Talk:Language

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Good article Language has been listed as one of the Language and literature good articles under the good article criteria. If you can improve it further, please do so. If it no longer meets these criteria, you can reassess it.

Peer Review[edit]

Language[edit]

This peer review discussion has been closed.
I've listed this article for peer review becaus I've recently expanded it drastically, and would like some outside imput before deciding whether to nominate for GA. Given that the topic is so huge I am sure I've left out something important, but at this point I am blind to it myself. Also it would be good with a second pair of eyes to scout out any erroneous or dubious statements I may have introduced unwittingly.

Thanks, ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 16:26, 26 August 2012 (UTC)

Review by Peter Isotalo

First off, I think this is a great undertaking. You barely ever come across such a general article topic that is this well-written. In my view, this is prime FA material that seems appropriately complete in terms of contents. The concerns I have is mostly a matter of improving prose and straightening out a few unclear statements. So here we go:

  • I don't like the Babel image sitting on top of the article. It's a well-known language myth, but language myths don't really have much to do with linguistics. I think it should be moved down to "Language endangerement" where the Babel myth is actually mentioned. Otherwise, I'd look at it as unnecessary undue weight of a Biblical perspective through graphics.Green tick.png
  • Consider explaining "suprasegmental" at least once. An important term, but bound to seem obscure to non-linguists.Green tick.png it was already explained in both of the cases where it appeared.
  • I think it would be good to explain "formant" in just a few words. It's a fairly technical phonetic term.
  • Much of what comes after the first sentence of "Grammatical categories" is quite difficult to follow without thorough knowledge of linguistic terminology. Could it be lightened up somehow?
  • Concerning the Yupik example, it seems as if the number of translations doesn't quite match the apparent number of Yupik morphemes. Is ksaite by any chance "say-negation"?Green tick.png (it was just a dash instead of a period making it seem as if there was a morpheme to few, -uq is third.person.singular.indicative)
  • "For example in the Australian language Dyirbal a married man must use a special set of lexical items when speaking in the presence of his mother in-law." – "Lexical items" is a bit jargon-ish. Would "vocabulary" or maybe just "words" suffice?Green tick.png
  • "(corresponding to German fater - fiʃ, and Nordic faðerfisk)" – Why "ʃ"? What exactly is the spelling based on? Because clearly this is not modern German, or it would be Vater and Fisch. And the "Nordic" words seems more like Old Norse judging by the "ð". Clarification would be good.Green tick.png
  • "gradual petrification of idioms" – Is it possible to find a slightly less obscure word for "petrification"?
  • In "Language contact", the use of "adstratum", "substratrum" and "superstratum" comes without much explanation. Could more common terms be used, or could they perhaps be explained somehow?Green tick.png
  • Why are "Chinese languages" in the Ethnologue table counted the same way as languages that are generally considered mutually intelligible? As far as I know, Wu, Hakka and Yue are about as similar to Chinese as German is to English. Are there no figures for just Mandarin Chinese (the dialects, that is, not the standard language)?Green tick.png
  • The last two sections seem somewhat weaker prose-wise than the rest of the article. I think they could use a working-over. Lightening up repetitions and getting the sentence to flow a bit better would be a nice improvement.
  • The article touches upon relevant examples of how language matters to humans. Is it possible, though, to somehow stress the importance that language has for human culture(s)? For example, something really quick about how nationalism and language has gone hand in hand in the modern period, and how ethnicity is often extremely tightly bound to language.
  • There are a few paragraphs without notes at the end. I'm personally not that bothered by this since much of the information is very general in nature and not particularly contentious. But it might be good to cover your bases anyhew. After all, there are plenty of sticklers for referencing out there... Also, some of the longer paragraphs with just one note could be looked over. Unless it amounts to pure reference repetition, an additional note might sooth the nerves of at least some of the most ardent note-hunters out there.

Peter Isotalo 17:16, 9 September 2012 (UTC)

Btw, feel free to cross out or put a check mark next to any concern you feel you have remedied.
Peter Isotalo 11:57, 10 September 2012 (UTC)


Essay stylistics[edit]

Essay stylistics should be avoided: What makes human language unique. Really if we consider this encyclopedia but not a primary school initiative. --Aleksd (talk) 12:40, 14 May 2013 (UTC)

Is your "What makes human language unique." a question without a punctuation question mark? –
 – Gareth Griffith-Jones |The Welsh Buzzard|— 12:49, 14 May 2013 (UTC)
This is NOT my question. This is a 'title' from the article. --Aleksd (talk) 12:51, 14 May 2013 (UTC)

Fixed

Noam Chomsky believes it's innate to humans - pure fiction[edit]

Noam Chomsky believes it's innate to humans - is pure science fiction to try to conceal his ignorance regarding how we learn to communicate and how we learn to develop and use langauge. There is no attempt to explain how communication and langauge evolved, nor the neurobiology of language production and langauge processing. There is liitle or no independent secondary research from other re4lated disciplines to support Chomsky's claims which may have had some credance back in the 1950s, due to the lack of present day research technology. Which means that much of this article is pure unssupported speculation or science fiction. If the article is describing a theory, or theories, then there needs to be a Theories section to indicate that the content is not scioentifically supported fact, and lets the readers know that they should not base any life decisions on this articles content regarding child development and education. These theories have found their way to many other articles regarding child development etc and provide false information as to how children acquire speech, and develop langauge and makes a nonsense of an internet based encyclopedia which appears to be based on the science fiction written by Chomsky and others to fill in their knowledge gaps. dolfrog (talk) 03:20, 12 January 2014 (UTC)

Chomskian linguistics is still widely believed in the US, though the past 20 yrs have seen a negative reaction to it. However, it never did have much traction outside the US, so if we're going to follow WP:WORLDWIDE, we should present Chomsky's ideas as influential but controversial. We should certainly not present them as facts anywhere, except perhaps "in universe", in articles specifically on those ideas. However, language may prove to be innate to humans even if Chomsky is debunked. — kwami (talk) 06:20, 12 January 2014 (UTC)
I've deleted your tags. Many were rather ridiculous, such as demanding a citation for saying that this article is about language in the linguistic sense. What possible ref could we find for that? Refs are also not needed in the lead, since the lead is just a summary of the text. — kwami (talk) 06:28, 12 January 2014 (UTC)
Thia an international encyclopedia, and not a US talk page. So yes there is a need to provide citations to define linquistics, and to define langauge, before making any bogus or unsubstanciated claims. There is no proof that langauge is innate quite the opposite, and currently this article is citing chomsky as some form of diety and the fountain of all truths with no independent scientific support for these claims, which is as you say more about the needs of US politics than universal understandeing of human communication. So you need to provide the citations to demonstrate universal support for what many see as unsupported theories being used by lesser US academics to support their personal beliefs which is their personal point of view and not supported by universal independant research. Evolutionary development is the only universal approach, but there are still many information gaps, the so called innate concept is just another false assumption used to avoid explaining the current lack of supporting information; to create the illusion that US academia is all knowing and has all the answers, or academic snake oil. dolfrog (talk) 12:08, 12 January 2014 (UTC)
So langauge comes in manmy forms as a means of communication, and this article need to explain that, and that the content of this article is limited to human sound based langauge,which is a samll part of wider human and other species methods of communication. The lead of this article give the bogus impression that sound based langauge is the only form of human communication. And that lingusitics is the font of all knowledge. So I have repalce the citation tags to demonstrate the bogus basis of this article, which as you say needs demonstrate a universal understanding of langauge as a tool of communication, or to define the article as to be only concerned with human communication from a USA political perpsective. dolfrog (talk) 12:26, 12 January 2014 (UTC)
There appears to be a cabal of ill informed opinion editing this article, and I have no intention of becoming involved in editing war with any form of cabal, but unfortunately this is the nature of so many areas of wikipedia to maintain finacial or political based lobbying interests. dolfrog (talk) 13:27, 12 January 2014 (UTC)
No known species has language other than humans, though some are able to understand human language. If you have a ref to the contrary, strong enough to balance the entire linguistic literature, please provide it. — kwami (talk) 18:25, 12 January 2014 (UTC)
So according to you no other species is able to communicate with others. Only humans using their own form of communication. Well that explains the nonsense that eminates from liquists very well, so I would be wasting my time by taking this any further as linquists seem to world of their own. dolfrog (talk) 19:21, 12 January 2014 (UTC)
No-one said that. You might want to educate yourself enough to know what you're talking about before accusing others of ignorance. But, as you say, you might be wasting your time. — kwami (talk) 22:12, 12 January 2014 (UTC)

dolfrog, do you understand that "communication" ≠ "language"? There is no dispute whatsoever that many, many non-human species communicate in various ways, but there is no clear evidence of language in any living species other than homo sap.
On reading upward some through the thread, I have to agree with kwami that you are arguing from ignorance and misconception. I am a linguist, and have been through my whole career. I see that you are also knowledgeable about some aspects of language; not this, though. --Thnidu (talk) 22:26, 31 January 2014 (UTC)
 
Heh, pretty funny how someone can be screaming "cabal" after a conversation with a single person.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 23:28, 12 January 2014 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────Well, I'll confess to being a member of the same "cabal" as, say, the snake oil salesman who wrote, "Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech" (Politics). My shameful status notwithstanding, though, I'm holding out for standards of editing that conform to these WP:Five pillars. Cnilep (talk) 01:17, 13 January 2014 (UTC)

  • It is our task to represent what is published in a duly weighted manner. That is how Wikipedia works. So our personal feelings and ideas should not be determining what we put in the article.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 12:55, 13 January 2014 (UTC)

Is what follows below a problem?[edit]

Resolved: Broken link replaced with same source material uploaded elsewhere.

I haven't done wikipedia stuff in a very long time and so ask your indulgence.. I was reading the article and followed a link in the reference section to a page that no longer existed. I am telling you folks hoping one of you will verify this and correct it. Your reference link was about "What are the uniquely human components of the language faculty." The link was to a Professor's page http://groups.lis.illinois.edu/amag/langev/paper/hauser03whatAre.html . On this page was a link to the article wikipedia refered to. This link was to a pdf but the pdf is no longer available online at that url. Also on the Professor's page was a link to a "Source." This link was also dead. So, maybe this does not warrant correction... thx for your time. (I was looking forward to reading the dang thing.. :( TimoleonWash (talk) 09:56, 11 April 2014 (UTC)

Thanks for pointing it out! Fixed. AudiblySilenced 20:31, 30 July 2014 (UTC)

"A language in this sense"[edit]

At first look I was fairly confident that this edit introduced an error. I think that User:FelixRosch's edit makes the sentence mean that an artificial languages are "a system of signs for encoding and decoding information", but I think the original sentence was intended to refer to languages generally, including natural as well as artificial languages. I nearly changed the wording back, but the more I look at it the less sense that section makes to me. So my questions are (1) what was the intention of the original sentence and (2) is that a fair definition of "language"? Cnilep (talk) 06:17, 18 May 2014 (UTC)

The original intention of the sentence is to make it clear that the article is not about a language under the definition that includes formal languages. This has proven necessary because several times editors have quarreled with the article saying that it should include computer languages. I think it sclearly shouldnt because the definition of language that groups programing languages and human languages together is restrictive and not the primary topic for the topic language - which is clearly only human language. For this reason your second question is redundant because it doesnt matter whether the definition is fair or not, because it is exactly the definition that the article explicitly states that it does not use. User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 17:46, 31 July 2014 (UTC)

Definition[edit]

This is a place to discuss the recent changes to the definition, that are arguing that language should not be defined as the capacity to acquire a complex system of communication but as the complex system itself. I understand this view and do not disagree with it, but the problem is that the definition of language=faculty/capacity is commonly found in the literature. For Chomsky and Pinker for example feral children are irrelevant, because while they do not acquire "a language" due to the particular circumstances under which they are raised, they nonetheless do have language, in the sense of Universal Grammar being built into their minds giving them the capacity to do so if they had been raised under favorable conditions. The problem is of course that we are currently defining language as being something that not all people considers it to be, this is a general problem with articles on topics that have many competing definitions. Perhaps it does make sense to change the definition to one that is more generally acceptable rather than the current one which is mostly acceptable to certain specialists. What about a definition that says: "Language is the kind of complex communication system used by humans, and the cognitive ability to acquire such a system, a language is anty specific example of such a system."?User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 18:27, 20 August 2014 (UTC)


It is fairly standard to use the term "Language" and not "Formal language" in theoretical computer science and mathematics. Similarly, "language" in computer science and IT can refer to programming language. Therefore, "formal language" and "computer language" not partial matches but some of the meanings of the world "language". Consider, for example, the meanings here: http://www.wordreference.com/enfr/language — Preceding unsigned comment added by Vkuncak (talkcontribs) 09:43, 2 September 2014 (UTC)

Yes, but we have to make sure that articles are about topics, not terms. Formal languages, though called languages, is a very different thing than human languages (and so are animal communication systems), and I don't think it makes sense to treat them as a single topic.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 14:34, 2 September 2014 (UTC)
Yeah, and galley can also mean "kitchen on a ship or airplane", but the primary topic is still the oared vessel used from Antiquity onwards. And there's no caveat in the lead about its secondary meaning. We likely have thousands of examples of synonyms where one is considered to be more relevant than the other and therefore occupies the main entry on its own. Virtually all articles in an encyclopaedia are about specific concepts or topics, not terms. For example school is an article about the place of learning only. The synonyms as in "schools of thought" are not included.
The definition of "language" as a programming language is also clearly an offshoot of the original meaning of human language. It is not studied by linguists, but in a completely separate academic field. There are very obvious reasons for treating it separately.
Peter Isotalo 09:56, 2 September 2014 (UTC)

GA Review[edit]

This review is transcluded from Talk:Language/GA1. The edit link for this section can be used to add comments to the review.

Reviewer: Chiswick Chap (talk · contribs) 13:04, 6 September 2014 (UTC)


I'll take this on. Quite a topic. Chiswick Chap (talk) 13:04, 6 September 2014 (UTC)

General comments:[edit]

"...many languages...", "several languages...": Wikipedians are wary of such generalisations. I hate language lawyering (ahem, given the article's subject), but these phrasings are probably best avoided, using such things as "some languages..." unless you're really sure in a specific case (when "most languages" or "Indo-European languages" or whatever would be better).

"today", "currently": these quickly go / may have already gone out of date. Please replace such time-dependent words or phrases with specific dates.

Specific comments:[edit]

There needs to be a sentence or two on the philosophy of language in the lead, to summarize (well, at least to mention) the range of views discussed in the Definitions section.

Definitions, Main article: Philosophy of language: I think this section is probably underweight, given the range and strength of views on the subject. For FA the article will definitely need to cover more of the philosophy of language; for GA, Kant/Chomsky/Fodor are probably covered sufficiently, as are de Saussure and Wittgenstein. W.V.O. Quine does I think deserve a mention, however; and it might be best at least to mention the theories of empiricism and of Tarski briefly.

Unless Maunus beats me to it, I'll try to improve this at the library this weekend. Not my strongest suit, though.
Peter Isotalo 18:46, 18 September 2014 (UTC)
I've done some work on that. See if you like it.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 23:38, 18 September 2014 (UTC)
Definitely an improvement. Is Tarski going to get a line or two? Chiswick Chap (talk) 09:19, 19 September 2014 (UTC)
I think Tarski could only be briefly mentioned in the section on language as a formal symbolic system. I've added a sentence on formal logic.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 14:08, 19 September 2014 (UTC)
OK. Of course that might need a ref too. Chiswick Chap (talk) 14:20, 19 September 2014 (UTC)

Mental faculty: do we need to have the word "often" in there (twice)? Seems a bit weaselly. By the way, can we do better than "One definition sees..." - could we not say something like "The mental faculty view of language ..."?

Mental faculty: "Kant and Descartes": perhaps say "the philosophers...".

The lead image in the Syntax section correctly describes predicate (grammar) in the caption but fails to show it in the image. It would be best if the label "Predicate" could be added to the image at the (unlabelled) node above "Prepositional phrase". This would both clarify the structure of the tree shown in the image and match the caption.

Anatomy of speech: there seem to be too many uses of italics here. Scientific English words like uvula should not, I think, be in italics (they're just English words, as confirmed by the lack of italics for that article's title). Please review all the uses of italics in the section (if not the whole article) and remove all that are not essential.

"The study of the genetic bases for human language is still on a fairly basic level": suggest link to genetics (or something more specific), and avoid the word "basic" (and probably "fairly", which sounds OR-ish) in the context. "positively implied" -> "definitely implicated".

"fossils can be inspected to look for traces of physical adaptation to language use". Some examples of what such traces might be would be worth giving (not obvious); in fact, this would be a good place for a photograph of such evidence.

" Often, semantic concepts are embedded in the morphology or syntax of the language in the form of grammatical categories". Please provide a brief example (could with benefit be an image with caption). Actually I'm unsure what is meant by categories here. Pinker in Words and Rules p4 says "the word's part of speech, or grammatical category, which for rose is noun (N)", whereas the WP article says "Categories may be marked on words by means of inflection." Which is meant here?

I think this is just Pinker using the word "grammatical category" in a non-standard way using it as synonymous with syntactic category (which perhaps some people do in the generative tradition). In basic linguistic theory grammatical categories are all semantic and syntactic categories that are morphologically or syntactically marked. I will try to think of an example.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 15:19, 12 September 2014 (UTC)

"the beginning of the Bronze Age in the late Neolithic period of the late 4th millennium BC": there's something wrong here. Suggest remove mention of Neolithic unless a specific point is being made about overlap of ages, in which case the word "overlap" should appear somewhere.

"Language change may be motivated by "language internal" factors, such as changes in pronunciation motivated by certain sounds being difficult to distinguish aurally or to produce, or because of certain patterns of change that cause certain rare types of constructions to drift towards more common types" uses "certain" three times. Please rephrase.

Language contact: does this section need four "main" links? Language contact already links to pidgin, creole etc.

BTW the formatting of names in citations is not a GA matter, but "de Saussure" is certainly the man's surname. He wasn't christened "De". Chiswick Chap (talk) 15:16, 18 September 2014 (UTC)

That is correct, but I think he is usually cited as Saussure, not de Saussure. And he is always alphabetized under S.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 16:15, 18 September 2014 (UTC)
Just as we list books and plays that begin with The or A under the next word. But that still doesn't make "de" a forename. Chiswick Chap (talk) 16:34, 18 September 2014 (UTC)
Just as putting it within the field "first=" in the reference template also doesnt make it a first name. It is just the easiest way to make the template syntax work while citing him as "Saussure" instead of "de Saussure". User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 16:56, 18 September 2014 (UTC)
Oh dear, what a hideous kludge. Still, worse things happen in databases every day. Chiswick Chap (talk) 17:20, 18 September 2014 (UTC)

Images:[edit]

Images should generally be of default width, i.e. should use "thumb" with "upright" as needed; this has the clear advantage of resizing automatically for different user preferences, providing a measure of future-proofing also. I understand the impulse to make maps in particular appear large, but their thumbnails cannot be made large enough to be fully readable, and giving a fixed size is awkward for users of mobile devices, and fails to accommodate change and user preference.

The de Saussure image is out of copyright in Europe but its USA status is unclear, so this needs fixing (on Commons).

The descriptions of the Hangul wi symbol and the KSL wi hand gesture as spectrograms on Commons are wrong. (this is a display bug)

All other images ok (all on Commons).

References:[edit]

The citations are in 'Author (year:page range)' format, with 7 exceptions. This does not matter for GA but would need to be tidied up for FA.

I have marked up places where citations are needed in the main text.

Quite a number of references (e.g. 10 Saussure, 13 Chomsky, 21 Tomasello, 22 Deacon, 34 Trask, 72 Bauer, 73 Haspelmath, 80 Nichols, 80 Comrie, 82 Greenberg, 84 Campbell, 91 Kennison, 93 Foley, 94 Agha, 97 Aitchison, 102 Labov, 103 Labov, 108 Thomason & Kaufman, 108 Thomason, 109 Matras & Bakker, 110 Lewis, 113 Katzner, 113 Comrie, 113 Brown, 114 Moseley) are to entire books. This may be appropriate in some cases (e.g. to the general drift of The Language Instinct) but looks wrong in other cases, where suitably narrow page ranges are needed. Especially in cases like the multiple uses of 113 Katzner, Comrie and Brown, separate page ranges are probably required for each usage of each book, rather than lumping the whole of three entire books together. This could be a critical issue for GA.

On reflection I think most of these are not critical for GA, but will need fixing for FA. That said, properly filled-in page ranges are highly desirable, and many editors expect to see them throughout. Chiswick Chap (talk) 06:50, 12 September 2014 (UTC)
Actually most of these are meant as sites to the entire book, as a source for more information rather than as specific cites for a piece of information. For example when I wrote the sentence on "mixed languages" giving Michif and Kriyol Ayisiyen as examples. I referred the reader to the three main works on contact linguistics Kaufman and Thomason, Matras and Bakker, and Thomason. The reason I do this is 1. to lead the reader to the best available literatiure on the topic, 2. because each sentence is a highly condensed description of an entire field of linguistics, meaning that it contains information that is not found on a specific page of the cited works but which is a summary of the cited works. Similarly the references to Chomsky and Labov are references to entire works, because the statement they support is meant as a summary of those works. I will look through the references to see if some of them can be replaced by narrow ranges or page numbers, but I think that in writing I have supplied pagenumbers for all the references that I mean to cite as specific pages, and not done so whenever I meant to refer the reader to broader literature. I know some FA referees are anal about page numbers and dont understand that it is often appropriate to refer to entire works, but oddly I dont find this problem with peer reviewers in journals, who tend to have no problem with referring to full works when not citing a specific fact but pointing towards a set of ideas (e.g. "Evolutionary theory is the hypothesis all known life forms share a single common origin (Darwin 1858)"). User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 15:07, 18 September 2014 (UTC)
I'm pretty much with Maunus on this one. A quality article about such a general topic is a rarity. GANs, and especially FACs, deal with articles are built up of facts and statements that are seldom, if ever, the topic of entire books. This article, however, is full of very general statements that are very hard to reduce to page ranges. Any reader who will actually want to verify what is being said will easily be able to do this with the reference provided. This is especially true when it comes to sections like "Language families of the world". Works like Katzner (2009) or Comrie (2009) are basically miniature encyclopedias with separate entries for each language or language family. Anyone who can find that book will be able to find what they need even without specific page refs.
I'm going to spend some time at Stockholm University Library this weekend. I'll go through the general refs and see if anything can be improved overall. Right now, however, I can only really agree that (from the list above) Thomason & Kaufman, Thomason, Matras & Bakker and Lewis could use some specifications. Chiswick, if you disagree or believe there I'm missing specific statements lacking specific refs, lemme know and I'll see what I can dig up. The SU library isn't half bad.
Peter Isotalo 18:40, 18 September 2014 (UTC)
I basically agree with Maunus also. As I wrote above, I think the 'general' reffing is fine in some cases, more doubtful in others, and while desirable, not critical here at GA. However GA reviewers always raise the matter in my experience, as do ordinary editors when one supplies a wide page range, and rightly so. I would like to direct your energies to closing out the remaining items, leaving the references for FA. I will pass the article here as soon as the remaining non-reference items are closed out. Chiswick Chap (talk) 18:46, 18 September 2014 (UTC)

The Newmeyer 2005 dead link would be best fixed using Wayback Machine or a similar archive service, or else replaced. Needed for FA.

I've added the live link, it was just moved on LSAs webpage.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 15:07, 18 September 2014 (UTC)

Overall:[edit]

This is an elegantly written and well-structured article. A few issues remain to be fixed. The work of bringing major (top-level) topics to GA is very welcome. Chiswick Chap (talk) 13:28, 6 September 2014 (UTC) I am now happy to pass this article at GA. Thank you to everyone who contributed. Chiswick Chap (talk) 14:34, 19 September 2014 (UTC)

Discussion[edit]

Thanks for taking the time to review. A few comments to begin with:
  • "Many/several languages": statements in connection with these terms are so general that it might be difficult to specify them. The point of these statements is to show various aspects of how languages can work, not to make claims about how common they are. I think it's better if you try to identify specific problems, because all of them can't be rendered more specific.
I identified two specific ones which I'd like you to change by removing the weasel-like terms; I suggest you also scan the article for other possible problems.
  • "Today/currently": pretty much the same as above. Statements like "Linguists currently recognize many hundreds of language families" is not something that is helped by an "as of 2012"-type specification. It will most likely never change. Which ones can actually go out of date in your view?
Then simply remove the "currently" please, rather than arguing. I've taken out some of them now. Chiswick Chap (talk) 12:59, 7 September 2014 (UTC)
  • It was published before 1923, so I believe it's PD in the US as well (added additional license).
OK.
  • I don't follow your comment about Korean wi. What's wrong on Commons and why is it relevant to this article?
Ah, it's a bug in the multiple-image display, not on Commons, which displays the first caption as if it were a description of the later images when one of these is selected and displayed. The only thing we could do about it would be to avoid using the multiple-image mechanism. I can't say I like it but its use is not inappropriate here.
Peter Isotalo 11:49, 7 September 2014 (UTC)
I believe these 'Discussion' items are all satisfactorily resolved in the article now. Chiswick Chap (talk) 13:06, 10 September 2014 (UTC)
Thank you for striking out stuff. I was having some difficulty keeping track of stuff. I'm currently looking into your comments about general refs. To my great chagrin, Comrie (2009) was nowhere to be found at the Stockholm University Library. :-(
Peter Isotalo 18:21, 10 September 2014 (UTC)

@User:Maunus, User:Peter Isotalo: this GA process is in danger of timing out for lack of activity. We need to round this off now; if you need more time I can put it on hold. Please let me know your timetable for closing out the remaining issues. I would also say that while the issue of page ranges is not necessarily a show-stopper, I am surprised that no action has been taken to supply any of them at all; most GA articles are fully cited with exact page numbers. Chiswick Chap (talk) 08:02, 18 September 2014 (UTC)

I am not really a part of the review process except in a supportive function. I am a way from my books and cannot help with the page ranges.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 14:45, 18 September 2014 (UTC)
The support is valued. Chiswick Chap (talk) 14:58, 18 September 2014 (UTC)
I second that.
Peter Isotalo 18:41, 18 September 2014 (UTC)
Sorry for dawdling. I had actually gone through list of page range issues, but got the impression that you didn't deem it necessary for GA status. I'll make a full reply regarding this and the other outstanding issues later today.
Peter Isotalo 08:45, 18 September 2014 (UTC)

Lead sentence[edit]

The first sentence of the lead has been changed, mid-review, from "Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any specific example of such a system." to suggesting that language is a "tendency". Since "human capacity" seems to this reviewer to be exactly correct, and to reflect the body of the article, I'd suggest we put it back as it was, unless there are strong reasons to the contrary. Chiswick Chap (talk) 13:00, 10 September 2014 (UTC)

(discussion below copied from user page)

Human beings have the capacity to acquire written language. However, anybody defines written language as "the human capacity for acquiring writing systems". All the best, James343e. 10 September 2014 (UTC)

OK, since we agree on 'capacity', I assume we can revert the text to that effect. Thanks. Chiswick Chap (talk) 14:13, 10 September 2014 (UTC)
"Tendency" is not an accurate way of describing what is basically universal to all humans. "Capacity" is clearly the most accurate summary of the content of the article (and the general opinion of linguists).
Peter Isotalo 18:23, 10 September 2014 (UTC)
  • The word capacity is used as a theory neutral way of referring to what Chomsky calls the Universal Grammar and the Language Acquisition Device, and which Pinker calls the language instinct and others call. Many other linguists would disagree with this formulation but would agree that there is a certain innate capacity for language that is prior to the acquisition of any specific language. This can also be called the language faculty, but this phrasing I think would be more confusing for the lay reader. That is why capacity is both necessary and a better formulation than for example "tendency" or "ability".

Definition of Language[edit]

Human beings have the capacity to acquire and use both written and spoken language, so the definition "language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication" is problematic. If we accept this definition, then language cannot be characterized as an instinct or mental organ. We all agree that there is no such thing as an instinct or mental organ for written language (a cultural system of communication), so I assume we can revert the text and define language as "the human tendency to acquire and use complex systems of communication". — Preceding unsigned comment added by James343e (talkcontribs) 18:37, 10 September 2014 (UTC)

  • No, that is not how it works. We write what we write based on sources and what specialists say. Not based on how you personally interpret the implications of the wording. Humans also have the capacity to acquire space flight, but no one has ever argue that it is an innate module in the human brain that cause them to do so universally. Neither has anyone argued that for writing. Writing is a technology, whereas language is a mental faculty.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 18:42, 10 September 2014 (UTC)

Thanks for the answer, Maunus. Peter Isolato clarified me that "Btw, language covers written language". However, one of the sections of the article defines language as a "Mental faculty, organ or instinct". If language includes written language then this claim is false, because not all language is a mental organ or an instinct. Only natural language can be considered a mental organ. James343e (talkcontribs) 21:35, 10 September 2014 (UTC)

Do you know anyone who has acquired written language without first acquiring spoken or signed language? Written language is a technology that depends on the capacity of acquiring spoken or signed language. It is a mode through which natural language (spoken or signed) can be communicated through the visual channel. And it is the capacity of language, regardless of the mode through which it is expressed, that linguists talk bout when they define language as a Capacity or faculty or instinct. So no, your logic is wrong, and you have non sources in your support. User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 19:57, 10 September 2014 (UTC)

Maunus: you are misinterpreting me. In any case, this is not a forum for general discussion of the article's subject. I will not continue the debate here. If you want, we can continue the discussion on my talk page. (talk) 12:42, 11 September 2014 (UTC).

I am not interested in debating. I am trying to explain why your specific edit to the article is unacceptable. If you no longer insist on changing the article then the conversation is over.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 16:37, 11 September 2014 (UTC)

Actually I disagree with you but there is no need to debate the issue. I will not insist on changing the article. (talk) 19:56, 11 September 2014 (UTC).

This article is very well written and complete. But it can be ever improved, in order to achieve a neutral point of view. The current definition of language is acceptable to Chomsky and Pinker, but not for others. Not all academic authors consider that language is innate or hard-wired in the brain from birth. There is an important debate about the innateness of language. For instance, Cowie (2008) is skeptic about the innateness of language. Tommasello (1995), Sampson (2007) and Everett (2012b) consider that not only specific languages but also language itself is a cultural tool acquired as a result of social interaction and our general cognitive abilities.

“There are other examples of cultural evolution in birds and monkeys, but these are just interesting oddities. It is our own species that really shows what cultural evolution can do. Language is only one example” (Dawkins [1976] 2006, p. 190)

“In all, it would seem that language is a much poorer candidate for the status of innate module (or instinct) than are several other domains of cognition. Languages are cultural artifacts that differ radically among different cultures” (Tomasello 1995, p. 152)

“There is no reason to doubt that languages are wholly learned cultural creations (…) ASL, like spoken languages, is learned rather than biologically governed (…) I conclude that there is no language instinct. On the available evidence, languages seem to be products of cultural evolution only” (Sampson 2007)

“Universal Grammar doesn't seem to work, there doesn't seem to be much evidence for that” (Everett 2012a)

“But no one has quite gotten around to weaving together the findings of modern linguistics, psychology and anthropology to flesh out the meaning of the hypothesis that language is an artifact, a cultural tool. An instrument created by hominids to satisfy their social need for meaning and community. This is our ambitious project” (Everett 2012b, p. 11)

The definition of language as the “human system of communication” is non-neutral (it doesn’t reflect the standpoint of, for example, Chomsky and Pinker). On the other side, we must consider the degree of neutrality of the current definition presented by the article: “Language is the human capacity for acquiring and uses complex systems of communication”. I do not doubt the logic of this claim. The problem is that human capacities are very varied, and the term “capacity” can be considered for many authors inexact or unnecessary for the definition of language. For example, take into consideration this definition of chess: “Chess is the human capacity to play a two-player strategy board game”. All normal people have the innate capacity or aptitude to both play chess and use language, and we are the only animals with this capacity. But “capacity” is not necessarily required in the definition of chess or language. It can be said that capacity is required for universal traits, but this is not necessarily the case. Fire making is found in all human societies, and it is not defined as “the human capacity to use fire” but as “the process of starting a fire artificially”. The word capacity is not always necessary for universal traits. Moreover, all human societies have language, but the universality of language in every human being is, at least, disputable.

Please note that the point of this discussion is not why one view of language is wrong and why another view is correct. It is necessary to reflect a neutral definition of language, not only the accepted by proponents of the innateness position.

Peter Isolato: I suggest adopting the definition of language previously proposed by Maunus: “Language is the complex human communication system, and the specific cognitive ability to acquire such a system. A language is any particular example of this communication system.” I think this small change could substantially improve the impartiality and neutrality of the article.

Cowie, Fiona (2008). “Innateness and Language”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy .

Dawkins, Richard (1976) 2006. The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press.

Everett, Daniel L. (2012a). “There is no such thing as universal grammar”. The Guardian, Sunday 25.

Everett, Daniel L. (2012b). Language: The Cultural Tool. Pantheon Books: New York.

Sampson, Geoffrey (2007). “There is No Language Instinct”. Ilha do desterro, 52, 35-63.

Tomasello, Michael (1995). “Language is Not an Instinct”. Cognitive Development, 10, 131-156. (talk) 19:06, 13

September 2014 (UTC). — Preceding unsigned James343e (talk) 17:28, 13 September 2014 (UTC)

I happen to agree with Tomasello and Everett and the many other linguists who dont believe that language is an instinct or that Universal Grammar exists. But that does not mean that everyone agrees on this, so we cannot define language in a way that only accomodates the anti-UG view. I still think that my proposed wording "“Language is the complex human communication system, and the cognitive capacity to acquire such a system. A language is any particular example of this communication system.” works. But we cannot have a definition that does not also encompass the instinct/UG view.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 23:43, 13 September 2014 (UTC)
Seems somewhat ungainly to me. More importantly, I don't see how "specific cognitive ability" would differ from "capacity" in this context. And why would one be clearly pro-Chomsky/Pinker while the other is neutral?
Peter Isotalo 22:09, 13 September 2014 (UTC)

"language is not something that one might call a capacity. There is a distinction that should be made between the capacity (or ability) that we demonstrate when using a language, and the language itself. Language itself is not a capacity, but a cognitive structure" (Traykova 2012)

Traykova, Aleksandra (2012) "Language research as a means of understanding cognitive capacity" Philosophia. E-Journal of Philosophy

Why not "faculty"? It's more neutral and widely used by both, Chomsky and Pinker. To my knowledge, Pinker has never written that language is a capacity. Moreover, I think "faculty" is not confusing for the general reader.

"Language is the human faculty for using complex systems of communication"

What do you think? James343e (talk) 14:42, 28 September 2014 (UTC)

Both "faculty"[1] and "capacity"[2] are very close synonyms, and it's not like they are strictly defined linguistic terms. There are no guidelines or even established practicec that force us to stick to the wording of any particular source unless it obviously changes the meaning of the prose. If this is actually a matter of neutrality, the somewhat simpler "ability" seems more appropriate. And I think "acquiring" should stay since this is such a fundamental issue for linguistics.
Peter Isotalo 06:29, 29 September 2014 (UTC)

OK. I will put ability. If you disagree, feel free to change it. James343e (talk) 20:12, 29 September 2014 (UTC)

I dont have a problem with capacity, faculty or ability.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 21:05, 29 September 2014 (UTC)

Perfect. James343e (talk) 17:56, 30 September 2014 (UTC)

Notes and refs[edit]

Regarding this edit and my reverts of those. The terms "references" and "[cited] sources" are synonymous, ei works that we use to back up claims so that readers can trust us. It's common to refer to notes as "references", but notes are really nothing but specifications of sources/references. This is established practice in academia and fact literature. I don't see why this needs to be changed.

Peter Isotalo 15:40, 28 October 2014 (UTC)

@Peter Isotalo: Thank you for giving your view on these. I think the "references" should be renamed, because references are a general type of citation. What we have here is a group of cited and non-cited sources, so this can be renamed "Bibliography and further reading". The footnotes, however, are different. The explanatory notes are, technically, referring the user to the explanation, while the citationary notes are actually referring the user to what is now "References". "References" is not incorrect in itself, but it is very broad. However, as this is unimportant, it is not worth arguing over, so I will not revert again if my edit is undone. – Epicgenius (talk) 16:00, 28 October 2014 (UTC)
The Manual of Style makes it clear that the editors choose the specific titles for the sections with sources. That means that it should never be the case that someone who is not a regular editor of an article simply comes and renames the section headers without prior discussion. Secondly it mentions that "references" is the most common way to name the section that contains the cited sources, and it specifically mentions problems with the use of bibliography (which can contain both cited sources and further reading). I think that for that reason it makes most sense to keep the section as they are "References" "notes" and "citations" being kept separately. All the sources in the references section are cited in the text by the way, when you say that it combines cited and non-cited sources that is incorrect.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 16:11, 28 October 2014 (UTC)
We can name the section "cited sources", then, and "notes" can be under "references". I haven't heard of a policy that says that non-regular editors of an article can't change the reference styles. – Epicgenius (talk) 16:25, 28 October 2014 (UTC)
It is basic practice that when MOS offers options it is the main editors of the article who choose and that drive-by changes to optional MOS issues are discouraged.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 16:30, 28 October 2014 (UTC)
Okay. Well, now I know. Thank you. – Epicgenius (talk) 16:31, 28 October 2014 (UTC)
See e.g. WP:CITEVAR. It simply avoids pointless editwarring over arbitrary style preferences.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 16:37, 28 October 2014 (UTC)
Good to know. But the references are still too broad. – Epicgenius (talk) 16:42, 28 October 2014 (UTC)
I don't know what you mean by references being "too broad". This is a broad topic, one of the broadest, and I have worked specifically to have as general level references as possible. Articles by a topic of this broadness should be based mostly on tertiary sources such as handbooks and specilist encyclopedias and only on the broadest and most well respected secondary sources.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 22:13, 6 November 2014 (UTC)

Number of languages again[edit]

A well-meaning editor from 93.210.145.219 (talk · contribs · WHOIS) changed the estimated number of languages from "6,000 to 7,000" to "5,000 to 6,000". The editor cited Dirven and Vespoor (2004), who do indeed say, "It is still impossible to state exactly how many languages are spoken in the world today. Estimates range from 5,000 to 6,000". In light of the 2012 discussion archived at Talk:Language/Archive 4#Number of languages, however, I have changed the article to read, "Estimates of the number of languages in the world vary between 5,000 and 7,000." In the process, I removed the citation of Dirven and Vespoor. Cnilep (talk) 03:41, 6 November 2014 (UTC)

Human language vs. animal communication[edit]

An editor is editwarring to remove the "human" from the definition sentence. The word is there after many long discussions about the scope of the article. Here is one of them. The consensus has been that this article is about human language, and that human language is the primary topic for the article "language". Linguists study human language. Humans study human languages. And it is a controversial question whether any form of animal communication can be meaningfully compared to human language, and if it can be called "language" at all. For these reasons the "human" needs to be in the definition. The vast majority of linguists consider that no form of animal communication can be considered "language". It is correct that the word "language" is sometimes used to describe systems of animal communication and programming codes, but those are not languages in the primary sense of the word, the sense that is used by linguists, and in everyday conversation. Rather such descriptions are best understood as metaphors or comparisons. Beedance is not a language. It is a system of communication. A gorilla that knows 500 signs does not have language, it has acquired parts of human language and uses it as a system of communication. Human languages has properties, syntax, phonology, recursivity that are not found in any documented systems of communication used by any other species.

Consensus may change so any new arguments are welcome. But please dont edit war to make a change that has been discussed and rejected by a large group of editors several times before.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 00:22, 8 January 2015 (UTC)


The scope of the article in question is one thing, with the definition of the term being another entirely. Consensus is one thing, truth is another ha. I see a bias in the animal subsection. I have since largely corrected it. It's sad to see certain humans try to impose their views on reality by making grand, unqualified, absolute assumptions about their special place in earth culture.

First of all, "language" is not absolute, but rather a matter of degree in complexity.

We're not discussing "every day communication" with regards to the definition of "language", but rather the technical/actual definition of language.

Sign language isn't a language? Wow. Be sure to tell sign linguists that! Sign language contains all of the above mentioned properties as far as I'm aware. A "system of communication" is a language. Djayjp (talk) 00:56, 8 January 2015 (UTC)

I have removed your changes because they do not represent the view that is found in the literature on language. To change the definition you would have to provide some sources that are better and more reliable than the ones currently used.I dont think you will find those, because there is not currently any linguists defending the claim that language is not a uniquely human faculty. Yes it is a matter of degrees of complexity and the section on the unique status of human language describes in detail what it is that makes the human language so much more complex than any known system of animal communication, that it warrants it own category. You also dont seem to have read the article very carefully. Sign languages are languages. They are used by humans. The article emphatically includes human signs languages under the definition and explicitly mentions them several times. Linguists study sign languages. Linguists dont study animal communication (except in order to understand how they differ from human language, or how they have mechanisms that underlie human language). Linguists dont study computer languages (except to understand universal aspects of communication systems). Not all systems of communication are languages, under the most used definition of the word. User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 01:06, 8 January 2015 (UTC)
Djayjp, Wikipedia always aims to write about well-defined encyclopedic topics. Only rarely are articles actually about words. This is not one of them. We leave the task of defining what words mean to Wiktionary.
Peter Isotalo 14:53, 8 January 2015 (UTC)