International Journal of English Literature and Culture

International Journal of English Literature and Culture

Vol. 2(8), pp. 194-202, August, 2014

 ISSN: 2360-7831

DOI: 10.14662/IJELC2014.056


Aristotle’s Definition of Language


Wen Qiu


School of Chinese Language and Literature, Beijing Normal University

School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds. E-mail: wenqiubnu@gmail.com.   Phone: 07419210443


Accepted 26 August 2014



Aristotle defines “speech” as a kind of articulated “voice”, and the basic difference between “voice” and “speech” is the process of articulation which is performed by the tongue. He draws such a difference from the aspect of vocalization organs. Judged from this biological base, speech does not belong to human beings uniquely, some other animal species also have the ability of speech, and the difference is just the degree of the ability to use speech. In Aristotle’s view, the distinguishing feature of human language is its semantic scope. Aristotle thinks that only human beings has the ability to use “language”(λόγος) to indicate the advantageous and the harmful, the right and the wrong, while other animals can only emit voice to indicate painful and pleasant things. Such a difference is based on the different faculties of the soul. Animal speech origins from the sensation faculty, while human language involves not only the sensation faculty, but also a higher faculty of soul, namely thinking faculty. The perfect human language ability needs human beings to use their mind and intellect to control the vocalization fully. It is the common ground for Aristotle and Chomsky to emphasize the contribution made by human mind to human language, but Chomsky stresses the syntax of human language decided by human mind, Aristotle stresses the semantic scope of human language endowed by human mind. Again different with Chomsky’s view that human language is innate and universal, Aristotle thinks that human language is social and diverse. He regards human language as a kind of man-made arbitrary symbol, the meaning of this symbol is not from the voice itself, but established by convention among human beings.

Key Words: voice(φωνὴ) sound(ψόφος) animal speech(διάλεκτος) human language(λόγος) semantic scope mind and intellect social and conventional



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Inter. J. English Lit. Cult.

  Vol. 2 No. 8

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