Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any specific example of such a system. The scientific study of language is called linguisticsSony PCG-71313M battery.
Estimates of the number of languages in the world vary between 6,000 and 7,000. However, any precise estimate depends on a partly arbitrary distinction between languages and dialects. Natural languages are spoken or signed, but any language can be encoded into secondary media using auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli, for example, in graphic writing, braille, or whistling. This is because human language is modality-independentSony PCG-71212M battery. When used as a general concept, "language" may refer to the cognitive ability to learn and use systems of complex communication, or to describe the set of rules that makes up these systems, or the set of utterances that can be produced from those rules. All languages rely on the process of semiosis to relate signs with particular meanings. Oral and sign languages contain a phonological system that governs how symbols are used to form sequences known as words or morphemesSony PCG-71311M battery, and a syntactic system that governs how words and morphemes are combined to form phrases and utterances.
Human language is unique because it has the properties of productivity, recursivity, and displacement, and because it relies entirely on social convention and learning. Its complex structure therefore affords a much wider range of possible expressions and uses than any known system of animal communicationSony PCG-71213M battery. Language is thought to have originated when early hominins started gradually changing their primate communication systems, acquiring the ability to form a theory of other minds and a shared intentionality.
This development is sometimes thought to have coincided with an increase in brain volume, and many linguists see the structures of language as having evolved to serve specific communicative and social functions. Language is processed in many different locations in the human brain, but especially in Broca's and Wernicke's areasSony PCG-61211M battery. Humans acquire language through social interaction in early childhood, and children generally speak fluently when they are approximately three years old. The use of language is deeply entrenched in human culture. Therefore, in addition to its strictly communicative uses, language also has many social and cultural uses, such as signifying group identity, social stratification, as well as for social grooming and entertainmentSony VAIO VPCF24Q1E battery.
Languages evolve and diversify over time, and the history of their evolution can be reconstructed by comparing modern languages to determine which traits their ancestral languages must have had in order for the later stages to have occurred. A group of languages that descend from a common ancestor is known as a language family. The languages that are most spoken in the world today belong to the Indo-European family, which includes languages such as EnglishSony VAIO VPCF13M1E/H battery, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and Hindi; the Sino-Tibetan languages, which include Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, and many others; the Afro-Asiatic family, which include Arabic, Amharic, Somali, and Hebrew; and the Bantu languages, which include Swahili, Zulu, Shona, and hundreds of other languages spoken throughout Africa. The consensus is that between 50 and 90% of languages spoken today will probably have become extinct by the year 2100Sony VAIO VPCF12Z1E/BI battery.
The English word "language" derives ultimately from Indo-European *dn̥ǵʰwéh₂s "tongue, speech, language" through Latin lingua, "language; tongue", and Old French langage "language". The word is sometimes used to refer to codes, ciphers, and other kinds of artificially constructed communication systems such as those used for computer programming. A language in this sense is a system of signs for encoding and decoding informationSony VAIO VPCF12S1E/B battery. This article specifically concerns the properties of natural human language as it is studied in the discipline of linguistics.
As an object of linguistic study, "language" has two primary meanings: an abstract concept, and a specific linguistic system, e.g. "French". The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, who defined the modern discipline of linguistics, first explicitly formulated the distinction using the French word langage for language as a concept, langue as a specific instance of a language system, and parole for the concrete usage of speech in a particular languageSony VAIO VPCF13Z8E/BI battery.
When speaking of language as a general concept, definitions can be used which stress different aspects of the phenomenon. These definitions also entail different approaches and understandings of language, and they inform different and often incompatible schools of linguistic theorySony VAIO VPCF13Z8E battery.
Mental faculty, organ or instinct
One definition sees language primarily as the mental faculty that allows humans to undertake linguistic behaviour: to learn languages and to produce and understand utterances. This definition stresses the universality of language to all humans and it emphasizes the biological basis for the human capacity for language as a unique development of the human brainSony VAIO VPCF13M1E/B battery. Proponents of the view that the drive to language acquisition is innate in humans often argue that this is supported by the fact that all cognitively normal children raised in an environment where language is accessible will acquire language without formal instruction. Languages may even spontaneously develop in environments where people live or grow up together without a common language, for example, creole languages and spontaneously developed sign languages such as Nicaraguan Sign LanguageSony VAIO VPCF1318E/H battery. This view, which can be traced back to Kant and Descartes, often understands language to be largely innate, for example, in Chomsky's theory of Universal Grammar, or American philosopher Jerry Fodor's extreme innatist theory. These kinds of definitions are often applied by studies of language within a cognitive science framework and in neurolinguisticsSony VAIO VPCF13J0E/H battery.
Formal symbolic system
Another definition sees language as a formal system of signs governed by grammatical rules of combination to communicate meaning. This definition stresses that human languages can be described as closed structural systems consisting of rules that relate particular signs to particular meanings. This structuralist view of language was first introduced by Ferdinand de Saussure, and his structuralism remains foundational for most approaches to language todaySony VAIO VPCF13E8E battery.
Some proponents of this view of language have advocated a formal approach which studies language structure by identifying its basic elements and then by formulating a formal account of the rules according to which the elements combine in order to form words and sentences. The main proponent of such a theory is Noam Chomsky, the originator of the generative theory of grammar, who has defined language as a particular set of sentences Sony VAIO VPCF13E4E batterythat can be generated from a particular set of rules. Chomsky considers these rules to be an innate feature of the human mind and to constitute the essence of what language is. Formal definitions of language are commonly used in formal logic, in formal theories of grammar, and in applied computational linguistics.
Tool for communication
Yet another definition sees language as a system of communication that enables humans to cooperate. This definition stresses the social functions of language and the fact thatSony VAIO VPCF12M1E/H battery humans use it to express themselves and to manipulate objects in their environment. Functional theories of grammar explain grammatical structures by their communicative functions, and understand the grammatical structures of language to be the result of an adaptive process by which grammar was "tailored" to serve the communicative needs of its usersSony VAIO VPCF12F4E/H battery.
This view of language is associated with the study of language in pragmatic, cognitive, and interactive frameworks, as well as in socio-linguistics and linguistic anthropology. Functionalist theories tend to study grammar as dynamic phenomena, as structures that are always in the process of changing as they are employed by their speakers. This view places importance on the study of linguistic typology, or the classification of languages according to structural featuresSony VAIO VPCF12E1E/H battery, as it can be shown that processes of grammaticalization tend to follow trajectories that are partly dependent on typology. In the philosophy of language, these views are often associated with Wittgenstein's later works and with ordinary language philosophers such as Paul Grice, John Searle and J. L. Austin.
The unique status of human language
Main articles: Animal language and Great ape languageSony VAIO VPCF11Z1E/BI battery
Human language is unique in comparison to other forms of communication, such as those used by non-human animals. Communication systems used by other animals such as bees or non-human apes are closed systems that consist of a closed number of possible things that can be expressedSony VAIO VPCF24M1E battery.
In contrast, human language is open-ended and productive, meaning that it allows humans to produce an infinite set of utterances from a finite set of elements and to create new words and sentences. This is possible because human language is based on a dual code, where a finite number of meaningless elements (e.g. sounds, letters or gestures) can be combined to form units of meaning (words and sentences). FurthermoreSony VAIO VPCF23S1E battery, the symbols and grammatical rules of any particular language are largely arbitrary, meaning that the system can only be acquired through social interaction. The known systems of communication used by animals, on the other hand, can only express a finite number of utterances that are mostly genetically transmittedSony VAIO VPCF231S1E battery.
Several species of animals have proven able to acquire forms of communication through social learning, such as the Bonobo Kanzi, which learned to express itself using a set of symbolic lexigrams. Similarly, many species of birds and whales learn their songs by imitating other members of their species. However, while some animals may acquire large numbers of words and symbols,[notes 1] none have been able to learn as many different signs as is generally known by an average 4 year old human, nor have any acquired anything resembling the complex grammar of human languageSony VAIO VPCF23Q1E battery.
Human languages also differ from animal communication systems in that they employ grammatical and semantic categories, such as noun and verb, present and past, to express exceedingly complex meanings. Human language is also unique in having the property of recursivity: the way in which, for example, a noun phrase is able to contain another noun phrase (as in "[[the chimpanzee]'s lips]") or a clause is able to contain a clauseSony VAIO VPCF23M1E battery (as in "[I see [the dog is running]]"). Human language is also the only known natural communication system that is modality independent, meaning that it can be used not only for communication through one channel or medium, but through several - for example, spoken language uses the auditive modality, whereas sign languages and writing use the visual modality, and braille writing uses the tactile modalitySony VAIO VPCF22S8E battery.
With regard to the meaning that it may convey and the cognitive operations that it builds on, human language is also unique in being able to refer to abstract concepts and to imagined or hypothetical events as well as events that took place in the past or may happen in the future. This ability to refer to events that are not at the same time or place as the speech event is called displacement, and while some animal communication systems can use displacementSony VAIO VPCF22S1E battery (such as the communication of bees that can communicate the location of sources of nectar that are out of sight), the degree to which it is used in human language is also considered unique.
Theories about the origin of language can be divided according to their basic assumptions. Some theories are based on the idea that language is so complex that one cannot imagine it simply appearing from nothing in its final form, but that it must have evolved from earlier pre-linguistic systems among our pre-human ancestorsSony VAIO VPCF22M1E battery. These theories can be called continuity-based theories. The opposite viewpoint is that language is such a unique human trait that it cannot be compared to anything found among non-humans and that it must therefore have appeared suddenly in the transition from pre-hominids to early man. These theories can be defined as discontinuity-based. Similarly, theories based on Chomsky's Generative view of language see language mostly as an innate Sony VAIO VPCF22L1E batteryfaculty that is largely genetically encoded, whereas functionalist theories see it as a system that is largely cultural, learned through social interaction.
Currently, the only prominent proponent of a discontinuity-based theory of human language origins is linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky. Chomsky proposes that "some random mutation took place, maybe after some strange cosmic ray shower, and it reorganized the brain, implanting a language organ in an otherwise primate brainSony VAIO VPCF22J1E battery." Though cautioning against taking this story too literally, Chomsky insists that "it may be closer to reality than many other fairy tales that are told about evolutionary processes, including language."
Continuity-based theories are currently held by a majority of scholars, but they vary in how they envision this development. Those who see language as being mostly innate, for example, psychologist Steven Pinker, hold the precedents to be animal cognition, Sony VAIO VPCF11S1E/B battery whereas those who see language as a socially learned tool of communication, such as psychologist Michael Tomasello, see it as having developed from animal communication, either primate gestural or vocal communication to assist in cooperation. Other continuity-based models see language as having developed from music, a view already espoused by Rousseau, Herder, Humboldt, and Charles Darwin. A prominent proponent of this view today is archaeologist Steven MithenSony VAIO VPCF11M1E/H battery.
Because the emergence of language is located in the early prehistory of man, the relevant developments have left no direct historical traces, and no comparable processes can be observed today. Theories that stress continuity often look at animals to see if, for example, primates display any traits that can be seen as analogous to what pre-human language must have been like. Alternatively, early human fossils can be inspected to look for traces of physical adaptation to language use or for traces of pre-linguistic forms of symbolic behaviourSony VAIO VPCF11D4E battery.
It is mostly undisputed that pre-human australopithecines did not have communication systems significantly different from those found in great apes in general, but scholarly opinions vary as to the developments since the appearance of the genus Homo some 2.5 million years ago. Some scholars assume the development of primitive language-like systems (proto-language) as early as Homo habilis (2.3 million years ago) Sony VAIO VPCF11C5E battery, while others place the development of primitive symbolic communication only with Homo erectus (1.8 million years ago) or Homo heidelbergensis (0.6 million years ago), and the development of language proper with Anatomically Modern Homo sapiens with the Upper Paleolithic revolution less than 100,000 years agoSony VAIO VPCF11C4E/B battery.
The study of language
The study of language, linguistics, has been developing into a science since the first grammatical descriptions of particular languages in India more than 2000 years ago. Today, linguistics is a science that concerns itself with all aspects of language, examining it from all of the theoretical viewpoints described aboveSony VAIO PCG-31114M battery.
The academic study of language is conducted within many different disciplinary areas and from different theoretical angles, all of which inform modern approaches to linguistics. For example, descriptive linguistics examines the grammar of single languages, theoretical linguistics develops theories on how best to conceptualize and define the nature of language based on data from the various extant human languagesSony VAIO PCG-31113M battery, sociolinguistics studies how languages are used for social purposes informing in turn the study of the social functions of language and grammatical description, neurolinguistics studies how language is processed in the human brain and allows the experimental testing of theories, computational linguistics builds on theoretical and descriptive linguistics to construct computational models of language often aimed at processing natural language or at testing linguistic hypothesesSony VAIO PCG-31112M battery, and historical linguistics relies on grammatical and lexical descriptions of languages to trace their individual histories and reconstruct trees of language families by using the comparative method.
The formal study of language is often considered to have started in India with Pāṇini, the 5th century BC grammarian who formulated 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology. However, Sumerian scribes already studied the differences between Sumerian and Akkadian grammar around 1900 BC. Subsequent grammatical traditions developed in all of the ancient cultures that adopted writingSony VAIO PCG-31111M battery.
In the 17th century AD, the French Port-Royal Grammarians developed the idea that the grammars of all languages were a reflection of the universal basics of thought, and therefore that grammar was universal. In the 18th century, the first use of the comparative method by British philologist and expert on ancient India William Jones sparked the rise of comparative linguistics. The scientific study of language was broadened from Indo-European to language inSony VAIO PCG-41112M batterygeneral by Wilhelm von Humboldt. Early in the 20th century, Ferdinand de Saussure introduced the idea of language as a static system of interconnected units, defined through the oppositions between them.
By introducing a distinction between diachronic and synchronic analyses of language, he laid the foundation of the modern discipline of linguistics. Saussure also introduced several basic dimensions of linguistic Sony VAIO PCG-41111M batteryanalysis that are still fundamental in many contemporary linguistic theories, such as the distinctions between syntagm and paradigm, and the Langue-parole distinction, distinguishing language as an abstract system (langue), from language as a concrete manifestation of this system (parole).
In the 1960s, Noam Chomsky formulated the generative theory of language. According to this theory, the most basic form of language is a set of syntactic rules that is universal for all humans and which underlies the grammars of all human languagesSONY VAIO PCG-21212M battery. This set of rules is called Universal Grammar; for Chomsky, describing it is the primary objective of the discipline of linguistics. Thus, he considered that the grammars of individual languages are only of importance to linguistics insofar as they allow us to deduce the universal underlying rules from which the observable linguistic variability is generatedSONY VAIO PCG-21211M battery.
In opposition to the formal theories of the generative school, functional theories of language propose that since language is fundamentally a tool, its structures are best analyzed and understood by reference to their functions. Formal theories of grammar seek to define the different elements of language and describe the way they relate to each other as systems of formal rules or operations, while functional theories seek to define the functionsSONY VAIO PCG-51212M battery performed by language and then relate them to the linguistic elements that carry them out. The framework of cognitive linguistics interprets language in terms of the concepts (which are sometimes universal, and sometimes specific to a particular language) which underlie its forms. Cognitive linguistics is primarily concerned with how the mind creates meaning through language.
Physiological and neural architecture of language and speechSONY VAIO PCG-51211M battery
Speaking is the default modality for language in all cultures. The production of spoken language depends on sophisticated capacities for controlling the lips, tongue and other components of the vocal apparatus, the ability to acoustically decode speech sounds, and the neurological apparatus required for acquiring and producing language. The study of the genetic bases for human language is still on a fairly basic levelSONY VAIO PCG-51112M battery, and the only gene that has been positively implied in language production is FOXP2, which may cause a kind of congenital language disorder if affected by mutations.
The brain and language
The brain is the coordinating center of all linguistic activity; it controls both the production of linguistic cognition and of meaning and the mechanics of speech production. Nonetheless, our knowledge of the neurological bases for language is quite limited, though it has advanced considerably with the use of modern imaging techniques. The discipline of linguistics dedicated to studying the neurological aspects of language is called neurolinguistics. SONY VAIO PCG-51111M battery
Early work in neurolinguistics involved the study of language in people with brain lesions, to see how lesions in specific areas affect language and speech. In this way, neuroscientists in the 19th century discovered that two areas in the brain are crucially implicated in language processing. The first area is Wernicke's area, which is located in the posterior section of the superior temporal gyrus in the dominant cerebral hemisphereSONY VAIO PCG-51111V battery. People with a lesion in this area of the brain develop receptive aphasia, a condition in which there is a major impairment of language comprehension, while speech retains a natural-sounding rhythm and a relatively normal sentence structure. The second area is Broca's area, located in the posterior inferior frontal gyrus of the dominant hemisphere. People with a lesion to this area develop expressive aphasia, meaning that they know what they want to saySONY VAIO PCG-81211V battery, they just cannot get it out. They are typically able to understand what is being said to them, but unable to speak fluently. Other symptoms that may be present in Broca's aphasia include problems with fluency, articulation, word-finding, word repetition, and producing and comprehending complex grammatical sentences, both orally and in writing. Those with this aphasia also exhibit ungrammatical speech and show inability to use syntactic information to determine the meaning of sentencesSONY VAIO PCG-81212M battery. Both Broca's and Wenicke's aphasia also affect the use of sign language, in analogous ways to how they affect speech, with Broca's aphasia causing signers to sign slowly and with incorrect grammar, whereas a signer with Wernicke's aphasia will sign fluently, but make little sense to others and have difficulties comprehending others' signs. This shows that the impairment is specific to the ability to use language, not to the physiology used for speech production. Sony VAIO PCG-81112M battery
With technological advances in the late 20th century, neurolinguists have also adopted non-invasive techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electrophysiology to study language processing in individuals without impairments.
Anatomy of speech
Spoken language relies on human physical ability to produce sound, which is a longitudinal wave propagated through the air at a frequency capable of vibrating the ear drumSONY VAIO PCG-71111M battery. This ability depends on the physiology of the human speech organs. These organs consist of the lungs, the voice box (larynx), and the upper vocal tract - the throat, the mouth, and the nose. By controlling the different parts of the speech apparatus, the airstream can be manipulated to produce different speech sounds.
The sound of speech can be analyzed into a combination of segmental and suprasegmental elementsSONY VAIO PCG-7196M battery. The segmental elements are those that follow each other in sequences, which are usually represented by distinct letters in alphabetic scripts, such as the Roman script. In free flowing speech, there are no clear boundaries between one segment and the next, nor usually are there any audible pauses between words. Segments therefore are distinguished by their distinct sounds which are a result of their different articulations, SONY VAIO PCG-7195M battery and they can be either vowels or consonants. Suprasegmental phenomena encompass such elements as stress, phonation type, voice timbre, and prosody or intonation, all of which may have effects across multiple segments.
Consonants and vowel segments combine to form syllables, which in turn combine to form utterances; these can be distinguished phonetically as the space between two inhalations. Acoustically, these different segments are characterized by different formant structures, that are visible in a spectrogram of the recorded sound wave SONY VAIO PCG-7194M battery (See illustration of Spectrogram of the formant structures of three English vowels). Formants are the amplitude peaks in the frequency spectrum of a specific sound.
Vowels are those sounds that have no audible friction caused by the narrowing or obstruction of some part of the upper vocal tract. They vary in quality according to the degree of lip aperture and the placement of the tongue within the oral cavity. SONY VAIO PCG-7192M battery  Vowels are called close when the lips are relatively closed, as in the pronunciation of the vowel [i] (English "ee"), or open when the lips are relatively open, as in the vowel [a] (English "ah"). If the tongue is located towards the back of the mouth, the quality changes, creating vowels such as [u] (English "oo"). The quality also changes depending on whether the lips are rounded as opposed to unrounded, creating distinctions such as that between [i] (unrounded front vowel such as English "ee") and [y] (rounded front vowel such as German "ü").SONY PCG-8113M battery
Consonants are those sounds that have audible friction or closure at some point within the upper vocal tract. Consonant sounds vary by place of articulation, i.e. the place in the vocal tract where the airflow is obstructed, commonly at the lips, teeth, alveolar ridge, palate, velum, uvula, or glottis. Each place of articulation produces a different set of consonant sounds, which are further distinguished by manner of articulation, or the kind of friction, whether full closureSONY PCG-8112M battery, in which case the consonant is called occlusive or stop, or different degrees of aperture creating fricatives and approximants. Consonants can also be either voiced or unvoiced, depending on whether the vocal cords are set in vibration by airflow during the production of the sound. Voicing is what separates English [s] in bus (unvoiced sibilant) from [z] in buzz (voiced sibilant). SONY PCG-7134M battery 
Some speech sounds, both vowels and consonants, involve release of air flow through the nasal cavity, and these are called nasals or nasalized sounds. Other sounds are defined by the way the tongue moves within the mouth: such as the l-sounds (called laterals, because the air flows along both sides of the tongue), and the r-sounds (called rhotics) that are characterized by how the tongue is positioned relative to the air stream. SONY PCG-7131M battery 
By using these speech organs, humans can produce hundreds of distinct sounds: some appear very often in the world's languages, whereas others are much more common in certain language families, language areas, or even specific to a single language.
When described as a system of symbolic communication, language is traditionally seen as consisting of three parts: signs, meanings, and a code connecting signs with their meanings. The study of the process of semiosis, how signs and meanings are combined, SONY PCG-7122M battery used, and interpreted is called semiotics. Signs can be composed of sounds, gestures, letters, or symbols, depending on whether the language is spoken, signed, or written, and they can be combined into complex signs, such as words and phrases. When used in communication, a sign is encoded and transmitted by a sender through a channel to a receiver who decodes it.
Some of the properties that define human language as opposed to other communication systems are the arbitrariness of the linguistic signSONY PCG-7121M battery , meaning that there is no predictable connection between a linguistic sign and its meaning, the duality of the linguistic system, meaning that linguistic structures are built by combining elements into larger structures that can be seen as layered, e.g. how sounds build words and words build phrases, the discreteness of the elements of language, meaning that the elements out of which linguistic signs are constructed are discrete units, e.g. sounds and wordsSONY PCG-7113M battery , that can be distinguished from each other and rearranged in different patterns, and the productivity of the linguistic system, meaning that the finite number of linguistic elements can be combined into a theoretically infinite number of combinations.
The rules by which signs can be combined to form words and phrases are called syntax or grammar. The meaning that is connected to individual signs, morphemes, words, phrases, and texts is called semantics.[ SONY PCG-7112M battery52] The division of language into separate but connected systems of sign and meaning goes back to the first linguistic studies of de Saussure and is now used in almost all branches of linguistics.
Languages express meaning by relating a sign form to a meaning, or its content. Sign forms must be something that can be perceived, for example, in sounds, images, or gestures, and then related to a specific meaning by social convention. Because the basic relation of meaning for most linguistic signs is based on social convention, SONY PCG-8Z3M battery linguistic signs can be considered arbitrary, in the sense that the convention is established socially and historically, rather than by means of a natural relation between a specific sign form and its meaning.
Thus, languages must have a vocabulary of signs related to specific meaning. The English sign "dog" denotes, for example, a member of the species Canis familiaris. In a language, the array of arbitrary signs connected to specific meanings is called the lexiconSONY PCG-8Z2M battery, and a single sign connected to a meaning is called a lexeme. Not all meanings in a language are represented by single words. Often, semantic concepts are embedded in the morphology or syntax of the language in the form of grammatical categories.
All languages contain the semantic structure of predication: a structure that predicates a property, state, or action. Traditionally, semantics has been understood to be the study of how speakers and interpreters assign truth values to statementsSONY PCG-8Z1M battery, so that meaning is understood to be the process by which a predicate can be said to be true or false about an entity, e.g. "[x [is y]]" or "[x [does y]]". Recently, this model of semantics has been complemented with more dynamic models of meaning that incorporate shared knowledge about the context in which a sign is interpreted into the production of meaning. Such models of meaning are explored in the field of pragmatics.SONY PCG-8Y3M battery 
Sounds and symbols
Depending on modality, language structure can be based on systems of sounds (speech), gestures (sign languages), or graphic or tactile symbols (writing). The ways in which languages use sounds or signs to construct meaning are studied in phonology. The study of how humans produce and perceive vocal sounds is called phonetics. In spoken language, meaning is produced when sounds become part of a system in which some sounds can contribute to expressing meaning and others do notSONY PCG-8Y2M battery. In any given language, only a limited number of the many distinct sounds that can be created by the human vocal apparatus contribute to constructing meaning.
Sounds as part of a linguistic system are called phonemes. Phonemes are abstract units of sound, defined as the smallest units in a language that can serve to distinguish between the meaning of a pair of minimally different words, a so-called minimal pair. In English, for example, the words /bat/ [bat] and /pat/ [pʰat] SONY PCG-7Z1M batteryform a minimal pair, in which the distinction between /b/ and /p/ differentiates the two words, which have different meanings. However, each language contrasts sounds in different ways. For example, in a language that does not distinguish between voiced and unvoiced consonants, the sounds [p] and [b] would be considered a single phoneme, and consequently, the two pronunciations would have the same meaning. Similarly, the English language does not distinguish phonemically between aspirated and non-aspirated pronunciations of consonantsSONY PCG-6W2M battery, as many other languages do: the unaspirated /p/ in /spin/ [spin] and the aspirated /p/ in /pin/ [pʰin] are considered to be merely different ways of pronouncing the same phoneme (such variants of a single phoneme are called allophones), whereas in Mandarin Chinese, the same difference in pronunciation distinguishes between the words [pʰá] "crouch" and [pá] "eight" (the accent above the á means that the vowel is pronounced with a high tone).SONY PCG-5J5M battery 
All spoken languages have phonemes of at least two different categories, vowels and consonants, that can be combined to form syllables. As well as segments such as consonants and vowels, some languages also use sound in other ways to convey meaning. Many languages, for example, use stress, pitch, duration, and tone to distinguish meaning. Because these phenomena operate outside of the level of single segments, they are called suprasegmental.[SONY PCG-5K2M battery60] Some languages have only a few phonemes, for example, Rotokas and Pirahã language with 11 and 10 phonemes respectively, whereas languages like Taa may have as many as 141 phonemes. In sign languages, the equivalent to phonemes (formerly called cheremes) are defined by the basic elements of gestures, such as hand shape, orientation, location, and motion, which correspond to manners of articulation in spoken language.SONY PCG-5K1M battery 61]
Writing systems represent language using visual symbols, which may or may not correspond to the sounds of spoken language. The Latin alphabet (and those on which it is based or that have been derived from it) was originally based on the representation of single sounds, so that words were constructed from letters that generally denote a single consonant or vowel in the structure of the word. In syllabic scripts, such as the Inuktitut syllabarySONY PCG-5J4M battery, each sign represents a whole syllable. In logographic scripts, each sign represents an entire word, and will generally bear no relation to the sound of that word in spoken language.
Because all languages have a very large number of words, no purely logographic scripts are known to exist. Written language represents the way spoken sounds and words follow one after another by arranging symbols according to a pattern that follows a certain direction. The direction used in a writing system is entirely arbitrary and established by conventionSONY PCG-5J1M battery . Some writing systems use the horizontal axis (left to right as the Latin script or right to left as the Arabic script), while others such as traditional Chinese writing use the vertical dimension (from top to bottom). A few writing systems use opposite directions for alternating lines, and others, such as the ancient Maya script, can be written in either direction and rely on graphic cues to show the reader the direction of reading. SONY PCG-5G2M battery 
In order to represent the sounds of the world's languages in writing, linguists have developed the International Phonetic Alphabet, designed to represent all of the discrete sounds that are known to contribute to meaning in human languages.
Grammar is the study of how meaningful elements called morphemes within a language can be combined into utterances. Morphemes can either be free or bound. If they are free to be moved around within an utterance, they are usually called wordsSony VAIO PCG-8131M battery, and if they are bound to other words or morphemes, they are called affixes. The way in which meaningful elements can be combined within a language is governed by rules. The rules for the internal structure of words are called morphology. The rules of the internal structure of phrases and sentences are called syntax.
Grammar can be described as a system of categories and a set of rules that determine how categories combine to form different aspects of meaning. Sony VAIO PCG-8152M battery  Languages differ widely in whether they are encoded through the use of categories or lexical units. However, several categories are so common as to be nearly universal. Such universal categories include the encoding of the grammatical relations of participants and predicates by grammatically distinguishing between their relations to a predicate, the encoding of temporal and spatial relations on predicates, and a system of grammatical person governing reference to and distinction between speakers and addressees and those about whom they are speaking. Sony VAIO PCG-31311M battery 
Languages organize their parts of speech into classes according to their functions and positions relative to other parts. All languages, for instance, make a basic distinction between a group of words that prototypically denotes things and concepts and a group of words that prototypically denotes actions and events. The first group, which includes English words such as "dog" and "song", are usually called nouns. The second, which includes "run" and "sing"Sony VAIO PCG-31111M battery, are called verbs. Another common category is the adjective: words that describe properties or qualities of nouns, such as "red" or "big". Word classes can be "open" if new words can continuously be added to the class, or relatively "closed" if there is a fixed number of words in a class. In English, the class of pronouns is closed, whereas the class of adjectives is open, since infinite numbers of adjectives can be constructed from verbs (e.g. "saddened") or nouns (e.g. with the -like suffix "noun-like")Sony VAIO PCG-8112M battery. In other languages such as Korean, the situation is the opposite, and new pronouns can be constructed, whereas the number of adjectives is fixed.
The word classes also carry out differing functions in grammar. Prototypically, verbs are used to construct predicates, while nouns are used as arguments of predicates. In a sentence such as "Sally runs", the predicate is "runs", because it is the word that predicates a specific state about its argument "Sally". Some verbs such as "curse" can take two arguments, e.gSony VAIO PCG-7186M battery. "Sally cursed John.". A predicate that can only take a single argument is called intransitive, while a predicate that can take two arguments is called transitive.
Many other word classes exist in different languages, such as conjunctions that serve to join two sentences, articles that introduce a noun, interjections such as "agh!" or "wow!", or ideophones that mimic the sound of some event. Some languages have positionals that describe the spatial position of an event or entity. Many languages have classifiers that identify countable nouns as belonging to a particular type or having a particular shape. For instance, in Japanese, the general noun classifier for humans is nin (人) Sony VAIO PCG-7171M battery, and it is used for counting humans, whatever they are called:
In linguistics, the study of the internal structure of complex words and the processes by which words are formed is called morphology. In most languages, it is possible to construct complex words that are built of several morphemes. For instance, the English word "unexpected" can be analyzed as being composed of the three morphemes "un-", "expect" and "-ed".Sony VAIO PCG-9Z1M battery 
Morphemes can be classified according to whether they are independent morphemes, so-called roots, or whether they can only co-occur attached to other morphemes. These bound morphemes or affixes can be classified according to their position in relation to the root: prefixes precede the root, suffixes follow the root, and infixes are inserted in the middle of a root. Affixes serve to modify or elaborate the meaning of the rootSony VAIO PCG-5S1M battery. Some languages change the meaning of words by changing the phonological structure of a word, for example, the English word "run", which in the past tense is "ran". This process is called ablaut. Furthermore, morphology distinguishes between the process of inflection, which modifies or elaborates on a word, and the process of derivation, which creates a new word from an existing one. In English, the verb "sing" has the inflectional forms "singing" and "sung"Sony VAIO PCG-5P1M battery, which are both verbs, and the derivational form "singer", which is a noun derived from the verb with the agentive suffix "-er".
Languages differ widely in how much they rely on morphological processes of word formation. In some languages, for example, Chinese, there are no morphological processes, and all grammatical information is encoded syntactically by forming strings of single words. This type of morpho-syntax is often called isolating, or analyticSony VAIO PCG-5N2M battery, because there is almost a full correspondence between a single word and a single aspect of meaning. Most languages have words consisting of several morphemes, but they vary in the degree to which morphemes are discrete units. In many languages, notably in most Indo-European languages, single morphemes may have several distinct meanings that cannot be analyzed into smaller segments. For example, in Latin, the word bonus, or "good"Sony VAIO PCG-3C2M battery, consists of the root bon-, meaning "good", and the suffix -us, which indicates masculine gender, singular number, and nominative case. These languages are called fusional languages, because several meanings may be fused into a single morpheme. The opposite type of fusional languages are agglutinative languages, which construct words by stringing morphemes together in chains, but with each morpheme as a discrete semantic unit. An example of such a language is Turkish, where for exampleSony VAIO PCG-8161M battery, the word evlerinizden, or "from your houses", consists of the morphemes, ev-ler-iniz-den with the meanings house-plural-your-from. The languages that rely on morphology to the greatest extent are traditionally called polysynthetic languages. They may express the equivalent of an entire English sentence in a single word. For example, in the Yupik word tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq, which means "He had not yet said again that he was going to hunt reindeer"Sony VAIO PCG-8141M battery, the word consists of the morphemes tuntu-ssur-qatar-ni-ksaite-ngqiggte-uq with the meanings, "reindeer-hunt-future-say-negation-again-third.person.singular.indicative", and except for the morpheme tuntu ("reindeer") none of the other morphemes can appear in isolation.
Many languages use morphology to cross-reference words within a sentence. This is sometimes called agreement. For example, in many Indo-European languages, adjectives must cross-reference the noun they modify in terms of number, caseSony VAIO PCG-3J1M battery, and gender, so that the Latin adjective bonus, or "good", is inflected to agree with a noun that is masculine gender and singular. In many polysynthetic languages, verbs cross-reference their subjects and objects. In these types of languages, a single verb may include information that would require an entire sentence in English. For example, in the Basque phrase ikusi nauzu, or "you saw me", the past tense auxiliary verb n-au-zu (similar to English "do") agrees with both the subject (you) expressed by the n- prefixSony VAIO PCG-3H1M battery, and with the object (me) expressed by the -zu suffix. The sentence could be directly transliterated as "see you-did-me"
Another way in which languages convey meaning is through the order of words within a sentence. The grammatical rules for how to produce new sentences from words that are already known is called syntax. The syntactical rules of a language determine why a sentence in English such as "I love you" is meaningful, but "*love you I" is not.[notes 3] Syntactical rules determine how word order and sentence structure is constrainedSony VAIO PCG-3F1M battery, and how those constraints contribute to meaning. For example, in English, the two sentences "the slaves were cursing the master" and "the master was cursing the slaves" mean different things, because the role of the grammatical subject is encoded by the noun being in front of the verb, and the role of object is encoded by the noun appearing after the verb. Conversely, in Latin, both Dominus servos vituperabat and Servos vituperabat dominus mean Sony VAIO PCG-3C1M battery"the master was reprimanding the slaves", because servos, or "slaves", is in the accusative case, showing that they are the grammatical object of the sentence, and dominus, or "master", is in the nominative case, showing that he is the subject.
Latin uses morphology to express the distinction between subject and object, whereas English uses word order. Another example of how syntactic rules contribute to meaning is the rule of inverse word order in questions, Sony VAIO PCG-9Z2L battery which exists in many languages. This rule explains why when in English, the phrase "John is talking to Lucy" is turned into a question, it becomes "Who is John talking to?", and not "John is talking to who?". The latter example may be used as a way of placing special emphasis on "who", thereby slightly altering the meaning of the question. Syntax also includes the rules for how complex sentences are structured by grouping words together in units, called phrases, that can occupy different places in a larger syntactic structureSony VAIO PCG-9Z1L battery. Sentences can be described as consisting of phrases connected in a tree structure, connecting the phrases to each other at different levels. To the right is a graphic representation of the syntactic analysis of the English sentence "the cat sat on the mat". The sentence is analyzed as being constituted by a noun phrase, a verb, and a prepositional phrase; the prepositional phrase is further divided into a preposition and a noun phrase, and the noun phrases consist of an article and a noun. Sony VAIO PCG-9131L battery 
The reason sentences can be seen as being composed of phrases is because each phrase would be moved around as a single element if syntactic operations were carried out. For example, "the cat" is one phrase, and "on the mat" is another, because they would be treated as single units if a decision was made to emphasize the location by moving forward the prepositional phrase: "[And] on the mat, the cat sat". There are many different formalist and functionalist frameworks that propose theories for describing syntactic structuresSony VAIO PCG-8161L battery, based on different assumptions about what language is and how it should be described. Each of them would analyze a sentence such as this in a different manner.
Typology and universals
Languages can be classified in relation to their grammatical types. Languages that belong to different families nonetheless often have features in common, and these shared features tend to correlate. For example, languages can be classified on the basis of their basic word order, the relative order of the verb, and its constituents in a normal indicative sentenceSony VAIO PCG-8152L battery. In English, the basic order is SVO: "The snake(S) bit(V) the man(O)", whereas for example, the corresponding sentence in the Australian language Gamilaraay would be d̪uyugu n̪ama d̪ayn yiːy (Snake Man Bit), SOV. Word order type is relevant as a typological parameter, because basic word order type corresponds with other syntactic parameters, such as the relative order of nouns and adjectives, or of the use of prepositions or postpositions. Such correlations are called implicational universalsSony VAIO PCG-8141L battery. For example, most (but not all) languages that are of the SOV type have postpositions rather than prepositions, and have adjectives before nouns.
Through the study of various types of word order, it has been discovered that not all languages group the relations between actors and actions into Subject, Object and Verb, as English does. This type is called the nominative-accusative type. Some languages called ergative, Gamilaraay among them, distinguish between Agents and Patients. In English transitive clauses, both the subject of intransitive sentences ("I run") and transitive sentences ("I love you")Sony VAIO PCG-8131L battery are treated in the same way, shown here by the nominative pronoun I. In ergative languages, the single participant in an intransitive sentence, such as "I run", is treated the same as the patient in a transitive sentence, giving the equivalent of "me run" and "you love me". Only in transitive sentences would the equivalent of the pronoun "I" be used. In this way the semantic roles c
The shared features of languages which belong to the same typological class type may have arisen completely independently. Their co-occurrence might be due to the universal laws governing the structure of natural languages, "language universals", or they might be the result of languages evolving convergent solutions to the recurring communicative problems that humans use language to solve. Sony VAIO PCG-81214L battery 
Social contexts of use and transmission
While all humans have the ability to learn any language, they only do so if they grow up in an environment in which language exists and is used by others. Language is therefore dependent on communities of speakers in which children learn language from their elders and peers and themselves transmit language to their own children. Languages are used by those who speak them to communicate and to solve a plethora of social tasksSony VAIO PCG-81115L battery. Many aspects of language use can be seen to be adapted specifically to these purposes. Due to the way in which language is transmitted between generations and within communities, language perpetually changes, diversifying into new languages or converging due to language contact. The process is similar to the process of evolution, where the process of descent with modification leads to the formation of a phylogenetic tree. Sony VAIO PCG-81114L battery
However, languages differ from a biological organisms in that they readily incorporate elements from other languages through the process of diffusion, as speakers of different languages come into contact. Humans also frequently speak more than one language, acquiring their first language or languages as children, or learning new languages as they grow up. Because of the increased language contact in the globalizing world, many small languagesSony VAIO PCG-81113L batteryare becoming endangered as their speakers shift to other languages that afford the possibility to participate in larger and more influential speech communities.