What are the common characteristics or major properties of language?/ Mention the major characteristics of language.
Language is an inseparable part of human society. Human civilization has been possible through language. Humanity has come out of the stone age only through language and has developed science, art, and technology in a big way. Language is a means of communication which means that it is arbitrary and a system of systems. We know that Speech is primary while writing is secondary.
Definition of language
Language is the method of human communication either spoken or written consisting of the use of words in a structured or conventional way.
According to Aristotle, “Language stands for speech that humans produce for exchanging their experience resulting in ideas and emotion.
According to Noam Chomsky, “A language is a set of sentences, each finite in length and constructed out of a finite set of elements.”
Characteristics of Language
According to the definition of language from the perspective of different linguists, language possesses the following characteristics which are limned here.
Language is Arbitrary
Language is arbitrary in the sense that there is no inherent relation between the words of a language and their meanings or the ideas conveyed by them. There is no reason why a female adult is called a woman in English, Aurat in Urdu, Zen in Persian, and Feminine in French. The choice of a word selected to mean a particular thing or idea is purely arbitrary but once a word is selected for a particular reference, it comes to stay as such. It may be noted that had language not been arbitrary, there would have been only one language in the world.
Language is Social
Language is a set of conventional communicative signals used by humans for communication in a community. Language in this sense is a possession of a social group, comprising an indispensable set of rules which permits its members to relate to each other, interact with each other, to cooperate with each other; it is a social institution. Language exists in society; it is a means of nourishing and developing culture and establishing human relations.
Language is Symbolic
Language consists of various sound symbols and their graphological counterparts that are employed to denote some objects, occurrences, or meanings. These symbols are arbitrarily chosen and conventionally accepted and employed.
Language is Systematic
Although the language is symbolic, its symbols are arranged in a particular system. All languages have their system of arrangements. For example, within the grammatical system, we have morphological and syntactic systems, and within these two sub-systems, we have systems such as those of plural, mood, aspect, tense, etc.
Language is Vocal
Language is primarily made up of vocal sounds only produced by a physiological articulatory mechanism in the human body. In the beginning, it appeared as vocal sounds only. Writing which came much later is an intelligent attempt to represent vocal sounds. Writing is only the graphic representation of the sounds of the language. So, the linguists say that speech is primary.
Language is Non-instinctive and Conventional
No language was created in a day by a group of humans. Language is the outcome of evolution and convention. Each generation transmits this convention on to the next. Like all human institutions languages also change and die, grow and expand. Every language, therefore, is a convention in a community. It is non-instinctive because it is acquired by human beings. Nobody gets a language in heritage; he acquires it because he has an innate ability.
Language is Productive and Creative
Language has creativity and productivity. The structural elements of human language can be combined to produce new utterances. Language changes according to the needs of society.
Besides, language has other characteristics such as duality which refers to the two systems of sound and meaning. Displacement is also a trait of language which means the ability to talk across time and space. Universality, competence and performance, and cultural transmutation are the noticeable features of the language.
In light of the above discussion, it has been transparent that the features of the language are related to the change in culture and civilization. With the passage of time, new traits will produce for the language.
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