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Good articleLanguage has been listed as one of the Language and literature good articles under the good article criteria. If you can improve it further, please do so. If it no longer meets these criteria, you can reassess it.
Article Collaboration and Improvement Drive Article milestones
September 10, 2012Peer reviewReviewed
November 20, 2013Articles for deletionSpeedily kept
September 19, 2014Good article nomineeListed
Article Collaboration and Improvement Drive This article was on the Article Collaboration and Improvement Drive for the week of November 14, 2007.
Current status: Good article

Peer Review[edit]


This peer review discussion has been closed.
I've listed this article for peer review becaus I've recently expanded it drastically, and would like some outside imput before deciding whether to nominate for GA. Given that the topic is so huge I am sure I've left out something important, but at this point I am blind to it myself. Also it would be good with a second pair of eyes to scout out any erroneous or dubious statements I may have introduced unwittingly.

Thanks, ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 16:26, 26 August 2012 (UTC)

Review by Peter Isotalo

First off, I think this is a great undertaking. You barely ever come across such a general article topic that is this well-written. In my view, this is prime FA material that seems appropriately complete in terms of contents. The concerns I have is mostly a matter of improving prose and straightening out a few unclear statements. So here we go:

  • I don't like the Babel image sitting on top of the article. It's a well-known language myth, but language myths don't really have much to do with linguistics. I think it should be moved down to "Language endangerement" where the Babel myth is actually mentioned. Otherwise, I'd look at it as unnecessary undue weight of a Biblical perspective through graphics.Green tick.png
  • Consider explaining "suprasegmental" at least once. An important term, but bound to seem obscure to non-linguists.Green tick.png it was already explained in both of the cases where it appeared.
  • I think it would be good to explain "formant" in just a few words. It's a fairly technical phonetic term.
  • Much of what comes after the first sentence of "Grammatical categories" is quite difficult to follow without thorough knowledge of linguistic terminology. Could it be lightened up somehow?
  • Concerning the Yupik example, it seems as if the number of translations doesn't quite match the apparent number of Yupik morphemes. Is ksaite by any chance "say-negation"?Green tick.png (it was just a dash instead of a period making it seem as if there was a morpheme to few, -uq is third.person.singular.indicative)
  • "For example in the Australian language Dyirbal a married man must use a special set of lexical items when speaking in the presence of his mother in-law." – "Lexical items" is a bit jargon-ish. Would "vocabulary" or maybe just "words" suffice?Green tick.png
  • "(corresponding to German fater - fiʃ, and Nordic faðerfisk)" – Why "ʃ"? What exactly is the spelling based on? Because clearly this is not modern German, or it would be Vater and Fisch. And the "Nordic" words seems more like Old Norse judging by the "ð". Clarification would be good.Green tick.png
  • "gradual petrification of idioms" – Is it possible to find a slightly less obscure word for "petrification"?
  • In "Language contact", the use of "adstratum", "substratrum" and "superstratum" comes without much explanation. Could more common terms be used, or could they perhaps be explained somehow?Green tick.png
  • Why are "Chinese languages" in the Ethnologue table counted the same way as languages that are generally considered mutually intelligible? As far as I know, Wu, Hakka and Yue are about as similar to Chinese as German is to English. Are there no figures for just Mandarin Chinese (the dialects, that is, not the standard language)?Green tick.png
  • The last two sections seem somewhat weaker prose-wise than the rest of the article. I think they could use a working-over. Lightening up repetitions and getting the sentence to flow a bit better would be a nice improvement.
  • The article touches upon relevant examples of how language matters to humans. Is it possible, though, to somehow stress the importance that language has for human culture(s)? For example, something really quick about how nationalism and language has gone hand in hand in the modern period, and how ethnicity is often extremely tightly bound to language.
  • There are a few paragraphs without notes at the end. I'm personally not that bothered by this since much of the information is very general in nature and not particularly contentious. But it might be good to cover your bases anyhew. After all, there are plenty of sticklers for referencing out there... Also, some of the longer paragraphs with just one note could be looked over. Unless it amounts to pure reference repetition, an additional note might sooth the nerves of at least some of the most ardent note-hunters out there.

Peter Isotalo 17:16, 9 September 2012 (UTC)

Btw, feel free to cross out or put a check mark next to any concern you feel you have remedied.
Peter Isotalo 11:57, 10 September 2012 (UTC)

False language: pseudoglotty / pseudoglossy / pseudoglottia / pseudoglossia[edit]

Anything that resembles informational transmission, without to actually be.

Some claim that pseudoglossia opens the possibilities of a true language via genetical and/or cultural evolution. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2a02:587:4117:a100:ed7b:dc44:2f3e:e80d (talk) 00:56, 3 January 2019 (UTC)

Not done: If this is a request for addition or changes to the page, please specify what you think should be changed using the 'Change X to Y' (or 'Add Y') formulation, and please suggest reliable sources for the information. Cnilep (talk) 01:41, 4 January 2019 (UTC)

Semi-protected edit request on 25 April 2019[edit]

We use different languages all around the world.These are some useful translations: English Hindi Gujrati Kachhi Tagalog Nice Achha Saaru Saaro pretty Sundar Sundar Sundar Maganda Come Aa Ao Ach Go Jaa Jaao Van Tara Eat Kha Khao Khaa (talk) 04:37, 25 April 2019 (UTC)

 Not done: it's not clear what changes you want to be made. Please mention the specific changes in a "change X to Y" format and provide a reliable source if appropriate. – Þjarkur (talk) 08:26, 25 April 2019 (UTC)

Image of language lesson[edit]

I've just re-added the image File:Kituwah Academy.png. User:Biosthmors removed it yesterday with the edit summary, "see New Kituwah Academy for details as to why this information is inaccurate". I'm not sure what "this information" refers to. Presumably it is not the image as such, but the caption. The caption Biosthmors removed said in part "Cherokee language is the medium of instruction from pre-school on up"; New Kituwah Academy says that the school is dual immersion K-6. I've changed the caption to say "Cherokee language is a medium of instruction". Is that acceptable? Or was there some other issue? (I also removed some extraneous formatting, by the way). Cnilep (talk) 05:49, 28 June 2019 (UTC)

I was scratching my head at that one for a while too, even if some information is inaccurate in the image description, that's not a reason to remove the whole image.--Megaman en m (talk) 06:44, 28 June 2019 (UTC)
Actually I think we should revert edits like these as "unexplained removal of content". The editor expects us to do mind-reading, which is not the proper way. I handled another identical edit accordingly. –Austronesier (talk) 08:07, 28 June 2019 (UTC)

"Lingvo" listed at Redirects for discussion[edit]


An editor has asked for a discussion to address the redirect Lingvo. Please participate in the redirect discussion if you wish to do so. signed, Rosguill talk 17:27, 5 August 2019 (UTC)

"Language" vs. "a language"[edit]

Calling SUM1, Woodstone for a consensus: The lead actually defines two meanings of "language", language (uncountable noun without article) in the abstract general sense, and language (countable noun with article) in the concrete particular sense. So MOS:BOLDSYN may not exactly apply here. I suggest we restore an older version of the lead where the article was in bold face too. As an alternative, a language could be set in italics. – Austronesier (talk) 10:15, 28 August 2019 (UTC)

Italics would be totally acceptable. "A language" would be wrong, because "a language" doesn't redirect to Language. SUM1 (talk) 15:34, 28 August 2019 (UTC)
Seems uncontroversial; done. Just plain Bill (talk) 15:45, 28 August 2019 (UTC)

Nomination of Portal:Language for deletion[edit]

A discussion is taking place as to whether Portal:Language is suitable for inclusion in Wikipedia according to Wikipedia's policies and guidelines or whether it should be deleted.

The page will be discussed at Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/Portal:Language until a consensus is reached, and anyone is welcome to contribute to the discussion. The nomination will explain the policies and guidelines which are of concern. The discussion focuses on high-quality evidence and our policies and guidelines.

Users may edit the page during the discussion, including to improve the page to address concerns raised in the discussion. However, do not remove the deletion notice from the top of the page. North America1000 23:03, 29 August 2019 (UTC)

Ifaamedian kan baname guyyaa hardhaantanaa kana baga gammaddan baga gammanneon 28 November 2019[edit]

Namni bootii kana banees obboleeysa keysan ustaaz gammachuu mahammad (talk)
 Not done: it's not clear what changes you want to be made. Please mention the specific changes in a "change X to Y" format and provide a reliable source if appropriate. — IVORK Talk 21:22, 28 November 2019 (UTC)

Definition of 'Language'[edit]

User:Oldstone James recently changed the definition of language in the lead section of this article. As the definition of language has been debated in some depth, I think such a change warrants further discussion. I therefore restored the earlier version of the page. I would invite editors to review past discussion of the definition in /Archive 1, /Archive 3#opening paragraphs and #Various expressions, and /Archive 4#Definition and #Definition of Language, inter alia. Cnilep (talk) 07:06, 6 December 2019 (UTC)

@Cnilep: I appreciate your disapproval of my edits; however, I believe it'd be both more appropriate and more helpful if you had explained what your problem with my edits was, as lack of consensus alone is not a valid reason for reversion.
Either way, here is the version that I am proposing:

A language is a structured means of communication. Language, in a broader sense, refers to the ability – particularly human ability – to communicate using a language.

And here is the current version:

Language is a system that consists of the development, acquisition, maintenance and use of complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so; a language is any specific example of such a system.

First of all, the current version is trivially false, as if the definition of "language" indeed included "acquisition" of a language then the statement "to acquire language" would be tautological and hence false; however, this very phrase is given as an example by the Collins Dictionary, so Wikipedia's current definition is false.
Secondly, as pointed out by the phrase particularly the human ability to do so in the current version, "language" is an ability and not at all a system. If it were a system then the development of language would have systematic elements; however, it is clear that people and even animals use language in completely different ways, so calling it a system is, to say the least, far-fetched; and, at most, it's just plain wrong. Also, not a single dictionary on Earth defines "language" as a system.
Thirdly, the current version is very clumsy and incredibly difficult to read; one has to re-read the sentence a couple of times before they can make proper sense of it. My version is cleaner, more concise, and reads easier and better.
Finally, it is important to note that a language is a structured system or means of communication; if that clarification is not made, ants and bacteria would be speaking languages.O̲L̲D̲S̲T̲O̲N̲E̲J̅A̅M̅E̅S̅? 22:57, 6 December 2019 (UTC)

Might be best resolved by referencing reliable source, probably from linguistics, .. and have therefore added citation needed template? Bruceanthro (talk) 10:22, 10 December 2019 (UTC)

De Saussure offers a definition of language in bits and pieces:
  • "Language is a well-defined object in the heterogeneous mass of speech facts."
  • "...language ... is homogenous."
  • "Language is concrete."
  • "Language is a system of signs that express ideas, ..."[1]
Some other definitions from linguists:
  • "A system of arbitrary vocal symbols by which thought is conveyed from one human being to another."[2]
  • "A language is a system of abstract objects analogous in significant aspects to such a cultural object as a symphony."[3]
All three use "system" in their definitions of language. - Donald Albury 15:07, 10 December 2019 (UTC)
@Donald Albury: Of course, a language is a system, as I point out in my proposed definition. However, the unquantifiable noun "language" is not. Two of the three definitions that you have provided define a language rather than language; and the other defines "language", an unquantifiable noun, as "a system", a quantifiable noun, which is a basic grammatical mistake. I think taking a look at definitions from various dictionaries would be more useful:
  • Oxford Leaner's: "the use by humans of a system of sounds and words to communicate"
  • Google (I can't recall what dictionary Google uses): "a non-verbal method of expression or communication"
  • Collins: "the use of a system of communication which consists of a set of sounds or written symbols"
  • "communication by voice in the distinctively human manner"
Notice how all dictionaries seem to agree on the definition of language, all stating that it is the general method of - particularly human - communication, this method being the use of a language. I think we should trust the dictionaries and go ahead with the definition that's currently in the article.O̲L̲D̲S̲T̲O̲N̲E̲J̅A̅M̅E̅S̅? 16:21, 10 December 2019 (UTC)


  1. ^ de Saussure, Ferdinand (1959) [1915]. Course in General Linguistics. Translated by Baskin, Wade. New York: Philosophical Library. pp. 14–16.
  2. ^ Hughes, John P. (1962). The Science of Language: An introduction to linguistics. New York: Random House. p. 7. LCCN 62-10781.
  3. ^ Katz, Jerrold K.; Postal, Paul M. (1964). An Integral Theory of Linguistic Descriptions. Cambridge, Massachussetts: The M.I.T. Press. pp. ix. ISBN 0262110113.
Yes, language is most certainly a system. Moreover, saying that this system includes language acquisition does not turn the phrase "to acquire language" into a tautology. To "acquire" a language means to take part in the acquisition part of the system. Calling this a tautology is like saying "to eat food" is a tautology when the definition of food is something that one eats. Moreover, WP:ISAWORDFOR prompts us to avoid phrasing like "language, in a broader sense, refers to..."
I agree that the current wording is a bit obtuse, but that can be solved with a bit of a compromise. Perhaps we want something like A language is a structured means of communication. Language, in a broader sense, is a system that consists of the development, acquisition, maintenance and use of complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so; a language is any specific example of such a system.Ƶ§œš¹ [lɛts b̥iː pʰəˈlaɪˀt] 15:30, 10 December 2019 (UTC)
@Aeusoes1: It does. Your example of "eating food" is not appropriate, as if we replace the word "food" with "eating what is being eaten", the sentence is meaningful, despite being a tautology. However, if we replace the word "language" with "acquisition of a language" in "acquire language", we get "acquire [the process of] acquisition of language", which is totally meaningless.
Furthermore, "a system" is quantifiable, while "language" isn't. So language can't be a system.
I honestly think the current wording is fine. I don't see any reasons to change it.O̲L̲D̲S̲T̲O̲N̲E̲J̅A̅M̅E̅S̅? 16:35, 10 December 2019 (UTC)
If we replaced "language" with "acquisition of a language" that would certainly sound absurd, but considering that the definition of language isn't "acquisition of a language" we wouldn't be prompted to do so in the first place. In the example of food, the replacement would be "eating that which is eaten." In the example of language, it would be "acquiring that which is acquired." Both are equally tautological statements.
With quantifiability, your reasoning falls apart with another example of something similar. Let's take another noun that has different meanings when it is quantifiable vs unquantifiable. When unquantifiable, democracy is "a form of government in which the people have the authority to choose their governing legislation." When quantifiable, democracy is a particular government under such a form. I don't imagine that you take issue with our definition of democracy just because it uses a. That a noun is unquantifiable doesn't mean that we can't use articles like a or the in their definition. Inferring this sort of thing is just plain goofy reasoning. — Ƶ§œš¹ [lɛts b̥iː pʰəˈlaɪˀt] 17:15, 10 December 2019 (UTC)
You're making a mistake here again. If language was defined as "an acquisition" (i.e., a thing that has been acquired), then I have no problem at all with the grammar (of course, we'd then need to specify when and by whom language was acquired to avoid vagueness). However, the word "acquisition" as used in the previous version of the article was unquantifiable, as it was placed in a list with the word "maintenance" and was preceded by the article "the" rather than "an". Therefore, the meaning that the word had in the context of the article was "the process of acquisition". Indeed, if we replace "language" with "process of acquisition", the phrase "acquire language" becomes "acquire the process of acquisition".
The second one is a fair point, but I still have a justification, and I think this justification should be intuitive to most people. When we say "X is a form of Y", what we really mean is "Y has a partition/branch that represents X". Therefore, in your example, the meaning of "democracy" changes from an unquantifiable noun represented by the general term "democracy" to a quantifiable noun with the meaning "a partition/branch representing democracy". A similar transition in meaning can be seen in the sentence, "language refers to the ability to communicate a language". Language itself doesn't actually refer to anything; it's the term "language" that we are talking about in the sentence. An easier way to see this would be to isolate the subject, predicate, and - in the former case - the defining object in both sentences and see if the resulting sentence makes sense. Of course, neither "democracy is a form" nor "language refers" make any sense, two lots of democracy aren't two forms (this is a bad example because the term "a democracy" also exists when referring to an entirely different concept; the contradiction would be more apparent if we replace "democracy" with "money") and language doesn't have the ability to refer to anything. On the other hand, in the case of "language is a system", the word "language" doesn't have any change of meaning, and there is no justification for such a discrepancy in quantifiability. Indeed, two lots of language aren't two systems, so the sentence "language is a system" isn't grammatically correct. To me, all of this seems intuitive. I am surprised that this sentence doesn't just "read funny" to you.O̲L̲D̲S̲T̲O̲N̲E̲J̅A̅M̅E̅S̅? 00:36, 11 December 2019 (UTC)
I can't say I follow all of that and it seems as though the article's wording is changing already (including the use of refer), so I'm not sure if there's much merit to trying. I should say that democracy is a better example than money, since the latter can't be paired with the definite article a like both language and democracy can (*a money). That's why I chose it as an example. I should also say that the statement "language is a system" isn't grammatically correct shows a poor understanding of what "grammatically correct" means. — Ƶ§œš¹ [lɛts b̥iː pʰəˈlaɪˀt] 01:08, 11 December 2019 (UTC)
Well, I tried my best. Hopefully, somebody can explain it better than I can. In short, the sentence "democracy is a form of government" is really a contracted form of "the concept called 'democracy' is a form of the concept called 'government'". The phrase "a form of" defines "the concept" - not democracy itself. Hopefully, that's a bit clearer.
I wouldn't be so rash in claiming that I have a poor understanding of what "grammatically correct" means. Would you agree that the sentence "moneys are means of payment" is grammatically incorrect?O̲L̲D̲S̲T̲O̲N̲E̲J̅A̅M̅E̅S̅? 01:31, 11 December 2019 (UTC)
No. You're mistaking semantic issues with grammaticality. See colorless green ideas sleep furiously. — Ƶ§œš¹ [lɛts b̥iː pʰəˈlaɪˀt] 02:53, 11 December 2019 (UTC)
Okay, I think this is already beyond the topic of the conversation, so I suggest we both delete our last posts once our conversation is finished due to Wikiepdia not being a forum. Anyway, as far as I am aware statements like "a scissors" and "one money" are grammatically incorrect. "Language is a system" would fall under a similar bracket, in my opinion. Correct me if I am wrong.O̲L̲D̲S̲T̲O̲N̲E̲J̅A̅M̅E̅S̅? 05:41, 11 December 2019 (UTC)

Comment: Of course we can defend our POVs and preferences here in order to achieve the goal of consensus (I hope that's the goal for all participants in this discussion), but to say that the statement "Language is a system" is grammatically incorrect is, uhm, incorrect. Form a linguistic perspective, there is no constraint against uncountable nouns appearing as subject of clauses with countable predicative nouns. Nor is the statement "Language is a system" as "far-fetched" and "wrong" as Oldstone James claims:

  • "Language is a system for encoding and transmitting ideas." (Kay 1985:251)[1]
  • "First, then, language is a system, which implies regularity and order. (Edwards 2009:53)[2]
  • "Linguistics is the study of language. Language is a system of brain circuits." (Pulvermuller 2002:270)[3]


  1. ^ Kay, Martin (1985). "Parsing in functional unification grammar". In David R. Dowty; Lauri Karttunen; Arnold M. Zwicky (eds.). Natural Language Parsing: Psychological, computational, and theoretical perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 251–278.
  2. ^ Edwards, John (2009). Language and Identity: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ Pulvermuller, Friedemann (2002). The Neuroscience of Language: On Brain Circuits of Words and Serial Order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Austronesier (talk) 10:04, 11 December 2019 (UTC)

We now have examples of a number of linguists saying, "language is a system" in books published by academic and other major presses. Linguists study language, and can therefore be presumed to understand what is or is not grammatical, and the editors at those presses apparently agree. Rules found in or inferred from prescriptive grammars often do not represent how native speakers of a language use and understand that language. I think "language is a system" is the best way to start a definition of "language". Now, what does that system do? - Donald Albury 16:21, 11 December 2019 (UTC)

The proposed wording "A language is a structured means of communication" is much too broad, except for 'language' in the metaphoric sense (body language, the language of love, etc.) Pheromones are not language, nor are the different colors we paint curbs, a symphony, or many many other structured ways that animals and even plants and bacteria communicate. — kwami (talk) 22:59, 23 December 2019 (UTC)

Edits undone March 2020[edit]

I just undid five edits by User:Weidorje. While these edits were intended to make the article easier to read – a goal I can agree with – some had the effect of introducing errors, and several removed information from the article. This page has been wrought by a large number of knowledgeable editors and offers a relatively nuanced view of human language as understood in various fields: especially linguistics, but also psychology, education, anthropology and other allied fields. I think, therefore, that efforts to prune content should be hashed over by more than one editor. Cnilep (talk) 02:56, 2 March 2020 (UTC)

question mark Suggestion: Perhaps we could help Weidorje get a Simple English version started? That would address the "making content easier to understand" for those not versed in the subject. --Tenryuu 🐲 ( 💬📝) 03:11, 2 March 2020 (UTC)
Let's not get confused. I think this article should be reformatted to simpler English because it should serve as a beginner's introduction to linguistics. This is however not the issue. The issue is that the article is of somewhat poor quality and misinformative as a whole (i.e. it's a bit of a mess that's also difficult to read). User:Cnilep is primarily aiming at protecting a sociobiological bias which is visible in that they want to have the 'organic' view of language first although it appeared last chronologically and is not backed by any scientific research. The subsequent humanistic definitions of language are also confused with sociobiological ideas in this article. But the main issue is obviously the claim that Chomsky invented formal linguistics. Cnilep argues that I'm challenging a consensus. However, Smith and Alcott in Chomsky: Ideas and Ideals do not claim that Chomsky invented formal linguistics. They say that he made "a minor contribution". Likewise, Chomsky's Syntactic Structures cites Hjelmslev's work, and there is no claim of Chomsky's lectures being original research. The question is properly addressed in Seuren's Western Linguistics which I was using as a source. So what exactly is it I'm challenging, on a factual basis? I'm raising the claim that Wikipedia is being used to propagate an obscurist view of linguistics.Weidorje (talk) 08:26, 2 March 2020 (UTC)

"Before evaluating this claim, we need to distinguish it from a separate issue concerning the axiomatization or logical formalization of the linguistic analyses provided by working linguists. For Chomsky the interest and importance of analyses of language reside in the implications they have for philosophical and psychological issues. This is clearly not incompatible with a mathematical axiomatization of those analyses. Indeed, Chomsky’s early work was renowned for its mathematical rigor and he made some contribution to the nascent discipline of mathematical linguistics, in particular the analysis of (formal) languages in terms of what is now known as the Chomsky Hierarchy."

— Neil Smith (in Chomsky – Ideas and Ideals, 2nd edition, p. 147 )

"What makes glossematics relevant and interesting is its projected way of specifying the possible combinations of primitive formal units into larger structures, i.e. its notion of algorithmic production of strings of symbols, and the empirical and formal constraints it imposes on any such specification in the light of an evaluation with respect to alternative specifications. Here Hjelmslev's ideas clearly prefigure the theory of generative grammar... it is probably accurate to say that Hjelmslev was the first to try and apply [the notion of an algorithm as a purely formal production system for a set of strings and symbols] in natural language"

— Pieter Seuren (Western Linguistics: An Historical Introduction, p. 164, 166 )