Language definition | Definition of language by different scholars

Language definition

What is language? Most probably, everybody is capable of attempting this question and answering it somehow or other. Nonetheless, we not yet found a single definition of language that has completely explained the phenomenon in question, satisfied all of us and stopped scholars and linguists from defining and redefining the term.

However, language is a complex human phenomenon as all attempts to define it has proved inadequate. In a nutshell, language is an 'original noise' used in actual social situations. Language is basically a system of conventional, spoken or written symbols by means of which human beings communicate.
Definition of language by different scholars

Let us now go through some definitions of language postulated by different linguists, scholars and reference books.

Definition of language by different scholars


Speech is the representation of the experience of the mind. That is according to Aristotle, language stands for speech that humans produce for exchanging their experience resulting in ideas and emotions.

Saussure (1916)

Language is an arbitrary system of signs constituted of the signifier and signified. In other words, language is first a system based on no logic or reason; secondly, the system covers both objects and expressions used for objects; and thirdly objects and expressions are arbitrarily linked; and finally, expressions include sounds and graphemes used by humans for generating speech and writing respectively for the purpose of communication.

Sapir (1921)

Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions, and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced sounds. The definition of Sapir expresses that language is concerned with only human beings and constituted a system of sounds produced by them for communication.

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Bloomfield (1933)

The totality of the utterances that can be made in a speech community is the language of that speech community. Bloomfield's definition of language focuses on the utterances produced by all the people of a community, and hence overlooks writing. Besides, he stresses form, not meaning, as the basis of language.

Bloch and Trager (1942)

A language is a system of arbitrary vocal sounds by means of a social group cooperates. Their definition of language encompasses an arbitrary system, vocal sounds, human beings, communication, and collectivity.

Chomsky (1957)

A language is a set of (finite or infinite) sentences, each finite length and constructed out of a finite set of elements. This definition of language considers sentences as the basis of a language. Sentences may be limited or unlimited in number, and are made up of only limited components.

Derbyshire (1967)

Language is undoubtedly a kind of means of communication among human beings. It consists primarily of vocal sounds. It is articulatory, systematic, symbolic and arbitrary. 

Lyons (1970)

Languages are the principal systems of communication used by particular groups of human beings within the particular society of which they are members.

Wardaugh (1972)

A language is a system of arbitrary vocal sounds used for human communication. This definition mainly insists on arbitrariness, vocal sounds, humans and communication.

Encyclopedia Britannica

Language is a system of conventional or written symbols by means of which human beings as members of social groups and participants in its culture, communicate. 

Thus, we can say, language is a system of communication or arbitrary vocal sounds by means of which human beings communicate and interact with each other in their everyday life. There are almost 6,500 spoken languages available in the entire world used by different kinds of social groups and culture.

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