language (n.)

late 13c., langage "words, what is said, conversation, talk," from Old French langage "speech, words, oratory; a tribe, people, nation" (12c.), from Vulgar Latin *linguaticum, from Latin lingua "tongue," also "speech, language," from PIE root *dnghu- "tongue."

The -u- is an Anglo-French insertion (see gu-); it was not originally pronounced. Meaning "manner of expression" (vulgar language, etc.) is from c. 1300. Meaning "a language," as English, French, Arabic, etc., is from c. 1300; Century Dictionary (1897) defines this as: "The whole body of uttered signs employed and understood by a given community as expressions of its thoughts; the aggregate of words, and of methods of their combination into sentences, used in a community for communication and record and for carrying on the processes of thought." Boutkan (2005) writes: "In general, language unity exists as long as the language is capable of carrying out common innovations, but this does not preclude profound differences among dialects."

In Middle English the word also was used of dialects:

Mercii, þat beeþ men of myddel Engelond[,] vnderstondeþ bettre þe side langages, norþerne and souþerne, þan norþerne and souþerne vnderstondeþ eiþer oþer. [Bartholomew Glanville, "De proprietatibus rerum," c. 1240, translated by John of Trevisa c. 1398]

In oþir inglis was it drawin, And turnid ic haue it til ur awin Language of the norþin lede, Þat can na noþir inglis rede. ["Cursor Mundi," early 14c.]

 Language barrier attested from 1885. 

Origin and meaning of language

updated on October 13, 2021

Definitions of language from WordNet

language (n.)
a systematic means of communicating by the use of sounds or conventional symbols;
the language introduced is standard throughout the text
the speed with which a program can be executed depends on the language in which it is written
he taught foreign languages
Synonyms: linguistic communication
language (n.)
(language) communication by word of mouth;
he recorded the spoken language of the streets
he uttered harsh language
Synonyms: speech / speech communication / spoken communication / spoken language / voice communication / oral communication
language (n.)
the text of a popular song or musical-comedy number;
the song uses colloquial language
Synonyms: lyric / words
language (n.)
the cognitive processes involved in producing and understanding linguistic communication;
he didn't have the language to express his feelings
Synonyms: linguistic process
language (n.)
the mental faculty or power of vocal communication;
language sets homo sapiens apart from all other animals
Synonyms: speech
language (n.)
a system of words used to name things in a particular discipline;
the language of sociology
Etymologies are not definitions. From, not affiliated with etymonline.