Portal:Language

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For a topical guide of this subject, see Outline of linguistics

Introduction

A mural in Teotihuacan, Mexico (c. 2nd century) depicting a person emitting a speech scroll from his mouth, symbolizing speech

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; and a language is any specific example of such a system.

The scientific study of language is called linguistics. Questions concerning the philosophy of language, such as whether words can represent experience, have been debated at least since Gorgias and Plato in ancient Greece. Thinkers such as Rousseau have argued that language originated from emotions while others like Kant have held that it originated from rational and logical thought. 20th-century philosophers such as Wittgenstein argued that philosophy is really the study of language. Major figures in linguistics include Ferdinand de Saussure and Noam Chomsky.

Estimates of the number of human languages in the world vary between 5,000 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 whistling, signed, or braille. This is because human language is modality-independent. Depending on philosophical perspectives regarding the definition of language and meaning, 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 to particular meanings. Oral, manual and tactile languages contain a phonological system that governs how symbols are used to form sequences known as words or morphemes, and a syntactic system that governs how words and morphemes are combined to form phrases and utterances.

Human language has the properties of productivity and displacement, and relies entirely on social convention and learning. Its complex structure affords a much wider range of expressions than any known system of animal communication. 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 areas. Humans acquire language through social interaction in early childhood, and children generally speak fluently by 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 social grooming and entertainment.

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 developmental stages to occur. A group of languages that descend from a common ancestor is known as a language family. The Indo-European family is the most widely spoken and includes languages as diverse as English, Russian and Hindi; the Sino-Tibetan family includes Mandarin, Bodo and the other Chinese languages, and Tibetan; the Afro-Asiatic family includes Arabic, Somali, and Hebrew; the Bantu languages include Swahili, and Zulu, and hundreds of other languages spoken throughout Africa; and the Malayo-Polynesian languages include Indonesian, Malay, Tagalog, and hundreds of other languages spoken throughout the Pacific. The languages of the Dravidian family, spoken mostly in Southern India, include Tamil Telugu and Kannada. Academic consensus holds that between 50% and 90% of languages spoken at the beginning of the 21st century will probably have become extinct by the year 2100.

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Nahua woman from the Florentine Codex. The speech scroll indicates that she is speaking.
Nahuatl (/ˈnɑːwɑːtəl/; Nahuatl pronunciation: [ˈnaːwatɬ] (About this sound listen)) is a language of the Nahuan branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. It is spoken by an estimated 1.5 million Nahua people, most of whom live in Central Mexico; some who live in El Salvador are known as the Pipil people. All Nahuan languages are indigenous to Mesoamerica.

Nahuatl has been spoken in Central Mexico since at least the 7th century AD. It was the language of the Aztecs who dominated what is now central Mexico during the Late Postclassic period of Mesoamerican history. During the centuries preceding the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Aztec Empire had expanded to incorporate most of Mexico, and its influence caused the variety of Nahuatl spoken by the residents of Tenochtitlan to become a prestige language in Mesoamerica. At the conquest, with the introduction of the Latin script, Nahuatl also became a literary language, and many chronicles, grammars, works of poetry, administrative documents and codices were written in it during the 16th and 17th centuries. This early literary language based on the Tenochtitlan variety has been labeled Classical Nahuatl and is among the most studied and best-documented languages of the Americas.

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Credit: Yug, Sting and The Ogre

Countries and regions where Portuguese has official status

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Stuttering (/ˈstʌtərɪŋ/; alalia syllabaris), also known as stammering (/ˈstæmərɪŋ/; alalia literalis or anarthria literalis), is a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is disrupted by involuntary repetitions and prolongations of sounds, syllables, words or phrases as well as involuntary silent pauses or blocks in which the person who stutters is unable to produce sounds. The term stuttering is most commonly associated with involuntary sound repetition, but it also encompasses the abnormal hesitation or pausing before speech, referred to by people who stutter as blocks, and the prolongation of certain sounds, usually vowels and semivowels. For many people who stutter, repetition is the primary problem. Blocks and prolongations are learned mechanisms to mask repetition, as the fear of repetitive speaking in public is often the main cause of psychological unease. The term "stuttering" covers a wide range of severity, encompassing barely perceptible impediments that are largely cosmetic to severe symptoms that effectively prevent oral communication.

The impact of stuttering on a person's functioning and emotional state can be severe. This may include fears of having to enunciate specific vowels or consonants, fears of being caught stuttering in social situations, self-imposed isolation, anxiety, stress, shame, being a possible target of bullying (especially in children), having to use word substitution and rearrange words in a sentence to hide stuttering, or a feeling of "loss of control" during speech.

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Languages of the world
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Languages of Africa: Arabic, Chadic, Cushitic, Kanuri, Maasai, Setswana, Swahili, Turkana, Xhosa, Yoruba, Zulu, more...

Languages of the Americas: Aleut, Carib, Cherokee, Inuktitut, Iroquois, Kootenai, Mayan, Nahuatl, Navajo, Quechuan, Salish, American Sign Language, more...

Languages of Asia: Arabic, Assamese, Balochi, Bengali, Chinese, Japanese, Hajong, Hebrew, Hindustani, Kannada, Kokborok, Marathi, Khasi, Korean, Kurdish, Malayalam, Manipuri, Meithei, Mongolian, Persian, Rajasthani, Sindhi, Sanskrit, Sylheti, Tamil, Tanchangya, Tulu, Telugu, Tibetan, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese, Khowar, more...

Languages of Austronesia: Austric, Fijian, Hawaiian, Javanese, Malagasy, Malay, Maori, Marshallese, Samoan, Tahitian, Tagalog, Tongan, Auslan, more...

Languages of Europe: Basque, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English (book), French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, Leonese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, more...

Constructed languages: Esperanto, Ido, Volapük, more...


Language types

Agglutinative language, Analytic language, Constructed language, Creole, Context-free language, Extinct language, Dialect, Fusional language, Inflectional language, International language, Isolating language, Language isolate, National language, Natural language, Pidgin, Pluricentric language, Polysynthetic language, Proto-language, Sign language, Spoken language, Synthetic language, Variety (linguistics)


Linguistics (Outline, Portal, Book)
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Applied linguistics, Cognitive linguistics, Accent (dialect), Computational linguistics, Descriptive linguistics, Eurolinguistics, Generative linguistics, Historical linguistics, Lexicology, Lexical semantics, Morphology, Onomasiology, Phonetics, Phonology, Pragmatics, Prescription, Prototype semantics, Psycholinguistics, Semantics, Stylistics, Sociolinguistics, Syntax

See also: List of linguists


Writing systems
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Alphabets: Arabic alphabet, Bengali alphabet, Cyrillic alphabet, Hebrew alphabet, Latin alphabet, more...

Other writing systems: Abjad, Abugida, Braille, Hieroglyphics, Logogram, Syllabary, SignWriting, more..

See also: History of the alphabet, Script

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