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The language classification principles

The structure of the language

The definition of the language

General notes on the language study

At first sight, it seems to be very easy to give the definition of the language. According to Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, language is a system of communication by written or spoken words, which is used by the people of a particular country or area. From the linguistic perspective, language is a semiotic system. It is a system of communication units and rules of their functioning.

Language is a social phenomenon. It originated in the society, serves the society, is one of the most important features of the society and cannot exist without the society.


3.2 The functions of the language

It should be mentioned that there is no exact number of the language functions. Taking into consideration all the functions named in different linguistic works, it is possible to single out 25 functions of the language. But mainly, the functions of the language are divided into nominal and functional. Among the functional functions, we can name communicative, cultural, and so on. Yu. Stepanov, in his turn, singles out three functions of the language: nominative (semantics level), syntactic (syntactics level), and pragmatic (pragmatics level).


The evolution or historical development of language is made up of diverse facts and processes. In the first place, it includes the internal or structural development of the language system, its various subsystems and component parts. The description of internal linguistic history is usually presented in accordance with the division of language into linguistic levels. The main, commonly accepted levels are: the phonemic level (phoneme), the morphemic (morpheme), the lexemic level (lexeme), the sememic level (sememe), the syntaxemic level (syntaxeme), the textemic level (texteme), and the discoursemic level (discourse).


Within the field of linguistics, three different approaches to language classification are used.

Genetic (genealogical) classificationcategorizes languages according to their descent. Languages that developed historically from the same ancestor language are grouped together and are said to be genetically related. This ancestor may be attested (that is, texts written in this language have been discovered or preserved, as in the case of Latin), or it may be a reconstructed protolanguage for which no original tests exist (as is the case for Indo-European).

Although genetically related languages often share structural characteristics, they do not necessarily bear a close structural resemblance. For example, Latvian and English are genetically related (both are descended from Indo-European), but their morphological structure is quite different. Of course, Latvian and English are very distantly related, and languages that are more closely related typically manifest greater similarity.

On the other hand, it is also necessary to recognize that even languages that are totally unrelated may be similar in some respects. For example, English, Thai, and Swahili, which are unrelated to each other, all employ subject-verb-object word order in simple declarative sentences.

For this reason, another approach to language classification is useful. Known as linguistic typology (typological classification), it classifies languages according to their structural characteristics, without regard for genetic relationships. Thus, typologists might group together languages with similar sound patterns or, alternatively, those with similar grammatical structures.

Finally, areal (geographical)classification identifies characteristics shared by languages that are in geographical contact. Languages in contact often borrow words, sounds, morphemes, and even syntactic patterns from one another. As a result, neighboring languages can come to resemble each other, even though they may not be genetically related.

Thus, according to the genetic classification, the English language can be described like this:

Family Indo-European

Branch West Indo-European

Group Germanic group

Sub-group West Germanic

Language English

According to the typological principle, languages are classified into synthetic, analytic, and agglutinating languages. A synthetic language is characterized by many inflectional affixes. An analytic language would contain only words that consist of a single (root) morpheme. In such a language there would be no affixes, and categories such as number and tense would therefore have to be expressed by a separate word. An agglutinating language has words that can contain several morphemes, but the words are easily divided into their component parts (normally a root and affixes). In such languages, each suffix is clearly identifiable and typically represents only a single grammatical category or meaning.


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