In this blog post, I will give you a comprehensive introduction to Linguistics. I will try to cover everything from what comes under the field to what does not. This blog would be a good starting point for anyone who wants to pursue a linguistics career or is simply interested in knowing about the subject. There are so many linguistics jobs in the market. And, the field is the in thing these days. So let us get started.
As you must have already read elsewhere, Linguistics is nothing but the scientific study of Language. But what does that really mean? Let us break this definition into sub-parts to gain clarity.
Linguistics is not about any one language!
First things first. The word “language” in this definition does not necessarily refer to one particular language. Instead it refers to the Language Faculty or language ability. Note the use of capital L in the former case.
Human beings are endowed with this special ability to communicate via language. Although almost all the animals in the world have some or the other mode of communication, it is nowhere close to the Language ability that we have. You can understand this point better by checking out the 16 design features of Language by Charles Hockett. Basically, Hockett tells us how Human Language is different (in terms of sophistication) than any other animal mode of communication.
Of course, in some branches of linguistics we do focus on analyzing a particular language under consideration. However, the major goal of doing that is still to have a greater understanding of Language, and not one particular language.
Linguistics is NOT Learning to speak languages!
Many a times, Linguists are asked to tell how many languages they can speak. Sometimes, they are judged on the basis of whether they can tell the pronunciation of some difficult word in a foreign language is right or not. However, it is important to know that Linguists are interested in studying languages, not learning them. There is a difference, a big one.
The field deals with studying various aspects of a language. Some linguists deal with studying the structure of a language, others meaning. Yet, there are others who look into social or political aspects. Similarly, there could be others interested in understanding how languages are acquired by babies or what causes language impairments. We will take a look into the various branches of linguistics in one of the coming sections.
The study of languages is also often misunderstood as studying English language. For obvious reasons. I agree, a lot of the work in this field has been done in English. However, that nowhere implies that the focus is only on English. Every language is equally interesting and important for study.
Linguistics as a Science
So, what do we mean when we say the “scientific study” of language? We mean one that is done with a proper method and is backed with sound evidence. This evidence could be empirical or theoretical in nature. It should be done in an organized, careful manner to reduce chances of errors. Linguistic theories are often supported with patterns in the linguistic data. Similarly, large amounts of corpus data can be analyzed to discover language patterns, which help us get newer insights in the field and to theorize better.
Branches of Linguistics
Like any other field of study, linguistics also has many branches and sub branches. For example, Morphology is the study of morphemes in a language.
A linguist can specialize in one or more sub fields. However, a good linguist should aim to acquire a basic idea in all the fields.
- Discourse Studies
- Historical Linguistics
- Language Typology
- Applied Linguistics
- Data/Field Work
- Language Acquisition
Interdisciplinary Nature of Linguistics
The field merges with a lot of other fields of enquiry and has profound impact on them. I tried to list the major ones. Let me know in the comments section if I skipped any:
- Psycholinguistics: How is language stored/retrieved/ processed in the human mind?
- Neurolinguistics: What is the relationship between brain and language? Is there a language centre/area/lobe in the brain? Is there a LAD?
- Sociolinguistics: The study of social side to language. And also impact of language on society/community.
- Computational Linguistics: The study of looking at language computationally. And making machines understand natural language, etc.
Some more of them are listed below:
- Corpus Linguistics: Creating language resources, analyzing language patterns, etc.
- Anthropological Linguistics: Relationship between communities, cultures and languages
- Language Philosophy: What does it mean to have language faculty?
- Forensic Linguistics: Detecting crime and fraud through language/patterns, etc.
- Speech Pathology: Language impairments, Language disorders, etc.
- Stylistics: Structural/linguistic nature of Literary devices.
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