (2):
117–29. doi:10.2307/409603. JSTOR 409603.
Tomasello, Michael (1996). "The Cultural Roots of Language". In B.
Velichkovsky and D. Rumbaugh. Communicating Meaning: The
Development of Language. Psychology Press. pp. 275–308.
Tomasello, Michael (2008). Origin of
Human Communication. MIT
Thomason, Sarah G.; Kaufman, Terrence (1988).
Creolization and Genetic Linguistics. University of California
Thomason, Sarah G. (2001).
Language Contact – An Introduction.
Edinburgh University Press.
Trask, Robert Lawrence (1999). Language: The Basics (2nd ed.).
Trask, Robert Lawrence (2007). Stockwell, Peter, ed.
Linguistics: The Key Concepts (2nd ed.). Routledge.
Ulbaek, Ib (1998). "The Origin of
Language and Cognition". In J. R.
Hurford & C. Knight. Approaches to the evolution of language.
Cambridge University Press. pp. 30–43.
Van Valin, jr, Robert D. (2001). "Functional Linguistics". In Mark
Aronoff; Janie Rees-Miller. The Handbook of Linguistics. Blackwell.
Zentella, Ana Celia (2002). "Spanish in New York". In García, Ofelia;
Fishman, Joshua. The Multilingual Apple: Languages in New York City.
Walter de Gruyter.
Find more aboutLanguageat's sister projects
Definitions from Wiktionary
Media from Wikimedia Commons
News from Wikinews
Quotations from Wikiquote
Texts from Wikisource
Textbooks from Wikibooks
Travel guide from Wikivoyage
Learning resources from Wikiversity
Listen to this article (info/dl)
This audio file was created from a revision of the article "Language"
dated 2005-07-19, and does not reflect subsequent edits to the
article. (Audio help)
More spoken articles
World Atlas of
Language Structures: a large database of structural
(phonological, grammatical, lexical) properties of languages
Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a comprehensive catalog of all
of the world's known living languages
Beth Skwarecki, "Babies Learn to Recognize Words in the Womb",
Science, 26 August 2013 
Links to related articles
Countries and languages lists
Countries by spoken languages
Countries by the number of recognized official languages
Countries and capitals in native languages
Country names in various languages
Languages of the European Union
List of languages without official status
Countries by the number of recognized official languages
Languages by the number of countries in which they are recognized as
an official language
By number of native speakers
By number of total speakers
Languages in censuses
Arab League (Arabic)
Dutch Language Union
Dutch Language Union (Dutch)
English Speaking Union
Community of Portuguese Language Countries
Community of Portuguese Language Countries (Portuguese)
Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa (Portuguese)
Latin Union (Romance)
Turkic Council (Turkic)
International Organization of Turkic Culture (Turkic)
Lists of languages
Dyslexia and related specific developmental disorders (F80–F83, 315)
Expressive language disorder
Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder
Specific language impairment
Speech and language impairment
Speech sound disorder
Tip of the tongue
Dysgraphia (Disorder of written expression)
Developmental coordination disorder
Developmental verbal dyspraxia
Developmental verbal dyspraxia also known as Childhood apraxia of
Auditory processing disorder
Sensory processing disorder
Learning problems in childhood cancer
Management of dyslexia
Dyslexia in fiction
People with dyslexia
Phonologies of the world's languages
Regional North American
Spanish dialects and varieties
Philosophy of language
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Wilhelm von Humboldt
Ferdinand de Saussure
Benjamin Lee Whorf
J. L. Austin
A. J. Ayer
G. E. M. Anscombe
P. F. Strawson
Willard Van Orman Quine
Causal theory of reference
Contrast theory of meaning
Descriptivist theory of names
Direct reference theory
Mediated reference theory
Theory of descriptions
Principle of compositionality
Sense and reference
Philosophy of information
History of writing
History of the alphabet
Scripts in Unicode
Languages by writing system / by first written account
Undeciphered writing systems
Inventors of writing systems
Alphasyllabaries / Abugidas