Language is a combinatorial system in which a finite number of discrete elements (words) that can be associated into larger structures (sentences) with properties distinct from those of the elements – to produce an infinite number of combinations with an infinite range of meanings.
Language has many interesting properties including: recursion (nesting) – a linguistic rule can be applied to the result of the application of the same rule; displacement – it allows speakers to stand back from themselves to discuss situations, emotions, past and future etc.; meta-communication – it can discuss itself; prosidy – it is often associated with the additional communication of tone, hand and body language, accents, speed; motherse – slow, deliberate simplification is used in all languages in speaking to the young.
Language is uniquely human, an essential human endowment at the core of human nature: the source of creativity, originality, and our unique way of planning.
With English as a probable global lingua franca it is interesting to know about its origins, especially as this provides us with a window into the ancient history of the British people (see Language – English).
Apart from archaeology our two major portals into the distant pre-literate past are genetics and linguistics.
Except when one group of people is suddenly totally absorbed by another language changes very slowly as dialects emerge along with new words and linguistic conventions. Using a similar method of analysis to that used by biologists in evolutionary analysis, a kind of ‘descent with modification’ (phylogenetic linguistic analysis) linguists can speculate about both the historical linguistic changes and the dates when these occurred.
The combination of linguistics, archaeology and DNA analysis is a powerful tool used to investigate the historical migration of peoples round the globe.
Linguists purport that all Eurasian languages are derived from a single foundation language ‘Indo-European’ but the geographic location of the homeland for this Indo-European language is disputed: it is generally placed in either the steppes north of the Black Sea and west of the Urals, or south of the Black Sea in Asia Minor (Anatolia).