Language is often known to be a rule-governed behavior because it includes a lot of grammatical rules or a set of conventions that organizes its proper uses and functions. These rules also create boundaries that surround the meanings of words and also dictate the relation of words with one another. The rules may vary in importance in different languages. For instance, word order is highly important in English whereas word endings are highly important in Latin.

Language would become meaningless if there were no rules. The lack of meaning would cause chaos and people would not be able to communicate with one another effectively. However, if the rules are too strict, they can obstruct creativity and growth. It can also have a severe impact on one’s culture.

According to Huntress Certified Educator, “Language is rule-governed behavior” which means essentially that language only works if we follow its rules. Language exists for the purpose of communication, meaning that we must first agree upon what words mean. This itself is a rule: We must use words to signify what others speaking the same language have agreed the words mean. For example, I cannot randomly decide that “desk” means “tree stump,” ask you to place a glass on the desk, then get upset with you because you didn’t put it on the tree stump.”

Linguists sometimes look at, how language is really used in culture, as the functional aspect of language, which, as noted before, exists in tension with the rules in textbooks. A current example of this would be the grammar guide prohibition on ending a sentence with a preposition versus the cultural tendency to do just that. As the function of a language changes, the rules, after a time, follow suit, which is why we no longer refer to our close friends as “thee” and “thou,” but rather as “you.”

How words are arranged in a sentence can also change its meaning so observing the rules of a language is necessary for effective communication.