Definition of Language
• Sapir (1921:7) in Language:
Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of
communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of
voluntarily produced symbols.
• Mario Pei and Frank Gaynor (1954) in A Dictionary
Language is a system of communication by sound, i.e., through the
organs of speech and hearing, among human beings of a certain
group or community, using vocal symbols possessing arbitrary
Definition of Language
• Jack et al.(1985) in Longman Dictionary of Applied
Language is the system of human communication by means of a
structured arrangement of sounds (or their written
representation) to form larger units, e.g. morphemes, words,
• Hadumod Bussmann (1996) in Routledge Dictionary of
Language and Linguistics:
Language is a vehicle for the expression or exchange of thoughts,
concepts, knowledge, and information as well as the fixing and
transmission of experience and knowledge. It is based on
cognitive processes, subject to societal factors and subject to
historical change and development.
Language Is Systematic
Language Is Symbolic
Language Is Primarily Vocal
Language Is Human Specific
Language Is Used for Communication
Language is Systematic
• In natural verbal communication, people can learn and use a
language consistently. This shows that language is
• a system of sounds and a system of meanings.
• In a language we can find agreed-upon sound-meaning
relations and agreed-upon sequences.
Language is Symbolic
• Signs are ubiquitous in human society. Signs
can be categorized into three major types.
• Icon: an object and its sign are related to each
other by a physical resemblance.
• Index: an object and its sign are associated to
each other by physical proximity.
• Symbol: a sign and the object it signifies are
associated by social convention.
• According to Saussure, the forms of linguistic signs bear no
natural resemblance to their meaning. The link between them
is a matter of convention.
Language is Primarily Vocal
The primary medium of language is sound.
No matter how well developed are their writing systems, all languages
Writing systems are attempts to capture sounds and meanings on
paper. Moreover, writing can influence speaking.
• Which is the more important, speech or writing?
• a. Children learn to speak before they learn to read and
• b. Children automatically learn a language as they grow
• c. The spoken form came earlier than the written in
• d. Writing is based on speech.
• e. People use spoken language more often than writing.
• Furthermore, writing can extend language beyond the
limitation of time and space.
• Most written language is more highly polished than
Language is human specific
• The claim that language is human specific implies that
there are certain characteristics of human language that
are not found in the communication systems of any other
• Animals communicate in a limited way.
• Animal communication is stimulus-bound while human
language is not.
• Experiments to teach animals more complicated
systems have a history of failure.
• First, language can be used to refer to things far
removed in time and space.
• Second, humans have the ability to produce and
understand an indefinite number of novel utterances.
• Third, learning is much more important in human
language than in animal communication.
• Fourth, language is complex in its structure.
• Fifth, human languages are open-ended.
• Finally, humans can perform acts with language.
Language is used for communication
• Language allows us to talk about anything to each
other within their realm of knowledge and express our
Functions of Language
• Language enables humans to do many things, thus
serving different functions in the society. Finch (1998)
lists seven general (micro) functions:
• Physiological function
• Phatic function
• Recording function
• Identifying function
• Reasoning function
• Communicating function
• Pleasure function
• Physiological Function
Language can help get rid of nervous or physical energy.
our expression of fear and affection, our involuntary
verbal reactions to beautiful things.
• Phatic Function
Language can serve the function of creating or
maintaining social relationship between speakers.
• Recording Function
Language allows us to record things we wish to
• Identifying Function
Language also allows us to identify an enormous array of
objects and events and make sense of the world
• Reasoning Function
Language can help us think. Language is a tool of thought.
• Communicating Function
Language is a means of communicating ideas and facts.
Language allows us to derive pleasure from it.
The Origin of Language
• Many scholars have done a wide range of
studies in the origin of language.
• Some have looked at the problem of whether
primitive man had the physiological capacity
• Some hold that with the development of the human
society, man learned to use tools by hand and tools
promoted the development of speech, because
learning involved language.
• Various theories have been suggested with
regards to the origin of language. The majority of
these theories can be grouped under three
• creation (or divine origin)
• evolutionary development
Creation (or divine origin)
• The divine origin theorists propose that in
the beginning there was one language
from one source, which later became
corrupted into many languages.
• The evolutionary theory believes that language
evolved as an adjunct to early communication
(pointing, gesturing, grunting, imitation of animal
• Invention theory sees the origin of language in the
imitation of natural sounds.
• They pointed to onomatopoetic words and suggested
that these form the basis of language, or at least the
core of the basic vocabulary.
• It was out of the natural cries that man constructed
• Since the end of the 18th century, scholars have been
comparing groups of languages to see whether there
were any relationships between them.
• Why have some languages in the world
• Usually, there are two main ways of classifying
• Genetic Classification
• Typological Classification
• This is a historical classification.
• Languages have diverged from a common
• a comparison of the formal similarities
which exist between languages.
• group languages into structural types on
the basis of phonology, vocabulary, or
According to Crystal (1987), there are at least 29 languages families in the
• Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied
Linguistics defines linguistics as the study of language as a
system of human communication.
• Chomsky defines linguistics as principally concerned with
the universals of the human mind. He considers linguistics
as a branch of cognitive psychology.
• The study of language in the western world goes back
many centuries to Greek and Roman antiquity and
• In the twentieth century,
• speech sounds (phonetics and phonology) grammar
(morphology and syntax) meaning (semantics) the
study of texts (discourse analysis).
• Linguists have of course always been aware of the fact
that in language all aspects are involved, namely,
psychology, society, cognition.
Langue and parole
One of Saussure’s central ideas
Langue: the underlying system shared by all the speakers.
Parole: the actual act of speaking
Prescriptive and descriptive
• Prescriptivism prescribes rules.
• Descriptive linguistics describes data observed.
• Speech and Writing
• Linguists regard speech as primary, not the written.
Synchronic and diachronic
• One of Saussure’s ideas
• The diachronic study: the study of the historical
development of a language.
• The synchronic study: the study of a particular state of
a language at some point of time.
Syntagmatic and paradigmatic
• One of Saussure’s ideas
• Paradigmatic relation: contrasts which produce distinct
and alternative terms.
• Syntagmatic relation: the relations between units which
combine to form sequences.
Competence and performance
• This distinction was discussed by Chomsky
• Competence: language ability, knowledge of the
native language, grammaticality
• Performance: actual language use
Form and Function
• The functional approach centers on linguistic
explanation based on language's function in context.
• The formalist approach places a higher value on
formal syntactic analysis.
• Several schools of thought have emerged round a few
prominent linguists such as Firth, Halliday, Hjelmslev
and Chomsky, major centers of linguistic study like
Prague School, Geneva School, Copenhagen School,
and leading concepts such as structuralism,
functionalism, tagmemics, systemic functional
grammar, transformational generative grammar,
speech act theory.