What is a language?

morse code machine, distinct language

We will take a closer look at what is a language on this page with some informative terminology.

Wikipedia defines ‘language’ as the ability to acquire and use complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so, and a language is any specific example of such a system.

In other words, language is the method of communication; a set of words, symbols, and rules for combining them in a structured way. It can be spoken, written or signed. There is even whistled language in Black sea region (see the video below), in Northern Turkey and in many places such as Canary islands, Mexico and in a tiny village in Greece. According to linguists and psychologists, in order to for something to be referred as a language, it has to have for components:

1. Symbolic (Phonology): We use symbols to represent the world around us. Words, signs, alphabet are all symbolic. It allows us to imagine things that we are not seeing. Because a language is symbolic, we are able to describe things that we are not showing. It allows us to comprehend the notion of religion, democracy or any kinds of things.

2. Semantics: This allows symbols to have a meaning. It is also called semasiology. Semantics, from the linguistic aspect, is the study of interpretation of symbols, signs, words etc.

3. Generativity (Pragmatics): By the combination of symbols, we can generate unlimited numbers of meaningful phrases. Daily life talking consists of less than one thousand words for an average person; However, one can express almost anything with such a limited number of words. Animals are not capable of doing this while comunicating with each other although they can distinguish different symbols having different meanings.

4. Structure (Syntax): Everything so far have to follow rules. Languages have structure and rules. We call this set of rules ‘grammar’. Grammar may differ depending on the language but it exists in every language.

Video: Whistling tongue are in danger of extinction.

Video 2: Whistling tongue in Canary Island (UNESCO)

Video 3: Morse code. How does it work? (documentary)