Exploring the 10 Defining Features of Language

Exploring the 10 Defining Features of Language

Hey there, language lover! Have you ever been amazed by the power of words? Language is a wonderful thing that lets us communicate with each other and express our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. In this post, we’re going to delve into 10 key characteristics of language that make it so darn cool. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s take a minute or two to think about what language really is and how it works. By understanding the basics of language, we can better appreciate its intricacies and the role it plays in our lives.

So, let’s get started and explore the amazing world of language together!

Meaning of Language

Language is a medium of communication that enables us to express our thoughts, ideas, information, and feelings to others. It is a complex and dynamic system that has evolved slowly over thousands of years and is unique to humans. Language allows us to express and convey thoughts, information, share creativity, ask questions, give instructions, express emotions, and do a variety of other wonderful things.

Characteristics of Language

Language is an important aspect of human society and culture. Human civilization has only been possible because of language. It is only through language that brought humanity out of the stone age and made big leaps in science, art, and technology. Now, let’s dive into the 10 key characteristics that define human language:

1. Vocal, Symbolic: Language is primarily organized sounds, also known as vocal symbols. It’s the sounds produced by the mouth with the help of various organs of speech to convey meaningful messages. While music and singing also employ vocal sounds, they are not languages. Language is a systematic vocal symbolism; it utilizes verbal elements like sounds, words, and phrases, arranged in specific ways to form sentences.

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2. Means of Communication: Language is the most powerful, convenient, and permanent means of communication. While non-linguistic symbols like gestures, traffic lights, road signs, and even braille alphabets exist, they lack the flexibility, comprehensiveness, and perfection of language. Language is the best tool for self-expression, allowing us to share our thoughts, desires, emotions, and knowledge, both within and across generations.

3. Social Phenomenon: Language is a set of conventional communicative signals used by humans for communication within a community. It’s a social possession, comprising an indispensable set of rules that enables members to relate to each other. We learn language not through instinct but by being members of a society that uses that language. If a language is not used by a community, it eventually dies out.

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6. Symbolic: The symbolism of language is a necessary consequence of its arbitrariness. A symbol stands for something else; it serves as a substitute. Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols for concepts, things, ideas, and objects. While symbols are essential, it’s crucial to remember that language goes beyond mere symbols and involves a complex system of arrangement.

7. Systematic: Although symbolic, the symbols in language are arranged in a specific system. All languages have their own system of arrangements, allowing them to combine a finite set of symbols to generate an infinite number of utterances. This systematic nature also involves specific rules governing how these symbols can be combined. For example, while the sounds “b” and “z” exist in English, there’s no word starting with “bz.”

8. Unique, Creative, Complex, and Modifiable: Language is a unique phenomenon on Earth. Each language, despite sharing some universals and features, possesses its own peculiarities and distinct characteristics. Language is also creative and productive. The structural elements can be combined to produce new utterances, even if they haven’t been heard before, yet still understood by both speaker and listener. Additionally, languages are not static; they change and adapt according to the needs of society, reflecting the evolving world around them.

9. Human and Structurally Complex: No other species besides humans possesses language in its full complexity. This complexity stems from the intricate structure of language and the physical limitations of other animals’ vocal tracts and cognitive abilities. Animals lack the brainpower and the necessary physical adaptations to develop and utilize human language in the same way. Furthermore, human language exhibits duality, which refers to the two levels of structure: sound and meaning. This allows us to communicate across space and time, a feat not achievable by most animal communication systems.

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10. Universality and Competence vs. Performance: Despite their unique characteristics, all human languages share certain universals. These universals represent core functionalities inherent to human language, such as the ability to express ideas, emotions, and convey information. Additionally, it’s important to distinguish between competence and performance. Competence refers to the underlying knowledge and understanding of language rules, while performance refers to the actual use of language in real-world situations. This distinction highlights the intricate nature of language acquisition and usage.


Language is a fascinating and complex phenomenon that plays a vital role in human life. By understanding its key characteristics, we gain a deeper appreciation for its power, versatility, and the unique place it holds in our world. From enabling communication and fostering social connections to driving cultural expression and scientific advancement, language continues to shape our world in profound ways.

Remember, this is just a glimpse into the vast and fascinating world of language. There’s much more to explore and discover!



  • “The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistics” edited by P. H. Rebuschat
  • “Introducing Language and Linguistics” by B. Crystal


  • “What is Language?” by M. Aronoff in Annual Review of Linguistics (2010)
  • “The Social Construction of Language” by J. Verschueren in The Handbook of Social Psychology (2007)
  • “Language Universals and Language Change” by W. Croft in Language (2000)


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