What is language?
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How to define language
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definition of language.
Here you can find several somewhat different definitions of language.
A dictionary definition of language:
"Human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, feelings and desires by means of a system of sounds and sound symbols" (Hornby, 1974, p.472)
"Language is only one aspect of the symbolic (or semiotic) function. This function is the ability to represent something by a sign or symbol or another object. In addition to language the semiotic function includes gestures...deferred imitation...drawing, painting, modelling" (Piaget, 1970, p.45)
The linguist Noam Chomsky also offers a definition of human language. First, he says that human language has structural principles such as grammar or a system of rules and principles that specifies the properties of its expression. Second, human language has various physical mechanisms of which little is known but it does seem clear that "laterization plays a crucial role and that there are special language centers, perhaps linked to the auditory and vocal systems" (Chomsky, 1980). The third quality of human language is its manner of use. Human language is used for expression of thought, for establishing social relationships, for communication of information and for clarifying ideas. Another characteristic of human language is that it has phylogenetic development in the sense that language evolved after humans had separated from the other primates. Therefore language must have had a selective advantage and must coincide with the proliferation of the human species. Finally, human language has been integrated into a system of a cognitive structure (Chomsky,1980).
Obviously there is a vast difference between the
concepts of communication and language:
"Communication consists of exchanges of information between a sender and a receiver using a code of specific signals that usually serve to meet common challenges (reproduction, feeding, protection) and, in group-living species, to promote cohesiveness of the group." (Vauclair, 1996, p. 99)
Visit http://mitpress.mit.edu/MITECS/work/duncans_r.html for an article by Susan Duncan covering several aspects of human and animal communication, language and paralanguage.