Language is indicated as an essentially human attribute. All animals communicate (even in ways impossible for us, such as ultrasound), but only human language can refer to distant events in space and time, it can generate and understand expressions that had not been used previously, it can combine in its vocabulary – always differently – a number of distinct sounds. The phonatory system of man (see e.g. the larynx) is unique. Of course, communication is possible because there is a correspondence between “sign” (word, gesture …) and designated “object”, determined by a rule (code), and is valid for both the issuer and the recipient.
II) Language and word . In the case of man, linguistic communication is primarily verbal (sound is emitted and perceived: phonetic-acoustic channel). But the graphic-visual channel is also used. The blind, however, use the Braille method (spatial configuration of points read by touch), while deaf-mutes use mimic-gestural language (motor-visual channel). An adult man of middle-upper culture can use even more than 200,000 words!
In humans there is the possibility of communicating using words that are used to designate categories of an increasingly higher degree (apple> fruit> vegetable> natural> ecological> living). That is, man can use abstract words, which do not indicate an object or its properties, but relations between objects or logical facts or functions. The words are linked together by grammar-syntax rules. Of course, for a sentence to make sense, it is not enough that these rules are respected (see the diary of a schizophrenic). Indeed, a sentence can make sense even if it does not respect these rules (as in coded or coded languages).
In summary: because of the symbolic (abstractive) ability of language, man is able to master an enormous amount of information with a minimum expenditure of energy, that is, with a very high efficiency. Many attempts have been made to get the animals to talk, but they have all failed. The best results were obtained using the language of the deaf-mutes (see the chimpanzee Washoe, who had learned 294 combinations of 2 or more signs; eg “I-go out, you-go out”, to indicate the need to take a walk with someone).
III) Functional properties . The simplest functions of the language are those that everyone can easily understand:
expressive (as a means of signaling the issuer’s moods or intentions);
evocative (to influence the recipient: e.g. the cry of the newborn);
representative (as a means of communication of abstract thought, to inform about events distant in time and space);
intra-individual (to think better, to better control behavior, to have a free exchange of information).
In summary: language has a prevalent stimulus and response value. Eg: if I make a phone call for information, language has stimulating properties; if to send information, it has response properties (to a previous stimulus). Speaking is a verbal response to stimulation. Note that the amount of information conveyed by a sentence is not uniformly distributed: e.g. in a 7-word sentence, each word does not contain 1/7 of the total sentence information, as there are keywords that contain more and others less.
IV) Psycholinguistics has worked hard on the functions that the “meaning” of words can have.
Extensive meaning : the ability to communicate is relative to the community of origin that produced that language (for example, the Eskimos have about 90 different words to indicate just as many ways of being as snow);
Intensive meaning : the level of comprehensibility of this meaning depends on the level of social consensus about the proper content of a word. Words like democracy, freedom, being, nothing … are used with very different meanings. Obviously, in a stable society, with a dominant culture recognized by the vast majority, the intensive meaning is unitary, shared.
Verbal association : the meaning of a word can be estimated by detecting the sequence of other words with which it is associated. In the verbal association tests it was verified that these associations are in relation with the social class to which the subjects belong or with the profession carried out; that the associations of the members of a family are very similar to each other; that children make associations more similar to those of the mother; that males associate more similarly to the father than females; that children associate using terms with which they could compose a sentence (e.g. hammer -> nail).
Connotative meaning : a word is loaded with certain emotional and cognitive resonances that are relatively independent of the proper meaning, individually considered (e.g. the meaningless word PALM could indicate a shaving soap: denotative meaning; but for PALM to be sold on the market, it must also have a connotative meaning of soft, fragrant, frothy, cheap, etc.).
Contextual meaning: the meaning of a word varies according to the logical context in which it is inserted. Indeed, precisely because they belong to a logical context, words acquire a more defined meaning than when they are isolated (phenomenon of redundancy. For example, the mother is concerned about the health of her children). Redundant messages are used in communities to reduce the effort of understanding information or to understand incomplete or disturbed information.
V) The development of language . In humans the emission of sounds by the phonatory system precedes the organization of phonation in articulated language.
The crying of birth is the first phonatory manifestation: it represents the state of panic determined by the sudden and total change in the living conditions of the fetus. Afterwards, it represents an internal discomfort (hunger, sleep …), invocation of help, protest reaction …;
from birth to 6 months it can only emit cries, mumbles or various types of crying. Sounds are not yet language, although phonemes are turning into syllables. After the first month he can react with a smile when he hears the mother’s voice. At 3 months he distinguishes different emotional intonations of the voice (anger, joy …) and different voices.
From 6 to 9 months it emits a repertoire of sounds that includes the whole range possessed by man. At this stage all the children in the world use the same language. The infant passes from the simple repetition of a syllable (without understanding the meaning) to the association between the syllable and what it means.
From 9 months to 1 year the range of sounds narrows and delimits the intonations of one’s living environment. At 10 months it includes the first words. The understanding of the word always precedes its production (even in adults, for the study of languages).
From the age of 1 year begins the ability to emit a succession of differentiated sounds, to compose a word, which comes to summarize the value of a sentence (eg “jelly” stands for “I’m hungry” or “I’m no longer hungry” “). The word is not subject to any grammatical rule.
At the age of 18 months he can compose two words in a sentence, even if there are children who start talking only at 2-3 years (then easily make up for lost time).
At 2 years of age he composes always different sentences, with an increasing number of words (about 270, which become about 1500 in 3 years and about 3500 in 6 years). Start adopting grammatical and syntactic rules.
At the age of 4 he has a broad lexicon, appropriate and organized according to the rules. He still cannot understand the “exceptions” of grammar.
After 4 years completely particular ways (stylistic variations) related to the living environment or completely personal appear.
VI) The origin of language . The presence of a natural predisposition to language (the human body is genetically predisposed to verbal communication) is a necessary but not sufficient premise to make it mature. The predisposition must be activated within a context of human and verbal communication, otherwise it does not manifest itself (ex: the case of Victor, accidentally found at the age of 12-13 years in a French wood, who never learned to speak. Or, children raised in isolation by blind parents who behave as if they were). Ultimately, language has three bases: