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Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication. The scientific study of language in any of its senses is called linguistics.

The approximately 3000–6000 languages that are spoken by humans today are the most salient examples, but natural languages can also be based on visual rather than auditory stimuli, for example in sign languages and written language. Codes and other kinds of artificially constructed communication systems such as those used for computer programming can also be called languages. A language in this sense is a system of signs for encoding and decoding information. The English word derives ultimately from Latin lingua, "language, tongue", via Old French.[2] When used as a general concept, "language" refers to the cognitive faculty that enables humans to learn and use systems of complex communication.

Language as a communication system is thought to be fundamentally different from and of much higher complexity than those of other species as it is based on a complex system of rules relating symbols to their meanings, resulting in an indefinite number of possible innovative utterances from a finite number of elements. Language is thought to have originated when early hominids first started cooperating, adapting earlier systems of communication based on expressive signs to include a theory of other minds and shared intentionality. This development is 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 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 when they are around three years old. The use of language has become deeply entrenched in human culture and, apart from being used to communicate and share information, it also has social and cultural uses, such as signifying group identity, social stratification and for social grooming and entertainment. The word "language" can also be used to describe the set of rules that makes this possible, or the set of utterances that can be produced from those rules.

All languages rely on the process of semiosis to relate a sign with a particular meaning. Spoken and signed languages contain a phonological system that governs how sounds or visual symbols are used to form sequences known as words or morphemes, and a syntactic system that governs how words and morphemes are used to form phrases and utterances. Written languages use visual symbols to represent the sounds of the spoken languages, but they still require syntactic rules that govern the production of meaning from sequences of words. 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 for the later stages to have occurred. A group of languages that descend from a common ancestor is known as a language family. The languages that are most spoken in the world today belong to the Indo-European family, which includes languages such as English, Spanish, Russian and Hindi; the Sino-Tibetan languages, which include Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese and many others; Semitic languages, which include Arabic, Amharic and Hebrew; and the Bantu languages, which include Swahili, Zulu, Shona and hundreds of other languages spoken throughout Africa. Forty per cent of the world's languages are endangered and likely to become extinct.[3]


The word "language" has at least two basic meanings: language as a general concept, and "a language" (a specific linguistic system, e.g. "French"). Ferdinand de Saussure first explicitly formulated the distinction, using the French word langage for language as a concept, and langue as the specific instance of language.[4]

When speaking of language as a general concept, several different definitions can be used that stress different aspects of the phenomenon.[5] These definitions also entail different approaches and understandings of language, and they inform different and often incompatible schools of linguistic theory.

Mental faculty, organ or instinctEdit

One definition sees language primarily as the mental faculty that allows humans to undertake linguistic behaviour: to learn languages and produce and understand utterances. This definition stresses the universality of language to all humans and the biological basis of the human capacity for language as a unique development of the human brain.[6][7] This view often understands language to be largely innate, for example as in Chomsky's theory of Universal Grammar, Jerry Fodor’s extreme innatist theory. These kinds of definitions are often applied by studies of language within a cognitive science framework and in neurolinguistics.

Formal symbolic systemEdit

Another definition sees language as a formal system of signs governed by grammatical rules of combination to communicate meaning. This definition stresses the fact 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 most approaches to language today. Some proponents of this view of language have advocated a formal approach to studying the structures of language, privileging the formulation of underlying abstract rules that can be understood to generate observable linguistic structures. The main proponent of such a theory is Noam Chomsky, who defines language as a particular set of sentences that can be generated from a particular set of rules.[8] The structuralist viewpoint is commonly used in formal logic, semiotics, and in formal and structural theories of grammar, the most commonly used theoretical frameworks in linguistic description. In the philosophy of language these views are associated with philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, early Wittgenstein, Alfred Tarski and Gottlob Frege.

Tool for communicationEdit

Yet another definition sees language as a system of communication that enables humans to cooperate. This definition stresses the social functions of language and the fact that humans use it to express themselves and to manipulate objects in their environment. Functional theories of grammar explain grammatical structures by their communicative functions, and understands the grammatical structures of language to be the result of an adaptive process by which grammar was "tailored" to serve communicative needs of its users. This view of language is associated with the study of language in pragmatic, cognitive and interactional frameworks, as well as in socio-linguistics and linguistic anthropology. Functionalist theories tend to study grammar as a dynamic phenomenon, as structures that are always in the process of changing as they are employed by their speakers. This view leads to the study of linguistic typology being of importance, as it can be shown that processes of grammaticalization tend to follow trajectories that are partly dependent on typology. In the philosophy of language these views are often associated with Wittgenstein’s later works and with ordinary language philosophers such as G. E. Moore, Paul Grice, John Searle and J. L. Austin.

What makes human language uniqueEdit

Human language is unique in comparison to other forms of communication, such as those used by animals, because it allows humans to produce an infinite set of utterances from a finite set of elements,[9] and because the symbols and grammatical rules of any particular language are largely arbitrary, so that the system can only be acquired through social interaction. The known systems of communication used by animals, on the other hand, can only express a finite number of utterances that are mostly genetically transmitted.[10]

Human languages also differ from animal communication systems in that they employ grammatical and semantic categories such as noun and verb, or present and past, to express exceedingly complex meanings.[11] Human language is also unique in that its complex structure serves a much wider range of functions than any other known communication system.

Language is also unique in that it has the important property that it organizes elements into recursive structures; this allows, for example, a noun phrase to contain another noun phrase (as in "the chimpanzee's lips") or a clause to contain a clause (as in "I think that it's raining").

The study of languageEdit

Suleras:Main 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. Today linguistics is a science that concerns itself with all aspects relating to 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 so that people can learn the languages; theoretical linguistics develops theories of how best to conceptualize language as a faculty, 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 about the language faculty; computational linguistics builds on thoretical 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.

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The formal study of language began in India with Pāṇini, the 5th century BC grammarian who formulated 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology. In the 18th century, the first use of the comparative method by William Jones sparked the rise of comparative linguistics.[12] 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 to 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 foundational in many contemporary linguistic theories, such as the distinctions between syntagm and paradigm, and the Langue- parole distinction, distinguishing language as an abstract system (language), from language as a concrete manifestation of this system (parole).[13]

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 are universal for all humans and which underlies the grammars of all human languages. This set of rules is called Universal Grammar, and for Chomsky describing it is the primary objective of the discipline of linguistics. For this reason the grammars of individual languages are only of importance to linguistics, in so far as they allow us to discern the universal underlying rules from which the observable linguistic variability is generated.

In opposition to the formal theories of the generative school functional theories of language propose that since language is fundamentally a tool, it is reasonable to assume that its structures are best analyzed and understood with reference to the functions they carry out. Functional theories of grammar differs from formal theories of grammar, in that the latter seeks to define the different elements of language and describe the way they relate to each other as systems of formal rules or operations, whereas the former defines the functions performed by language and then relates these functions to the linguistic elements that carry them out.[14] The framework of Cognitive linguistics interprets language in terms of the concepts, sometimes universal, sometimes specific to a particular language, which underlie its forms.[15] Cognitive linguistics is primarily concerned with how the mind creates meaning through language

Language and its partsEdit

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 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 (a signal).

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.[16]

The rules under which signs can be combined to form words and phrases are called syntax or grammar. The meaning that is connected to individual signs, words and phrases 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.


Languages express meaning by relating a sign to a meaning. Thus languages must have a vocabulary of signs related to specific meaning—the English sign "dog" denotes, for example, a member of the genus Canis. 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 grammatical categories. All languages contain the semantic structure of predication— a structure that predicates a property, state or action. Traditionally semantics has been understood as the study of how speakers and interpreters assign truth values to statements, so that meaning is understood as 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 symbolsEdit

Suleras:Main The ways in which spoken languages use sounds to construct meaning is studied in phonology. The study of how humans produce and perceive vocal sounds is called phonetics. In spoken language meaning is constructed 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. All spoken languages have phonemes of at least two different categories: vowels and consonants that can be combined into forming syllables. Apart from 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.

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Writing systems represent the sounds of human speech using visual symbols. The Latin alphabet (and those on which it is based or that have been derived from it) is based on the representation of single sounds, so that words are 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. Because all languages have a very large number of words, no purely logographic scripts are known to exist. In order to represent the sounds of the world’s languages in writing, linguists have developed an International Phonetic Alphabet, designed to represent all of the discrete sounds that are known to contribute to meaning in human languages.


Suleras:Main Grammar is the study of how meaningful elements (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 obtaining for the internal structure of words are called morphology. The rules of the internal structure of the phrases and sentences are called syntax.[17]

Grammatical categoriesEdit

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 categories 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.

Word classesEdit

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 denote things and concepts and a group of words that prototypically denote 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. Other common categories are adjectives, words that describe properties or qualities of nouns such as "red" or "big".

The 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 that serve to join two sentences and articles that introduces a noun.


Many languages use the morphological processes of inflection to modify or elaborate on the meaning of words. In some languages words are built of several meaningful units called morphemes, 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 roots to which other bound morphemes called affixes are added, and bound morphemes 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". Furthermore morphology distinguishes between processes of inflection which modifies or elaborates on a word, and derivation which instead creates a new word from an existing one - for example in English "sing" which can become "singer" by adding the derivational morpheme -er which derives an agentive noun from a verb. Languages differ widely in how much they rely on morphology - some languages, traditionally called polysynthetic languages, make extensive use of morphology, so that they express the equivalent of an entire English sentence in a single word. For example the Greenlandic word "oqaatiginerluppaa" "(he/she) speaks badly about him/her" which consists of the root oqaa and six suffixes.[18]



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Languages that use inflection to convey meaning often do not have strict rules for word order in a sentence. For example in Latin both Dominus servos vituperabat and Servos vituperabat dominus mean "the master was cursing the slaves", because servos "slaves" is in the accusative case showing that they are the grammatical object of the sentence and dominus "master" is in the nominative case showing that he is the subject. Other languages, however, use little or no inflectional processes and instead use the sequence of words in relation to each other to describe 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 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.

Syntax then, has to do with the order of words in sentences, and specifically how complex sentences are structured by grouping words together in units, called phrases, that can occupy different places in a larger syntactic structure. Below is a graphic representation of the syntactic analysis of the sentence "the cat sat on the mat". The sentence is analysed 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.

Language acquisitionEdit

Suleras:Further2 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 signed or spoken languages.[19] 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 Man, naturalist Charles Darwin called this process, "an instinctive tendency to acquire an art."[7]

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, she or he will produce two-word utterances, and within a few more months begin to produce telegraphic speech, 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.[20]

Language and cultureEdit

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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 speak them. Humans use language as a way of signalling identity with one cultural group and 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.

A community's way of using language is a part of the community's culture, just as other shared practices are; it is a way of displaying group identity. Ways of speaking function not only to facilitate communication, but also to identify the social position of the speaker. Linguists use the term varieties, a term that encompasses geographically or socioculturally defined dialects as well as the jargons or styles of subcultures, to refer to the different ways of speaking a language. Linguistic anthropologists and sociologists of language define communicative style as the ways that language is used and understood within a particular culture.[21]

Languages do not differ only in pronunciation, vocabulary or grammar, but also through having different "cultures of speaking". Some cultures for example have elaborate systems of "social deixis", systems of signalling social distance through linguistic means.[22] In English, social deixis is shown mostly though distinguishing between addressing some people by first name and others by surname, but also 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 several 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.[22]


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Suleras:Main Theories about the origin of language can be divided according to their basic assumptions. Some theories are based on the idea that language is so complex that one can not 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 fairly suddenly in the transition from pre-hominids to early man. These theories can be defined as discontinuity based. Similarly some theories see language mostly as an innate faculty that is largely genetically encoded, while others see it as a system that is largely cultural, that is learned through social interaction.[23] Currently the only prominent proponent of a discontinuity theory of human language origins is 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'. While 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'.[24] Continuity based theories are currently 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 Steven Pinker, hold the precedents to be animal cognition, whereas those who see language as a socially learned tool of communication, such as Michael Tomasello see it as having developed from animal communication, either primate gestural or vocal communication. Other continuity based models see language as having developed from music.[25]

Because the emergence of language is located in the early prehistory of man, the relevant developments have left no direct historical traces and 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. Alternatively early human fossils can be inspected to look for traces of physical adaptation to language use or for traces of pre-linguistic forms of symbolic behaviour.

It is mostly undisputed that pre-human australopithecines did not have communication systems significantly different from those found in great apes in general, but scholarly opinions vary as to the developments since the appearance of Homo some 2.5 million years ago. Some scholars assume the development of primitive language-like systems (proto-language) as early as Homo habilis, while others place the development of primitive symbolic communication only with Homo erectus (1.8 million years ago) or Homo heidelbergensis (0.6 million years ago) and the development of language proper with Homo sapiens sapiens less than 100,000 years ago.

Linguistic analysis, used by Johanna Nichols, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley, to estimate the time required to achieve the current spread and diversity in modern languages today, indicates that vocal language arose at least 100,000 years ago.[26]

Natural languagesEdit


Human languages are usually referred to as natural languages, and the science of studying them falls under the purview of linguistics. A common progression for natural languages is that they are considered to be first spoken and then written, and then an understanding and explanation of their grammar is attempted.

Languages live, die, move from place to place, and change with time. Any language that ceases to change or develop is categorized as a dead language. Conversely, any language that is in a continuous state of change is known as a living language or modern language.

Making a principled distinction between one language and another is sometimes nearly impossible.[27] For instance, there are a few dialects of German similar to some dialects of Dutch. The transition between languages within the same language family is sometimes gradual (see dialect continuum).

Some like to make parallels with biology, where it is not possible to make a well-defined distinction between one species and the next. In either case, the ultimate difficulty may stem from the interactions between languages and populations. (See Dialect or August Schleicher for a longer discussion.)

The concepts of Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache and Dachsprache are used to make finer distinctions about the degrees of difference between languages or dialects.

A sign language (also signed language) is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns (manual communication, body language) to convey meaning—simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to fluidly express a speaker's thoughts. Hundreds of sign languages are in use around the world and are at the cores of local Deaf cultures.

Artificial languagesEdit

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An artificial language is a language the phonology, grammar, and/or vocabulary of which have been consciously devised or modified by an individual or group, instead of having evolved naturally. There are many possible reasons to construct a language: to ease human communication (see international auxiliary language and code); to add depth to a work of fiction or an associated constructed world; for linguistic experimentation; for artistic creation; and for language games.

The expression "planned language" is sometimes used to mean international auxiliary languages and other languages designed for actual use in human communication. Some prefer it to the term "artificial" which may have pejorative connotations in some languages. Outside the Esperanto community, the term language planning means the prescriptions given to a natural language to standardize it; in this regard, even "natural languages" may be artificial in some respects. Prescriptive grammars, which date to ancient times for classical languages such as Latin, Sanskrit, and Chinese are rule-based codifications of natural languages, such codifications being a middle ground between naive natural selection and development of language and its explicit construction.


Mathematics, Logics and computer science use artificial entities called formal languages (including programming languages and markup languages, and some that are more theoretical in nature). These often take the form of character strings, produced by a combination of formal grammar and semantics of arbitrary complexity.

A programming language is a formal language endowed with semantics that can be utilized to control the behavior of a machine, particularly a computer, to perform specific tasks. Programming languages are defined using syntactic and semantic rules, to determine structure and meaning respectively.

Programming languages are employed to facilitate communication about the task of organizing and manipulating information, and to express algorithms precisely. Some authorsSuleras:Who restrict the term "programming language" to those languages that can express all possible algorithms; sometimes the term "computer language" is applied to artificial languages that are more limited.Suleras:Citation needed

Animal communicationEdit


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The term "animal languages" is often used for non-human systems of communication. Linguists and semioticians do not consider these to be true "language", but describe them as animal communication on the basis on non-symbolic sign systems,[28] because the interaction between animals in such communication is fundamentally different in its underlying principles from human language. According to this approach, since animals aren't born with the ability to reason, the term "culture", when applied to animal communities, is understood to refer to something qualitatively different than in human communities. Language, communication and culture are more complex amongst humans. A dog may successfully communicate an aggressive emotional state with a growl, which may or may not cause another dog to keep away or back off. Similarly, when a human screams in fear, it may or may not alert other humans of impending danger. Both of these examples communicate, but both are not what would generally be called language.

In several publicized instances, non-human animals have been taught to understand certain features of human language. Karl von Frisch received the Nobel Prize in 1973 for his proof of the sign communication and its variants of the bees.[29] Chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans have been taught hand signs based on American Sign Language. The African Grey Parrot, Alex, which possessed the ability to mimic human speech with a high degree of accuracy, is suspected of having had sufficient intelligence to comprehend some of the speech it mimicked. Though animals can be taught to understand parts of human language, they are unable to develop a language.

While proponents of animal communication systems have debated levels of semantics, these systems have not been found to have anything approaching human language syntax.[30]

See alsoEdit

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Study of language
Types of language
Language relationships
Coded language
Origins of language


Religion and mythology
Education and public policy
Communication with other species

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Further readingEdit



External linksEdit

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