Introduction to Language
– Language is a structured system of communication that consists of grammar and vocabulary.
– It is the primary means by which humans convey meaning, both in spoken and written forms.
– Language can also be conveyed through sign languages.
– Most human languages have developed writing systems for recording and preserving language.
– Human language is characterized by its cultural and historical diversity.
Properties and Modalities of Human Language
– Human languages possess the properties of productivity and displacement.
– Productivity allows for the creation of an infinite number of sentences.
– Displacement enables the ability to refer to objects, events, and ideas that are not immediately present.
– Human language relies on social convention and is acquired through learning.
– Estimates vary, but there are approximately 5,000 to 7,000 human languages in the world.
– Natural languages can be spoken, signed, or both.
– Any language can be encoded into secondary media using auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli.
– Written or signed language is the way to inscribe or encode natural human speech or gestures.
– Language can refer to the cognitive ability to learn and use complex communication systems.
– Language involves semiosis, the process of relating signs to particular meanings.
Linguistics and Language Study
– The scientific study of language is called linguistics.
– Philosophical perspectives on language have been debated throughout history.
– Language is processed in various locations in the human brain, including Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas.
– Language acquisition occurs through social interaction in early childhood.
– Language and culture are codependent, with language serving social functions.
Language Evolution and Diversity
– Language is thought to have diverged from earlier primate communication systems.
– Brain volume and social functions influenced the evolution of language structures.
– Language evolves and diversifies over time, and its history can be reconstructed.
– Language families descend from a common ancestor, while language isolates have no known relationship.
– Many languages are at risk of extinction, with estimates ranging from 50% to 90% by 2100.
Origin and Theories of Language
– The origins of language have been a subject of speculation throughout history.
– The Biblical myth of the Tower of Babel is one account of language origins.
– Continuity-based theories suggest that language evolved from pre-linguistic systems among pre-human ancestors.
– Discontinuity-based theories argue that language is a unique human trait that appeared suddenly in the transition from pre-hominids to early man.
– Generative view theories see language as an innate faculty largely genetically encoded.
– Functionalist theories view language as a system that is largely cultural and learned through social interaction.
– The age of spoken languages is estimated at 60,000 to 100,000 years.
– Researchers generally believe that language was invented only once and all modern spoken languages are related.
– Communication systems of pre-human australopithecines were similar to those of great apes.
– Scholarly opinions vary on when language-like systems developed in Homo species.
– Some suggest primitive language-like systems as early as Homo habilis.
– Others place the development of primitive symbolic communication with Homo erectus or Homo heidelbergensis.
– Language proper is associated with anatomically modern Homo sapiens during the Upper Paleolithic revolution.
– Linguistics has been developing as a science for over 2000 years.
– Modern linguistics examines all aspects of language from different theoretical viewpoints.
– Descriptive linguistics focuses on the grammar of individual languages.
– Theoretical linguistics develops theories on the nature of language.
– Sociolinguistics studies the social functions of language.
Language is a structured system of communication that consists of grammar and vocabulary. It is the primary means by which humans convey meaning, both in spoken and written forms, and may also be conveyed through sign languages. The vast majority of human languages have developed writing systems that allow for the recording and preservation of the sounds or signs of language. Human language is characterized by its cultural and historical diversity, with significant variations observed between cultures and across time. Human languages possess the properties of productivity and displacement, which enable the creation of an infinite number of sentences, and the ability to refer to objects, events, and ideas that are not immediately present in the discourse. The use of human language relies on social convention and is acquired through learning.
Estimates of the number of human languages in the world vary between 5,000 and 7,000. Precise estimates depend on an arbitrary distinction (dichotomy) established between languages and dialects. Natural languages are spoken, signed, or both; however, any language can be encoded into secondary media using auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli – for example, writing, whistling, signing, or braille. In other words, human language is modality-independent, but written or signed language is the way to inscribe or encode the natural human speech or gestures.
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.
The scientific study of language is called linguistics. Critical examinations of languages, such as philosophy of language, the relationships between language and thought, how words represent experience, etc., have been debated at least since Gorgias and Plato in ancient Greek civilization. Thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) have argued that language originated from emotions, while others like Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) have argued that languages originated from rational and logical thought. Twentieth century philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) argued that philosophy is really the study of language itself. Major figures in contemporary linguistics of these times include Ferdinand de Saussure and Noam Chomsky.
Language is thought to have gradually diverged from earlier primate communication systems when early hominins acquired the ability to form a theory of mind and 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. Language and culture are codependent. Therefore, in addition to its strictly communicative uses, language has social uses such as signifying group identity, social stratification, as well as use for social grooming and entertainment.
Languages evolve and diversify over time, and the history of their evolution can be reconstructed by comparing modern languages to determine which traits their ancestral languages must have had in order for the later developmental stages to occur. A group of languages that descend from a common ancestor is known as a language family; in contrast, a language that has been demonstrated to not have any living or non-living relationship with another language is called a language isolate. There are also many unclassified languages whose relationships have not been established, and spurious languages may have not existed at all. 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 year 2100.
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