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Peer Review[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)

Lead Point by POint[edit]

The first thing to be asked what is the most essential things about language? Get those out of the way first. before dealing with secondary issues. I have stressed what i think is not critical for the opening.

Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any example of such a system of complex communication(poor writing). The scientific study of language is called linguistics. It is impossible to know precisely how many languages there are in the world, and the number depends on a partly arbitrary distinction between languages and dialects. (excessive not needed for the lead) However, estimates vary between around(Just Estimated at) 6,000 and 7,000 languages in number. Natural languages are spoken or signed, but any language can be encoded into secondary media using auditory, visual or tactile stimuli, for example in graphic writing, braille, or whistling. (No idea what this is trying to say and why it needs to say it here, why is it before the uniqueness of language which is more universal true than Braille?) This is because human language is modality-independent.(is what, which lay person knows what that means?) When used as a general concept,[clarification needed] "language" may refer to the cognitive ability to learn and use systems of complex communication, or to describe the set of rules that makes up these systems, or the set of utterances that can be produced from those rules.(This can be joined to lead in a simplified way, one sentence, with the opening sentence about complex systems of communication.)

The entire section is problematic, but I am just focusing on the open. It can be made so much more concise I believe.On a minor note the article is about language not scripts, have no idea why the images emphasis scripts. 90% of the world had no script up until the 18th century, so clearly we should avoid linking the two so tightly. --Inayity (talk) 23:29, 28 October 2012 (UTC)

I don't share any of the concerns you have with the lead. It brings up basic facts about language that I would expect to see in a general encyclopedic article and despite your comments, I don't see any lack of clarity.
Peter Isotalo 05:49, 29 October 2012 (UTC)
"Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any example of such a system of complex communication(poor writing)" (and this is okay for you? Thanks for your opinion in the development of the lead then. I hope others will also be allowed to suggest making this article better. (the point of fresh eyes reviewing).--Inayity (talk) 07:49, 29 October 2012 (UTC)
As a long time watcher of this article I think the lead has become a bit awkward, but this is a side effect of the extensive work Maunus did on it recently, which I think has been a net benefit to the article overall. My feeling is that the wordings could be simplified and compressed now a bit in some areas. So Inayity you could look through the article history for ideas. In any case I reckon the best way to discuss this type of thing is to make proposals for new wordings here on the talk page. I know from experience that most editors on this type of article are amenable to that type of approach. --Andrew Lancaster (talk) 16:34, 29 October 2012 (UTC)
"Human" can be omitted from the lead — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:22, 24 September 2013
The lead looks pretty okay to me. If there is something wrong with it, I'd really like to know what the matter is more specifically. "Poor writing" is really just "I don't like it". It's not constructive criticism. Please be more specific.
Peter Isotalo 16:11, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
We heard you the first time, Thanks Peter, The lead has been changed AMEN!--Inayity (talk) 14:25, 11 May 2013 (UTC)

Advantages of a Common Lingua Franca[edit]

Notwithstanding claims that the world would be better off if most adopted a single common lingua franca such as English or Esperanto, there is a general consensus that the loss of languages harms the cultural diversity of the world. It is a common belief, going back to the biblical narrative of the tower of Babel that linguistic diversity causes political conflict, but this belief is contradicted by the facts that many of the world's major episodes of violence have taken place in situations with low linguistic diversity, such as the Yugoslav and American Civil Wars, or the genocides of Nazi Germany and Rwanda, whereas many of the most stable political units have been highly multilingual.

I'm pretty sure that you could find other claimed reasons to adopt a common lingua franca beyond the prevention of violence and conflicts. For instance, a common lingua franca can facilitate trading, geographic mobility of the workforce, and the diffusion of new ideas and technological innovations.
BTW, the allusion to the Tower of Babel is a departure from the neutral tone that anyone would expect in an encyclopedia due to its religious connotations. The Tower of Babel isn't even a historic event. Was this the most compelling argument in favor of the adoption of a common lingua franca that you were able to find? (talk) 00:04, 19 November 2012 (UTC)

a minor compression proposal[edit]

Concerning this partial revert, best to move to the talk page:

  • Concerning the bit about being on Earth, "so far" is indeed perhaps weird sounding, but so is what it attempted to replace. Do we need anything here logically? What about just "on Earth"? Less wordy (but it does indeed also sound as weird as any other alternative). Concerning weirdness, I guess it can not be avoided without over-expansion unsuitable for a lead. I suggest just removing. The rest of the paragraph explains it.
  • Concerning "generally closed systems" and "limited functions" I think this is repetitive and for most readers far more difficult to understand than the explanations and wikilinks already offered in the lead. For example

    "...human language is modality-independent. When used as a general concept, "language" may refer to the cognitive ability to learn and use systems of complex communication, or to describe the set of rules that makes up these systems, or the set of utterances that can be produced from those rules."


    "In contrast to non-human communication forms, human language has the properties of productivity, recursivity, and displacement. Human language is also the only system to rely mostly on social convention and learning."

  • Concerning "mostly genetically rather than socially transmitted" I think this is covered below by "Human language is also the only system to rely mostly on social convention and learning."

Please consider.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 20:48, 9 December 2012 (UTC)

I've taken a stab at solving these issues, see what you think.·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 02:41, 10 December 2012 (UTC)
OK by me--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 11:00, 10 December 2012 (UTC)

Is Language a Technology?[edit]

If so, it should be treated as one on the article, which means be added to a category dealing with technology and navigation templates which are related to technology. Galzigler (talk) 13:57, 31 January 2013 (UTC)

No it is not.·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 13:58, 31 January 2013 (UTC)
It might not be something physical, but it's still an invention, which makes it a technology. The question is, is language something created naturally and exists in any animal which lives in a group? If the answer is not, it's provably not an invention, because it's a part of nature in living things. Galzigler (talk) 16:38, 31 January 2013 (UTC)
Language is not any more an invention than your brain or your eyes. It is a natural part of being human.·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 17:55, 31 January 2013 (UTC)
I think that's a false dichotomy, Galzigler. Whether or not language exists among all social animals is irrelevant to the question of whether human language is an invention or not. Steven Pinker's view, for example, is that language is the product of natural selection; Noam Chomsky believes it's innate to humans, but has less straightforward views about the role of natural selection. Neither of them thinks that other animals have language, and neither of them thinks language is an invention. This is the dominant view among linguists. A few people (e.g. Dan Everett) hold that language is in fact more like an invention, and I'd say that this view is gaining ground (indeed, I'm sympathetic to the idea myself). However, it remains a minority view, so it would be unwarranted to add this article to the category you mention. garik (talk) 16:51, 31 January 2013 (UTC)
I don't understand Everett to be arguing that language is an invention. He argues that specific languages are the result of social convention, but language - as as the cognitive infrastructure that makes it possible to invent languages I'm pretty sure he agrees is an ingerent part of what makes us human.·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 17:55, 31 January 2013 (UTC)
It depends what you mean by "cognitive infrastructure". As I recall (and it's been a little while) Everett doesn't consider any of it to be language-specific. In other words he considers language to be the product of general cognitive mechanisms (again, as I recall—I may be wrong). This is still consistent, incidentally, with language being integral to what makes us human. All other animals may (and probably do) lack the relevant domain-general cognitive capacities that gave us the wherewithal to produce language. To make an analogy: Clothing is human specific, and probably beyond the cognitive capacities of most other animals, but I think we can agree it's an invention (a technology even). garik (talk) 02:33, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
Yes, it depends on what one means by cognitive infrastructure: for Chomsky the infrastructure determines grammar, for Everett and other functionalists grammar is developed through social convention and communication. So for Chomsky the cognitive infrastructure is Language, for others it merely enables it. It is not however at all comparable to clothing or other material technologies, because it is not continuously reinvented, but rather a cognitive faculty available to all humans exposed to it.·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 12:19, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
After all, Everett's book Language: The Cultural Tool is essentially an attempt to make the case "For the alternative proposal, that language is invented and transmitted culturally [for which] empirical support comes from the general wattage of human neurology, our capacity for learning, and from the knowledge that many properties of language are forged by forces outside the brain." (Page 6; my emphasis). garik (talk) 02:43, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
Garik he is talking about the learning of an individual language, he is exactly saying that the human brain is naturally equipped to learning a language socially. The question is whether the innative ability to learn languages also constrains the form langauges take or whether that is entirely a cultural construction/invention. For Chomsky the innate ability determines the structure of language, for Everett and other functionalists it doesn't, but the form of language is determined by social convention and the communicative uses to which it is put. ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 11:46, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
This sounds like an interesting theory, but including it in a top-level article seems like it would go against WP:UNDUE since it doesn't have widespread support in the linguistic community. We can't include every imaginable theory of language in what is supposed to be a general summary.
Peter Isotalo 09:48, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
Indeed, Peter. I said as much above. Maunus: I disagree. If he means the learning of an individual language, then why does he say "language" without an article? In any case, for the reasons Peter mentioned, I'll take this discussion to your talk page and draw a close to it here. garik (talk) 12:19, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
Because he argues it is true for all individual languages.And yes, no-one also not Everett has argued that language is a technology or an invention - it is rather a convention. So yes we shouldn't include it.·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 12:21, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
I continue to disagree, for reasons I raise on your talk page, Maunus. I suggest we take the discussion there. garik (talk) 12:42, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
This discussion got too deep into philosophy views. When I talked about animals, and if it's something natural, I meant of course it's natural selection. There is a part in the brain which deals with management of language. I'm sure you'll agree all languages are built quite the same (the systems they are made of). My knowledge about the evolution of languages isn't wide enough. We can see that in human languages there is logic, semantic, structure (like the way a sentense is built, for example) - all of the above we evolve by development through the years of us as humans, who learned from the environment. The language got more complex, because it was necessary for us as a way to describe and transfer data and knowledge. Galzigler (talk) 19:14, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
Just like the human femur changed to allow bipedal walking. That doesn't make walking a technology. "technology" implies that someone made it through a wilfull act of creativity in order to serve a specific purpose. Language serves dozens of different purposes from thinking and socializing to transfering knowledge and to exerting power - and it was never wilfully created by anyone.·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 21:13, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
If we take math for example. The ability to calculate and to understand what quantity (arithmetics) is is something we are born with, a part in our brain which is responsible for that. And we aren't the only creature which has this ability. But math was developed during the years, and got more complex, and this development was made by many people and cultures. The basic ability is an integral part of us, but it's development was made by studies. In the case of language, we may born with the ability to communicate, but the entire development of the language has no real connection to nature, for example writing isn't an integral system of a language we are born with, it's acquired by learning. Actually, the language itself it's acquired by the person. The development and changing (or evolution) of the language happens by the people who gained the ability to speak the language only after they learned it. Galzigler (talk) 00:03, 2 February 2013 (UTC)
Entirely different thing. Mathematics as we know it has been invented by specific named mathematicians who dedicated thought to doing it. Noone has ever done that to language. It simply emerged naturally from human interactions. This is also evidenced by the fact that math is not a human universal, many cultures do not have math. All cultures have language. Without math we are just people who dont calculated. Without language we are closer to being chimpanzees and nothing of the things we consider to be what makes us unique as humans (including math) is possible without language. But we digress. This is not a forum and we shouldnt treat it as such. When you find a reliable source considering langauge a technology we can start discussing whether to include that perspective. ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 00:12, 2 February 2013 (UTC)
Math became a field of study beform the term "mathematician" was exist. The same in language, it started as something basic. During the time, it was developed - new things were added to it (I mentioned it before). Today, it's also a field of study called "linguistics". Anyway, I asked about it, I didn't mean it will become such a discussion. By reading the comments here, some showed this theory exists. By searching around here, I saw the article Origin of language, which talks about some concepts in language, like the fact humans embraced the use of voice for languages. The invention of language itself mentioned there, but in context of mythology: "Most mythologies do not credit humans with the invention of language". I'm guessing it won't be added to the article (even about dealing with this question, because it's more a philosophy than a proven fact). At least I learned some new things from this. Galzigler (talk) 17:13, 2 February 2013 (UTC)

Crystal ball[edit]

Predictions made by Austin, Sallabak and Moseley, about the extinction of many languages by 2100, are close to ignoring the WP ban on using a Crystal Ball. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:40, 29 April 2013 (UTC)

No they are not. This is a strong consensus among linguists based on projections of speaker demography.·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 14:00, 29 April 2013 (UTC)


I think illustrations are ridiculous and not appropriate for the matter. --Aleksd (talk) 12:29, 14 May 2013 (UTC)

Which illustrations? ... which "matter"?
Please write constructively rather than simply being negative.
Your providing an edit summary would be a good action too. Thanks –
 – Gareth Griffith-Jones |The Welsh Buzzard|— 12:47, 14 May 2013 (UTC)
I am not negative. I am shocked. I came here expecting something reliable as information. But not. Better read Bloomfield next time, cause the quality of this article is too low. --Aleksd (talk) 12:50, 14 May 2013 (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)


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]

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 . 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)