Language: Meaning, Functions, Uses And Characteristics

What Is Language?

Language has been defined as a system whereby people from the same speech community interact and express their ideas, emotions and desires by an acceptable symbol. It is an advantage that human beings have over other animals. Man uses signs and symbols which have arbitrary meaning. The meanings are arbitrary in the sense that there is no relationship between a word and what it signifies.

The area of language has been of interest to many scholars hence the catalogue of definitions on it; some of them illustrated below: Finachario defines language thus: “a system of arbitrary vocal symbol which permits all people in a given culture or other people who have learned the system of that culture to communicate or interact”.

In 1921, Sapir describes language as “a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols”.

Functions Of Language

Language has many functions, among which are the following:

1. Communication: Communication in language is said to have taken place when there is a symbol used by the speaker which should also be familiar to the receiver and which the receiver should be able to decode. In communication, there is transmission of ideas, attitudes, beliefs and information through the use of language. In doing this, it also serves as social function.

2. Expression Of Thought: Language is used when one expresses himself after certain thought.

3. Persuasion: In trying to convince someone to change his viewpoint, beliefs, attitude and behaviour, one uses a persuasuve language. It can also serve an emotional function.

4. Regulation: Language is used to regulate the activities of people or situations at hand. It is through language that the behaviour of man is regulated in such a way that there will be peace, tranquility and orderliness in a place.

5. Language can be used to learn (Heuristic Function).

Characteristics Of Language

The characteristics of language to be discussed here include: arbitrariness, verbal and non-verbal cues, non-instinctiveness, language as being systematic and structured, culture transfer, discreteness, and openness/completeness. We shall take them one after the other.

1. Arbitrariness

Arbitrariness is an important feature of language. The word arbitrariness in language exists as a result of an agreement of familiar symbols which the same speech community employed for communication.

2. Verbal And Non-Verbal Cues: When the language is used vocally, we talk about verbal cues, when when non-linguistic languages are involved, that means non-verbal cues. Examples of non-verbal cues are the supra-segmental features like intonation, stress and rhythm, body languages, haptics, etc. In language, non-verbal cues are very important for the understanding of a language.

3. Non-Instinctiveness: Language is non-instinctive because it is learned. It does not occur as a result of response to stimuli. The fact that one is an indigene of a community does not automatically make him to speak the language, or that a particular language is the language of socialization of that person. All has to be learnt.

4. Language Is Systematic And Structured: Language is structured in such a way that all words in the language follow a particular acceptable pattern.

5. Culture Transfer: Culture is the totality of a people’s beliefs, attitudes, ideas, values, customs and the way of their social organization. That means the transmission of culture is dependent on one’s knowledge of that language.

6. Discreteness: Every letter or sound of a language is distinct from one another, and that has resulted in the infinite number of words and sentences in the English Language.

7. Flexibility And Openness: Language is flexible because it is not a closed sysetm. It allows the use of new words into the system. That is why for instance there is no definite number of nouns or verbs in English Language.

Uses Of The English Language In Nigeria

1. The English language serves as a second major language to a Nigerian.

2. It is the means by which the various people of Nigeria are able to interact and understand themselves hence it is referred to as our ligua franca.

3. With a knowledge of the English language, commerce is made easy for the people of different tribes that come together.

4. English language is the language of bureaucracy in Nigeria- it is our official language.

5. It is used in schools to impart knowledge.

6. It acts as a means by which we as Nigerians are able to interact with the outside world.

7. People in show business use it to get their performance appreciated by others who come from other tribes e.g. The new home-video culture, currently sweeping through Nigeria.