A language is a complex system that allows people to communicate meaning. This can include information, emotion, imagination and other elements of thought such as humor. The following are common characteristics of language.
AbstractionLanguage can communicate abstract concepts that have no physical form such as freedom or respect.A natural language emerges over time due to the shared experiences of a society, culture or group. In other words, languages generally aren't centrally planned or designed.
Open-endedLanguages allow for infinite combinations of words. As such, it is believed that there is no limit to what can be communicated by human language.
Non-human LanguagesSome animals have a language but these aren't open-ended such that they is a limit to what can be communicated. These typically involve simple one-to-one relationships between a sound and a meaning.
ProductiveHuman languages allow new words to be formed as required. Elements such as technology and culture regularly produce new words to describe new ideas.
Conscious ThoughtPeople think using language. This is not the only type of conscious thought as elements such as visual thinking and emotion can occur without words. As language is a foundation of thought, learning multiple languages is known to have an impact on an individual's thinking.
Language ProcessingThe human brain is uniquely adapted for language processing. Pathways for language processing such as the auditory ventral stream and auditory dorsal stream are structurally different in humans and our closest primate relatives. This allows us to process complex language structures.
Word ClassesWords can be classified according to the part they play in a language. Word classes include nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions and conjunctions.
OnomatopoeiaOnomatopoeia are words that mimic the concept they describe with their sound such as "boom!" This includes things like animal sounds that actually make noise. It is also possible to describe silent things with onomatopoeia such as objects, states, concepts and emotions. The Japanese language is particularly known for its use of abstract onomatopoeia for things that have no sound in reality. For example, "uro uro" is a Japanese onomatopoeia that can be translated "wandering aimlessly."
GrammarGrammar is a set of structural rules for composing language. This is typically learned by copying patterns from others. As such, it is often difficult for native speakers of a language to describe grammar rules even if their grammar is perfect.
SyntaxSyntax is an element of grammar that is concerned with the structure of sentences. For example, how different word classes are ordered in a sentence to create different meanings.
MorphologyMorphology is an element of grammar that is concerned with the structure of words. For example, a verb that can be conjugated in many ways to indicate gender, tense, aspect, mood, voice or numbers.
PragmaticsPragmatics is the contextual element of language. It is very common for language to have a completely different meaning based on background, situation, social factors, implied meaning, assumptions and the intent of the speaker.
PhonologyPhonology is the system of sounds that is used to convey spoken language. Phonology is also used in written language as you use auditory pathways in your brain to understand all language such that you may feel that you are hearing the words you read or write in your head. Likewise, sign languages have an equivalent to a phonological system.
SemanticsSemantics is the meaning conveyed by language.
NuanceLanguage is extremely complex in that a slight difference in word choice, syntax or intonation can represent dramatically different meaning. This is one reason that it is difficult to master a second language as subtle differences in speech or written language have a large impact on meaning.
AmbiguityThe meaning of language is often somewhat ambiguous and open to interpretation. Pragmatics and nuances allow a single sentence to have a large number of possible meanings.
TranslationIt is possible to translate between different languages. However, there is almost always something lost in translation as languages represent unique systems of thinking and communicating meaning. Some words are considered untranslatable such as the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi. Likewise, nuance created by phonology, syntax and pragmatics may be difficult or impossible to translate.
EmotionLanguage can be used to communicate emotion and nuances in the way you say things can reveal emotion. For example, your tone of voice may indicate that you are upset.
StorytellingStorytelling is the art of communicating information and emotion in a way that is interesting and engaging.
Literary DeviceA literary device is any technique that is used to make language more effective. For example, the use of an analogy to simplify a complex concept.
Rhetorical DeviceA rhetorical device is any technique that is used to make language more convincing.
HumorHumor is the lighthearted expression of the dark or the absurd. This is useful as a literary and rhetorical device.
WitWit is the ability to use language effectively at high speed in response to the moment.
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