As with any complex, emergent concept, language is somewhat resistant to definition; however, most would agree that language is a system of communication or reasoning using representation along with metaphor and some manner of logical grammar. Many languages use gestures, sounds, symbols, or words, and aim at communicating concepts, ideas, meanings, and thoughts, though the problem of linguistic vagueness often rears its head when we try to distinguish between these things.
The study of language
The success of science, mathematics, and other formal systems in the 20th century led many to attempt a formalization of the study of language as a "semantic code". This resulted in the academic discipline of linguistics, the founding of which is attributed to Ferdinand de Saussure.
Philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, W. V. Quine, and Jacques Derrida have questioned the possibility of such a rigorous study of language by questioning many of the assumptions necessary for such a study, and have put forth their own views on the nature of language. There is no end in sight to this debate.
Making a principled distinction between one language and another is usually impossible. For example, the boundaries between named language groups are in effect arbitrary due to blending between populations (the dialect continuum). For instance, there are dialects of German very similar to Dutch which are not mutually intelligible with other dialects of (what Germans call) German.
Some like to make parallels to biology, where it is not always possible to make a well-defined distinction between one species and the next. In either case, the ultimate difficulty may stem from the interactions between languages and populations. (See Dialect or August Schleicher for a longer discussion.)
Origins of human language
Scientists do not yet agree on when language was first used by humans (or their ancestors). Estimates range from about two million years ago, during the time of Homo habilis, to as recently as forty thousand years ago, during the time of Cro-Magnon man.
The world languages have been be grouped into families of languages which have similarities. Some of the major groupings are the Indo-European languages, the Afro-Asiatic languages, and the Sino-Tibetan languages.
One prominent artificial language, called Esperanto, was created by L. L. Zamenhof. It was a compilation of various elements of different languages, which was intended to be an easy-to-learn language.
Other writers, such as J. R. R. Tolkien, have created fantasy languages, for literary, linguistic, or personal reasons. One of Tolkien's languages is called Quenya, which is a form of Elvish. It includes its own alphabet and its phonology and syntax are modelled after Finnish. The writer, linguist and Star Trek actor James Doohan devised the original vocabularies of Vulcan and Klingon speech which have been developed by others into full languages.
Animal (non-human) language
While the term animal languages is widely used, most researchers agree that they are not as complex or expressive as the human language. Some researchers argue that there are significant differences separating human language from the communication of other animals, and that the underlying principles are not related.
Other researchers argue that a continuum exists among the communication methods of all animals. Almost all researchers agree that human language is more complex than communication between other animals.
Mathematics and computer science use artificial entities called formal languages (including programming languages and markup languages). These often take the form of character strings, produced by some combination of formal grammar and semantics of arbitrary complexity.
af:Taal ar:لغة az:Dil bg:Език ca:Llenguatge cs:Jazyk cy:Iaith da:Sprog de:Sprache el:Γλώσσα eo:Lingvo es:Lenguaje fa:زبان fr:Langage fy:taal gd:Cànan gl:Linguaxe he:שפה hr:Jezik hu:Nyelvek ia:Linguage io:Linguo is:Tungumál it:Lingua (idioma) ja:言語 ko:언어 ku:ziman la:Lingua lt:Kalba ms:Bahasa na:Langue nl:Taal no:Språk oc:Lenga pl:Jêzyk (mowa) pt:Linguagem ro:Limbă ru:Язык simple:Language sl:Jezik sr:Језик sv:Språk sw:Lugha [[th:ภาษา]] tlh:Hol tokipona:toki vo:Pük xh:Ulwimi zh-cn:语言 zh-tw:語言