What is a language? How can we define it?

Language lets people share complex ideas.

A language is a system of communication consisting of a system to form words, a system to assign meanings, and a grammar.

When considering what language is, there are many different factors to take into account. One of these factors is grammar, which is the set of rules that govern sentence structure. The grammar our languages contain allows us to produce an infinite number of unique sentences, all of which can be any length. This property of human communication is what sets language apart from any other form of basic communication.

When you speak or hear a language, how much do you rely on your five senses? Another factor that must be taken into account is the absence of sound, sight, or both. In signed languages, physical symbols such as hand gestures or facial expressions make words. More importantly, the grammars that these gestures supplement are what identify signed languages as language.

How many languages do you know? What do you think is a good definition of language?

Jen is pictured hiking in a snowy environment.

Jen Ramadurai


Jen is a sophomore at UNC double majoring in Linguistics and Neuroscience and minoring in Computer Science.

Aahnix Bathurst


Elika Bergelson

Principal Investigator