Languages and Literature

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A language is a system of arbitrary symbols and the rules used to manipulate them. Language can also refer to the use of such systems as a general phenomenon. Though commonly used as a means of communication among people, human language is only one instance of this phenomenon. This article concerns the properties of language in general. For information specifically on the use of language by humans see the main article on natural language.

Properties of language

Languages are not just sets of symbols. They also contain a grammar, or system of rules, used to manipulate the symbols. While a set of symbols may be used for expression or communication, it is primitive and relatively inexpressive, because there are no clear or regular relationships between the symbols. Because a language also has a grammar, it can manipulate its symbols to express clear and regular relationships between them.

Another property of language is the arbitrariness of the symbols. Any symbol can be mapped onto any concept (or even onto one of the rules of the grammar). For instance, there is nothing about the Spanish word nada itself that forces Spanish speakers to use it to mean "nothing". That is the meaning all Spanish speakers have memorized for that sound pattern. But for Croatian, Serbian or Bosnian speakers, nada means "hope".

However, it must be understood that just because in principle the symbols are arbitrary does not mean that a language cannot have symbols that are iconic of what they stand for. Words such as "meow" sound similar to what they represent (see Onomatopoeia), but they could be replaced with words such as "jarn", and as long as everyone memorized the new word, the same concepts could be expressed with it.

Human languages

Human languages are usually referred to as natural languages, and the science of studying them is linguistics.

Making a principled distinction between one language and another is usually impossible. For instance, there are a few dialects of German similar to some dialects of Dutch. The transition between languages within the same language family is sometimes gradual (see dialect continuum).

Some like to make parallels with biology, where it is not always possible to make a well-defined distinction between one species and the next. In either case, the ultimate difficulty may stem from the interactions between languages and populations. (See Dialect or August Schleicher for a longer discussion.)

The concepts of Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache and Dachsprache are used to make finer distinctions about the degrees of difference between languages or dialects.

International auxiliary languages

Some languages are meant specifically for communication between people of different nationalities or language groups. Several of these languages have been constructed by an individual or group, as noted below. Others are seen as natural, pre-existing languages. Their developers merely cataloged and standardized their vocabulary and identified their grammatical rules. These languages are called naturalistic. One such language, Latino Sine Flexione, is a simplified form of Latin. Another, Occidental, was drawn from several Western languages.

To date, the most successful auxiliary language is Esperanto, invented by the Polish ophthalmologist Zamenhof, which has about 2 million speakers over the world and which has hundreds of songs sung in it, and a vast amount of literature written in it. The Stone City, for example, was originally written in Esperanto. Other auxiliary languages with an important group of speakers are Interlingua and Ido (however, the latter is believed to have only a few hundred speakers).

Controlled languages

Controlled natural languages are subsets of natural languages whose grammars and dictionaries have been restricted in order to reduce or eliminate both ambiguity and complexity. The purpose behind the development and implementation of a controlled natural language typically is to aid non-native speakers of a natural language in understanding it, or to ease computer processing of a natural language. An example of a widely used controlled natural language is Simplified English, which was originally developed for aerospace industry maintenance manuals.

Constructed languages

Some individuals and groups have constructed their own artificial languages, for practical, experimental, personal or ideological reasons. For example, one prominent artificial language, Esperanto, was created by L. L. Zamenhof as a compilation of various elements of different languages, and is supposed to be an easy-to-learn language for people familiar with similar, mostly Indo-European, languages. Other constructed languages strive to be more logical ("loglangs") than natural languages; a prominent example of this is Lojban. Both of these languages are meant as international auxiliary languages.

Some writers, such as J. R. R. Tolkien, have created fantasy languages, for literary, artistic or personal reasons.

Constructed languages are not necessarily restricted to the properties shared by natural human languages.

The study of language

The historical record of the linguistics begins in Northern India with Pāṇini, the 5th century BC grammarian who formulated 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology, known as the grammar is highly systematized and technical. Inherent in its analytic approach are the concepts of the phoneme, the morpheme, and the root; the phoneme was only recognized by Western linguists some two millennia later. Its classification of the alphabet into consonants and vowels, and elements like nouns, verbs, vowels and consonants which he put into classes, were also breakthroughs at the time.

In the Middle East, the Persian linguist Sibawayh made a detailed and professional description of Arabic in 760 CE in his monumental work, Al-kitab fi al-nahw (الكتاب في النحو, The Book on Grammar), bringing many linguistic aspects of language to light. In his book he distinguished phonetics from phonology.

Later in the West, the success of science, mathematics, and other formal systems in the 20th century led many to attempt a formalization of the study of language as a "semantic code". This resulted in the academic discipline of linguistics, the founding of which is attributed to Ferdinand de Saussure.

Where do Wittgenstein and Quine argue this? Philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, W. V. Quine, and Jacques Derrida have disputed the possibility of such a rigorous study of language by questioning many of the assumptions necessary for such a study, and have put forth their own views on the nature of language. There is no end in sight to this debate. In the 20th century substantial contribution to the understanding of language came from Ferdinand de Saussure, Hjelmslev, Émile Benveniste and Roman Jakobson and Holquist they were all characterized as being highly systematic.

Do animals use language?

The term "animal languages" is often used for nonhuman languages. Linguists do not consider these to be language, but describe them as animal communication, because such communication is fundamentally different in its underlying principles from true language, which has been found in humans only.

In several publicized instances, nonhuman animals have been taught to understand certain features of human language. Chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans have been taught hand signs based on American Sign Language; however, they have never been successfully taught grammar. In 2003, a saved Bonobo chimpanzee named Kanzi allegedly independently created some words to convey certain concepts. The African Grey Parrot, which possesses the ability to mimic human speech with a high degree of accuracy, is suspected of having sufficient intelligence to begin to comprehend some of the speech it mimics. Most species of parrot, despite expert mimicry, are believed to have no linguistic comprehension at all.

While proponents of animal communication systems have debated levels of semantics, these systems have not been found to have anything approaching human language syntax. The situation with dolphins and whales presents a special case in that there is some evidence that spontaneous development of complex vocal language is occurring, but it certainly has not been proven.

Some researchers argue that a continuum exists among the communication methods of all social animals, pointing to the fundamental requirements of group behavior and the existence of "mirror cells" in primates. This, however, is still a scientific question. What exactly is the definition of the word "language"? Most researchers agree that, although human and more primitive languages have analogous features, they are not homologous.

Formal languages

Mathematics and computer science use artificial entities called formal languages (including programming languages and markup languages, and some that are more theoretical in nature). These often take the form of character strings, produced by some combination of formal grammar and semantics of arbitrary complexity.

Programming languages

A programming language is an artificial language that can be used to control the behavior of a machine, particularly a computer. Programming languages, like human languages, are defined through the use of syntactic and semantic rules, to determine structure and meaning respectively.

Programming languages are used to facilitate communication about the task of organizing and manipulating information, and to express algorithms precisely. Some authors restrict the term "programming language" to those languages that can express all possible algorithms; sometimes the term "computer language" is used for more limited artificial languages.

References

  • Crystal, David (1997). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Crystal, David (2001). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Gode, Alexander (1951). Interlingua-English Dictionary. New York, Frederick Ungar Publishing Company.
  • Kandel ER, Schwartz JH, Jessell TM. Principles of Neural Science, fourth edition, 1173 pages. McGraw-Hill, New York (2000). ISBN 0-8385-7701-6
  • Katzner, K. (1999). The Languages of the World. New York, Routledge.
  • Holquist, Michael. (1981) Introduction to Mikhail Bakhtin's The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin and London: University of Texas Press. xv-xxxiv
  • McArthur, T. (1996). The Concise Companion to the English Language. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Further reading

  • International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (Frawley 2003)
  • The World's Major Languages (Comrie 1987)
  • The Atlas of Languages (Comrie, Matthews, & Polinsky 1997)

External links

Literature

An Introduction

Literature is literally "acquaintance with letters" as in the first sense given in the Oxford English Dictionary (from the Latin littera meaning "an individual written character (letter)"). The term has generally come to identify a collection of texts or works of art, which in Western culture are mainly prose, both fiction and non-fiction, drama and poetry. In much of, if not all, the world texts can be oral as well and include such genres as epic, legend, myth, ballad, plus other forms of oral poetry, and folktale.

Nations can have literatures, as can corporations, philosophical schools or historical periods. Popular belief commonly holds that the literature of a nation, for example, comprises the collection of texts which make it a whole nation. The Hebrew Bible, Persian Shahnama, the Indian Mahabharata, Ramayana and Thirukural, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Beowulf, and the Constitution of the United States, all fall within this definition of a kind of literature.

More generally, one can equate a literature with a collection of stories, poems, and plays that revolve around a particular topic. In this case, the stories, poems and plays may or may not have nationalistic implications. The Western Canon forms one such literature.

The term "literature" has different meanings depending on who is using it and in what context. It could be applied broadly to mean any symbolic record, encompassing everything from images and sculptures to letters. In a more narrow sense the term could mean only text composed of letters, or other examples of symbolic written language (Egyptian hieroglyphs, for example). An even more narrow interpretation is that text have a physical form, such as on paper or some other portable form, to the exclusion of inscriptions or digital media.

Furthermore, people may perceive a difference between "literature" and some popular forms of written work. The terms "literary fiction" and "literary merit" often serve to distinguish between individual works. For example, almost all literate people perceive the works of Charles Dickens as "literature", whereas some critics look down on the works of Jeffrey Archer as unworthy of inclusion under the general heading of "English literature". Critics may exclude works from the classification "literature", for example, on the grounds of a poor standard of grammar and syntax, of an unbelievable or disjointed story-line, or of inconsistent or unconvincing characters. Genre fiction (for example: romance, crime, or science fiction) may also become excluded from consideration as "literature".

Frequently, the texts that make up literature crossed over these boundaries. Illustrated stories, hypertexts, cave paintings and inscribed monuments have all at one time or another pushed the boundaries of "literature".

Different historical periods have emphasized various characteristics of literature. Early works often had an overt or covert religious or didactic purpose. Moralizing or prescriptive literature stems from such sources. The exotic nature of romance flourished from the Middle Ages onwards, whereas the Age of Reason manufactured nationalistic epics and philosophical tracts. Romanticism emphasized the popular folk literature and emotive involvement, but gave way in the 19th-century West to a phase of so-called realism and naturalism, investigations into what is real. The 20th century brought demands for symbolism or psychological insight in the delineation and development of character.

The Muslim Scientist and Philosopher Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq defined Literature as follows: "Literature is the garment which one puts on what he says or writes so that it may appear more attractive." "The Great Muslim Scientist and Philosopher Imam Jafar Ibn Mohammad As-Sadiq(a.s)" The Great Muslim Scientist and Philosopher Imam Jafar Ibn Mohammad As-Sadiq(a.s),Imam Hussain Publication, First Edition, ISBN 964-7371 12-8

Forms of literature

Poetry

A poem is defined as a composition written in verse (although verse has been equally used for epic and dramatic fiction). Poems rely heavily on imagery, precise word choice, and metaphor; they may take the form of measures consisting of patterns of stresses (metric feet) or of patterns of different-length syllables (as in classical prosody); and they may or may not utilize rhyme. One cannot readily characterize poetry precisely. Typically though, poetry as a form of literature makes some significant use of the formal properties of the words it uses — the properties attached to the written or spoken form of the words, rather than to their meaning. Metre depends on syllables and on rhythms of speech; rhyme and alliteration depend on words that have similar pronunciation. Some recent poets, such as E. E. Cummings, made extensive use of words' visual form.

Poetry perhaps pre-dates other forms of literature: early known examples include the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (dated from around 2700 B.C.), parts of the Bible, the surviving works of Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey), and the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. In cultures based primarily on oral traditions the formal characteristics of poetry often have a mnemonic function, and important texts: legal, genealogical or moral, for example, may appear first in verse form.

Much poetry uses specific forms: the haiku, the limerick, or the sonnet, for example. A traditional haiku written in Japanese must have something to do with nature, contain seventeen onji (syllables), distributed over three lines in groups of five, seven, and five, and should also have a kigo, a specific word indicating a season. A limerick has five lines, with a rhyme scheme of AABBA, and line lengths of 3,3,2,2,3 stressed syllables. It traditionally has a less reverent attitude towards nature.

Language and tradition dictate some poetic norms: Persian poetry always rhymes, Greek poetry rarely rhymes, Italian or French poetry often does, English and German can go either way (although modern non-rhyming poetry often, perhaps unfairly, has a more "serious" aura). Perhaps the most paradigmatic style of English poetry, blank verse, as exemplified in works by Shakespeare and by Milton, consists of unrhymed iambic pentameters. Some languages prefer longer lines; some shorter ones. Some of these conventions result from the ease of fitting a specific language's vocabulary and grammar into certain structures, rather than into others; for example, some languages contain more rhyming words than others, or typically have longer words. Other structural conventions come about as the result of historical accidents, where many speakers of a language associate good poetry with a verse form preferred by a particular skilled or popular poet.

Works for theatre (see below) traditionally took verse form. This has now become rare outside opera and musicals, although many would argue that the language of drama remains intrinsically poetic.

In recent years, digital poetry has arisen that takes advantage of the artistic, publishing, and synthetic qualities of digital media.

Drama

A play or drama offers another classical literary form that has continued to evolve over the years. It generally comprises chiefly dialogue between characters, and usually aims at dramatic / theatrical performance (see theatre) rather than at reading. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, opera developed as a combination of poetry, drama, and music. Nearly all drama took verse form until comparatively recently. Shakespeare could be considered drama. Romeo and Juliet, for example, is a classic romantic drama generally accepted as literature.

- Greek drama exemplifies the earliest form of drama of which we have substantial knowledge. Tragedy, as a dramatic genre, developed as a performance associated with religious and civic festivals, typically enacting or developing upon well-known historical or mythological themes. Tragedies generally presented very serious Theme. - - With the advent of newer technologies, scripts written for non-stage media have been added to this form. War of the Worlds (radio) in 1938 saw the advent of literature written for radio broadcast, and many works of Drama have been adapted for film or television. Conversely, television, film, and radio literature have been adapted to printed or electronic media. -'wekipedia literature'-

Essays

An essay consists of a discussion of a topic from an author's personal point of view, exemplified by works by Francis Bacon or by Charles Lamb.

'Essay' in English derives from the French 'essai', meaning 'attempt'. Thus one can find open-ended, provocative and/or inconclusive essays. The term "essays" first applied to the self-reflective musings of Michel de Montaigne, and even today he has a reputation as the father of this literary form.

Genres related to the essay may include:

  • the memoir, telling the story of an author's life from the author's personal point of view
  • the epistle: usually a formal, didactic, or elegant letter.

Prose fiction

Prose consists of writing that does not adhere to any particular formal structures (other than simple grammar); "non-poetic writing," writing, perhaps. The term sometimes appears pejoratively, but prosaic writing simply says something without necessarily trying to say it in a beautiful way, or using beautiful words. Prose writing can of course take beautiful form; but less by virtue of the formal features of words (rhymes, alliteration, metre) but rather by style, placement, or inclusion of graphics. But one need not mark the distinction precisely, and perhaps cannot do so. Note the classifications:

  • "prose poetry", which attempts to convey the aesthetic richness typical of poetry using only prose
  • "free verse", or poetry not adhering to any of the structures of one or another formal poetic style

Narrative fiction (narrative prose) generally favours prose for the writing of novels, short stories, graphic novels, and the like. Singular examples of these exist throughout history, but they did not develop into systematic and discrete literary forms until relatively recent centuries. Length often serves to categorize works of prose fiction. Although limits remain somewhat arbitrary, modern publishing conventions dictate the following:

  • A Mini Saga is a short story of exactly 50 words
  • A Flash fiction is generally defined as a piece of prose under a thousand words.
  • A short story comprises prose writing of less than 10,000 to 20,000 words, but typically more than 500 words, which may or may not have a narrative arc.
  • A story containing between 20,000 and 50,000 words falls into the novella category.
  • A work of fiction containing more than 50,000 words falls squarely into the realm of the novel.

A novel consists simply of a long story written in prose, yet the form developed comparatively recently. Icelandic prose sagas dating from about the 11th century bridge the gap between traditional national verse epics and the modern psychological novel. In mainland Europe, the Spaniard Cervantes wrote perhaps the first influential novel: Don Quixote, the first part of which was published in 1605 and the second in 1615. Earlier collections of tales, such as Boccaccio's Decameron and Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, have comparable forms and would classify as novels if written today. Earlier works written in Asia resemble even more strongly the novel as we now think of it — for example, works such as the Chinese Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Japanese Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki. Compare to The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Early novels in Europe did not, at the time, count as significant literature, perhaps because "mere" prose writing seemed easy and unimportant. It has become clear, however, that prose writing can provide aesthetic pleasure without adhering to poetic forms. Additionally, the freedom authors gain in not having to concern themselves with verse structure translates often into a more complex plot or into one richer in precise detail than one typically finds even in narrative poetry. This freedom also allows an author to experiment with many different literary and presentation styles — including poetry— in the scope of a single novel.

See Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel.

Other prose literature

Philosophy, history, journalism, and legal and scientific writings traditionally ranked as literature. They offer some of the oldest prose writings in existence; novels and prose stories earned the names "fiction" to distinguish them from factual writing or nonfiction, which writers historically have crafted in prose.

The "literary" nature of science writing has become less pronounced over the last two centuries, as advances and specialization have made new scientific research inaccessible to most audiences; science now appears mostly in journals. Scientific works of Euclid, Aristotle, Copernicus, and Newton still possess great value; but since the science in them has largely become outdated, they no longer serve for scientific instruction, yet they remain too technical to sit well in most programmes of literary study. Outside of "history of science" programmes students rarely read such works. Many books "popularizing" science might still deserve the title "literature"; history will tell.

Philosophy, too, has become an increasingly academic discipline. More of its practitioners lament this situation than occurs with the sciences; nonetheless most new philosophical work appears in academic journals. Major philosophers through history—Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Descartes, Nietzsche—have become as canonical as any writers. Some recent philosophy works are argued to merit the title "literature", such as some of the works by Simon Blackburn; but much of it does not, and some areas, such as logic, have become extremely technical to a degree similar to that of mathematics.

A great deal of historical writing can still rank as literature, particularly the genre known as creative nonfiction. So can a great deal of journalism, such as literary journalism. However these areas have become extremely large, and often have a primarily utilitarian purpose: to record data or convey immediate information. As a result the writing in these fields often lacks a literary quality, although it often and in its better moments has that quality. Major "literary" historians include Herodotus, Thucydides and Procopius, all of whom count as canonical literary figures.

Law offers a less clear case. Some writings of Plato and Aristotle, or even the early parts of the Bible, might count as legal literature. The law tables of Hammurabi of Babylon might count. Roman civil law as codified in the Corpus Juris Civilis during the reign of Justinian I of the Byzantine Empire has a reputation as significant literature. The founding documents of many countries, including the United States Constitution, can count as literature; however legal writing now rarely exhibits literary merit.

Game Design Scripts - In essence never seen by the player of a game and only by the developers and/or publishers, the audience for these pieces is usually very small. Still, many game scripts contain immersive stories and detailed worlds making them hidden literary gems.

Most of these fields, then, through specialization or proliferation, no longer generally constitute "literature" in the sense under discussion. They may sometimes count as "literary literature"; more often they produce what one might call "technical literature" or "professional literature".

Related Narrative Forms

  • Graphic novels and comic books present stories told in a combination of sequential artwork, dialogue and text.
  • Films, videos and broadcast soap operas have carved out a niche which often parallels the functionality of prose fiction.
  • Interactive fiction, a term for a prose-based genre of computer games, occupies a small literary niche.
  • Electronic literature is a developing literary genre meant to be read on a computer screen, often making use of hypertext.

Genres of literature

A literary genre refers to the traditional divisions of literature of various kinds according to a particular criterion of writing. See the list of literary genres.

Literary techniques

A literary technique or literary device may be used by works of literature in order to produce a specific effect on the reader. Literary technique is distinguished from literary genre as military tactics are from military strategy. Thus, though David Copperfield employs satire at certain moments, it belongs to the genre of comic novel, not that of satire. By contrast, Bleak House employs satire so consistently as to belong to the genre of satirical novel. In this way, use of a technique can lead to the development of a new genre, as was the case with one of the first modern novels, Pamela by Samuel Richardson, which by using the epistolary technique strengthened the tradition of the epistolary novel, a genre which had been practiced for some time already but without the same acclaim.

Literary figures

Literature by country, language, or cultural group

see Literature by country, language, or cultural group and the category literature by nationality.

Literary criticism

Literary criticism implies a critique and evaluation of a piece of literature and in some cases is used to improve a work in progress or classical piece. There are many types of literary criticism and each can be used to critique a piece in a different way or critique a different aspect of a piece. The major types of literary criticism are Marxism, Human studies, which umbrellas homosexual studies and feminism, historical, and Traditional, also known as New Criticism.

Themes in literature

Theme is a broad idea in a story, or a message conveyed by a work. This message is usually about life, society or human nature. Themes are usually implied rather than explicitly stated. Deep thematic content is not required in literature; however, some readers would say that all stories inherently project some kind of outlook on life that can be taken as a theme, regardless of whether or not this is the intent of the author. Analysis of changes in dynamic characters can provide insight into a particular theme.

Other

Related topics

External links