Meaning of LANGUAGE in English


a system of conventional spoken or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, communicate. a system of conventional spoken or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, communicate. Language so defined is the peculiar possession of humans. Other animals interact by means of sounds and body movements, and some can learn to interpret human speech to an extremely limited extent. But no other species of being has conventionalized its cries and utterances so that they constitute a systematic symbolism in the way that language does. In these terms, then, humans may be described as the talking animals. A brief treatment of language follows. The subject is treated in a number of articles. For a general treatment, encompassing physiological, structural, semantic, cultural, and historical aspects, see Language. For full treatment of particular languages and language groups, see Languages of the World. For a treatment of the scientific study of the evolution, components, forms, and uses of language, see Linguistics. For a treatment of the phonetic and physiological aspects of spoken language, see Speech. For a treatment of written language and writing systems, see Writing. For a treatment of the particular linguistic function of naming, see Names. Language has a structure or a series of structures, and this structuring can be analyzed and systematically presented. When language is spoken, a complex series of events takes place. These events are on many planes of experience: physical (the sound waves); chemical (the body chemistry); physiological (the movements of nerve impulses and of muscles); psychological (the reaction to stimuli); general cultural (the situation of the speaker in respect to the cultural system of his society); linguistic (the language being spoken); and semantic (its meaning). Languages are classified genetically if they are descendants of a common ancestral language. The conservative genetic classification of languages into a language family is based on an abundance of cognates (related words) in the member languages. Using these terms, one may treat the languages of the world according to the following geographic divisions: Europe, South Asia, North Asia, Southwest Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The languages of Europe and of regions inhabited by descendants of Europeans (e.g., the English- and Spanish-speaking peoples of the Americas) are primarily of the Indo-European and Uralic, or, more specifically, Finno-Ugric, language families. In the Indo-European family, Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, French, Romansh, Ladin, Friulian, Italian, and Romanian constitute the Romance subgroup of the Italic branch. The extant Germanic language groups spoken are English, Frisian, Netherlandic-German, Insular Scandinavian, and Continental Scandinavian, with these groups dividing further on national criteria (e.g., Continental Scandinavian divides into Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish). The Celtic branch of Indo-European is composed of Welsh, Breton, Irish Gaelic, and Scottish Gaelic. The literary languages within the Slavic branch of Indo-European may be divided into three geographic zones: East Slavic, West Slavic, and South Slavic, of which zones Russian, Polish, and Serbo-Croatian are respective examples. The three remaining branches of Indo-European are Baltic, Greek, and Albanian. Languages of the Finno-Ugric family, such as languages of the Sami (Lapp) and Baltic-Finno groups (e.g., Sami, Finnish, and Livonian), are spoken in parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Hungarian is also a member of the Finno-Ugric family. In South Asia, the languages of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the border states are genetically classified into the Indo-Aryan and Iranian subgroups of the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European. There are more than 20 members of the Indo-Aryan subgroup and many more dialects, but the most widely spoken are Bengali-Assamese, West Hindi, Bihari, and East Hindi. The languages of the Iranian subgroup have fewer speakers in South Asia than the Indo-Aryan languages: Kashmiri and Shina, the most widely spoken Iranian languages in South Asia, are spoken only in Jammu and Kashmir. A few indigenous languages, such as the Dravidian languages of Telugu and Tamil, are spoken in South Asia, as are a few Sino-Tibetan languages. In many parts of postcolonial South Asia, English is still spoken as an interstate and international language. The languages of North Asia are those spoken from the Arctic Ocean on the north to South Asia and China on the south and from the Caspian Sea and Ural Mountains in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. These languages are genetically classified into either the Uralic family, the Altaic group, the Indo-European family, or the Paleo-Siberian group. Although speakers of the Uralic languages are few in number, many speakers of Altaic languages are found in Iran, Afghanistan, and the Kansu province of China. Most Indo-European languages, such as Iranian, have been introduced into North Asia only recently. The Paleo-Siberian languages are not genetically linked to each other or to the other languages of North Asia and are spoken largely in northeasternmost Siberia. In Southwest Asiai.e., in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Israelthe languages spoken are either Indo-European, Turkic, Caucasian, or Semitic. Of the Indo-European languages, almost all the Iranian languages, including Persian, Pashto, Kurdish, and Balochi, are spoken in Iran; and Armenian is spoken in Armenia and Georgia. The Turkic language Turkish is spoken in Turkey, and other Turkic languages are spoken in the Caucasus, where more than 30 Caucasian languages are spoken. Of the Semitic languages spoken in Southwest Asia, Arabic is spoken in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and much of the rest of the Middle East. Hebrew is spoken in Israel, and West Aramaic dialects are spoken in Lebanon and Syria. In East Asia the languages spoken are largely Chinese languages (or dialects) in China, Japanese in Japan, and Korean in Korea, though the Altaic group is represented in China by Uighur, a Turkic language, and Manchu, a Manchu-Tungus language. Of the Chinese languages, Mandarin, Wu, and Cantonese are the most widely spoken. Mandarin, the native language of 70 percent of the Chinese, has more native speakers than any other language in the world. Tai and Miao-Yao languages are spoken in south-central China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Southeast Asia is composed of a mainland subregion south of China and east of India, insular Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and the name of the language generally corresponds to the name of the country. The languages on the mainland belong to the Austroasiatic, Tai, and Sino-Tibetan language groups, while the insular languages are all members of the Austronesian family. More than 50 Austroasiatic languages, such as Khmer in Cambodia, Mon in Thailand, and Vietnamese in Vietnam, are spoken on the mainland of Southeast Asia. The Tai and Sino-Tibetan families are represented by Thai in Thailand, Lao in Laos and Cambodia, and Burmese in Myanmar (Burma). In insular Southeast Asia, more than 500 Austronesian languages are spoken, the largest group of which is the Western Indonesian subgroup, which includes Tagalog, the basis for Pilipino, and 100 other languages spoken in the Philippines. While New Guinea and Australia may be said to belong to insular Southeast Asia, they contain only non-Austronesian languages, predominantly the Papuan languages of New Guinea and the more than 200 Australian Aboriginal languages. Although, in many parts of Africa, European languages imported with 19th-century colonialism are still spoken as functional national languages, the native African language families are the Afro-Asiatic (formerly Hamito-Semitic), Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo, and Khoisan families. The Afro-Asiatic languages are spoken across North Africa from Mauritania to Somalia and beyond into southern Asia. The Nilo-Saharan languages are spoken in central interior Africa. The Niger-Congo languages, of which there are almost 900, are spoken from Mauritania to Kenya and south into South Africa. The Khoisan languages consist of about 50 languages spoken in southern Africa and Tanzania. In the Americas, European languages such as Spanish, English, Portuguese, and French predominate. English is the language of most of North America, while Spanish and Portuguese are the dominant languages in South and Central America. The Western Hemisphere's indigenous languages, which came from Asia with the ancestors of the American Indians, are classified into the North and Central American Indian language families and the South American Indian language families. The North and Central American Indian language family is in part composed of the 20 Athabascan languages, the 13 Algonkian languages, the Macro-Siouan languages, and the Penutian languages, the only North American Indian language group successfully traced into South America. The South American Indian languages are much more numerous: the Andean-Equatorial group, for example, includes 14 families and almost 200 languages spoken from French Guiana to Colombia and south to Paraguay, as well as along the Amazon. Additional reading A bibliography for language is likely to overlap at least partially with the bibliography for linguistics. This bibliography draws attention to some books that may usefully be consulted without prior specialist knowledge, and that develop in further detail the major topics introduced in the article.Edward Sapir, Language (1921), one of the most attractive books on language ever written; Leonard Bloomfield, Language (1933), longer and more technical than Sapir's book, but a classic work that remains unmatched in its breadth of coverage, though Bloomfield's treatment of semantics is now felt to be somewhat dated through his strict adherence to behaviourist principles; Jean F. Wallwork, Language and Linguistics (1969), a short, simple, and modern introduction to the study of language, and Language and People (1978), a brief discussion of the social dimensions of language; Herbert H. and Eve V. Clark, Psychology and Language (1977), an introduction to theories of language acquisition; Dwight L. Bolinger, Aspects of Language (1968), very useful wide-ranging survey of current approaches to the subject; David Abercrombie, Elements of General Phonetics (1967), and Peter N. Ladefoged, A Course in Phonetics (1975), excellent introductions to the linguistic study of human speech; John Lyons, Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics (1968), deals with linguistics rather than with language, but is an important textbook that introduces the reader to some of the most significant developments in the theory of grammar and semantics, as does the same author's later work Language and Linguistics: An Introduction; N. Minnis (ed.), Linguistics at Large (1971), a collection of papers on different aspects of language, several of which treat at greater length some of the topics mentioned in the article; Robert H. Robins, A Short History of Linguistics, 2nd ed. (1979), a brief historical account of the study of language from antiquity to the present day. Dell Hymes (ed.), Language in Culture and Society: A Reader in Linguistics and Anthropology (1964), contains a number of useful articles on the relations between language and man's life in society. Roy Harris, The Language Myth (1981), explores the relations between language and thought; George A. Miller, Language and Speech (1981), tries to explain language from the point of view of biology; Eric Wanner and Lila R. Gleitman (eds.), Language Acquisition: The State of the Art (1982), researches how children acquire language; Hans Aarsleff, From Locke to Saussure: Essays on the Study of Language and Intellectual History (1982), challenges established language theories; David Lightfoot, The Language Lottery: Toward a Biology of Grammars (1982), examines the place of language in the system of human cognition and perception; Jeremy Campbell, Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life (1982), addresses language and information theory; Derek Bickerton, Roots of Language (1981), examines origins of languages; and Graham D. Martin, The Architecture of Experience: A Discussion of the Role of Language and Literature in the Construction of the World (1981), is a special study.

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