LANGUAGE. By language in the widest sense of the word is meant any means of communication between living beings. The question whether "lower animals" have something that can be rightly compared with human language must still be left open, though there can be no doubt that many animals have various means of communicating thoughts and feelings, which at any rate approach human speech. But in its developed form lan guage is decidedly a human characteristic, and may even be con sidered the chief distinctive mark of humanity. No human race, not even the most primitive and backward tribe, lacks language, and the language of each nation or tribe must have behind it a history of a great many thousand years. An attempt has been made to prove from the anatomical structure of the skulls of the earliest prehistoric men that they could not yet have possessed the faculty of speech ; but this conclusion is certainly drawn from insufficient premises and has no foundation in fact.
The paramount importance of an ear-language as compared with any kind of eye-language is, of course, due to the facts that the speech-organs (lungs, vocal chords, soft palate, tongue and lips) are capable of producing an immense variety of easily dis tinguished sounds, which can be pronounced without preventing arms and hands and the rest of the body from being simultane ously active in various ways, and that speech-sounds can be per ceived at a reasonable distance without any regard to light or darkness or to the position of the hearer or hearers in relation to the speaker. The development of speech has not, however, been completely independent of the eye-language, and even now among civilized, and still more among uncivilized people, gestures and mimic play are a great assistance to the right understanding of spoken words ; it is often asserted that there are some races who cannot dispense with this aid to comprehension and who there fore cannot carry on a conversation in the dark. This, however,
may be an exaggeration. In the rest of this article, language is always understood to mean ear-language.
Social Importance.—Language is purposive activity on the part of one human being in order to come in mental contact with a fellow-man or fellow-men. But we should not one-sidedly think of the purpose of language as being predominantly, or even ex clusively, the intellectual one of communicating thoughts; not even if we include volition (commands, wishes, prayers, impre cations, etc.) is that definition sufficiently comprehensive. Lan guage often serves as an outlet for intense feeling, but very often also people speak for the mere pleasure of speaking without having anything really to communicate, and there is no doubt that this enjoyable exercise of the vocal organs has played a very great role in the development of speech. Language is likewise important in social intercourse ; when two friends meeting in the street ejaculate their "Good-morning!" their intention is not to communicate ideas to one another, but merely by means of lan guage to give vent to their feeling of good will. This point of i view is emphasized by B. Malinowski as important, if we would understand the attitude towards language of primitive people.
Language is one of the most potent forces in social life ; it welds together smaller or greater communities and makes them some thing more than a number of isolated individuals. Language al ways presupposes two, or generally a much greater number of individuals, who agree in connecting approximately the same ideas with approximately the same sounds. It is necessary to add "approximately," for complete agreement between even two in dividuals does not exist, and language can fulfil its function in practical life without it. The number of individuals thus con nected by means of the same language varies considerably, from small tribes of savages often counting only a few hundred people so that villages a few miles apart can hardly understand one an other, to the great civilized speech communities. English is spoken by at least i so millions distributed over five continents. As the possession of a common language is an extremely potent factor in all spiritual life and fosters feelings of fellowship and solidarity, and as linguistic boundaries do not always coincide with political frontiers, it is quite natural that linguistic questions should play a great part in national rivalries. But the terms "nation" and "language" are not co-extensive, for the feeling of national coherence has as its main source community of outlook occasioned by historical events, which may be independent of language ; thus the Swiss, though speaking f our distinct languages, consider themselves one nation, and on the other hand the in habitants of Great Britain and the United States of America are two nations, though speaking essentially the same language.