Languages and Universals

David Odden 1
Author Information & Copyright
1Ohio State University

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


A central question of linguistic research for nearly a half century has been whether there are properties universal to all human languages. There are many ways of conceptualizing linguistic universals, but at the core, the idea of linguistic universals asserts that some observed properties of human language are arbitrary—the fact that “dog” is pronounced [d g] in English, [kæ] in Korean and [mbwa] in Swahili—but a number of facts of language are not random and arbitrary. If there are non-random properties of linguistic structure, questions arise regarding those properties: what are they; how do we identify them; why do they exist?

Keywords: observational universals; word-order universals; distribution of language



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