Linguistics Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

What are the properties of language?  

Expert Answers info

kateanswers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write900 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

In form and function, language varies widely across space and throughout time. That being said, six key properties of language have been described by linguists. These six features are arbitrariness, cultural transmission, discreteness, displacement, duality, and productivity.

Arbitrariness of language is the fact that the symbols we use to communicate meaning to not have any natural form or meaning in and of themselves. For example, all of the words you are reading right now do not have a natural essence to them, but we have assigned these words to their particular meanings. The word table is not a table itself; rather, it is a word we have agreed means or signals for the idea of a table. Onomatopoeia differ somewhat in their arbitrariness, because these are words which replicate the sounds they describe. The word "plop" is intended to replicate the sound plop.

Language is both acquired by and continues the process of cultural transmission. Humans are not born with an innate understanding of communication in the way that birds or lions are. We must learn, along with other elements of culture, how to communicate with others using language.

Discreteness in language describes the fact that human language is composed of sets of distinct sounds. One sound on its own may convey one meaning, multiple sounds combined in a particular order convey a different meaning. Even repeated sounds have a particular meaning! 

Displacement of language refers to the ability of human language to communicate throughout time and across space. In animals, language is primarily an exchange between stimulus and response — the meaning conveyed by animal language...

(The entire section contains 561 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now