What is language? Discuss the major characteristics/properties of a language.


Language is an inseparable part of human life and society which paved the way for civilization. It is an arbitrary system of sounds produced by some articulators by human beings with the purpose of interaction and communication with each other.

According to Aristotle, language stands for speech that humans produce for exchanging their experiences resulting in ideas and emotions.

Another great linguist, Saussure says that language is an arbitrary system of signs constituted of the signifier and signified.

So it is very obvious to say that language is a symbolic, vocal, and articulatory system of communication that is related to society and culture. It is notable that human language is different from other animal’s language.

Language has some major characteristics which give further clarification about it. Those are described below


Human language is arbitrary because there is no inherent relationship between the words of the language and the meaning or the idea conveyed by them.  For example, there is a relationship between the word ‘tree’ and the actual thing called ‘tree’. Also, it has different names in different language. So it is clear that every language is arbitrary. Again, if language was not arbitrary, there would be only one language in the world.


Language is necessary for socialization. It exists in the society to fulfill different purposes like developing the culture, civilization and human relationship. Being a mean of communication, language is for interaction. There would be no use of language if everyone lived alone. So language is highly social.


On the basic level, language consists of some sounds and symbols. These symbols are arbitrary but they are universally accepted and agreed upon collectively. So any word of any language needs to be meaningful. The skill of language depends on interpreting the symbols correctly. If anyone fails to interpret the signs properly, the language bears no significance or meaning to him. That is why it is said that language is symbolical.


As discussed previously, language depends on some symbols. But these symbols need to be systematically arranged to provide a meaning. All language has its own systems of arrangements. It has phonological and grammatical rules including morphology, syntactic systems etc. so it is evident that language is not just a haphazard way of communication but systematic and organized.

Non-instinctive and conventional:

Language is not predetermined. It is the result of evolution and convention. It passes through generation by generation. It is non-instinctive because it is supposed to be acquired by human beings. It is not a matter of heritage. Language is acquired by a human simply because he has the ability to learn a language.

Productive and creative:

Every language in the world is highly productive and creative. Any human can utter novel utterances which he has not heard before. It is because the language has the possibility to become creative. This is how the language becomes productive as well. By producing novel utterances, a language gets enriched and productive. This way it becomes able to fulfill its function more precisely.

These are the major characteristics or properties of a language. These characteristics make a language the best medium to exchange thoughts, ideas, and emotions.