Studying Linguistics


The Science of Linguistics

Linguists bring a scientific perspective and scientific methods to the quintessentially human phenomenon of language. Whether it is formal study of sound structure, grammar or meaning, research into the history of language families, the mechanisms of language acquisition, or the manifestation of language n the brain, linguists catalog observations, make and test hypotheses, and work to build explanatory theories. And linguistic science is multidisciplinary, sharing concerns and method with all of the human sciences from psychology and neurology to anthropology and sociology.


Linguistics is the study of language, not just particular languages, but the system of human communication. Some of the basic issues of this field are?

What is language? How is it organized?
How is it analyzed? How are its units discovered and tested?
Where is language stored and processed in the brain? How is it learned?
What do all languages—including nonvocal systems of communication (e.g. writing and sign languages)—have in common? What do these properties show us about human cognition?
How did language originate? What does it have in common with animal communication? How is it different?
How many distinct families or stocks of languages are there in the 6000 or so known languages today? What original languages did they come from? How have they changed over time?
What does dialectal and social variation show us about the use of language? How has this diversity affected issues of social, political, and educational policy?
What is the relationship between language and culture? Language and thought?
What are some of the branches of linguistics?
applied linguistics: application to areas such as speech pathology, reading, social work, missionary work, translation, dictionary compilation, language teaching, error analysis, computer language processing.

dialectology: investigation of regional variation in language.

ethnolinguistics (anthropological linguistics): investigation of the relation between a people’s language and culture.

historical (diachronic) linguistics: study of language change and evolution.

morphology: study of word formation and inflection.

neurolinguistics: research into the specific location of language in the brain.

paralinguistics: study of nonverbal (auxiliary) human communication.

philology: study of how language has been used in literature, especially in older manuscripts.

phonetics: description of how speech sounds are articulated and heard.

phonology: study of how languages organize the units of speech into systems.

pragmatics: study of the strategies people use to carry out communicative business in specific contexts.

psycholinguistics: investigation of language as cognitively-based behavior; how it is acquired and processed.

second language acquisition (SLA): study of how older learners acquire language, and of ways to improve it.

sociolinguistics: study of social variation in language: the relation between social structure and language usage, and of social issues involving language.

semantics: study of word and sentence meaning.

syntax: study of the structure of sentences and of underlying principles for generating and processing them.

How is linguistics applied?
Many students find linguistics useful because it broadens and deepens their understanding of related fields: languages and literature (English and foreign), social sciences (especially anthropology, sociology, and psychology), education, philosophy, communication… Those who obtain degrees in linguistics often proceed to careers in:

foreign language teaching
instructional technology
ESL (teaching English as a second language)
teaching and research in general linguistics (phonology, syntax…)
translation (human and machine-assisted)
speech pathology and audiology.


Language as a Formal System
Linguistic structure can be studied at many different levels. The sounds of language can be investigated by looking at the physics of the speech stream and by studying the physiology of the vocal tract and auditory system. A more psychological approach is also possible, namely considering what physical properties of the vocal tract or muscalature are used to make linguistic distinctions, and how the sounds of languages pattern.

Words, phrases, and sentences have internal structure. Many words are made up of smaller meaningful units, such as stems and suffixes; for example, stem ‘happy’ + suffix ‘-ly’. Linguists investigate the different ways such pieces can be put together to form words, a study called morphology. Likewise, words cluster together into phrases, which combine to make sentences, and linguists explore the rules governing such combinations. The scientific study of word structure and sentence structure is what modern linguists mean by the term grammar; this is quite different from the sort of ‘normative’ grammar instruction aimed to teach ‘proper usage’ common in primary and secondary school, which linguists call prescriptivism. Words and sentences are used to convey meanings.

Linguists study this too, seeking to specify precisely what words mean, how they combine into sentence meanings, and how these combine with contextual information to convey the speaker’s thoughts. The first two of these areas of investigation are called semantics, and the third is called pragmatics.


Seven Functions Of Language :

Halliday (1975) identifies seven functions that language has for children in their early years. For Halliday, children are motivated to develop language because it serves certain purposes or functions for them. The first four functions help the child to satisfy physical, emotional and social needs. Halliday calls them instrumental, regulatory, interactional, and personal functions.

Instrumental: This is when the child uses language to express their needs (e.g.’Want juice’)
Regulatory: This is where language is used to tell others what to do (e.g. ‘Go away’)

Interactional: Here language is used to make contact with others and form relationships (e.g. ‘Love you, mummy’)
Personal: This is the use of language to express feelings, opinions, and individual identity (e.g. ‘Me good girl’)
The next three functions are heuristic, imaginative, and representational, all helping the child to come to terms with his or her environment.

Heuristic: This is when language is used to gain knowledge about the environment (e.g. ‘What the tractor doing?’)
Imaginative: Here language is used to tell stories and jokes, and to create an imaginary environment.
Representational: The use of language to convey facts and information.

According to Halliday, as the child moves into the mother tongue, these functions give way to the generalized “metafunctions” of language. In this process, in between the two levels of the simple protolanguage system (the “expression” and “content” pairing of the Saussure’s sign), an additional level of content is inserted. Instead of one level of content, there are now two: lexicogrammar and semantics. The “expression” plane also now consists of two levels: phonetics and phonology.

Halliday’s work represents a competing viewpoint to the formalist approach of Noam Chomsky. Halliday’s concern is with “naturally occurring language in actual contexts of use” in a large typological range of languages whereas Chomsky is concerned only with the formal properties of languages such as English, which he thinks are indicative of the nature of what he calls Universal Grammar. While Chomsky’s search for Universal Grammar could be considered an essentially platonic endeavor (i.e. concerned with idealized forms), Halliday’s orientation to the study of natural language has been compared to Darwin’s method.

source: Wikipedia


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