Definition by example.

It appears to me almost beyond dispute that language is a phenomenon of imitation: … the tyranny of usage in itself, suffices to show at one glance its imitative character (Tarde 1873, ch.5)

Language is primarily an auditory system of symbols. (Sapir 1921, p.?)

Language is activity, chiefly social activity undertaken in order to get into touch with other individuals and communicate to them one’s thoughts, feelings and will. (Jespersen 1949, 12/§2.1)

Language, like a living organism, is subject to (synchronic) variability and to permanent (diachronic) alteration. (Altmann et al. 1983, 104)

If language were a tool, then language, too, would deteriorate and wear out … But language is not a commodity, nor is it a tool or an instrument, it is not an object at all; it is nothing other than its use. Language is language use. (Fritz Mauthner in Bredeck 1992, 86)

Language is a shared set of conventions for mapping meanings to utterances. (Steels 1995)

Language is both a biological and a cultural phenomenon. (Origgi and Sperber 2000)

Language is a biological trait that radically changed the performance of one species and the appearance of the planet. (Nowak and Komarova 2001)

Language is our legacy. (Nowak, Komarova, and Niyogi 2002)

Language is a symbolic, culturally transmitted system of communication, which is learnt through the inference of meaning. (Smith 2005)

Language is a complex dynamical system that is shaped not just through biological evolution but by the way it is used in a social context. (Quillinan 2006)

Language is an example of collective behavior, and it is a type of collective behavior for which people are highly adapted. … Language provides a canonical example of a complex system: robust, adaptable, and self-assembling. (Pierrehumbert 2006)

In this article it is argued that language can be seen as a dynamic system, i.e. a set of variables that interact over time, and that language development can be seen as a dynamic process. (Bot, Lowie, and Verspoor 2007)

Human language is based on grammatical rules. (Lieberman et al. 2007)

Natural languages comprise elaborate systems of rules that enable one speaker to communicate with another. (Lieberman et al. 2007)

Language is coordination. (Cowley 2009)

Language is a complex adaptive system: Speakers are agents who interact with each other, and their past and current interactions feed into speakers’ future behavior in complex ways. (R. A. Blythe and Croft 2009)

??? (Beckner et al. 2009)

Language is one of the most prominent examples of complex systems. (Pop 2012)

Language is a fundamentally social complex system, exhibiting organization at multiple spatial, temporal and structural levels (Beckner et al., 2009) (Swarup and McCarthy 2012, 267)

In our view, for the purposes of scientific understanding, language should be understood as a particular computational cognitive system, implemented neurally, that cannot be equated with an excessively expansive notion of “language as communication” (Bolhuis et al. 2014, 1)

Language, that is, the linguistic behavior of a speech community… (Baxter and Croft 2016)


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