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What are the five fundamental characteristics of language?

Five fundamental characteristics of language include cultural relevance, symbolism, flexibility, variation, and social importance.

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The quantity of characteristics which are used to characterize language will vary, depending on the text referenced. Generally speaking, the following are considered common features of all languages.

Language is social. By its very nature, language evolved to connect humans and to enable them to interact with each other. Users of a language agree to a set of rules and systems and then use those rules consistently so that they can better function in their society. Language exists because humans depend on each other and therefore need a reliable way to interact with each other.

Language is arbitrary. The choice of any particular sounds to represent a thing or idea is arbitrary. Why is a feline animal called a cat in English, a gato in Spanish, a mace in Albanian, and a kot in Polish? There isn't any particular reason that certain sounds have been ascribed to the things they represent in a language, but once the word has been established, users of that language agree on the choice.

Language is systematic. Language is put together in a certain way, which varies depending on the language. There are rules for the way letters can combine to form words and the way words combine to form sentences. There is a grammar that establishes the syntax of the language and governs the way tenses are conveyed. This system is fairly predictable (with a few exceptions along the way), and users can thereby manipulate the language to fit their needs based on the rules of the language.

Language is symbolic. There are various symbols and sounds that represent meaningful ideas to users of a language. When speakers of English (and many other languages) see a ?, they understand that this symbol represents a question. Words themselves are symbolic; when readers see the word I on a page, they understand that this is more than a vertical line. These lines represent a first-person pronoun, identifying a speaker. Interpreting symbols correctly is important to the speakers of a language.

Language is dynamic. Any given language wasn't developed in a day, and language continues to evolve over time as speakers and cultures change. Fifty years ago, there was no need to have a word for app, downloading, cyber bullying, smart cars, or online learners. Conversely, it's rare for users of modern English to use the words elflock, lunting, giglet, shinnicked, or primprit, though these words were once commonly used. In America, using some words can date users. Coolio was a popular term in the 1990s. Far out is often associated with the hippie culture of the later 1960s and 1970s. Icebox is often used by an older generation who originally owned the technology requiring a block of ice to keep food cold. Language is dynamic, becoming what a culture needs it to convey.

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There are probably far more than five characteristics of language that can be considered fundamental, but I will give you five examples:

First, language is an expression of culture, and it cannot be assumed that everyone from a particular country has the same culture—or speaks the same language. Take South Africa, for example—there are eleven official languages in that country, depicting eleven unique cultures and ways of life. As an expression of culture, the continuation of one's home language, or mother tongue, is immensely important. Well-known writers, such as Ngugi wa Thiong'o, have dedicated their careers and their lives to this fact.

Second, language evolves. Consider the English language as we speak it today compared to the English used in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, or, even more remarkably, the works of William Shakespeare.

Third, language doesn't only evolve—it also grows, with new words being added to the dictionary on a regular basis. These days, you will find words like "froyo," "listicle," "photobomb," and "twerk" in many major dictionaries.

Fourth, language relies on subtext and interpretation. Consider the difference in the ways that the word "stop" could be used. It can be an everyday word that we read on a road sign, but it can also be a desperate warning to somebody who is about to put their life at risk.

Lastly, language is immensely varied, and there is often nothing in common between languages. For example, in English, we would greet somebody late in the day by saying "good evening." In French, the same greeting would be "bonsoir," while in Hungarian it would be "jó estét." While having the same meaning, these words have nothing in common with each other in the way that they are said or spelled.

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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.

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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.
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