In this article an attempt is made to throw a light on the following topics:
a) Nature of language
b) Theories of evolution of language
c) Characteristic features of language
Nature of Language
* Language is the most mysterious product of the human mind. - Susanne K. Langer
Language is an essential part in human life. It is the most distinctive human activity.
It is a means of communicating thoughts and feelings. We can also communicate through cries, signs, gestures etc; but these modes of communication are totally different from human language. The human language is a signalling system which uses vocal sounds. The basis of language is speech and written language is derivative and secondary.
Theories of Language Evolution
Diverse views are available to us regarding the origin of formal language.
A. The Divine Gift Theory
Many people in different countries including India believe that the source of origin of language is the Almighty.
B. ‘Bow - Wow’ Theory
The cries of animals and noises of birds served as a source of inspiration to the primitive man to express himself through speech.
C. The ‘Ding-dong’ Theory
The sound ding-dong is associated with the ringing of the bell. According to this, there is an inherent quality in certain objects to force the man to elicit certain sounds resembling the sounds of these objects.
D. The ‘Yo-He-Ho’ Theory
This theory assumes certain kinds of physical exertions produce certain sounds which give a feeling of relief to our system. For example in the game of ‘Tug of War’, the physical exertion leads to letting out of breath and the players utter a sound of Hayi-sha in order to feel relieved. The uttering of the sounds like these helped the man to evolve language.
Some Important Definitions of Language
* Language is a set of human habits, the purpose of which is to give expression to thoughts and feelings. - Otto Jesperson
* Language is purely human and noninstinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires. - Edward Sapir
* Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication.
- Ward Hugh
* Language is species specific. It is uniquely human trait - Dwight Bollinger
Salient Features/ Characteristics of Language
a. Language is a system
It is a system consisting of many sub systems.
b. Language is arbitrary
The meaning of the term ‘arbitrary’ can be understood as ‘illogical’. Language choose its own system of speech sounds and has words for different objects. Hence there is no direct connection between the sound or form of any word and the object which it represents.
The following illustration depicts the arbitrariness of language:
Names of ‘banana’ in different languages
English - Banana
Hindi - Kela
Telugu - Arati Pandu
Tamil - Valaipalam
Arabic - Mouz
It is evident from the above illustration that the English name ‘banana’ given to that fruit is not the same in other languages. Hence words and their meaning have no natural connection and it is arbitrary.
c. Language is creative:
We can produce or create any number of sentences which we might have never heard before. The units of language are combined to form various meaningful sentences.
d. Language exhibits redundancy:
The repetition of the same idea or item of information within a phrase or clause of sentence is called redundancy in language. Language has the ability to repeat an idea without using same words and structures.
Language exhibits displacement. Displacement means an ability to express or speak about things that are not physically present. We can talk about fairies, angels, heaven, hell etc., which we have never seen and not sure of their existence.
f. Language transmits culture:
Language works as a tool to transmit culture from one generation to the other. In fact culture and language are intertwined, that the loss of one leads to the loss of the other. We have all learnt English and hence we use terms/ phrases like thank you, sorry, yes, no, ok, sure, etc., frequently than others who have not learnt English. Using expressions like these is a sign of acquiring the culture of language we have learnt.
g. Language exhibits prevarication:
Language helps us to be imaginative and creative. We can tell fairy tales and fables which are not really true. Lot of imagination and creativity take place while narrating these type of stories. Hence human language provides a scope to give false messages. The ability of giving false messages or telling lies is called prevarication.