5 Real Language Universals In Today’s Linguistics

Language Universals Are the Real facts that exist in every language of world.If you are the student of language and linguistics you must know what are the universalism in every language. We will discuss in detail in this article.

Nearly five thousand languages are spoken in the world today. They seem to be quite different, but still, many of them show similar principles, such as word order. For example, in languages such as English, French, and Italian, the words of the clause take the order of first the subject, then the verb, and then the direct object. There even exist basic patterns or principles that are shared by all languages. These patterns are called universals. When the same principles are shared by several languages, we speak of language types. There are several examples for universals.


There are semantic categories that are shared by all cultures and referred to by all languages – these are called semantic universals. There are many examples of semantic universals. Let’s discuss two of them: one semantic universal regards our notion of color. There exist eleven basic colour terms: black, white, red, green, blue, yellow, brown, purple, pink, orange, and grey.

The pattern that all languages universally abide by, is that they do not entertain a notion of a color term outside of that range. This means, any imaginable color is conceived of as a mixture, shade, or subcategory of one of these eleven basic color terms. As a result, one way of classifying languages is by colour terms. The eleven colour terms are not in usage equally among the languages on Earth. Not all languages have all basic color terms. Some have two, some three, and some four. Others have five; six, or seven, and some have eight to eleven.

Those with two colour terms always have black and white, those with three black, white, and red, and those with more have additional basic colour terms according to the order in the list given above. This is a universal pattern. The languages which have the same basic color terms in common belong to the same language type. Hence, we find seven classes of languages according to this scheme.
Another semantic universal is the case of pronouns. Think of what it is you do when you talk to someone about yourself. There is always the “I”, representing you as the speaker, and the “you”, meaning the addressee. You could not possibly do without that, and neither could a speaker of any other language on earth. Again, we find a universal pattern here. Whenever you do not talk about yourself as a person, but as a member of a group, you use the plural “we”. English is restricted to these two classes of pronouns: singular and plural, each in the first, second, and third person. All languages that evince this structure are grouped into one language type

There are other languages that make use of even more pronouns. In some languages, it is possible to address two people with a pronoun that specifically indicates not just their being plural, but also their being ‘two’ people; this is then the dual pronoun. Other examples are languages that have pronouns to refer to the speaker and the addressee together, called inclusive pronouns. Exclusive pronouns refer to the speaker together with people other than the addressee. However, these are not among the European languages.

Facts You Must Know About Language Universals And How They Exist In Every Language

Different languages may have very different sets of vowels. If you are familiar with a few foreign languages, you may find it difficult to believe there are universal rules governing the distribution of vowels, but they do exist. Remember our example of basic color terms: A similar pattern could be drawn on the basis of the vowel system. Languages with few vowels always have the same set of vowel types. And if a language has more vowels, it is always the same type
of vowel that is added to the set. These vowels may not always sound exactly the same, but they are always created at the same location in our vocal apparatus.


Remember the word order of English I mentioned above. Hamm, you say: that cannot be a universal rule, since you know other sentences from English and possibly from other languages which do not follow this order. You are right, but the order subject, verb, object (SVO) may be defined as the basic order of English sentences. In other languages there are different “basic” orders, such as Japanese (SOV) or Tongan (VSO), a Polynesian language. After an extensive study, one can define two different sets of basic orders that languages follow: First SVO, VSO, SOV and second VOS, OVS, OSV. What is the difference? In the first set the subject precedes the object; in the second set it follows the object. Since the first set is the one which applies to the basic structures of far more languages than the second one does, the universal rule is that there is an overwhelming tendency for the subject of a sentence to precede the direct object among the languages of the world.


Of course, not all universals can be found in all languages. With so many tongues spoken, it would be hard not to find any exceptions. Most languages have not even been the subject of extensive research as of yet. However, some rules appear without exception in the languages which have been studied so far.

We call these absolute universals. If there are minor exceptions to the rule, we speak of universal tendencies or relative universals. In saying this, we take for granted that exceptions may be found in future surveys among languages which have remained unexplored up to the present day. Sometimes a universal holds only if a particular condition of the language structure is fulfilled.

These universals are called implicational. Universals which can be stated without a condition are called non implicational. In other words, whenever a rule “If … then …” is valid, the universal appears in the structure of the respective language. There are thus four types of universals: implicational absolute universals, implicational relative universals, non implicational absolute universals, and non implicational relative universals. The final determination of which type a universal belongs to is dependent on intensive field research.

by Abdullah Sam
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