The Digital Polyglot: what is language?

The word language is a cover term for many phenomena: speech, writing, grammar, words, sounds, and ultimately, acts of communication. Read what these major figures have said about language and its interconnections with society and culture. Interspersed between the quotes are key words in English, Samoan, Bemba, Russian, Japanese, and French.


If we could embrace the sum of word-images stored in the minds of all individuals, we could identify the social bond that constitutes language. It is a storehouse filled by the members of a given community through their active use of speaking . . . Language is not complete in any speaker; it exists perfectly only within a community.

- Saussure

LANGUAGE NGANGANA ULULIMI JAZIK GENGO LANGUE

 

[A]t any given moment of its historical existence, language is heteroglot from top to bottom: it represents the co-existence of socio-ideological contradictions between the present and the past, between differing epochs of the past, between different socio-ideological groups in the present . . .

- Bakhtin


SPEECH TAUTALANGA UKULANDA RECH' BENZETSU PAROLE


Language as communication and as culture are then products of each other. Communication creates culture: culture is a means of communication. Language carries culture, and culture carries . . . the entire body of values by which we come to perceive ourselves and our place in the world. How people perceive themselves affects how they look at their culture, at their politics and at the social production of wealth . . .

- Ngugi wa Thiong'o


WORD UPU AMASHIWI SLOVO HITOKOTO MOT


LANGUAGE. A system of conventional spoken or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, communicate . . . Language interacts with every other aspect of human life in society, and it can be understood only if it is considered in relation to society.

"Language" Britannica Online.