Language is undoubtedly the most valuable single possession of the human race. Man is clearly distinguished from other species by his capacity for using language. The term language is derived from the Latin word lingua meaning tongue.
Language is our most effective means of communication .We communicate with others through speech and writing .Communication is more effective when we speak .We can make use of variations in voice ,gesture other features to reinforce what we say .Writing does not offer such conveniences. Again ,speech has been with us ever since human beings evolved as a distinct species. But writing claim to have a history of hardly six thousand years . Moreover speech comes first in life of individuals too. Hence historians of language consider speech as primary and writing as secondary. Considering these facts Wardaugh defines language as system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication .
Language helps man in several ways .It helps him to reach back into the collective knowledge of his ancestors. No one can ignore the role of language in placing humanity at the pinnacle of progress. Without language man would never have become fully human. Language is quite necessary for the continuity of civilization . It is mainly through language that human beings collect and preserve knowledge and transfer it to the next generation . It is not possible to imagine a society without language. Man’s social behavior is conditioned by the nature of his communication with fellow beings . That is why Barnett says ,”verbal communication is a condition of the existence of human society.”
It is true that animals too communicate .Some animals ,birds and insects have developed their own systems of communication .But their communicative systems are instinctively determined . They lack the flexibility and creativity of human language. Their communicative conventions are acquired genetically and not through learning.
The American linguist ,Charles F Hockett ,in a detailed study compared human communicative system with animal communicative system with animal communicative system with animal communicative systems. The aim of the study was to find out the essential defining characteristics of spoken language . He tried to determine what ‘counts’ as a human language as opposed to some other systems of communication . He identified thirteen characteristics of spoken language which he termed design features .They are , Auditory -vocal channel ,Broadcast transmission and directional reception, rapid fading , interchangeability total feedback, specialization ,semanticity , arbitrariness ,discreteness ,displacement ,productivity, traditional transmission and duality of patterning .