Language in AP Human Geography

By Maggie Kenney


Language is a system of communications through the use of speech, a collection of sounds understood by a group of people to have the same meaning. Also, many languages have a literary tradition, or a system of written communication.

Dialects and Isogloss

A dialect a regional variety of a language distinguished by vocabulary, spelling, and pronunciation. Different dialects of a language should be able to be understood by everyone who speaks the language. The distribution of dialects is documented through the study of particular words. Isogloss is a word usage boundary by dialects, and they are vernacular regions and a clear boundary line cannot be drawn. This picture illustrates how different words are used for soft-drink throughout the US.

Lingua Franca

A lingua franca is a language mutually understood and commonly used in trade by people who have different native languages. English and Mandarin Chinese are the two most prevalent lingua francas today.

Creole and Pidgin Languages

A creole language is a language that results from the mixing of the colonizer's language with the indigenous language of the people being dominated. Pidgin languages evolve into creole languages after hundreds of years. Spanglish is an example of a pidgin language. An example of a creole language is the French and English combination language in Haiti. A map of Haiti is shown below.

Extinct Languages

An extinct language is a language that was once in use but is no longer used today. An example of an extinct language is Livonian that used to be spoken in Latvia.


Ideograms is the system of writing used in China and other East Asian countries in which each symbol represents an idea or a concept rather than a specific sound, as is the case with letters in English. Mandarin Chinese ideograms are shown here.

Language Family

A language family is a collection of languages related to each other through a common ancestor long before recorded history. Indo-European is the world's most extensively spoken language family. Other language families include Sino-Tibetan, Afro-Asiatic, Austronesian, Niger-Congo, Dravidian, Altaic, Austro-Asiatic, and Japanese.

Language Branch

A language branch is a collection of languages related through a common ancestor that existed several thousand years ago. Differences are not as extensive or as old as with language families, and archeological evidence can confirm that the branches derived from the same family. The Indo-European language family is broken into eight branches- Indo-Iranian, Romance, Germanic, Balto-Slavic, Albanian, Armenian, Greek, and Celtic. The map shows how these branches are distributed throughout Europe.