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.

  • What is the element of language for jargon?

    Jargon is not a separate element of language. Jargon is just another part of languaged used by specific groups to communicate within the scope of their interactions such as Doctors, firemen, and any group that has a way to speak specific to them.

  • According to the definition of language in this article, signing language is not language. What do you say about that since signing has the word language in it?

    Most schools of thought suggest that Sign Language is a language, hence its descriptor. Signing shares many elements with spoken language and those who use it consider it a language. In the United States, many states recognize it as a second language and it is taught at some universities with credit as such. Most of society does NOT consider it a language on par with spoken and written languages because of the function of signing.

    Signing may compare more to dialects of other spoken languages at one end of the spectrum and a paralanguage (more a pseudo-language) at the other than a language because it is not independent of a base language like English. Suggesting so is not off-based.

    A paralanguage is a component of meta-communication that can modify meaning, give nuanced meaning, or convey emotion, by using techniques such as prosody, pitch, volume, intonation, etc. When people use American Sign Language, it stems from a mother language such as English and does not have its own generative uses and versatility like a spoken language. Qualifiers that signing is its own separate function outside of a base language abound, but as people speak and signers translate that speech into movements, facial gestures, and signaled spelling, it presents as a complex meta-communication tied to a mother language or base language.

    It is not simple gestures, body movements, and hand motions with meaning because signing, like language, is generative in gestures and movement. But under the definition of language in this article, sign languages are more not language because none of them exist independently as do spoken languages.

    When a person needs to communicate in the written word, sign languages use a base language to do so, English, French, and such. Using the English Alphabet is not a disqualifier since many other languages do so, like Xhosa. When the language is written, however, Xhosa generates its own words and grammar, not written English. With any sign language, there is no distinct written form. No matter how many dialects of sign language there are, in an English-speaking nation, signers communicate using English as the base language when written. That disqualifies it as a language in comparison to French, English, Xhosa, and others.

    Attempts to make sign languages stand on their own are monumental tasks that have little practical value since there are not enough people with hearing impairment to support such a movement. It is neither convenient or practical to form a language separate from the base language when signers use a base language. It can occur, however. Signing can emerge as a language if the effort to establish it as such occurs.

    Deaf, blind, and mute people communicate using braille and sign languages, but without a base language, could not function in society. It is unpopular to think of having a disability that places people at a disadvantage in society such as mutism or non-hearing. Communities exist for the non-hearing and the mute. These communities, however, function because most people in society are not disabled. Signing is for the benefit of helping people with disabilities communicate and live within society as equals though they have disadvantages. Signing works the same as spectacles or eye-glasses for the hard of seeing, hearing devices for the hard of hearing, prosthetics for missing body parts, or pacemakers for those with heart problems.

    Argument could arise that language itself is a tool, a crutch to help unevolved humanity learn to communicate because of its lack of empathic ability generally towards understanding that would eliminate unintentional offenses. That is the subject for philosophers to ponder.

  • What element of language are vowels in the alphabet?

    Vowels are the long and short sounds we make with our mouths to form words. Ann Carr mentioned in a comment on this article that we have short sounds like, "'a' in cat, or in 'bad'" or a long vowel "by adding an 'e', as in 'bade'; we then have what's called a split vowel digraph (two letters split by a consonant; a-e). In that way, mouth shapes make a difference." Vowels are symbols from the alphabet that we used to represent those long and short sounds in written language. Vowels are components to communicate the spoken words of written language.

    What part of speech are they? They are part of speech! Without them, words exist in languages--none which I know.

© 2018 Rodric Anthony


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      2 months ago from SW England

      I don't want to kick, just to nudge a little if occasion demands and that's hardly ever in your case, Rodric. It's a difficult subject to write about and you do it well.


    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony 

      2 months ago from Peoria, Arizona

      Ann, you are one of my writing mentors. I know I have not said it much, but you are. I have no qualm with you improving my knowledge, ever. You and Bill have a free ticket to kick me in my writing pants each and every time.

    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony 

      2 months ago from Peoria, Arizona

      Denny, thanks for reading and your supportive comment. I intentionally try my best to write with every skill level I possess. If I get a new skill, I come back to update my articles to reflect that.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      2 months ago from SW England

      In your answer to the question about vowels, you have said they are long sounds. Actually, vowels can be short as well, as in the 'a' in cat, or in 'bad', the latter made a long vowel by adding an 'e', as in 'bade'; we then have what's called a split vowel digraph (two letters split by a consonant; a-e). In that way, mouth shapes make the difference too.

      Hope you don't mind me clarifying that one!


    • profile image

      Denny Smith 

      2 months ago

      This is a compelling language blog! This genre seems to be proliferating—I wish they were all so well-written and welcoming to read.

    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony 

      23 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 

      23 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 

      23 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 

      23 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.



    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)