Definition of Language
If you ask someone else what is the best way to communicate with yourself? Without any hesitation or hindrance, he will reply to you ‘definitely language’. So language is the most influential ways to communicate with each other. But many of us want to get the answer to the question ‘what is the definition of language’? In fact, everybody is capable of attempting this question and answering it somehow or other. Nonetheless, we are not able to find a single definition of language that has completely explained the phenomenon in that particular question and give us the satisfaction and stopped scholars, authors and linguists to define the exact answer of that question.
However, language is a complex human phenomenon as all attempts to define it has proved inadequate. In brief, we can say, language is an ‘original noise’ used in actual social situations by human beings. Language is basically a system of conventional, spoken or written symbols by means of which human beings are used to communicate with each other.
Let us now go through the definition of language delivered by different scholars, linguists, authors and reference books.
Definition of Language by Different scholars
Speech is the representation of the experience of the mind. That is according to Aristotle, language is a speech sound produced by human beings in order to express their ideas, emotions, thoughts, desires and feelings.
Language is an arbitrary system of signs constituted of the signifier and signified. In other words, language is first a system based on no logic or reason; secondly, the system covers both objects and expressions used for objects; and thirdly objects and expressions are arbitrarily linked; and finally, expressions include sounds and graphemes used by humans for generating speech and writing respectively for the purpose of communication.
According to Sapir, language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions, and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced sounds. The definition of Sapir expresses that language is mainly concerned with only human beings and constituted a system of sounds produced by them for communication.
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The totality of the utterances that can be made in a speech community is the language of that speech community. Bloomfield’s definition of language focuses on the utterances produced by all the people of a community, and hence overlooks writing. Besides, he stresses form, not meaning, as the basis of language.
Bloch and Trager
According to Bloch and Trager, a language is a system of arbitrary vocal sounds by means of a social group cooperates. In their definition of language, they point out that, language is an arbitrary system, vocal sounds, way of communication, and collectivity.
Noam Chomsky says the language is the inherent capability of the native speakers to understand and form grammatical sentences. A language is a set of (finite or infinite) sentences, each finite length and constructed out of a finite set of elements. This definition of language considers sentences as the basis of a language. Sentences may be limited or unlimited in number, and are made up of only limited components.
Derbyshire says the language is undoubtedly a kind of means of communication among human beings. It consists primarily of vocal sounds. It is articulatory, systematic, symbolic and arbitrary. This definition of Derbyshire clearly utters, language is the best source of communication. It also portrays how human language is formed and what are the fundamental principles of language.
According to Lyons, languages are the principal systems of communication used by particular groups of human beings within the particular society of which they are members. Especially Lyons points out that, language is the best communicative system of human beings by particular social groups.
A language is a system of arbitrary vocal sounds used for human communication. This definition of language by Wardhaugh mainly insists on arbitrariness, vocal sounds, humans and communication.
Indian linguist Patanjali utters, language is that human expression which is produced by different speech organs of human beings. Through speech organs, humans produced several expressions which are converted to language.
Language is a system of conventional or written symbols by means of which human beings as members of social groups and participants in its culture, communicate. In other words, it says the language is a system of communication of which human beings express themselves.
Thus, we can say, language is a system of communication or arbitrary vocal sounds by means of which human beings are used to communicate and interact with each other in their everyday life.
There are approximately 6,500 spoken languages available in the entire world used by different kinds of social groups and cultures.
Bloomfield Leonard (1914): An introduction to the study of language. New York: Henry Holt and company.
Chomsky, Noam (2000): The Architecture of Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lyons John (1981): Language and Linguistics: Cambridge University Press.
Encyclopedia Britannica: Language | Definition, Characteristics & Change