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Portal:Language

For a topical guide of this subject, see Outline of linguistics

Introduction

A mural in Teotihuacan, Mexico (c. 2nd century) depicting a person emitting a speech scroll from his mouth, symbolizing speech

Language is a system that consists of the development, acquisition, maintenance and use of complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so; and a language is any specific example of such a system.

The scientific study of language is called linguistics. Questions concerning the philosophy of language, such as whether words can represent experience, have been debated at least since Gorgias and Plato in ancient Greece. Thinkers such as Rousseau have argued that language originated from emotions while others like Kant have held that it originated from rational and logical thought. 20th-century philosophers such as Wittgenstein argued that philosophy is really the study of language. Major figures in linguistics include Ferdinand de Saussure and Noam Chomsky.

Estimates of the number of human languages in the world vary between 5,000 and 7,000. However, any precise estimate depends on a partly arbitrary distinction between languages and dialects. Natural languages are spoken or signed, but any language can be encoded into secondary media using auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli – for example, in whistling, signed, or braille. This is because human language is modality-independent. Depending on philosophical perspectives regarding the definition of language and meaning, when used as a general concept, "language" may refer to the cognitive ability to learn and use systems of complex communication, or to describe the set of rules that makes up these systems, or the set of utterances that can be produced from those rules. All languages rely on the process of semiosis to relate signs to particular meanings. Oral, manual and tactile languages contain a phonological system that governs how symbols are used to form sequences known as words or morphemes, and a syntactic system that governs how words and morphemes are combined to form phrases and utterances.

Human language has the properties of productivity and displacement, and relies entirely on social convention and learning. Its complex structure affords a much wider range of expressions than any known system of animal communication. Language is thought to have originated when early hominins started gradually changing their primate communication systems, acquiring the ability to form a theory of other minds and a shared intentionality. This development is sometimes 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 and social 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 by approximately three years old. The use of language is deeply entrenched in human culture. Therefore, in addition to its strictly communicative uses, language also has many social and cultural uses, such as signifying group identity, social stratification, as well as social grooming and entertainment.

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 in order for the later developmental stages to occur. A group of languages that descend from a common ancestor is known as a language family. The Indo-European family is the most widely spoken and includes languages as diverse as English, Russian and Hindi; the Sino-Tibetan family includes Mandarin, Bodo and the other Chinese languages, and Tibetan; the Afro-Asiatic family includes Arabic, Somali, and Hebrew; the Bantu languages include Swahili, and Zulu, and hundreds of other languages spoken throughout Africa; and the Malayo-Polynesian languages include Indonesian, Malay, Tagalog, and hundreds of other languages spoken throughout the Pacific. The languages of the Dravidian family, spoken mostly in Southern India, include Tamil Telugu and Kannada. Academic consensus holds that between 50% and 90% of languages spoken at the beginning of the 21st century will probably have become extinct by the year 2100.

Selected language

The first page of Beowulf, one of the most important woks of Anglo-Saxon literature.
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in parts of what are now England and southern and eastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon.

It was a West Germanic language closely related to Old Frisian and Old Saxon. In most respects, including its grammar, it was much closer to modern German and Icelandic than to modern English. It was fully inflected with five grammatical cases, three grammatical numbers and three grammatical genders. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.

From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic group of languages.

Selected image

The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum
Credit: © Hans Hillewaert

The Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian granodiorite stele inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The decree appears in three scripts: the upper text is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion Demotic script, and the lowest Ancient Greek.

Selected topic

Interactive totems in the museum allow access to multimedia information about the languages that influenced the formation of the present day Portuguese language.
The Museum of the Portuguese Language (Portuguese: Museu da Língua Portuguesa; Brazilian Portuguese: [muˈzew dɐ ˈlĩgwɐ puʁtuˈgezɐ]) is an interactive Portuguese language — and Linguistics/Language Development in general — museum in São Paulo, Brazil. It is housed in the Estação da Luz railway station, in the urban district of the same name. The choice of the building for the launching of the museum is connected to the fact that it was mainly here that thousands of non-Portuguese speaking immigrants arriving from Europe and Asia into São Paulo via the Port of Santos got acquainted with the language for the first time. The idea of a museum-monument to the language was conceived by the São Paulo Secretary of Culture in conjunction with the Roberto Marinho Foundation, at a cost of around 37 million reais.

The objective of the museum is to create a living representation of the Portuguese language, where visitors may be surprised and educated by unusual and unfamiliar aspects of their own native language. Secondly, the caretakers of the museum, as expressed on the official website, "desire that, in this museum, the public has access to new knowledge and reflection in an intense and pleasurable manner," as it notices the relationship of the language with others, as well as its proto-languages. The museum targets the Portuguese speaking population, made up of peoples from many regions and social backgrounds, but who still have not had the opportunity to gain a broader understanding of the origins, the history and the continuous evolution of the language.

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Articles

Languages of the world
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Languages of Africa: Arabic, Chadic, Cushitic, Kanuri, Maasai, Setswana, Swahili, Turkana, Xhosa, Yoruba, Zulu, more...

Languages of the Americas: Aleut, Carib, Cherokee, Inuktitut, Iroquois, Kootenai, Mayan, Nahuatl, Navajo, Quechuan, Salish, American Sign Language, more...

Languages of Asia: Arabic, Assamese, Balochi, Bengali, Chinese, Japanese, Hajong, Hebrew, Hindustani, Kannada, Kokborok, Marathi, Khasi, Korean, Kurdish, Malayalam, Manipuri, Meithei, Mongolian, Persian, Rajasthani, Sindhi, Sanskrit, Sylheti, Tamil, Tanchangya, Tulu, Telugu, Tibetan, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese, Khowar, more...

Languages of Austronesia: Austric, Fijian, Hawaiian, Javanese, Malagasy, Malay, Maori, Marshallese, Samoan, Tahitian, Tagalog, Tongan, Auslan, more...

Languages of Europe: Basque, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English (book), French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, Leonese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Ukrainian more...

Constructed languages: Esperanto, Ido, Volapük, more...


Language types

Agglutinative language, Analytic language, Constructed language, Creole, Context-free language, Extinct language, Dialect, Fusional language, Inflectional language, International language, Isolating language, Language isolate, National language, Natural language, Pidgin, Pluricentric language, Polysynthetic language, Proto-language, Sign language, Spoken language, Synthetic language, Variety (linguistics)


Linguistics (Outline, Portal, Book)
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Applied linguistics, Cognitive linguistics, Accent (dialect), Computational linguistics, Descriptive linguistics, Eurolinguistics, Generative linguistics, Historical linguistics, Lexicology, Lexical semantics, Morphology, Onomasiology, Phonetics, Phonology, Pragmatics, Prescription, Prototype semantics, Psycholinguistics, Semantics, Stylistics, Sociolinguistics, Syntax

See also: List of linguists


Writing systems
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Alphabets: Arabic alphabet, Bengali alphabet, Cyrillic alphabet, Hebrew alphabet, Latin alphabet, more...

Other writing systems: Abjad, Abugida, Braille, Hieroglyphics, Logogram, Syllabary, SignWriting, more..

See also: History of the alphabet, Script

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