What Is Language? The Levels of Language Defined

Updated on August 11, 2019
Rodric29 profile image

Rodric completed his bachelor of psychology through the University of Phoenix. His perspective provides guidance and education.


The five basic elements of language explains that language can be defined as a form of communication that allows intercourse between multiple people, that language is arbitrary (in words individually), generative (in word placement), and is constantly evolving. So, what makes it possible for us to understand each other? This article covers the levels of language and how they relate to our ability to communicate.

Four Levels of Language

  1. Phonemes
  2. Words
  3. Sentences
  4. Text

1. Phonemes

Phonemes are the sounds that form the building blocks for the spoken word.

Phonemes are the short and long sounds of vowels and consonants. For example, in the language of the Xhosa people in South Africa, where the x, the c, and the q all make distinct clicking sounds that differ from the phonemes of the English language.

The X in Xhosa makes the sound of sucking air with the tongue at the roof of the mouth—a sound that horse jockeys may use to call a horse. The C makes the sound of sucking air with the teeth and tongue. The Q makes the sound sucking air with the tongue at the roof of the mouth, pulling away forcefully from the said roof while sucking in air. These phonemes help to form the sounds for words for all Xhosa people to communicate.

2. Words

Words are the next level of language. It would follow that phonemes build words, which represent a listing of sounds to describe items, situations, ideas, etc., using nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.

Whether written or spoken, phonemes and words are building blocks for language. It is important to remember that all languages must have structure. Words may be short or long in length. They combine phonemes in a prescribed order.

3. Sentences

Sentences are a number of words placed together to form a coherent thought. It is also the aspect of language that supports grammar rules. Each language determines the structural type of sentences and how words are interpreted by the hearers. Sentences provide a description of a thing or things usually containing a subject, verb, and predicate expressing a statement, question, instruction, or exclamation.

Sentences can be long or short, complex or simple. Sentences help to provide the dynamic nature of language. The sentences in this article show length differences. How boring would written language be without variation in the length and complexity of sentences? That is another topic for another article.

4. Text

Text, in linguistics, does not refer to an activity millions do with their mobile devices; though, that would be an appropriate example. Any number of sentences form text, another level of language consisting of one or more sentences. Text mainly provides information to communicate in written form.

Altogether, phonemes, words, sentences, and text work within a framework called grammar. Grammar is a set of rules constructed so that groupings of words do not form an incoherent word-jumble.

All Languages Are Not Identical in Structure, but They Are All Equal

The phonemes, words, sentences, text, and grammar of Latin differ from those of the English language, but the same end is reached: written and verbal communication.

The compelling thing about the Latin language is it died, but is still used within the context of today's society. Such a feat is significant and intriguing, especially when considering that each word may or may not have a corresponding word in other languages.

Levels of Language

Any of the perceptually distinct units of sound in a specified language that distinguish one word from another, for example p, b, d, and t in the English words pad, pat, bad, and bat.
In linguistics, a word is the smallest element that can be uttered in isolation with objective or practical meaning.
A set of words that is complete in itself, typically containing a subject and predicate, conveying a statement, question, exclamation, or command, and consisting of a main clause and sometimes one or more subordinate clauses.
A book or other written or printed work, regarded in terms of its content rather than its physical form.

All humans start out the same way—babbling. Human young start making noises that develop naturally from hearing the sounds around them of others speaking, whatever the language.

Of course, the language that a person speaks effects his or her view of the world and ultimately the way he or she thinks. Language, however, does not necessarily make a French speaker think better or worse than a Xhosa speaker.

One language may have a larger lexicon than another language may, but when a person who speaks French sees danger, he thinks the same thing as a person who speaks Xhosa, run!

The same neurons fire in all human brains. They help us all to communicate across multiple languages, allowing humanity to interact by paper, digital screen, and voice.

Language Elements

Element that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of language.
In linguistics, arbitrariness is the absence of any natural or necessary connection between a word's meaning and its sound or form.
Sentence structure is the arrangement of words, phrases, and clauses in a sentence. The grammatical meaning of a sentence is dependent on this structural organization.
Generative grammar is a linguistic theory that regards grammar as a system of rules that generates exactly those combinations of words that form grammatical sentences in a given language.
Languages change, evolve, and adapt to an evolving social world.

Source Material

Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ:Pearson/Allyn4 Bacon.

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© 2010 Rodric Anthony


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    • profile image

      Darusila Gamaliel 

      4 years ago

      Thankyou so much I found useful information.

    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony 

      6 years ago from Peoria, Arizona

      My pleasure thanks for reading. I am glad it helped

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      thanks to this article, it had helped much on my research

    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony 

      8 years ago from Peoria, Arizona

      Your advice has been infection to the point that I am revamping some other articles. The subject matter of this hub is so serious that some lighthearted pictures give it some comic relief. Language can truly be an interesting topic to read about because of the complexity of English alone.

    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony 

      8 years ago from Peoria, Arizona

      Thanks for posting here Dmop and reading the hub. I would say that no translation is accurate. A translation is just an estimation of what the original language conveyed.

      Sometimes the original language does not provide adequate structure to convey the message that the writer wants. I recall speaking to some Xhosa speakers about translation. Several of these good people informed me that English is more versatile because its lexicon allowed more expression.

      I felt the same way when I spoke the language myself--not that the language was inferior, but that where one word described many things in Xhosa with a change of inflection and tense, in English I have ten words to convey the message making it more round. Sometimes translation is the best thing to happen to a work==especially if it is translated by the originator.

    • dmop profile image


      8 years ago from Cambridge City, IN

      This is a well written article, that covers a subject all writers might be interested in. I wonder how accurate translations really are, especially from older languages that few use or understand today. I enjoyed reading, and gave it a vote up and interesting.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      8 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      rodric - No problem at all and you are very welcome. :) You have done an excellent job on this article. Fascinating ideas and concepts about a subject so central to human society and civilization...LANGUAGE... You have covered some of the current thinking about language development in an interesting way. I am looking forward to reading more hubs. And oh, BTW, fun pictures and great graphics. :)

    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony 

      8 years ago from Peoria, Arizona

      Thank you Phdast so much for the feedback. I needed it and appreciate it. I went to work immediately on it as you have seen. For some reason I could not respond to your comment after reading it.


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