What Is Language? The 5 Basic Elements of Language Defined

Updated on August 15, 2018
Rodric29 profile image

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


Definition of Language

Language can be defined as a form of communication that allows intercourse between multiple people, that is arbitrary (in words individually), generative (in word placement), and constantly evolving.

Many may dispute the meaning of language because some may equate language to communication in general. Where communication can be any action, language must have particular limits placed within its meaning to protect what may constitute a proper language—that is to distinguish between noises or grunts and communicative utterances in languages.

The Lexicon of a language or the words used to form a language provides the opportunity for multiple combinations of words virtually to never say the same group of words the same way.

Language cannot be described as a behavior because of its changing nature—its unpredictability. There are small variations in tone that portray a different meaning for words when uttered that prove processes beyond physical biochemical reactions affect speech. Tens of thousands of words exist in the English lexicon. Though the words are defined and have a specific meaning, the nature of the lexicon changes as the generations change.

1. Language is Communicative

Communicative by definition is a willingness to dispense information. The ancient Roman society preserved records and instructed their progeny in the form and vocabulary, the lexicon of their language. Because of its communicative nature, that ancient language, Latin, existed for centuries perpetuating generational culture which sustained that society.

2. Language is Arbitrary in Nature

One word describing an object may very well be another—such as the word door could as easily have been assigned to a window.

The arbitrary nature of language can be called into question since objects have names based on whatever they were used for initially; however, for this brief treatment, it stands as a ruler for language.

The evidence that language is arbitrary is overwhelming. The fact that there are literally thousands of languages attests that anything can be called anything! Take the word Yes. In English, yes, means to agree or answer in the affirmative. In Spanish, Si is to agree or answer in the affirmative. In French, Oui is to agree or answer in the affirmative. In Xhosa it is Ewe. Depending on what language a person uses, what English people call yes could be any sound.

Yes, in Klingon it is HIja. Even fictional languages must meet the five criteria to appear believable.


3. Language is Structured

There is a pattern of organization that takes an identifiable shape. The patterns are familiar enough to be identifiable to all other users of that language. Language has basic building blocks that set it aside from other forms of communication.

It would be difficult to build a house without a blueprint. Even it there is no written blueprint, there is a mental template that exists to reference so that others can fashion something similar to the first house. In other words, for those out there thinking that they can build a house without directions, it is not so. The directions are mental and/or physical.

Even languages that have no written form have building blocks in common with languages that are written. There is a certain way to put words together to make them intelligible to the hearers.

4. Language is Generative

Language constantly creates new phrases, new structures--it generates more of itself. It is comparable to a living thing that reproduces, changes, and even dies. Even though Latin is a dead tongue, those who speak it keep it alive or generative by speaking and writing it. New ideas are communicated with language that could not be communicated well with gestures and grunts alone.

There are five basic elements that compose a language

5. Language is Dynamic

Language experiences augmentation and refinement (change) as time passes, which can be looked upon also with some question. But for this work, dynamic is a decent gauge for describing language. Dynamic in this cause means that language has the ability to evolve and never repeat the same phrase with the same meaning in the same way without doing so on purpose.

Language gives humanity the ability to be innovative, because of its dynamic nature. Cultures, religious systems, and political systems all use language to perpetuate hundreds of dogmas in written form or speech. Language is a very effective tool of persuasion because it is dynamic.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand words can clearly express an idea with little room for misunderstanding.

Note: In order to qualify as a language, all given attributes listed must be present, which calls into question the forms of signing that exist.

Language Perspective

Culture does influence a person’s view of the world—shaping his or her ideas and behavior--meaning that a person may respond differently depending on how the words leave his or her mouth because of the way he or she has to hold his or her tongue to say those words.

The human mind, however, processes language the same regardless of language differences. From Babbling to speaking, the mind associates things with words to provide perspective and understanding. Though a language may rise and fall as the ancient Roman society’s language Latin did in the past, another will take its place and expand the mind in the same way.

Questions & Answers

  • At what age do children begin to experiment with different aspects of language?

    Children start as early as infancy to put sounds together to formulate what eventually becomes the basis for their language development and comprehension. Three years of age is the average time that children will begin to speak in a manner that is recognizable as proficient in their mother tongues according to the Encyclopedia of Children's Health, though for some it is earlier. One-year-olds, from my observations, start to experiment with language aspects trying to communicate what they want to family members. Forming words and crude sentences to describe and ask for things they want, young children experiment with ways to communicate.

    Because language-use development is highly individualistic, I suggest that the experimental stage is a period from the ages one to three, which agrees in principle with the Encyclopedia of Children's Health average age of three years.

© 2018 Rodric Anthony


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    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony 

      12 months ago from Peoria, Arizona

      A fool is offended when no offence is intended. A fool is offended when offence is intended.

      Ann, that sentiment is attributed to Brigham Young. Sometimes I am a fool. Most time, I take help as it is given. I want you to critique any of my writing. How else can I get better. It is also practice at telling people they need to improve without sounding like your are telling them they need to improve. I have not perfected my technique on that one.

      I love your suggestions and welcome them. Thanks for your praise.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      12 months ago from SW England

      Not sure when the next challenge might be, Rodric, but there will be one eventually! I can't resist issuing or taking them up. Thanks for your kind words and encouragement.

      It's always more difficult when updating or re-hashing an article, I find. I'm glad you are happy with my comment; it's so easy to offend some writers here, even though I never mean to and only offer gentle suggestions or point out something such as I did here.

      I thought this article was so good on the explanation of a complicated subject.


    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony 

      12 months ago from Peoria, Arizona

      Thank you for catching that for me and. I wrote this a long time ago it was updating it with a new article and I still made the same mistake. I will get on it and fix it. I am glad that I have you who will look out for the rest of us writers. I'm waiting for your next challenge so that I can be creative.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      12 months ago from SW England

      Great article, well explained.

      I know it's a typo but in your 'Number Two (2)..' the French word for yes should be 'Oui' not 'Qui', as you will know of course. The French also use 'Si' for yes, when it comes after a question, as in 'You don't do that, do you?... 'Yes, I do', to affirm the opposite.

      All these things are what make language so fascinating. It has been a passion of mine since I was young and became my career, when teaching English, French, then literacy to dyslexics.



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