Language is a set of symbols that expresses ideas and enables people to think and communicate with one another. Verbal (spoken) language and nonverbal (written or gestured) language help us describe reality. One of our,most important human attributes is the ability to use language to share our experiences, feelings, and knowledge with others. Language can create visual images in our head, such as “the kittens look like little cotton balls” (Samovar and Porter, 1991 a).
Language also allows people to distinguish themselves from outsiders and to maintain group boundaries and solidarity (Farb, 1973). Language is not solely a human characteristic. Other animals use sounds, gestures, touch. and smell to communicate with one another. but they use signs. with filled meanings that are limited to the immediate situation (the present) and cannot encompass past or future situations. For example, chimpanzees can use elements of standard American Sign Language and manipulate physical objects to make “sentences,” but they are not physically endowed with the vocal apparatus needed to form the consonants required fl.f oral language. As a result, nonhuman animals cannot transmit the more complex aspects of culture to their offspring. Humans have a unique ability to manipulate symbols lD express abstract concepts and JUles, and thus to create and transmit culture from one generation to the next.