Headword
Language
Level
SG/HS
Language
English
Topic
Sociolinguistics
Definition
Although it is the focus of study in linguistics, language has several different definitions.

1. The term can refer to individual languages, such as English or German. An individual language is usually made up of mutually-intelligible dialects, and might have a standard written variety. Different individual languages are not usually mutually intelligible, although, as in most linguistic topics, this is a matter of degree. Spanish and Portuguese are mutually intelligible to some extent. The attribution of the label ‘language’ occurs as much for socio-cultural as linguistic reasons, which is why there is a debate about whether Scots, for example, is a language or a dialect.

2. The term can also refer to language in general, that is, the system of rules that govern verbal behaviour and allow communication to occur. This system of rules can be perceived as an abstract set of regulations governing the verbal behaviour of a speech community (langue), or it can be thought of as the largely unconscious mental knowledge governing the behaviour of an individual speaker (competence).
Notes
Compare
Concept
See also
Dialect, Specific languages, Standard English