Language is the method of human communication. It is a complex, open system that allows for innovation and it is usually distinguished from non-human communication by three major properties: productivity, recursion and displacement. Productivity is the ability to produce novel utterances using the existing grammatical framework, particularly with word creation. Recursion is the ability to nest phrases within a hierarchical structure. Displacement is the ability to communicate about things that are not present either physically or temporally.
Language relates signs to meaning. These signs can be oral, as in spoken language, or visual, as in signed language. The components of language are:
- Phonetics & Phonology: Phonemes are sounds or gestures that are the building blocks of a language.
- Morphology: Morphemes are the smallest possible semantic units, which are composed of phonemes.
- Syntax: The order and hierarchy of strings of words or utterances which are meaningful.
- Semantics: The meaning that is associated with a morpheme, word or utterance.
There are nearly 7,000 known living languages, including sign languages, grouped into over 100 larger language families. These include, but are not limited to:
- Indo-European Languages: English, French, Swedish, Russian, Latvian, Farsi, Hindi.
- Sino-Tibetan Languages: Mandarin, Cantonese (Yue), Central Tibetan.
- Japonic Languages: Japanese, Okinawan.
- Afro-Asiatic Languages: Hebrew, Arabic languages, Geez, Amharic, Berber languages
- Niger-Congo Languages: Igbo, Yoruba, Fon, Swahili.
- Na-Dene Languages: Navajo, Western Apache, Tlingit.
- French Sign Languages: American Sign Language, French Sign Language, Mexican Sign Language.
Living language is constantly evolving, but it also relies on speakers and transmission for survival. Out of the almost 7000 known living languages, hundreds are endangered and nearly 500 are almost extinct.