Terms Related to Language

This post will examine different uses of the word language. There are several different ways that this word can be defined. We will look at the following terms for language.

  • Vernacular
  • Standard
  • National
  • Official
  • Lingua Franca

Vernacular Language

The term vernacular language can mean many different things. It can mean a language that is not standardized or a language that is not the standard language of a nation. Generally, a vernacular language is a language that lacks official status in a country.

Standard Language

A standard language is a language that has been codified. By this, it is meant that the language has dictionaries and other grammatical sources that describe and even prescribe the use of the language.

Most languages have experienced codification. However, codification is just one part of being a standard language. A language must also be perceived of as prestigious and serve a high function.

By prestigious it is meant that the language has influence in a community. For example, Japanese is a prestigious language in Japan. By high function, it is meant that the language is used in official settings such as government, business, etc., which Japanese is used for.

National Language

A national language is a language used for political and cultural reasons to unite a people. Many countries that have a huge number of languages and ethnic groups will select one language as a way to forge an identity. For example, in the Philippines, the national language is Tagalog even though hundreds of other languages are spoken.

In Myanmar, Burmese is the national language even though dozens of other languages are spoken. The selection of the language is political motivate with the dominant group imposing their language on others.

Official Language

An official language is the language of government business. Many former colonized nations will still use an official language that comes from the people who colonized them. This is especially true in African countries such as Ivory Coast and Chad which use French as their official language despite having other indigenous languages available.

Lingua Franca

A lingua franca is a language that serves as a vehicle of communication between two language groups whose mother tongues are different. For example, English is often the de facto lingua franca of people who do not speak the same language.

Multiple Categories

A language can fit into more than one of the definitions above. For example, English is a vernacular language in many countries such as Thailand and Malaysia. However, English is not considered a vernacular language in the United States.

To make things more confusing. English is the language of the United States but it is neither the National or Official Language as this has never been legislated. Yet English is a standard language as it has been codified and meets the other criteria for standardization.

Currently, English is viewed by many as an international Lingua Franca with a strong influence on the world today.

Lastly, a language can be in more than one category. Thai is the official, national, and standard language of Thailand.

Conclusion

Language is a term that is used that can also have many meanings. In this post, we looked at how there are different ways to see this word.

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