Culture: Communication:



Language as a Living Entity


by Professor S.A. Paipetis

Department of Mechanical Engineering & Aeronautics, University of Patras

Patras, Greece




By considering language as an entity functioning according to the rules of natural selection, we prove that language is actually a living organism, behaving in the same genetic way as every other living creature.



An exact and complete definition of life was never an easy task. Numerous definitions have existed and exist, which, however, were more or less functional. Accordingly, a system or an entity is considered to be alive if it is capable of performing a series of functional activities, such as metabolism, growth, reproduction and response to environmental stimuli.

Several theories were developed concerning the development and function of the various life forms, the most important of which is the evolution through natural selection, developed by Charles Darwin described as follows [1]: When an organism is reproduced, its genes, which transfer its individual features to the next generation, are also reproduced or copied. During reproduction mutations occur, e.g. incidental or random faults or imperfections, which modify the genetic features of the organism. If the result creates better conditions of adaptation to the environment, the organism survives by preference in relation to other organisms.


Usually, mutations have a negative effect on the various organisms, which, therefore, are downgraded and led to extinction. However, less frequently, positive mutations lead to organisms better adapted to their environment and in many cases more complex. To this end, nature has led and keeps on leading to extinction billions of organisms inadequately adapted to the environment.


In conclusion, the theory of natural selection maintains that complex organisms have been created and evolved in time thanks to the reproductive copying of the genes and their mutations. Therefore, the genetic definition of life is: A system is alive if it evolves following natural selection.


Language as a Living Entity

On the other hand, language, both oral and written speech, is the main means of communication between humans. It is a system of arbitrary phonetic symbols, by which persons and social groups cooperate. It is a property of human species and its most important feature is endless productivity and creativity. Through language, a person projects his personal opinion into the society, requesting confirmation for the correctness of his thoughts [2]. In order to express this personal view of his own, he acts by trial or by experiment, using the various notions as if they had a broader meaning than recognized. That is, on the basis on the knowledge available, the person formulates his opinion problematically, hypothetically, alternatively, projecting into the world an opinion which is still his own, as if it were true. If his proposition is acceptable or considered appropriate by the society, it develops into a “social opinion”, it is incorporated in the language and ever since it is preserved and used generally as "socially accepted". Therefore, the language is eventually a substantial indication that social and personal judgment coincide.

Such evolution of language can obviously be implemented also if it is used in a slack or even erroneous way, where error is the deviation from the established rules of orthography grammar and syntax or the use of neologisms. This procedure is identical with the evolution of living organisms through genetic faults and mutations and provides convincing proof that language is a living organism, evolving according to the same rules and laws as any other life form: Language, as a natural entity is fully covered by the genetic definition of a living organism, e.g. a system that evolves through natural selection. Indeed, just as, out of the primordial flow of Big Bang sub-atomic particles, matter evolved into the present time complex biological forms, in exactly the same way that language, out of the imitation of natural sounds, evolved into the complex system of present times.


Identification of language as a living organism leads to many interesting conclusions and parallelisms. For example, nowadays, under the current adverse environmental conditions, ca. 27,000 species of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms are lost every year along with their ecological role and their genetic secrets. Massive extinction threatens 13% of birds, 25% of mammals and 34% of fish. Under the current adverse social and geopolitical conditions and at a similar rate (a small language dies every two weeks), many of the existing languages tend to go extinct, although by definition they possess a substantial inherent adaptability.


Indeed, as a principal communication organ, language possesses excellent adaptability in relation to environmental conditions. For example, Eskimos are using many words for whale fat in its various states, e.g. on the whale, ready for consumption, raw, boiled, oxidized etc., while the word drunk has more synonyms in the English language than any other.

It is estimated [3], that out of 5,000 languages spoken nowadays, half of them will not survive beyond the 21st century, while, within two centuries, only 200 languages are expected to survive. In fact, a little later, the only spoken language will be English. National and international languages appear to be responsible for such a phenomenon, mainly English, in fact the American version of English, since, under the present conditions of globalization dominated by the USA, it suppresses minority languages either through political violence or, more frequently, by the option of individuals, who, by pursuing social and financial recognition, they abandon their native language. For example, Latin, as the language of the Roman Empire, led to extinction Gaelic, Carthaginian, Etruscan and other spoken languages of the time.


A most worrying phenomenon are attempts to “simplify” or “adapt” or “homogenize” languages, under the pretext of improving or reducing communication cost between people speaking either the same or different languages. The Greek language has been the target of many such false innovators, who, in the name of doubtful benefits, propose that most of the excellent cultural elements contained in the alphabet, orthography and etymology of a language remaining alive and evolving for thousands of years, should be abolished. Such interventions are equivalent to the creation of mutant foods, which, although aiming at the production of increased production, lower cost and immunity against various insects, they create terrific dangers for new diseases or fatal viruses to appear, once introduced in the food chain.


Extinction of languages and in general the threat of a general uniformity of speech, is causing incalculable losses. “Local” or ”national” knowledge is lost, as well as all cultural elements stored in these languages, along with alternative views of the world, incorporated in each language. Finally, the possibility of renewal of surviving languages is impossible, since they will be unable to interact with extinct languages.



Language seems to be evolved out of natural sounds in a similar way that living matter evolved out of the primordial flow of sub-atomic particles of the Big Bang. In fact, new words are created following the rules of natural selection, e.g. they are projected by individuals into the society and, once accepted, they are incorporated into the language and put to common use thereafter. This is the exact way by which new biological species adapt to their environment and survive, therefore, one can confirm that language is actually a living organism. “Artificial” changes imposed on a language for political or other reasons may have disastrous effects on communication, similar to those of unchecked mutant food products. Finally, languages go extinct under adverse social or cultural or geopolitical conditions or under the pressure of major languages, tending to dominate over specific geographical areas or, in due time, over the whole world.



[1] Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago, 2015.


[2] C. G. Jung: Two Ways of Thinking, in Symbols of Transformation, Collected works of C. G. Jung, vol. 5, 2nd ed., Princeton University Press, 1967.


[3] Andrew Dalby: Language in Danger, Columbia University Press, April 2003.



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