This is not an advertising blog, but this book brought to my attention by a regular correspondent is surely an important contribution to our understanding of what language is.
I should declare a further interest that my company offers a course on the subject.
There are a lot of issues here which are worth bringing together in summary:
- language is not solely about communication of immediate information – everything, from choice of register even to choice of language, communicates things about identity and attitude well beyond the mere information conveyed;
- what is a language cannot be defined linguistically – what are apparently individual languages or not is often a political choice, and changes with politics (30 years ago Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin were all the same language);
- all languages are to some extent human constructs (the choice of what constitutes good or bad usage, formal or informal register and so on is determined by social leaders, even sometimes influential individuals – dropping ‘h’ in English used to be deemed formal/high register, for example) and thus entire languages can be reconstructed and put back into full use having once been assumed ‘dead’ (e.g. Hebrew);
- all languages come with certain innate assumptions based on the culture of those who speak them (this even includes the likes of Esperanto – far from ‘neutral’, it attracts a particular group who tend to be internationalist and left-leaning);
- close to home, it is utterly naive to assume development of Irish or Ulster Scots (or indeed Scots in Scotland) will be a-political by default – indeed, the promotion of (and opposition to) minority and regional languages is fundamentally political.
It is worth noting, also, that although standard languages are defined by nations (and national identity), linguistic borders can also shape national borders.
I am not remotely suggesting the linked book focuses on all of these points, but they were triggered by it!