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Language, social nature of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-U042-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Language is mostly used in a social setting. We use it to communicate with others. We depend on others when learning language, and we constantly borrow one another’s uses of expression. Language helps us perform various social functions, and many of its uses have become institutionalized. But none of these reflections settle the question of whether language is an essentially social phenomenon. To address this we must consider the nature of language itself, and then ask which social elements, if any, make an essential contribution to its nature.

While many would accept that language is an activity that must take place in a social setting, others have gone further by arguing that language is a social practice. This view commits one to the claim that the meanings of an individual’s words are the meanings they have in the common language. The former view need not accept so strong a claim: meaning depends on social interaction because it is a matter of what one can communicate to others but this does not require the existence of communal languages. A competing conception which rejects the social character of language in either of these versions is the thesis that language is mentally represented in the mind of an individual.

Citing this article:
Smith, Barry C.. Language, social nature of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-U042-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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