Sp. lengua & Sp. lenguaje vs. Eng. language
The English word language and the Spanish word lenguaje ‘language’ are obviously related. It is also obvious that Sp. lengua, meaning both ‘tongue’ (as in the muscle inside your mouth, so crucial for eating and speaking) and ‘language, tongue’, is related to them. The words language and lenguaje are cognates. However, they are not fully equivalent in meaning, as it is often thought.
In Spanish, the word lengua, not lenguaje, along with its synonym idioma, are the words used to refer to human languages such as Spanish or English. The word lenguaje has a somewhat different meanings. In other words, Eng. language and Sp. lenguaje are not equivalent words in some of their senses (meanings, uses), though they are synonymous in some other senses. In particular, we would not translate what is perhaps the most common sense of the English word language into Spanish as lenguaje though, on the other hand, Sp. lenguaje does typically translate into English as language. Thus, to ask How many languages do you speak? In Spanish we would say ¿Cuántas lenguas hablas? or, more likely, ¿Cuántos idiomas hablas?, but never ¿Cuántos lenguajes hablas?
Dictionaries differ somewhat as to how they divide, classify and express the different meanings and uses of the English word language, but basically what we find is that Sp. lenguaje translates most of the meanings and uses of the English word language, except for what is perhaps the most common one, the one that refers to specific systems of communication used by humans, such as English, French, or Spanish.
As we said, the Spanish words lengua and lenguaje are obviously related, and the latter is obviously derived from the former. The Spanish word lengua is a patrimonial word its literal, and original, meaning is ‘tongue’, that extremely flexible muscle we have inside our mouths, attached at the back. One dictionary defines the word tongue as ‘the fleshy, movable, muscular organ, attached in most vertebrates to the floor of the mouth, that is the principal organ of taste, an aid in chewing and swallowing, and, in humans, an important organ of speech’ (AHD).
Figure 121: Human tongue.[i]
It is not hard to see how the name for that part of our anatomy came to be used metaphorically as the name for the primarily oral system of signs we use to communicate, since this part of our anatomy is one of the most crucial tools we employ for producing speech (cf. Part I, Chapter 7). However, this does not mean that when Spanish speakers use the metaphorical sense of the word lengua, they make a mental connection with the organ, the word's literal meaning. In other words, the two senses of the word lengua would seem to be quite separated or detached from each other. It is almost as if the two senses of lengua were homonyms today rather than two different senses of the same word, as they obviously were at one point (cf. Part I, Chapter 6).
As in the case of Sp. lengua, the primary meaning of the English word tongue is ‘the fleshy muscular organ in the mouth, used for tasting, licking, swallowing, and (in humans) articulating speech’ (COED). Additionally, just like Sp. lengua, Eng. tongue can be used refer to a human language, though this use of the word is rather old-fashioned or archaic in English nowadays, having been for the most part replaced by the word language, which is used to refer to human systems of communication such as English, Spanish, or Mandarin Chinese. Thus, the double meaning of Sp. lengua, ‘tongue’ and ‘language’, should not surprise English speakers since the English word tongue is also used with both of these meanings, though the use of the word tongue for ‘language’ is more limited nowadays.
Indeed, tongue was the original and native English word for ‘language’ for a long time in English, along with speech, before English borrowed the word language from French in the late 13th century, just like lengua ‘tongue’ was the main word for this meaning in Spanish. We still use Eng. tongue in a few phrases, such as speak in tongues (the technical term is glossolalia, cf. Sp. glosolalia, also known as don de lenguas), a practice of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity and some other religions, and in the collocations mother tongue (‘native language’, cf. Sp. lengua materna) and foreign tongue (Sp. lengua extranjera). There is no doubt, however, that there is an old-fashioned ring to these uses of the word.
The English word language and the Spanish words lengua and lenguaje trace their lineage back to the Latin word lĭnguam [ˈlɪŋ.ɡu̯ã] (nominative: lĭngua), which also meant the same things as Sp. lengua, namely ‘tongue’ (the organ in the mouth) and ‘language’ (the system of communication). Spanish lengua [ˈleŋ.ɡu̯a] is a direct patrimonial descendant of this word, with the Latin short ĭ changing to e and the accusative case’s final ‑m being dropped, both totally regular and expected sound changes (cf. Part I, Chapter 10).
English language [ˈlæŋ.ɡwɪʤ] comes from a Latin word derived from Latin lingua, namely *lĭnguātĭcum. This word was not used in classical Latin, however, but rather in late Vulgar Latin, as a replacement for the classical lingua for the sense of ‘human form of communication’, as opposed to the ‘muscular organ inside the mouth’. As we will see later on in the chapter, the suffix ‑ātĭcum was used in Late Latin to create nouns out of other words, typically nouns or verbs, with a meaning that was derived from the meaning of the original word. Thus, from Lat. lĭngua ‘tongue; language’, Late Latin speakers came up with the derived word lĭnguātĭcum, which in French would develop into the word lengatge by the year 1000. The Old French word is attested as langage by the year 1160, which is what the word still looks like in Modern French, pronounced [lɑ̃.ˈɡaʒ]. English borrowed this word from the Anglo-Norman dialect by the late 13th century, where it is attested as langage, language, langwage, laungage, and launguage. It seems that the insertion of the u after the g is due to influence from written Latin lingua.
The Spanish word lenguaje [len.ˈɡu̯a.xe] has the same Late Latin source, but it is not a patrimonial word in Spanish, unlike the word lengua. We know because the Latin suffix ‑ātĭcum did not change to ‑aje in Old Spanish, but to ‑azgo, as in Sp. noviazgo ‘engagement’, from Lat. noviātĭcum, as we will see later on. Actually, like many other words that end in ‑aje in Spanish, this word was borrowed from either Old Occitan lengatge or, else, from Catalan llenguatge, two closely related Romance varieties (cf. Part I, Chapter 3, §3.5). The rest of the words that end in ‑aje in Spanish came into the language from Standard French usually centuries later. Spanish lenguaje is first attested in 13th century Spanish writings. Both the Occitan and the Catalan words are cognates of the northern French word that English borrowed, for all of these words are derived from Late Latin linguaticum and are thus cognates.
As we said earlier, Spanish lengua, like English tongue, has two main senses: (1) ‘the fleshy muscular organ in the mouth, used for tasting, licking, swallowing, and (in humans) articulating speech’ and (2) ‘a particular language’ (COED). The second sense of lengua is a synonym of the word idioma (see below), but not with the word lenguaje. That is because the word lenguaje in Modern Spanish can be used to refer to systems of communication, from animals to computers, as in the phrase el lenguaje de los perros ‘the language of dogs’ or lenguaje corporal ‘body language’, as well as to specific manners of using human languages, but not to specific human languages themselves. To express that meaning, Spanish uses the words lengua and idioma.
Let us now take a closer look at the different meanings of the English word language which, as we have seen, is polysemous, that is, has different meanings and can be used to refer to a number of different albeit related things (cf. Part I, Chapter 6, §6.5). The following are the major senses of the English word language. Before each definition, a short paraphrase of the meaning is given.
A. (language ability) ‘the capacity of humans to use a system of arbitrary symbols to communicate complex thoughts and feelings, typically orally’, e.g. there are many theories about the origins of language (Sp. lenguaje humano)
B. (specific language) ‘any such relatively stable system of communication by humans as used by a particular community of people’, e.g. the Spanish language (Spanish) (Sp. lengua, idioma)
C. (language style) ‘a particular style of speaking or writing’ (OALD) or ‘a particular manner of expression’ (COED), e.g. strong language, poetic language, everyday language, the language of the legal profession, Shakespearean language, profane language; persuasive language (Sp. lenguaje)
D. (system of communication) ‘a way of expressing ideas and feelings using movements, symbols and sound’ (OALD), e.g. the language of mime (Sp. lenguaje)
E. (specialized vocabulary) ‘the special vocabulary and usages of a scientific, professional, or other group’ (COED), lawyer’s language, teenager’s language (Sp. lenguaje)
F. (animal language) ‘the manner or means of communication between living creatures other than humans’: the language of dolphins (Sp. lenguaje)
G. (computer language) ‘a system of symbols and rules that is used to operate a computer’, e.g. a programming language (e.g. Basic) (Sp. lenguaje)
As we can see, the Spanish word lenguaje is used for all of the senses of the English word language except for B, a sense for which the words lengua or idioma are used. That is, the word lenguaje can be used to refer to the human capacity for language, to animal systems of communication, to computer languages, as well as to refer to language styles and jargons. The following collocations in which the word lenguaje is used gives us an idea of the senses in which this word is used in Spanish:
- lenguaje claro/corriente ‘plain language’
- lenguaje sencillo ‘simple language’
- lenguaje burocrático ‘bureaucratic language, bureaucratese’
- lenguaje colloquial ‘colloquial language, slang’
- lenguaje corporal ‘body language’
- lenguaje culto ‘formal, learned language’
- lenguaje de la calle ‘street talk, slang’
- lenguaje de programación ‘programming language’
- lenguaje de signos ‘sign language’
- lenguaje formal ‘formal language’
- lenguaje grosero ‘foul language’
- lenguaje infantil ‘baby talk’
- lenguaje ofensivo ‘offensive language’
- lenguaje periodístico ‘newspaper language, journalese’
- lenguaje sexista ‘sexist language’
- lenguaje soez ‘foul/crude language’
- lenguaje técnico ‘technical language, jargon’
- lenguaje técnico informático ‘computerese’
- lenguaje vulgar ‘vulgar/adult language’
- trastorno del lenguaje ‘language disorder’
The Spanish word lenguaje is also used in a technical sense that is central to the field of modern linguistics. This is the very sense A that the word language has in English in the description in the preceding section, namely ‘the human capacity or faculty to communicate through human languages’. We can see an example of this use of the word lenguaje in the last of the expressions above, namely trastorno del lenguaje ‘language disorder’.
In English linguistics, we use the same word, language, for the faculty as for the many different possible instantiations of the faculty. In Spanish, on the other, we use the word lenguaje for the former and lengua for the latter. This distinction is most likely calqued from the distinction that is made in the French language, which also distinguishes between the words langue [ˈlɑ̃ɡ] and langage [lɑ̃.ˈɡaʒ]. As we saw, earlier, Eng. language comes from Old French langage, but the meanings of these two words is not the same today since French makes the same distinction between langue and langage that Spanish makes.
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 Other cognates of Eng. language in other Romance languages include: Portuguese linguagem, Italian linguaggio
 That is why, for instance, the Spanish movie La lengua de las mariposas could not be translated as The Butterflies’ Language, but rather only as The Butterflies’ Tongue. That is because the word lengua cannot refer in Spanish to animal means of communication, but only to specific human ones, or else to the organ inside the mouth.
 Two possible dictionary definitions of this sense are: (1) ‘the use by humans of a system of sounds and words to communicate’ (OALD), and (2) ‘communication of thoughts and feelings [by humans?] through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols’ (AHD)
[i] Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D8%B2%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%86_tongue.jpg (accessed: 2018.05.28)