Show Summary Details

p. 766. What is a language?locked

  • P. H. Matthews

Abstract

‘What is a language?’ is a much-debated question among linguists. What may count as separate ‘languages’ for specialists in one part of the world may be more similar than ‘dialects’ of a single language elsewhere. Boundaries between states can also influence how these terms are used, as can ties of nationhood or ethnicity. For many linguists, the essential test is how far people using different forms of speech can understand one another. Others, however, define language in terms of structures or as a system, within which units form a self-contained set of relations. These are governed by rules, for example. for how words are combined and ordered and for grammatical endings.

Access to the complete content on Very Short Introductions online requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.