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Department of Linguistics

LING 11015: Introduction to Linguistics

Hand out: 01

Definitions of Language
“A language can be compared to a sheet of paper. Thought is one side of the sheet and sound the
reverse side. Just as it is impossible to take a pair of scissors and cut one side of the paper
without at the same time cutting the other, so it is impossible in a language to isolate sound from
thought, or thought from sound.”
- Ferdinand de Saussure (1916)
Course in General Linguistics
“Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and
desires by means of voluntarily produced symbols.”
- Edward Sapir (1921)
Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech
“From now on I will consider a language to be a set of sentences, each finite in length and
constructed out of a finite set of elements.”
- Noam Chomsky (1957)
Syntactic Structures
“Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols, by means of which human beings as members
of a social group and participants in a culture, interact and communicate.”
- Bernard Bloch and George L. Trager (1962)
Encyclopaedia Britannica
“Language is behaviour which utilises body parts: the vocal apparatus and the auditory system
for oral language; brachial apparatus and the visual system for sign language… such body parts
are controlled by none other than the brain for their functions.”
- Fred C. C. Peng (2005)
Language in the Brain: Critical Assessments
“A language consists of symbols that convey meaning, plus rules for combining those symbols,
that can be used to generate and infinite variety of messages.”
- Wayne Weiten (2007)
Psychology: Themes and Variations (7th ed.)
“We can define language as a system of communication using sounds or symbols that enables us
to express our feeling, thoughts, ideas and experiences.”
- E. Bruce Goldstein (2008)
Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research
and Everyday Experience (2nd ed.)