Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Here's a friend of mine. She doesn't talk a lot, but when she does it's usually about

  • something interesting.

  • This kind of suspicious character over here is listening in. Now, he can make out what

  • she's saying, and he gets it. And when she notices the lurker and turns around to chastise

  • him, he knows exactly what she's saying. Freeze. This is an example of language in action.

  • But what makes this language?

  • Both of them are able to speak to and understand each other using their mouths, ears and brains.

  • That ability gets called "language", and it's at the heart of a ton of things worth learning

  • about humans, about communication, about science, philosophy, logic and more.

  • They're using that general ability called language. But they're also using a specific

  • language. They're speaking and hearing English. But we don't think that this language over

  • here - English - is the same thing as this ability to speak and understand over here.

  • After all, they could be speaking French or Swahili or all different languages and still

  • be using language. So, what is it that sets "language" apart from all these "languages"?

  • The characteristics of our human language ability are the subject of intense debates.

  • Think about it: is our ability to speak something we learned or something we inherited? Does

  • it fit snuggly in a wider context alongside body signals, emotions, other social behaviors

  • and even animal communication, or does human language sit

  • way up here, all distinct and elevated? And how does language relate to thinking,

  • like the kind of everyday thinking when we do when we have a specific thought, like,

  • "those flowers are really, really red", and also the abstract thinking we do in logic

  • and mathematics? Which, by the way, drags us into formal languages. Logic and math allow

  • us humans to think about things more abstractly and universally. Instead of just "those roses"

  • I can think about all roses, or all x's, or even just the variable x!

  • Whew, so it looks like language is a tricky concept. But what about languages? Surely

  • they're clearer, at least.

Here's a friend of mine. She doesn't talk a lot, but when she does it's usually about

Subtitles and vocabulary

Click the word to look it up Click the word to find further inforamtion about it