Natural language

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In linguistics, natural language is a language spoken by humans or a sign language that has arisen from an uncontrolled historical development.

A distinction is made between planned languages in which all grammatical properties are consciously established and retained (for example Esperanto ).

In another perspective, natural languages ​​are in contrast to formal languages , e.g. B. programming languages ​​or logic formalisms. Need not be used as a general means of communication and does not show the embedding in para-verbal behavior that characterizes the use of natural languages in addition - ie gestures , facial expressions and tone for modulation of communication . Formal languages ​​try above all to avoid structural and lexical fuzziness and ambiguity of natural languages for a defined purpose .

To delimit the term

Natural languages ​​can be influenced to a limited extent by processes of enactment and planning without losing their natural language status.

Natural languages ​​are sometimes the subject of language planning , but language planning interventions are usually carried out for a limited time on the basis of existing natural developments. They only concern a few, often more external and social aspects of a language (e.g. the preference for varieties rather than their origin) and hardly interfere with the fundamentals of the grammatical system.

Another borderline case is “dead languages” , that is, languages ​​that are passed on in a historically frozen form, but are no longer acquired as mother tongue by children in an uncontrolled process. Due to their original natural origin, they also fall under natural language.

Role of the term in general linguistics

The properties that natural languages ​​have in their grammatical structure and vocabulary are shaped by the conditions that prevail in early childhood mother tongue acquisition due to the uncontrolled development, further by the requirements of communication situations and ultimately also by the genetic makeup or physical and mental constitution of the People. Researching these relationships, and possibly the linguistic universals that can be explained from them, is a subject of general linguistics .

The sharp demarcation from planned languages, which sometimes occurs in linguistic research, is explained by the fact that planned languages, precisely because of their arbitrary creation, do not provide any information about the relationships mentioned.

Computational linguistics

In computational linguistics , the attribute “natural language” denotes the ability of a speech dialogue system to process utterances consisting of entire sentences and to extract several pieces of information from a single sentence. “Naturally speaking” stands in contrast to a formal language representation.

A distinction is made between NLU ( Natural Language Understanding ), i.e. the understanding of natural language, and IVR ( Interactive Voice Response ), which is based on the recognition of a linguistic input based on a grammar, such as the Speech Recognition Grammar Specification , or key tones ( MFV ). is limited.


  • Theodor Lewandowski: Linguistic Dictionary . 4th, revised edition. Quelle & Meyer, Heidelberg 1985, keyword: "natural language". ISBN 3-494-02050-7 .

Web links

Wiktionary: natural language  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations