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systematic communication by vocal symbols. It is a universal characteristic of the human species. Nothing is known of its origin, although scientists have identified a gene that clearly contributes to the human ability to use language. Scientists generally hold that it has been so long in use that the length of time writingwriting,
the visible recording of language peculiar to the human species. Writing enables the transmission of ideas over vast distances of time and space and is a prerequisite of complex civilization.
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 is known to have existed (7,900 years at most) is short by comparison. Just as languages spoken now by peoples of the simplest cultures are as subtle and as intricate as those of the peoples of more complex civilizations, similarly the forms of languages known (or hypothetically reconstructed) from the earliest records show no trace of being more "primitive" than their modern forms.

Because language is a cultural system, individual languages may classify objects and ideas in completely different fashions. For example, the sex or age of the speaker may determine the use of certain grammatical forms or avoidance of taboo words. Many languages divide the color spectrum into completely different and unequal units of color. Terms of address may vary according to the age, sex, and status of speaker and hearer. Linguists also distinguish between registers, i.e., activities (such as a religious service or an athletic contest) with a characteristic vocabulary and level of diction.

Speech Communities

Every person belongs to a speech community, a group of people who speak the same language. Estimates of the number of speech communities range from 3,000 to 7,000 or more, with the number of speakers of a given language ranging from many millions of speakers down to a few dozen or even fewer. The following list probably includes (in approximate descending order) all languages spoken natively by groups of more than 100 million people: North Chinese vernacular (Mandarin), English, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi or Urdu, Portuguese, Bengali or Bangla, Russian, French, Japanese, German, and Malay or Bahasa Indonesia. Roughly 120 languages have at least a million speakers, but some 60% of the world's languages have 10,000 or fewer speakers, and half of those have 1,000 or fewer speakers.

Many persons speak more than one language; English is the most common auxiliary language in the world. When people learn a second language very well, they are said to be bilingual. They may abandon their native language entirely, because they have moved from the place where it is spoken or because of politico-economic and cultural pressure (as among Native Americans and speakers of the Celtic languages in Europe). Such factors may lead to the disappearance of languages. In the last several centuries, many languages have become extinct, especially in the Americas; it is estimated that as many as half the world's remaining languages could become extinct by the end of the 21st cent.

The Basis of Language

The language first learned is called one's native language or mother tongue; both of these terms are figurative in that the knowledge of particular languages is not inherited but learned behavior. Nonetheless, since the mid-20th cent. linguists have shown increasing interest in the theory that, while no one is born with a predisposition toward any particular language, all human beings are genetically endowed with the ability to learn and use language in general.

According to transformational (or generative) grammar, introduced by Noam ChomskyChomsky, Noam
, 1928–, educator and linguist, b. Philadelphia. Chomsky, who has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1955, developed a theory of transformational (sometimes called generative or transformational-generative) grammar that revolutionized
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 in the 1950s, the idiosyncratic vocabulary and grammatical conventions of any natural language rest on a foundation of "deep structures," a universal grammar underlying all languages and corresponding to an innate capacity of the human brain. This theory implies not only that there are constraints on what may constitute an intelligible human language, but also that, however numerous or striking, the differences between any two languages are less fundamental than their similarities.

Comparative Linguistics

Interest in transformational grammar has led in turn to increased interest in comparative linguistics. The differences between languages are not uniform. When languages resemble each other in a systematic way, they are said to be genetically related. Such relationships have been established in many cases, but almost always on the basis of the sounds of the languages and the way the sounds are grouped in systematic patterns. It is more difficult to compare the grammatical structures of languages. Maximal groups of related languages are called families, or stocks. A language that does not appear genetically related to any existing language is termed a language isolate.

Languages of the Indo-European and Afroasiatic families have traditionally received vastly more scholarly attention than the others. These languages actually represent a very small part of the world linguistic spectrum. As a consequence, most generalized statements about language, grammar, and related matters made before 1920 are not valid. Few authorities agree on all points of language classification and analysis, and knowledge of the languages of some isolated regions (e.g., Australia, New Guinea, and E Siberia) is still too scanty to permit proper classification.

Variations in Language

Individuals differ in the manner in which they speak their native tongue, although usually not markedly within a small area. The differences among groups of speakers in the same speech community can, however, be considerable. These variations of a language constitute its dialects. All languages are continuously changing, but if there is a common direction of change it has never been convincingly described. Various factors, especially the use of written language, have led to the development of a standard language in most of the major speech communities—a special official dialect of a language that is theoretically maintained unchanged.

This official dialect is the school form of a language, and by a familiar fallacy has been considered the norm from which everyday language deviates. Rather, the standard language is actually a development of some local dialect that has been accorded prestige. The standard English of England is derived from London English and the standard Italian is that of Tuscany. Use of the standard language is often a mark of polite behavior. In the United States employing standard English, which largely entails the usage of approved grammar and pronunciation, marks a person as cultivated. Ordinary speech may be affected by the standard language. Thus, many forms of expression come to be considered ungrammatical and substandard and are regarded as badges of ignorance, such as you was in place of the standard you were.

As in other fields of etiquette, there is variation. Gotten is acceptable in the United States but not in England. The literary standard may differ from the colloquial standard of educated people, and the jargon of a trade may be unintelligible to outsiders. Such linguistic variations in English are mainly a matter of vocabulary. An auxiliary language is a nonnative language adopted for specific use; such languages include lingua francalingua franca
, an auxiliary language, generally of a hybrid and partially developed nature, that is employed over an extensive area by people speaking different and mutually unintelligible tongues in order to communicate with one another.
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, pidginpidgin
, a lingua franca that is not the mother tongue of anyone using it and that has a simplified grammar and a restricted, often polyglot vocabulary. The earliest documented pidgin is the Lingua Franca (or Sabir) that developed among merchants and traders in the Mediterranean
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, and international languageinternational language,
sometimes called universal language, a language intended to be used by people of different linguistic backgrounds to facilitate communication among them and to reduce the misunderstandings and antagonisms caused by language differences.
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Related Articles

For general descriptive information see articles on individual languages, e.g., French languageFrench language,
member of the Romance group of the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Romance languages). It is spoken as a first language by more than 70 million people, chiefly in France (55 million speakers), Belgium (3 million), Switzerland (1.
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. See also creole languagecreole language
, any language that began as a pidgin but was later adopted as the mother tongue by a people in place of the original mother tongue or tongues. Examples are the Gullah of South Carolina and Georgia (based on English), the creole of Haiti (based on French), and
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; dialectdialect,
variety of a language used by a group of speakers within a particular speech community. Every individual speaks a variety of his language, termed an idiolect. Dialects are groups of idiolects with a common core of similarities in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.
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; dictionarydictionary,
published list, in alphabetical order, of the words of a language. In monolingual dictionaries the words are explained and defined in the same language; in bilingual dictionaries they are translated into another language.
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; etymologyetymology
, branch of linguistics that investigates the history, development, and origin of words. It was this study that chiefly revealed the regular relations of sounds in the Indo-European languages (as described in Grimm's law) and led to the historical investigation of
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; grammargrammar,
description of the structure of a language, consisting of the sounds (see phonology); the meaningful combinations of these sounds into words or parts of words, called morphemes; and the arrangement of the morphemes into phrases and sentences, called syntax.
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; inflectioninflection,
in grammar. In many languages, words or parts of words are arranged in formally similar sets consisting of a root, or base, and various affixes. Thus walking, walks, walker have in common the root walk and the affixes -ing, -s, and -er.
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; linguisticslinguistics,
scientific study of language, covering the structure (morphology and syntax; see grammar), sounds (phonology), and meaning (semantics), as well as the history of the relations of languages to each other and the cultural place of language in human behavior.
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; part of speechpart of speech,
in traditional English grammar, any one of about eight major classes of words, based on the parts of speech of ancient Greek and Latin. The parts of speech are noun, verb, adjective, adverb, interjection, preposition, conjunction, and pronoun.
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; phoneticsphonetics
, study of the sounds of languages from three basic points of view. Phonetics studies speech sounds according to their production in the vocal organs (articulatory phonetics), their physical properties (acoustic phonetics), or their effect on the ear (auditory
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; phonologyphonology,
study of the sound systems of languages. It is distinguished from phonetics, which is the study of the production, perception, and physical properties of speech sounds; phonology attempts to account for how they are combined, organized, and convey meaning in
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; semanticssemantics
[Gr.,=significant] in general, the study of the relationship between words and meanings. The empirical study of word meanings and sentence meanings in existing languages is a branch of linguistics; the abstract study of meaning in relation to language or symbolic logic
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; sign languagesign language,
gestural communication used as an alternative or replacement for speech. Sign languages resemble oral languages in every way other than their modality. As with oral languages, sign languages are acquired spontaneously and have highly intricate, rule-governed
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; slangslang,
vernacular vocabulary not generally acceptable in formal usage. It is notable for its liveliness, humor, emphasis, brevity, novelty, and exaggeration. Most slang is faddish and ephemeral, but some words are retained for long periods and eventually become part of the
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See L. Bloomfield, Language (1933); E. Sapir, Language (1921, repr. 1949); S. I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action (5th ed. 1990); H. Giles and N. Coupland, Language: Contexts and Consequences (1991); T. W. Deacon, The Symbolic Species (1997); N. M. and R. Dauenhauer, Endangered Languages (1998); S. Pinker, Words and Rules (1999).


  1. a system of symbolic communication, i.e. of vocal (and written) SIGNS, which arguably distinguishes human beings from all other species. Language is rule-governed and primarily comprised of a plurality of arbitrary conventional signs. These signs will have a common significance for all members of a linguistic group.
  2. the ‘crucial signifying practice in and through which the human subject is constructed and becomes a social being’ (W. Mulford, 1983).
  3. the most important, but not the only sign system of human society (some of which may also be referred to as language(s) – compare BODY LANGUAGE).
Language is the means whereby subjectivity is stabilized and crystallized (including ‘knowledge’ and SCIENCE, and the stretching of societies across time and space; see TIME-SPACE DISTANCIATION). Language also exists as an ‘objective’ institution independent of any individual user. In common with all aspects of human culture, language can be seen to be historical and subject to change. Currently there are between three and five thousand active languages and a large number of nonactive languages.

Human beings acquire knowledge of and competence in a specific language via a complex process of SOCIALIZATION. Whilst specific linguistic knowledge and competence is not an innate feature of human beings, the likelihood is that human beings are genetically endowed with a LANGUAGE ACQUISITION DEVICE. Most notably, Noam CHOMSKY has argued that we possess an innate capacity to grasp the rules of grammatical structure (see also DEEP STRUCTURE, GRAMMAR, SYNTAX, SAUSSURE, JACOBSON).

Often sociologists and social psychologists have been less concerned with the syntactic structure and related formal properties of language than with the relationship between language, ideology, knowledge and the social nature of verbal interaction. Social psychologists have tended to concentrate on the latter, whereas sociologists have tended to explore the relationship between language and nonlinguistic structural arrangements such as class and gender. The work of Basil BERNSTEIN (1971-77) however, has shown that different forms of social relation generate different forms of linguistic code. Bernstein has suggested that, within the context of schooling, lower-working-class children may be disadvantaged due to their utilization of a restricted linguistic code (see ELABORATED AND RESTRICTED CODES).

A distinction has been made by Scott (1977) and Turiel (1983) between linguistic competence and social communicative competence. They have suggested that communicative skill is dependent upon an individual's ability to combine both of these aspects of competence. Linguistic competence refers to the individual's command of both vocabulary and grammatical rules. Social communicative competence refers to the degree to which the encoder (person sending the message) is responsive to the social and linguistic characteristics of the decoder (audience). Recently it has been suggested that social competence and linguistic competence must be seen as highly interlinked, e.g. that SEMANTICS can only be formulated in terms of PRAGMATICS, i.e. language usage is above all to be understood contextually Sociologists and social psychologists (as well as philosophers – see LINGUISTIC PHILOSOPHY, FORMS OF LIFE, LANGUAGE GAMES, SPEECH ACTS, WITTGENSTEIN) have become increasingly interested in examining the complex and socially determined rules which govern linguistic action. For example, verbal interaction is characterized by rules relating to the structuring of conversation and to turn-taking (see CONVERSATION ANALYSIS). Ethnomethodologists have been particularly concerned with the unstated rules governing communicative interaction (see H. GARFINKEL, 1967, H. Sacks et al., 1974).

Other general areas of interest concern linguistic relativity. The nature of the relationship between language and our perception and understanding of the world has been approached from many perspectives, one of the most influential being the work of the linguists Benjamin Lee Whorf and Edward Sapir. The SAPIR-WHORF HYPOTHESIS contends that the kind of language someone uses determines the nature of that person's thinking about the world. It has been suggested by other theorists that language does not have this determining function and that language itself is in fact largely determined by experience.

A further growing field of investigation is the relationship between gender and language. Writers such as D. Spender (1980) have argued that language is ‘man-made’, whilst M. Daly (1981) has shown the ‘androcentric’ or ‘phallocentric’ nature of language. In its stead she argues for the necessity of‘gynocentric’ language. Underlying these different approaches is the assumption that the oppression of women is both revealed in and sustained by language and the process of language interaction. Whilst such approaches are not new (see for example Herschberger, 1948; Merriam, 1964), the ‘second wave of feminism’ has given impetus to the development of such critiques and forms of analysis.

Last but not least, language has been increasingly employed as a ‘model’ for social relations in general, especially resting on the 'S tructural’ rule-governed character of both. In STRUCTURALISM and POSTSTRUCTURALISM (see also LÉVI-STRAUSS, LACAN) social relations are not simply like language, they are a language; thus a further implication of this is that individual actions (in the same way as particular utterances) can be viewed as 'S tructural’ outcomes (see also SYNTAGMATIC AND PARADIGMATIC, DECENTRED SELF). To its critics, however, structuralism loses touch with the creative power of the subject, evident not least in relation to language use, which involves a ‘creative’ grasping of rules which are interpreted and also sometimes transformed. Since, in view of the increasing recognition of the dependence of syntax on context, structural linguistics is no longer widely seen as providing an adequate model even of language, it is not surprising that it should fail to provide one for society. See also LINGUISTICS, SOCIOLINGUISTICS, SEMIOTICS, COGNITIVE ANTHROPOLOGY.



a system of discrete acoustic signs that spontaneously emerges and develops in human society; a means of communication capable of expressing the entire range of human knowledge and ideas about the world.

The spontaneous emergence and development of language, as well as its limitless area of application and infinite range of possibilities of expression, distinguish it from various signaling systems that are based on language, such as the Morse code and traffic signs, and from the artificial, or formal, languages that are used in various branches of knowledge; examples of artificial languages are information languages, programming languages, and information retrieval languages.

The ability to express abstract forms of thought, such as concepts and judgments, and the related property of discreteness, or the internal divisibility of a communication, qualitatively distinguish language from the language of animals, which is a set of signals that convey reactions to situations and govern animal behavior under particular conditions. Animal communication is based on direct experience. It cannot be broken down into distinctive elements and does not require a speech response; a specific form of action serves as the reaction to animal communication. Language is one of the most important features that separate human beings from the animal world. It is simultaneously a product of human culture and a condition of human culture’s development.

Being primarily a means of expression and of communicating ideas, language is directly connected with thought. It is not accidental that the units of language, such as words and sentences, provided the basis for establishing forms of thought, including concepts and judgments. The relationship between language and thinking has been interpreted in different ways by contemporary science. According to the most widely accepted point of view, human thinking can be performed only on the basis of language, since thinking is distinguished from other forms of human mental activity by its abstractness. At the same time, scientific observations by physicians, psychologists, physiologists, logicians, and linguists have shown that thinking takes place not only in the sphere of abstract logic but also in the course of sensory cognition, where it is carried out with the aid of images, memory, and the imagination. The thought of composers, mathematicians, and chess masters, for example, is not always expressed verbally.

The initial stages in the process of speech generation are closely associated with various nonverbal forms of thought. It appears that human thinking involves all the various types of mental activity, which continually replace and complement one another; verbal thinking, however, is only the principal type. Inasmuch as language is closely linked with the entire human mental sphere and since the expression of ideas is not its sole purpose, language and thought are not identical.

Because of its connection with abstract thinking, language, in performing its communicative function, can transmit any kind of information. This information may even take the form of general judgments or communications about objects not present in the speech situation, about the past and future, and about fantastic situations or situations that simply do not correspond to reality (false propositions).

On the other hand, because language contains symbolic units, or words, that express abstract concepts, it is able to organize human knowledge about the objective world in a definite manner, break the knowledge down into parts, and fix the knowledge in the human consciousness. This processing of knowledge about the world constitutes the function of reflecting reality, the second of language’s main functions (the first being the communicative function). The reflective function shapes the categories of thought and, on a broader scale, consciousness. K. Marx pointed out the interdependence of the communicative function of language and language’s link with human consciousness: “Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness that exists also for other men and for that reason also it really exists for me personally as well; language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, from the necessity, of intercourse with other men” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3, p. 29).

In addition to its two main functions, language fulfills various other functions. These include the nominative function, which is the naming of concrete objects; the aesthetic function, for example, the aesthetic effect of the poetic word; the magic function, which pertains to religion and ritual; the emotional-expressive function; and the appellative function, which is the eliciting of a reaction from the person addressed.

A distinction may be made between the concepts of language and speech. In this sense, language, as a system, is like a distinct code; speech is the realization of this code. In its static aspect, speech can be viewed as a text; in its dynamic aspect, it can be viewed as speech activity, which is a form of human social activity. Language has special means and mechanisms for the formation of specific speech messages. The action of these mechanisms, for example, the assigning of a name to a specific object, enables an “old” language to adapt to new realities by creating utterances. As one of the forms of social activity, speech is characterized by consciousness, or intent, and singleness of purpose. Unless it is related to a specific communicative purpose, a sentence cannot be a speech communication. There exist various communicative goals, which are universal in nature. They include communicating a judgment, inquiring about the receipt of information, prompting the addressed person to action, and assuming obligation. Some actions, such as promises, apologies, and greetings, are impossible without speech events. Speech plays an essential part in many other forms of social activity. For example, all forms of literature, propaganda, polemics, disputes, and contracts developed on the basis of language are realized in the form of speech. Many other aspects of social life, including work, also involve speech.

Language has particular features that make it a unique phenomenon. These features may be divided into two groups: language universals and features belonging to specific national languages. Among the universal features are all the properties of language that correspond to general forms of human thought and types of activity. Universal features also include those characteristics of language that enable it to fulfill its purpose, such as discreteness and the existence of distinctive elements of form and meaning, as well as those characteristics that arise as a result of patterns of development common to all languages—for example, asymmetry of form and content. Specific characteristics of segmentation and expression, as well as the internal organization of meanings, are classified as specific national features.

The coincidence of structural features unites languages in types; examples are inflected languages and agglutinative languages. Similarities that appear in inventories of units as a result of a common origin permit the grouping of languages in families, such as the Indo-European and Turkic language families. Linguistic alliances are formed on the basis of common structural and material characteristics that have developed as a result of contact between languages; an example is the Balkan linguistic alliance.

The symbolic nature of language presupposes the existence of form perceived by the senses, or the expression plane, and meaning not perceived by the senses, or the content plane, which is materialized by the form. Speech sounds are the basic and primary form of expression of meaning. Existing writing systems, with the exception of hieroglyphics, are only a transposition of the sound form into a visually or tangibly perceived substance; they are a secondary form of the expression plane. Because oral speech occurs in time, it is linear; this linearity is usually found in written languages as well.

The connection between the two aspects of a linguistic sign, the signifier and the signified, is arbitrary; a particular sound does not necessarily presuppose a strictly determined meaning, and vice versa. The arbitrariness of the sign accounts for the expression of the same or a similar meaning by different sound clusters in different languages (for example, Russian dom, English “house,” and French maison). Because the words of a speaker’s native language articulate concepts, differentiate between them, and fix them in his memory, the relationship between the aspects of a sign is, for the speaker, a strong and natural one.

The ability to correlate sound and meaning is the essence of language. The materialist approach to language emphasizes the inseparability of sound and meaning and, at the same time, the dialectically contradictory character of the relation between them. Naturally developing languages, as opposed to artificial codes, allow both variation in sound that is unrelated to change in meaning and variation in meaning that does not necessarily involve change in sound. As a result, different sound sequences in a language may correspond to the same meaning, producing synonyms; conversely, different meanings may correspond to the same sound, producing homophones or homonyms.

The asymmetric relationship between the sound and meaning aspects of linguistic signs does not prevent communication, since the inventory of features whose function is to distinguish meaning contains not only constant units, which constitute the language system, but also many variables, which are used in the process of expressing and understanding content. These variables include the order of language units, their syntactic position, intonation, the speech situation, the linguistic context, and such para-linguistic features as facial expressions and gestures.

Most languages contain the following sound units: the phoneme, or sound type (zvukotip), whose acoustic features (the distinctive features of the phoneme) are grouped through the unity, or simultaneity, of pronunciation; the syllable, which is a combination of sounds occurring during one chest pulse; the phonetic word, which groups syllables under a single stress; the phonetic string (rechevoi taki), which uses pauses to join phonetic words; and the phonetic phrase, which joins the phonetic strings through uniform intonation.

In addition to the system of sound units, there exists a system of double-aspect (sign) units that, in most languages, comprises the morpheme, word, word group, and sentence. Language can create an infinite number of messages owing to its meaningful units, which can be combined in different ways to produce communication, and to the theoretically unlimited size of a sentence composed from the finite set of primary elements, or vocabulary.

The segmentation of speech into sound elements does not coincide with its segmentation into double-aspect (sign) units; this opposition is sometimes called the principle of dual segmentation. The difference in segmentation results both from the dissimilarity in many languages between the syllable and the morpheme and from the varying extent of the division of speech into single-aspect (sound) units and double-aspect units (those with semantic content); the limit of segmentation of the sound chain is the sound (unit of articulation, or phoneme), which by itself does not contain meaning. Dual segmentation makes it possible to create from a very limited inventory of sounds (phonemes) an enormous number of units with semantic content (morphemes and words) that have different sound structures.

The sign, or semiotic, nature of language as a system presupposes that the system is organized on the principle of differentiation among its constituent units. When minimum differences in sound or meaning are considered, the units of language form oppositions relative to a specific characteristic. The contrasting units are in a paradigmatic relationship that is based on their ability to be distinguished in the same speech position. Units of language are also governed by relationships of contiguity, or syntagmatic relationships, that are determined by their combinability. Paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships correspond to the two fundamental principles of speech structure: the selection of elements to express meaning and the combination of these elements.

The transmission of information by a language may be considered not only from the standpoint of the organization of the internal structure of the language but also from the standpoint of the organization of its external system, since the life of a language is manifested in the socially standardized forms of its use. The social nature of language enables it to meet the requirements of society. The functions of language are socially conditioned.

All types of variation in language that result from external factors—temporal, spatial, or social factors—and that have a particular function in the social community constitute the external system of the given language in a given period of time. The state of the language and the language situation are the general foundation of the external system and the source of its organization. The components of the state of a language are the actual forms of the language and the modes by which the forms are realized, either oral or written. The principal actual forms of a language are the dialect, either territorial or social, and the literary language. Between these two extremes lie various types of popular language and everyday, conversational koines. (A koine is a dialect or language of a group speaking related dialects or languages.) A territorial dialect is a territorially limited form of a language. Its sphere of communication is limited to everyday, social situations, and its functional and stylistic capabilities are minimal.

In the period of social development before the formation of nations, dialects were the primary form of language. During this period, some dialects had no features of functional-stylistic differentiation; usually, however, one or more of the dialects that were used together in a given situation would take the role of particular functional styles. This method of forming functional-stylistic systems may be termed extension. The appearance of supra-dialectal forms that have the nature of functional-stylistic formations marks a new stage in the development of states of language and functional systems. These forms include everyday, conversational speech and the forms of speech used in poetry and religion and in church-law and society-law relations. The supra-dialectical state is both extensive and intensive in that it is defined not only by a set of distinct dialectal styles but also by a distinct code of generalized forms of speech that are based on dialects and used for functional purposes.

After the emergence of nations and national languages, dialects and the literary language coexisted in the same situations. An opposition formed with dialects playing the role of the lower forms of speech and the literary language playing the role of the higher form. The term “social dialects” refers to variants of speech, or lexical subsystems, that have developed in certain social groups. Among social dialects are the lexical systems of various occupational groups, for example, fishermen or hunters; group, or corporative, jargons, such as the jargons of students, athletes, collectors, and soldiers; the argots of déclassé elements, such as thieves’ argot; and the arbitrary, or secret, languages of such groups as artisans, merchants, and beggars.

Social dialects have territorial differences. Their use is similar to the use of functional styles, but they occupy a peripheral position, rather than a central one, in the functional system of language. Everyday, conversational koines are formed from an amalgamation of dialects; they serve as the spoken form of communication either in regions where several dialects exist or in cities. Popular language is a means of spoken communication not limited by regional boundaries. It uses the nonliterary strata of the lexicon and nonstandard syntactic constructions. Unlike the spoken form of the literary language, popular language is used only in unofficial communication.

The literary language has a number of features that fundamentally distinguish it from other forms of language. Among these features are its high level of development, its standardization, the broad range of its use in society, its mandatory character for all members of the language community, and its highly developed functional-stylistic system. The full manifestation of these characteristics is reached during the formation of a nation, when the literary language becomes an important factor in national consolidation. The literary language is the highest form of the national language and, in this sense, is opposed to all other forms of the language. At the same time, it interacts with them.

Language and society emerged together out of the joint labor activities of primitive peoples. Engels noted: “Men in the making arrived at the point where they had something to say to each other. Necessity created the organ; the undeveloped larynx of the ape was slowly but surely transformed by modulation to produce constantly more developed modulation, and the organs of the mouth gradually learned to pronounce one articulated sound after another” (ibid., vol. 20, p. 489). The biological prerequisites for human language were the complex forms of signaling by means of movement and sound that existed in higher animals, especially anthropoid apes, the comparatively high development of the animals’ brain and peripheral speech organs, and their gregarious way of life, which was based on complex intergroup relations. In the course of man’s evolution from his animal predecessors, a process that took millions of years, the age of Pithecanthropus and Sinanthropus saw the development of a second system of symbols, one based on speech. Its formation coincided with the development of labor in the true sense, which was associated with the making of tools.

Sounds derived from means of expressing emotion and from behavioral instincts gradually became a means of designating things and the properties and relationships of things; such sounds began fulfilling the functions of premeditated communication. A relatively stable relation took shape between the concept of the object on the one hand, and the object’s acoustic representation and the sensations of the speech motor organs, on the other. As material production, social relations, and consciousness became more complex, primitive people gradually progressed from elementary, nonsegmentable sound clusters to more complex, generalized sound clusters. According to archaeological findings, the formation of articulate speech with its specific features occurred at the time of Cro-Magnon man, during the Upper Paleolithic. Specific evidence of this development is seen in the structure of the Cro-Magnon peripheral speech organs and connects articulate speech with the emergence of Homo sapiens and clan society.

The development of articulate speech was a powerful factor in the further development of man, society, and consciousness. The continuity of different generations and historical epochs has been preserved by language. The history of each language is inseparable from the history of the people who speak it. Initially, with the merging of tribes and the formation of nationalities, clan-tribal languages became the languages of nationalities. With the subsequent formation of nations during the establishment of bourgeois relations, individual national languages emerged.

Language is connected with man’s thought and psychology, with his life and social consciousness, and with the history of peoples and their customs. It reflects the specific qualities and culture of peoples and is the form of expression of literature and folklore as types of art. It is the principal source of knowledge about the inner world of human beings and has a definite form perceptible to the senses. Because of all these ties to man and his world, language is an indirect source of information for disciplines in both the humanities and the natural sciences; these disciplines include philosophy, logic, history, cultural anthropology, sociology, jurisprudence, psychology, psychiatry, literary theory and criticism, information science, semiotics, the theory of mass communication, the physiology of the brain, and acoustics. Language, in all its aspects, provides the direct subject matter of linguistics.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Nemetskaia ideologiia. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3.
Engels, F. Dialektika prirody. Ibid,, vol. 20.
Lenin, V. I. “Filosofskie tetradi.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 29.
Potebnia, A. A. Mysl’ i iazyk, 3rd ed. Kharkov, 1913.
Potebnia, A. A. Iz zapisok po russkoi grammatike, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1958.
Sapir, E. Iazyk. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934. (Translated from English.)
Vendryes, J. Iazyk. Moscow, 1937. (Translated from French.)
Bally, C. Obshchaia lingvislika i voprosy frantsuzskogo iazyka. Moscow, 1955. (Translated from French.)
Jespersen, O. Filosofiia grammatiki. Moscow, 1958. (Translated from English.)
Hjelmslev, L. “Prolegomeny k teorii iazyka.” In the collection Novoe v lingvistike, vol. 1. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from English.)
Baudouin de Courtenay, I. A. Izbrannye trudy po obshchemu iazykoznaniiu, vol. 2. Moscow, 1963.
Kartsevskii, S. “Ob asimmetrichnom dualizme lingvisticheskogo znaka.” In V. A. Zvegintsev, Istoriia iazykoznaniia XIX-XXvv. v ocherkakh i izvlecheniiakh, 3rd ed., part 2. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from French.)
Vinogradov, V. V. Problemy literaturnykh iazykov i zakonomernostei ikh obrazovaniia i razvitiia. Moscow, 1967.
Budagov, R. A. Literaturnye iazyki i iazykovye still. Moscow, 1967.
Budagov, R. A. Chelovek i ego iazyk, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1976.
Bloomfield, L. Iazyk. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from English.)
Obshchee iazykoznanie, vol. 1: Formy sushchestvovaniia, funktsii, istoriia iazyka. Moscow, 1970.
Panfilov. V. Z. Vzaimootnoshenie iazyka i myshleniia. Moscow, 1971.
Obshchee iazykoznanie. vol. 2: Vnutrenniaia struktura iazyka. Moscow, 1972.
Benveniste, E. Obshchala lingvlstlka, Moscow, 1974. (Translated from French.)
Saussure, F. de. Trudy po iazykoznanliu. Moscow, 1977. (Translated from French.)
Humboldt, W. von. Gesammelie Schriften, vol. 1: Werke. Berlin, 1903.
Bühler, K. Sprachtheorie. Jena, 1934.
Gramsci, A. Opere, vol. 2: Il materialismo slorico e la filosofía di Benedetto Croce, 4th ed. Turin, 1952.
Havránek, B. On Comparative Structural Studies of Slavic Standard Languages, vol. 1. Prague, 1966.

N. D. ARUTIUNOVA, B. A. SEREBRENNIKOV (language and thought), G. V. STEPANOV (the actual forms of language), and A. G. SPIRKIN (the origin of language)

What does it mean when you dream about a different language? (unfamiliar)

Overhearing or being spoken to in an unfamiliar language in a dream can symbolize anything we are having difficulty understanding in other parts of our life. Alternatively, another part of our mind might be trying to communicate something to us that we don’t quite understand.


(computer science)
The set of words and rules used to construct sentences with which to express and process information for handling by computers and associated equipment.
The system of phonetic communication used by humans; worldwide, there are approximately 6000 distinct languages in current use.

machine code

, language
instructions for the processing of data in a binary, octal, or hexadecimal code that can be understood and executed by a computer


(language, programming)


(human language)


A set of symbols and rules used to convey information. See machine language, programming language, graphics language, page description language, fourth-generation language, standards and user interface.
References in periodicals archive ?
The function of nursing classification: Nursing language provides us with a way to understand what nurses do and how well they do it.
10) An explicit nursing language enables this and can result in far-reaching rewards and consequences.
Irish nursing academic Martin McNamara maintains that tack of a distinctive nursing language has allowed nursing to remain invisible in both the health care and academic environments.
WHEREAS, There are many nursing interests such as continuity of care delivery between settings, clinical decision support tools, third party reimbursement, nursing intensity to achieve safe and adequate staffing patterns, the allocation of resources, interoperability among electronic health records or electronic medical records that are advanced when standardized nursing languages are used; and
WHEREAS, the International Healthcare Terminology Standard Development Organization (IHTSDO) purchased SNOMED clinical terms, a reference terminology which includes some but not all standardized nursing languages within the SNOMED-Clinical Terms.
WHEREAS, the standardized nursing languages used within electronic health records can now be exchanged among the providers and with patients through the Iowa Health Information Network by exchanging the continuity of care document and communicated using secure messaging, not all healthcare providers are investing in using newest licensed evidence-based language to keep languages up-to-date within electronic health record system.
ALL OF THE AUTHORS ARE members of the Michigan Nurses Association Standardized Nursing Language Task Force.
If your organization is planning to implement standard nursing languages in the CIS, a relational database is the optimal database structure to support the standard nursing languages (e.
The detailed information they derive from student experience allows them to individualize future programs and to strive for error-free, evidence-based care and structured nursing languages.
ORMIS, a comprehensive and flexible surgical information management system, helps acute care hospitals enhance clinical performance by incorporating standardized nursing languages and referential terminology within the perioperative documentation module, including care events, interventions, nursing diagnosis, and outcomes.

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