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What is Language? 
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Post What is Language?
oh, I might as well...

I'm in this MA in Applied Liguistics program and the topic that never fails to surface in liguistic discussions came up - Define language.

My idea of 'what is language' is generally not widely accepted. I'm going to hold out a bit for my response and see what you all think language is.

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Mon Jul 24, 2006 8:03 pm
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hmmm ...

Language is so much more than just verbal communication: written, body, verbal ... Does it have to be understood by someone to be language? Well, if thats the case, then do babies not use some form of "language" even though noone understands them?

One person's attempt at communicating with members of the outside world?

haha.

Such a huge question requires an equally intelligent answer, and I'm not really sure that I have that right now.


Wed Jul 26, 2006 12:32 pm
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tough one i'd say when communication occurs using shared understandings. The shared understandings would become the or maybe is the language.


Tue Aug 01, 2006 10:35 am
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Quote:
tough one i'd say when communication occurs using shared understandings


thats sounds pretty good to me

but its not as easy as it seems at first is it?


Tue Aug 01, 2006 11:10 am
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Wow......that is tough! but I am not sure that language has to be understood communication to be language. That I why I would have to agree with Katrinina. Language is one person's attempt at communicating with anyone or anything. Language is a verbal/non-verbal medium of attempted communication. I guess something that might be more important than the question, "What is language?" is the question "What is meaning?" If the speaker of the "language" can communicate the meaning then all is well. No meaning, no communication! I am interested in hearing your answer Mark.


Wed Aug 02, 2006 2:44 pm
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Here's how my argument usually runs...

First, I think that language is the medium for communication. Language is all around us and permiates a lot of what we interact with. Everything below centers around this concept of language.

I don't want you to think that I'm confusing language and communication, I think language, interaction and communication all go together. Language interacts with a target to communicate. But, we're still left with 'what is language.'

Language is a tool. If you'll agree to that, then the make-up of language is not as important as what it does and how it does it. So, if we define language as anything purposeful (a tool) that interacts with a target to communicate, we get a much larger umbrella for language than simply human language.

I studied pharmacy in college and was always amazed to find out how well individual cells communicated with each other and how the body 'talked' with itself (way before I was interested in language.) To me that's as much a complex, unique and specific language as human language.

Drawing the line to exclude everything but human language and its constituents seems difficult.

I also feel gestures, presence, other actions, and non-action are all forms of language. To expand from verbal and written language, we can look at sign language. Most can agree that sign language is a form of language. Take that a step further and making an offensive gesture can also be seen as language (not a complete language system but language.) Going way out on a limb, animals marking their territory can also be seen as language. Some other possible forms of language might be a growling
dog for example or insulin excreted from the pancreas to notify cells to start uptaking sugar from the blood stream.

Again, it's not well accepted to be so broad and most people limit their definition to simply human language. And, there's no agreeded unpon definition. Feel free to argue.

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Wed Aug 02, 2006 6:23 pm
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I agree.......So at the expense of being vague, language is a medium used to exchange information. The only problem with being so broad is that under these terms, we can define every act with any two living objects as language. Does that make sense? Not sure.


Wed Aug 02, 2006 8:58 pm
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yeah, it poses some problems (the broad definition) but I think any purposeful act is a form of language if it's meant to communicate. Under that idea, language can take many forms and it gets a little abstract.

If I acccidentally run into you while walking down the hall, that's nothing. It was niether purposeful or meant to communicate anything. It just happened.

If I don't like you and I meet you walking down the hall and give you a nice shoulder thump. That is language in my opinion. It was purposeful and meant to communicate something.

If I don't like you and I toss a snowball at you and duck behind a tree. It was purposeful but doesn't communicate anything. It's not language. It's just mean.

Limiting language to just human speech and symbols is too narrow for me.

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Wed Aug 02, 2006 9:36 pm
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We'll.....even though you may not have known who threw the snow ball at you, you would still have felt that someone communicated to you a non-verbal message.....either that I don't like you, so I am showing that by throwing a snow ball at you, or let's have a friendly snow ball fight. In any event the sender of the message may not intend to communicate anything, but the reciever may interpret it as some kind of message. I know......It happens with me and my wife all the time.......LOL.


Thu Aug 03, 2006 10:17 am
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A growling dogs sends a message anyone can understand. A snowball thrown by an unseen thrower does not communicate much. I might wonder: what does (s)he have against me? My daughter might hope he has a crush on her. We could interpret all kinds of messages, but wouldn’t they be vague at best?

Here’s one hitch. Mark wrote:
“but I think any purposeful act is a form of language if it's meant to communicate.”
There’s a difference between language and communication. If I were in Japan, and someone started jabbering away in Japanese, I’d acknowledge they were using a language. There is no denying the language factor. However, because I know no Japanese, nothing would be being communicated.

Now, if I got lucky and that person kissed me passionately, hey!!! I can almost feel my “individual cells” doing cart-wheels.

Otherwise, I agree that whenever or however we try to communicate with one another, we are using language.

Personally, my language today, like most days, makes me wonder if I’m making any sense. I’ll probably post this, then tomorrow figure out I’m whacko, and then delete it once more. Phew!


Thu Aug 03, 2006 7:03 pm
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Good point! I guess I should change my definition to say meant to communicate.

mesmark wrote:
language as anything purposeful (a tool) that interacts with a target to communicate


language as anything purposeful (a tool) that interacts with a target and is meant to communicate.

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Thu Aug 03, 2006 8:19 pm
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Actually, Mark, you did say "meant to communicate" if you compare your two boxes on Aug 2 6:23 pm and Aug 2 9:36 pm. I didn't see the "meant" in the second box.
Still, language does not necessarily involve something being communicated, does it? (the example of someone speaking Japanese to me, speaking a language I'll never grasp in this life)
I think I mean to say that there is the bones of language which includes not being understood, and the body of language, which is that tool you are referring to, the one we use when we attempt to make ourselves understood, or to understand someone else. It is the sphere where communication is sparked.
I'm in fatty territory here, way out of my depth.


Thu Aug 03, 2006 9:59 pm
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