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natural language



A human language, such as English or Standard Mandarin, as opposed to constructed language, artificial language, machine language, or the language of formal logic.

The theory of universal grammar proposes that all natural languages have certain underlying rules that shape and limit the structure of the specific grammar for any given language.


  • "The term 'natural language' is used in opposition to the terms 'formal language' and 'artificial language,' but the important difference is that natural languages are not actually constructed as artificial languages and they do not actually appear as formal languages. But they are considered and studied as though they were formal languages 'in principle.' Behind the complex and the seemingly chaotic surface of natural languages there are--according to this way of thinking--rules and principles that determine their constitution and functions. . . ."
    (Sören Stenlund, Language and Philosophical Problems. Routledge, 1990)

  • "Natural language is the embodiment of human cognition and human intelligence. It is very evident that natural language includes an abundance of vague and indefinite phrases and statements that correspond to imprecision in the underlying cognitive concepts. Terms such as 'tall,' 'short,' 'hot,' and 'well' are extremely difficult to translate into knowledge representation, as required for the reasoning systems under discussion. Without such precision, symbolic manipulation within the computer is bleak, to say the least. However, without the richness of meaning inherent in such phrases, human communication would be severely limited, and it is therefore incumbent on us (to attempt) to include such facility within reasoning systems . . .."
    (Jay Friedenberg and Gordon Silverman, Cognitive Science: An Introduction to the Study of Mind. SAGE, 2006)

  • Essential Concepts
    - All languages are systematic. They are governed by a set of interrelated systems that include phonology, graphics (usually), morphology, syntax, lexicon, and semantics.

    - All natural languages are conventional and arbitrary. They obey rules, such as assigning a particular word to a particular thing or concept. But there is no reason that this particular word was originally assigned to this particular thing or concept.

    - All natural languages are redundant, meaning that the information in a sentence is signaled in more than one way.

    - All natural languages change. There are various ways a language can change and various reasons for this change.
    (C. M. Millward and Mary Hayes, A Biography of the English Language, 3rd ed. Wadsworth, 2011)
Also Known As: ordinary language
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