One of the meanings of the word "tongue" is "language". The word is still in use in certain expressions ("mother tongue" being one of them), and I know that in the past, it was used to refer to the classical languages. However, I have never seen it used as a substitute for "language" when referring to a specific language - for example, today, one would say "the English language" and not "the English tongue".

When did "tongue" stop being used in such instances?

  • Yes, usually one uses: [x] mother tongue. So: English mother tongue. Basically, you're right. Also: foreign tongues, for instance. tongues is usually preceded by some adjective or other.
    – Lambie
    Apr 2 at 16:23
  • 1
    English tongue is still used, though it is less common than in the past: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Gio
    Apr 2 at 16:36
  • Here's someone in 2011 calling English a "mongrel tongue", and you can find lots of "common tongue", "shared tongue", etc. There's something a bit poetic, twee, or old-fashioned about "tongue" compared to "language", but it's still used.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 2 at 16:45
  • It may be relevant that the word "language" comes from the Latin "lingua", which meant tongue.
    – Barmar
    Apr 2 at 17:02
  • While "tongue" has roots in Old English and Germanic. So I suspect the switch from tongue to language happened as a result of the Norman invasion of Britain, when the aristocracy adopted French vocabulary.
    – Barmar
    Apr 2 at 17:05


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