I made my suggestion after reading what several on-line dictionaries say, about what the word “language” means to people:
Webster’s Revised Unabridged (1913):
5. The inarticulate sounds by which animals inferior to man express their feelings or their wants.
It might be argued that this dictionary reflects the usage of 100 years ago, not necessarily that of today. So -
b(3): the suggestion by objects, actions or conditions of associated ideas or feelings; language in their very gesture - Shakespeare
b(4): the means by which animals communicate.
Compact OED: 1 (sub-heading): a non-verbal method of expression or communication: body language.
The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, on the other hand, confines its definition of language, as languagehat does, to the systems used by humans.
Wikipedia (may its tribe increase!) has a very interesting article on “Animal Language” which touches both the subject of non-human animals communicating with each other, and the degree to which such animals might be capable of using language in the way humans do. It distinguishes, as lh does, between “language” and “communication”. (Let me recommend another fascinating Wikipedia article, “Bee learning and communication"). One gets the feeling that we are still some way from hearing the last word on this subject.
Language hat’s definition of “language” is a rigorous one, as befits a professional linguist. It looks, however, as though popular usage is (as usual) a lot less rigorous, and people will continue to speak of “the language of bees”, “the language of whales”, “the language of cats”, and “body language”, whatever linguists may say.
I recall that we had a discussion some time ago about “tsunami”, the upshot of which was that while no seismologist or marine scientist would dream of calling a tsunami a tidal wave ( because strictly speaking, it isn’t), ordinary people with less care for technical nicety will continue to do so regardless. Such is language.
Many thanks, Iron Pyrite and languagehat, for your very stimulating posts!
As an interesting sidelight: I learned from this look-up session that there are “animals inferior to man” - a fact of which I was not previously aware ;-). Some of them, actually, have a much nicer smell......