What Is a Language?

  • Charles E. Osgood
Part of the Springer Series in Language and Communication book series (SSLAN, volume 7)


What is a language? You may well be wondering why I ask this question when everyone knows what a language is—it’s what you’re expressing and I’m comprehending, you say. Let’s change the question’s form a bit: how would one identify something as a language if he encountered what might be one in an obviously nonhuman species—for example, flowing kaleidoscopic color patterns on the bulbous bodies of octopuslike creatures who land in a space ship right in one’s own backyard? And, for that matter, is the natural signing of deaf-mutes a language? the game of chess? and what about the “language” of music or art? Or suppose that pale, eyeless midgets were discovered in extended caverns far below the present floors of the Mammoth Cave—emitting very high-frequency pipings from their rounded mouths and apparently listening with their enormous, rotatable ears. How might one decide whether or not these cave midgets have an identifiably humanoid language?


Human Language Retinal Size Progressive Differentiation Phonetic Symbolism Nasal Vowel 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles E. Osgood
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Communications Institute of Communications ResearchUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA

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