The LINGUIST List is dedicated to providing information on language and language analysis, and to providing the discipline of linguistics with the infrastructure necessary to function in the digital world. LINGUIST is a free resource, run by linguistics students and faculty, and supported primarily by your donations. Please support LINGUIST List during the 2018 Fund Drive (
Ask Your Question

What are the defining qualities of a 'language'?

asked 2018-03-29 02:14:52 -0400

A S Sundar gravatar image

How do we identify a language?What essential qualities of any language confirm that it's a language?

edit retag flag offensive close merge delete

1 answer

Sort by ยป oldest newest most voted

answered 2018-03-30 02:55:13 -0400

A S Sundar gravatar image

updated 2018-03-30 02:56:27 -0400

We linguists talk about LANGUAGE all the time.What exactly is a LANGUAGE?What are the defining qualities of a LANGUAGE?Suppose something is claimed to be a language,how does one confirm it? Let us see. Any language ,by nature,MUST have the following ESSENTIAL QUALITIES.

1.LANGUAGE Should have a definite PEOPLE linked to it.E.g.English linked to English people;Chinese to Chinese people etc.That is THERE CANNOT BE A LANGUAGE EXISTING WITHOUT ANY PEOPLE LINKED TO IT. 2. LANGUAGE should be used for COMMUNICATION between people in a community. 3. LANGUAGE must be SPOKEN.If anything is NOT SPOKEN,IT IS NOT A LANGUAGE.However LANGUAGE need not have its own writing script. 4. LANGUAGE need not have words.E.g.Sign language,pictorial languages. 5. LANGUAGE is not RESTRICTED FOR A SPECIFIED PURPOSE generally.

Is Morse Code a LANGUAGE? Is JAVA a LANGUAGE? Is Sanskrit a LANGUAGE? We can just apply the fore going check-list and find out easily. If Morse Code is not a LANGUAGE,then what is it? It's a *Cryptic Code used for a specified purpose and not a LANGUAGE.Similarly JAVA,Sanskrit are Cryptic Codes as they do not fulfill the conditions listed.

edit flag offensive delete link more



...huh? Point 3 is obviously wrong, because it rejects sign languages. Point 4 doesn't make sense, at least not as explained. It also contradicts point 3 (how would a "pictorial language" be "spoken"?). Re: point 5, are liturgical languages not languages? And since when is Sanskrit not a language?

jpstaten gravatar imagejpstaten ( 2018-04-06 09:16:46 -0400 )edit

Point 1 is also wrong, see e.g. Esperanto or Creole languages. It leads to the question: What is a 'definite people'?

ruma gravatar imageruma ( 2018-04-14 03:17:17 -0400 )edit
Login/Signup to Answer

Question Tools

1 follower


Asked: 2018-03-29 02:14:52 -0400

Seen: 164 times

Last updated: Mar 30