Types of Language: verbal, natural, artificial, formal and more

We explain what the types of language are and the difference between verbal, non-verbal, natural, artificial languages ​​and more.

types of artificial language
Artificial languages ​​always require specific learning.

What are the types of language?

Language is one of the most important human inventions and a key factor in the history of our species, which consists of a structured system of communication through signs, that allow to allude to real and imaginary referents, present or absent. Put more simply, a language consists of the organized association of a set of signs, with a set of referents.

Language is an exclusive capacity, until now, of humanity, which we should not confuse with the communication capacity of animals. The latter, in effect, can communicate through impulses of various kinds: sound, chemical, physical, olfactory, but as far as we know, these impulses do not constitute a system of signs with which to represent reality.

Although the ability to create languages ​​is unique and the same, the types of languages ​​that humanity has created are many and very different, and they have different traits from each other.

All, however, are the result of the creation of verbal language, that is, the one that uses the linguistic sign, whose appearance played a fundamental role in the organization of the human species and is directly responsible, according to some thinkers, for our success in the planet. Seen like this, all languages ​​are human technologies.

On the other hand, we should not confuse language with language (or language). The first is the ability to generate and articulate signs, while the second is a code to interpret them. English, Japanese, and Spanish are different codes for the same type of language: verbal language.

Either way, languages ​​can be classified according to different criteria, such as:

  • Verbal and non-verbal languages, depending on whether it uses the linguistic sign, or if it uses signs of another type.
  • Natural and artificial languages, depending on its level of artificiality, that is, its distance from the natural communicative capacities of the human being.
  • Formal and non-formal languages, depending on the relationship established by its signs with respect to reality.

Verbal and non-verbal languages

Depending on the type of signs they use, we can talk about:

Verbal language. Verbal language is the language used by the linguistic sign, that is, it is communicated through the word. This language can be, in turn, of different types:

  • Oral language, that uses the spoken word as a sign of communication. The oral expression of the human being uses various points of the speech apparatus to generate and articulate sound waves that can be captured and interpreted by the receiver.
  • Written language, that uses the written word as a sign of communication. Written expression is traditionally understood as a second system of representation of thought: the words that we could pronounce and that represent our thinking, are represented again through graphic signs: lines, marks, footprints on a durable physical support.

Non-verbal languages. Non-verbal languages ​​are those that do not use the word as a communicative sign, but instead use signs of a very different nature: images, gestures, etc. For instance:

  • Body language, which uses the postures of our body as a vehicle to express a language to others. This is what happens when we cross our arms (sign of anger or closure), or when we raise a fist (sign of protest, struggle or complaint). It is also the case of proxemics: the personal space that we maintain with respect to our interlocutors.
  • Facial language, which uses facial gestures to communicate specific ideas, such as smiles, eyebrow positions, eye opening, etc.
  • Visual language, which is composed through images, symbols, icons or other representations that are reflected in drawings or visual representations. A perfect example of this is the language of traffic signs.

Natural and artificial languages

Depending on their level of distance from the innate communication skills of the human being, we can distinguish between:

  • Natural language. Natural language is one that is innate, that is learned in a non-studied way, since we are small, and that is part of the culture in which we are born immersed. Both verbal language, facial language, proxemics and gestures are examples of this.
  • Artificial language. Artificial languages ​​are those that have been expressly invented by human beings, that is, they were created for a specific purpose for a specific area. The language of traffic signs, braille language or mathematical language are perfect examples of this.

Formal and non-formal languages

Depending on the relationship of its signs with the referent, we can distinguish between:

  • Formal languages. Formal languages ​​are those whose signs are primitive (formal alphabet) and are handled based on clearly defined and established rules (formal grammar). These languages ​​do not deal with the representation of reality, as the verbal language does, but they respond to their own logical system, as occurs with the logical-mathematical language, or the programming language used by software programmers.
  • Non-formal languages. In general, non-formal languages ​​are the same natural languages, that is, those that are not framed in a formal scheme of rules, but are produced in a “natural” way as time passes and people use it.

We should not confuse this last classification with the formal and informal language, which is the more or less colloquial and more or less careful use of the language, depending on whether we are in formal situations (formal or important events) or informal (everyday).