People have attempted to define language in a number of ways. Example definitions include:
In any case, human language is the most central meaning of "language". The study of language is called linguistics.
Making a principled distinction between one human language and another can often be difficult. Chomsky (1986) points out that "some dialects of German are very close to dialects that we call 'Dutch' and are not mutually intelligible with others that we call 'German'". Note that there are parallels to biology, where it is not always possible to make a principled distinction between one species and the next. In either case (at least given the standard view on the evolution of the species), the ultimate difficulty stems from both languages and species descending from one another, with modification. (See dialect for a longer discussion.)
Some people speak of animal languages, while others argue they are not complex or expressive enough to count as "true" languages. Also, there are some significant differences, which separate human language from the animal languages - even when they are most complex, the underlying principles are not thought to be related.
These are the properties of human language that are argued to separate it from that of animals:
Research with apes, such as the research Francine Patterson[?] has done with Koko, suggests the animals may be capable of using language that meets some of these requirements. Koko's achievements were with a human language that she was taught, so her example only shows that animals are capable of using language, but not that they are necessarily of inventing one on their own.
The most studied examples of animal languages are:
The Linguistics article examines different theoretical perspectives on human language in detail. This is perhaps becoming Wikipedia's most useful introductory article about language.
The Language families and languages article provides more information on particular languages and their interconnections.
The Common phrases in different languages article may be of interest to travelers.
What are our priorities for writing in this area? To help develop a list of the most basic topics about language, please see Linguistics basic topics.