What are the five fundamental characteristics of language?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The five fundamental characteristics of language are the following, in no particular order:

  • Language is symbolic-  language is a construct of sounds and symbols. Each symbol has a meaning of their own and change depending on how the cultural group uses the language. Moreover, the symbols are also dependent on the context within which they are used. The most important symbol of language is the word.
  • Language is cultural- it is entirely dependent on who uses it, for what reasons, within what context, and for what purpose. Culture is the setting that enables the medium of language. It is also what defines it and gives it uniqueness. Also, you address people depending on their culture; when the culture is very different from yours, you use less context and more symbols to convey understanding. When the culture is similar to yours, you can use more context because you are more likely to be understood verbally and non-verbally.
  • Language is flexible- it can be subdivided and re-created, expanded, and extended. The main example of these instances are idioms and paradoxes, dialects, jargon, and street talk.
  • Language has rules of usage- there is monitor language (which that we use in specific situations and we watch over), and natural language (the language that we use casually). Rules can be constitutive (what do words mean?) or regulative (how do I apply language in a sentence/conversation?)
  • Language is dynamic and not static- words will continue to be added to our daily vocabulary, whether they are culturally coined or created for trademark purposes.
mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several fundamental characteristics of language. One characteristic is that language is arbitrary. There is no connection between why a particular word represents the idea or thing it represents. For example, why do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?

A second characteristic is that language is social. Language allows people to communicate with each other by following an established set of rules.

Another characteristic is that language is symbolic. Language is a set of symbols arranged in a particular order to convey meaning. As mentioned above, this is somewhat arbitrary.

An additional characteristic of language is that it is vocal.  Language is made up of various sounds produced by humans. When these sounds are put together, they form words with meaning.

Finally, language is non-instinctive, conventional, and creative. It is something that took time to develop and is passed from one generation to the next. Language may change over time as new words are added to a language.

These are some of the characteristics of language.