We explain what language is, its main characteristics and the types that exist. Also, what are its functions and more.

What is language?

Language is a human capacity used to communicate through a specific system of signs called language. There are different types of languages around the world, each with its own system of signs, such as the Spanish or English languages.

The language is the science that studies language and languages, both descriptive structure and its evolution through time. There are several branches within linguistics, such as phonology, syntax, phonetics, semantics, and lexicography, among others.

The rest of the non-human animals also communicate and do so through the senses, such as smell, sight, hearing and touch . Many species emit sound signals that have specific codes depending on what they want to transmit. Such is the case with birds , dolphins or dogs .

Language characteristics

Among the general characteristics of the language are:

  • It is universal, that is, it is a human capacity .
  • It is externalized with the use of signs, through language and speech .
  • It is rational because it requires the use of reason to associate linguistic signs.
  • It can be manifested verbally or non-verbally.
  • It is arbitrary because a word, for example, ball in Spanish or ball in English, does not have a logical association with the object it represents.
  • It is constantly evolving as a result of the accumulation of experiences in everyday speech.

Language types

Language types

The types of language can be:

  • Verbal. It is made up of words that are formed from phonemes and that can be expressed orally, through the spoken word, or written through the graphic representation of words.
  • Non verbal. It is made up of images (such as an advertisement), symbols (such as street signs) and gestures (such as sign language), among others.

The different types of language can be decoded by a person who handles the same system of signs with which the message was created. A sign is that which gives an idea or indication of something . For example, when seeing an object with a recycling symbol, the mind interprets that it is a material that can be reused for manufacturing.

The signs are made up of two aspects:

  • One meaning. It is the concept that a word represents in the mind.
  • A signifier. It is the object designated by a word or gesture, which is different according to each language.

For example, the word house is a signifier that, in Spanish, represents a concrete structure that has walls, a roof, windows, and a door. This concept of the house is the meaning. In English, the word house does not make sense, but the word house (significant) does to refer to the concept of house (meaning). For this reason the signs are arbitrary, that is, the association of the word and the object it designates varies according to the language.

Language functions

The six main functions of language are:

  • Referential. Objectively expresses the different aspects of reality, through information or the presentation of facts, concepts or ideas . For example, a newspaper article from the newspaper.
  • Appellate. It seeks to influence the receiver of the message to obtain a particular reaction from him, both to take an action or to stop doing it. For example, a sign in a restaurant with the phrase "Please, do not smoke in our facilities."
  • Emotional or expressive. It seeks to convey the mood or physical state of the sender of the message. For example, a person who has just completed a difficult activity and expresses his feeling at the achievement: "How exciting it is to climb a mountain!"
  • Fatica. It is used to start, interrupt, prolong or end a communication , so it is based on the communication channel and not on the transmission of a concept itself. An example of a phatic function to end a conversation is: “Well, thanks for everything. See you later".
  • Metalinguistics. It consists of the ability to reflect on one's own language, through the understanding of grammar or the meanings of words, for which it is necessary to handle the same code of signs. For example, the word desire is written with S, not with C.
  • Poetics or aesthetics. It consists of altering everyday language in order to provoke emotion or a sensation of beauty, through the way things are said. This is the case of literary texts , novels , poetry or songs. For example, "I have said that you sang in the wind like the pines and like the masts." (Excerpt from a poem by Pablo Neruda).

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring to reliable sources and recommendations from technology experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


MA student of the TransAtlantic Masters program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Political Science with a focus on European Studies. Expressed ideas are open to revision. He not only covers Technical articles but also has skills in the fields of SEO, graphics, web development and coding. .

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