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Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context. The earliest known activities in descriptive linguistics have been attributed to Panini around 500 BCE, with his analysis of Sanskrit in Ashtadhyayi.
The first subfield of linguistics is the study of language structure, or grammar. This focuses on the system of rules followed by the users of a language. It includes the study of morphology (the formation and composition of words), syntax (the formation and composition of phrases and sentences from these words), and phonology (sound systems). Phonetics is a related branch of linguistics concerned with the actual properties of speech sounds and nonspeech sounds, and how they are produced and perceived.
The study of language meaning is concerned with how languages employ logical structures and real-world references to convey, process, and assign meaning, as well as to manage and resolve ambiguity. This category includes the study of semantics (how meaning is inferred from words and concepts) and pragmatics (how meaning is inferred from context).
Linguistics also looks at the broader context in which language is influenced by social, cultural, historical and political factors. This includes the study of evolutionary linguistics, which investigates into questions related to the origins and growth of languages; historical linguistics, which explores language change; sociolinguistics, which looks at the relation between linguistic variation and social structures; psycholinguistics, which explores the representation and function of language in the mind; neurolinguistics, which looks at language processing in the brain; language acquisition, on how children or adults acquire language; and discourse analysis, which involves the structure of texts and conversations.
Although linguistics is the scientific study of language, a number of other intellectual disciplines are relevant to language and intersect with it. Semiotics, for example, is the general study of signs and symbols both within language and without. Literary theorists study the use of language in literature. Linguistics additionally draws on and informs work from such diverse fields as acoustics, anthropology, biology, computer science, human anatomy, informatics, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and speech-language pathology.
Before the 20th century, the term philology, first attested in 1716, was commonly used to refer to the science of language, which was then predominantly historical in focus. Since Ferdinand de Saussure's insistence on the importance of synchronic analysis, however, this focus has shifted and the term "philology" is now generally used for the "study of a language's grammar, history, and literary tradition", especially in the United States, where it was never as popular as it was elsewhere (in the sense of the "science of language").
Although the term "linguist" in the sense of "a student of language" dates from 1641, the term "linguistics" is first attested in 1847. It is now the usual academic term in English for the scientific study of language.
The term linguist applies within the field to someone who studies language, or specific languages. Outside the field, this term is commonly used to refer to people who speak many languages fluently.
Linguistics concerns itself with describing and explaining the nature of human language. Fundamental questions include what is universal to language, how language can vary, and how human beings come to know languages. Linguistic research can broadly be divided into the descriptive analysis of structure and grammar on the one hand and the study of non-linguistic influences on language on the other.
One major debate in linguistics concerns how language should be defined and understood. One prominent group of linguists use the term "language" primarily to refer to a hypothesised, innate module in the human brain that allows people to undertake linguistic behaviour. This "Universal grammar" is considered to guide children when they learn languages and to constrain what sentences are considered grammatical in any language. Proponents of this view, which is predominant in those schools of linguistics that are based on the generative theory of Noam Chomsky, do not necessarily consider that language evolved for communication in particular. They consider instead that it has more to do with the process of structuring human thought (see also formal grammar).
Another group of linguists, by contrast, use the term "language" to refer to a communication system that developed to support cooperative activity and extend cooperative networks. Such functional theories of grammar view language as a tool that is adapted to the communicative needs of its users, and the role of cultural evolutionary processes are often emphasised over that of biological evolution.
While some theories on linguistics focus on the different varieties that language produces, among different sections of society, others focus on the universal properties that are common to all given languages at one given time on the planet. The theory of variation therefore would elaborate on the different usages of popular languages like French and English across the globe, as well as its smaller dialects and regional permutations within their national boundaries. The theory of variation looks at the cultural stages that a particular language undergoes, and these include the following. The first stage is pidgin, or that phase in the creation of a language's variation when new, non-native speakers undertake a mainstream language and use its phrases and words in a broken manner that often attempts to be overly literal in meaning. At this junction, many of the linguistic characteristics of the native speakers' own language or mother tongue influence their use of the mainstream language, and that is when it arrives at the stage of being called a creole. Hence, this process in the creation of dialects and varieties of languages as globally popular as English and French, as well as others like Spanish, for instance, is one that is rooted in the changing evolution and growth of each language. These variating factors are studied in order to understand the different usages and dialects that a language develops over time.
Universality, on the other hand, looks at formal structures and features that are common to all languages, and the template of which pre-exists in the mind of an infant child. This idea is based on the theory of generative grammar and the formal school of linguistics, whose proponents include Noam Chomsky and those who follow his theory and work.
The formal study of language began in India with Pāṇini, the 5th century BC grammarian who formulated 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology. Pāṇini’s systematic classification of the sounds of Sanskrit into consonants and vowels, and word classes, such as nouns and verbs, was the first known instance of its kind. In the Middle East Sibawayh (سیبویه) made a detailed description of Arabic in 760 AD in his monumental work, Al-kitab fi al-nahw (الكتاب في النحو, The Book on Grammar), the first known author to distinguish between sounds and phonemes (sounds as units of a linguistic system).
Western interest in the study of languages began as early as in the East, but the grammarians of the classical languages did not use the same methods or reach the same conclusions as their contemporaries in the Indic world. Early interest in language in the West was a part of philosophy, not of grammatical description. The first insights into semantic theory were made by Plato in his Cratylus dialogue, where he argues that words denote concepts that are eternal and exist in the world of ideas. This work is the first to use the word etymology to describe the history of a word's meaning. Around 280 BC one of Alexander the Great’s successors founded a university (see Musaeum) in Alexandria, where a school of philologists studied the ancient texts in and taught Greek to speakers of other languages. This school was the first to use the word "grammar" in its modern sense, Plato had used the word in its original meaning as "téchnē grammatikḗ" (Τέχνη Γραμματική), the "art of writing," which is also the title of one of the most important works of the Alexandrine school by Dionysius Thrax. Throughout the Middle Ages the study of language was subsumed under the topic of philology, the study of ancient languages and texts, practiced by such educators as Roger Ascham, Wolfgang Ratke and John Amos Comenius.
In the 18th century, the first use of the comparative method by William Jones sparked the rise of comparative linguistics. Bloomfield attributes "the first great scientific linguistic work of the world" to Jacob Grimm, who wrote Deutsche Grammatik. It was soon followed by other authors writing similar comparative studies on other language groups of Europe. The scientific study of language was broadened from Indo-European to language in general by Wilhelm von Humboldt, of whom Bloomfield asserts:
"This study received its foundation at the hands of the Prussian statesman and scholar Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767—1835), especially in the first volume of his work on Kavi, the literary language of Java, entitled Über die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues und ihren Einfluß auf die geistige Entwickelung des Menschengeschlechts (‘On the Variety of the Structure of Human Language and its Influence upon the Mental Development of the Human Race’)."
Early in the 20th century, Saussure introduced the idea of language as a static system of interconnected units, defined through the oppositions between them. By introducing a distinction between diachronic to synchronic analyses of language, he laid the foundation of the modern discipline of linguistics. Saussure also introduced several basic dimensions of linguistic analysis that are still foundational in many contemporary linguistic theories, such as the distinctions between syntagm and paradigm, and the langue- parole distinction, distinguishing language as an abstract system (langue) from language as a concrete manifestation of this system (parole). Substantial additional contributions following Saussure's definition of a structural approach to language came from The Prague school, Leonard Bloomfield, Charles F. Hockett, Louis Hjelmslev, Émile Benveniste and Roman Jakobson.
During the last half of the 20th century, following the work of Noam Chomsky, linguistics was dominated by the generativist school. While formulated by Chomsky in part as a way to explain how human beings acquire language and the biological constraints on this acquisition, in practice it has largely been concerned with giving formal accounts of specific phenomena in natural languages. Generative theory is modularist and formalist in character. Chomsky built on earlier work of Zellig Harris to formulate the generative theory of language. According to this theory the most basic form of language is a set of syntactic rules universal for all humans and underlying the grammars of all human languages. This set of rules is called Universal Grammar, and for Chomsky describing it is the primary objective of the discipline of linguistics. For this reason the grammars of individual languages are of importance to linguistics only in so far as they allow us to discern the universal underlying rules from which the observable linguistic variability is generated.
A formal description of language attempts to replicate a speaker's knowledge of the rules of their language, and the aim is to produce a set of rules that is minimally sufficient to successfully model valid linguistic forms.
Functional theories of language propose that since language is fundamentally a tool, it is reasonable to assume that its structures are best analyzed and understood with reference to the functions they carry out. Functional theories of grammar differs from formal theories of grammar, in that the latter seeks to define the different elements of language and describe the way they relate to each other as systems of formal rules or operations, whereas the former defines the functions performed by language and then relates these functions to the linguistic elements that carry them out. This means that functional theories of grammar tend to pay attention to the way language is actually used, and not just to the formal relations between linguistic elements.
Functional theories then describe language in term of functions existing on all levels of language.
In the 1970s and 1980s, a new school of thought known as cognitive linguistics emerged as a reaction to generativist theory. Led by theorists such as Ronald Langacker and George Lakoff, linguists working within the realm of cognitive linguistics propose that language is an emergent property of basic, general-purpose cognitive processes. In contrast to the generativist school of linguistics, cognitive linguistics is non-modularist and functionalist in character. Important developments in cognitive linguistics include cognitive grammar, frame semantics, and conceptual metaphor, all of which are based on the idea that form-function correspondences based on representations derived from embodied experience constitute the basic units of language.
Cognitive linguistics interprets language in terms of the concepts, sometimes universal, sometimes specific to a particular tongue, which underlie its forms. It is thus closely associated with semantics but is distinct from psycholinguistics, which draws upon empirical findings from cognitive psychology in order to explain the mental processes that underlie the acquisition, storage, production and understanding of speech and writing. Cognitive linguistics denies that there is an autonomous linguistic faculty in the mind; it understands grammar in terms of conceptualization; and it claims that knowledge of language arises out of language use. Because of its conviction that knowledge of language is learned through use, cognitive linguistics is sometimes considered to be a functional approach, but it differs from other functional approaches in that it is primarily concerned with how the mind creates meaning through language, and not with the use of language as a tool of communication.
Linguistic structures are pairings of meaning and form. Any particular pairing of meaning and form is a Saussurean sign. For instance, the meaning "cat" is represented worldwide with a wide variety of different sound patterns (in oral languages), movements of the hands and face (in sign languages), and written symbols (in written languages).
Linguists focusing on structure attempt to understand the rules regarding language use that native speakers know (not always consciously). All linguistic structures can be broken down into component parts that are combined according to (sub)conscious rules, over multiple levels of analysis. For instance, consider the structure of the word "tenth" on two different levels of analysis. On the level of internal word structure (known as morphology), the word "tenth" is made up of one linguistic form indicating a number and another form indicating ordinality. The rule governing the combination of these forms ensures that the ordinality marker "th" follows the number "ten." On the level of sound structure (known as phonology), structural analysis shows that the "n" sound in "tenth" is made differently from the "n" sound in "ten" spoken alone. Although most speakers of English are consciously aware of the rules governing internal structure of the word pieces of "tenth", they are less often aware of the rule governing its sound structure. Linguists focused on structure find and analyze rules such as these, which govern how native speakers use language.
Linguistics has many sub-fields concerned with particular aspects of linguistic structure. These sub-fields range from those focused primarily on form to those focused primarily on meaning. They also run the gamut of level of analysis of language, from individual sounds, to words, to phrases, up to discourse.
Sub-fields that focus on a structure-focused study of language:
Many linguists would agree that these divisions overlap considerably, and the independent significance of each of these areas is not universally acknowledged. Regardless of any particular linguist's position, each area has core concepts that foster significant scholarly inquiry and research.
Alongside the structurally motivated domains of study, are other fields within the domain of linguistics. These fields are often distinguished by external factors that influence the study of language.
Semiotics is a larger discipline that investigates the relationship between signs and what they signify more broadly. From the perspective of semiotics, language can be seen as a sign or symbol, with the world as its representation.
Historical linguists study the history of specific languages as well as general characteristics of language change. One aim of historical linguistics is to classify languages in language families descending from a common ancestor, an enterprise that relies primarily on the comparative method. This involves comparison of elements in different languages to detect possible cognates in order to be able to reconstruct how different languages have changed over time. Some historical linguists, along with non-linguists interested in language change, have also employed such tools as computational phylogenetics. The study of language change is also referred to as "diachronic linguistics", which can be distinguished from "synchronic linguistics", the study of a given language at a given moment in time without regard to its previous stages. Historical linguistics was among the first linguistic disciplines to emerge and was the most widely practised form of linguistics in the late 19th century. However, a shift in focus to the synchronic perspective began in the early twentieth century with Saussure and became predominant in western linguistics through the work of Noam Chomsky.
Semiotics is the study of sign processes (semiosis), or signification and communication, signs, and symbols, both individually and grouped into sign systems, including the study of how meaning is constructed and understood. Semioticians often do not restrict themselves to linguistic communication when studying the use of signs but extend the meaning of "sign" to cover all kinds of cultural symbols. Nonetheless, semiotic disciplines closely related to linguistics are literary studies, discourse analysis, text linguistics, and philosophy of language. Semiotics, within the linguistics paradigm, is the study of the relationship between language and culture. Historically, Edward Sapir and Ferdinand De Saussure's structuralist theories influenced the study of signs extensively until the late part of the 20th century, but later, post-modern and post-structural thought, through language philosophers including Jacques Derrida, Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel Foucault, and others, have also been a considerable influence on the discipline in the late part of the 20th century and early 21st century. These theories emphasise the role of language variation, and the idea of subjective usage, depending on external elements like social and cultural factors, rather than merely on the interplay of formal elements.
Since the inception of the discipline of linguistics, linguists have been concerned with describing and analysing previously undocumented languages. Starting with Franz Boas in the early 1900s, this became the main focus of American linguistics until the rise of formal structural linguistics in the mid-20th century. This focus on language documentation was partly motivated by a concern to document the rapidly disappearing languages of indigenous peoples. The ethnographic dimension of the Boasian approach to language description played a role in the development of disciplines such as sociolinguistics, anthropological linguistics, and linguistic anthropology, which investigate the relations between language, culture, and society.
The emphasis on linguistic description and documentation has also gained prominence outside North America, with the documentation of rapidly dying indigenous languages becoming a primary focus in many university programs in linguistics. Language description is a work-intensive endeavour, usually requiring years of field work in the language concerned, so as to equip the linguist to write a sufficiently accurate reference grammar. Further, the task of documentation requires the linguist to collect a substantial corpus in the language in question, consisting of texts and recordings, both sound and video, which can be stored in an accessible format within open repositories, and used for further research.
Linguists are largely concerned with finding and describing the generalities and varieties both within particular languages and among all languages. Applied linguistics takes the results of those findings and "applies" them to other areas. Linguistic research is commonly applied to areas such as language education, lexicography, and translation. "Applied linguistics" has been argued to be something of a misnomer[who?], since applied linguists focus on making sense of and engineering solutions for real-world linguistic problems, not simply "applying" existing technical knowledge from linguistics; moreover, they commonly apply technical knowledge from multiple sources, such as sociology (e.g., conversation analysis) and anthropology.
Today, computers are widely used in many areas of applied linguistics. Speech synthesis and speech recognition use phonetic and phonemic knowledge to provide voice interfaces to computers. Applications of computational linguistics in machine translation, computer-assisted translation, and natural language processing are areas of applied linguistics that have come to the forefront. Their influence has had an effect on theories of syntax and semantics, as modeling syntactic and semantic theories on computers constraints.
Linguistic analysis is a sub-discipline of applied linguistics used by many governments to verify the claimed nationality of people seeking asylum who do not hold the necessary documentation to prove their claim. This often takes the form of an interview by personnel in an immigration department. Depending on the country, this interview is conducted either in the asylum seeker's native language through an interpreter or in an international lingua franca like English. Australia uses the former method, while Germany employs the latter; the Netherlands uses either method depending on the languages involved. Tape recordings of the interview then undergo language analysis, which can be done either by private contractors or within a department of the government. In this analysis, linguistic features of the asylum seeker are used by analysts to make a determination about the speaker's nationality. The reported findings of the linguistic analysis can play a critical role in the government's decision on the refugee status of the asylum seeker.
The sub-field of translation includes the translation of written and spoken texts across mediums, from digital to print and spoken. To translate literally means to transmute the meaning from one language into another. Translators are often employed by organisations, such as travel agencies as well as governmental embassies to facilitate communication between two speakers who do not know each other's language. Translators are also employed to work within computational linguistics setups like Google Translate for example, which is an automated, programmed facility to translate words and phrases between any two or more given languages. Translation is also conducted by publishing houses, who convert works of writing from one language to another in order to reach varied audiences.
Linguistics is descriptive; linguists describe and explain features of language without making subjective judgments on whether a particular feature is "right" or "wrong". This is analogous to practice in other sciences: A zoologist studies the animal kingdom without making subjective judgments on whether a particular animal is better or worse than another.
Prescription, on the other hand, is an attempt to promote particular linguistic usages over others, often favouring a particular dialect or "acrolect". This may have the aim of establishing a linguistic standard, which can aid communication over large geographical areas. It may also, however, be an attempt by speakers of one language or dialect to exert influence over speakers of other languages or dialects (see Linguistic imperialism). An extreme version of prescriptivism can be found among censors, who attempt to eradicate words and structures that they consider to be destructive to society.
Nonetheless, linguists agree that the study of written language can be worthwhile and valuable. For research that relies on corpus linguistics and computational linguistics, written language is often much more convenient for processing large amounts of linguistic data. Large corpora of spoken language are difficult to create and hard to find, and are typically transcribed and written. In addition, linguists have turned to text-based discourse occurring in various formats of computer-mediated communication as a viable site for linguistic inquiry.
The study of writing systems themselves is, in any case, considered a branch of linguistics.
Anthropological linguistics, Articulatory phonology, Asemic writing, Axiom of categoricity, Biolinguistics, Biosemiotics, Articulatory synthesis, Cognitive linguistics, Cognitive science, Comparative linguistics, Computational linguistics, Concept Mining, Corpus linguistics, Critical discourse analysis, Cryptanalysis, Decipherment, Descriptive linguistics, Developmental linguistics, Discourse Analysis, Discourse, Ecolinguistics, Embodied cognition, Endangered languages, Evolutionary linguistics, Forensic linguistics, Global language system, Glottometrics, Grammar Writing, Historical linguistics, History of linguistics, Integrational linguistics, Intercultural competence, International Linguistic Olympiad, Language acquisition, Language attrition, Language engineering, Language geography, Lexicography/Lexicology, Linguistic typology, Machine translation, Metacommunicative competence, Microlinguistics, Natural language processing, Neurolinguistics, Orthography, Philology, Post-structuralism, Reading, Second language acquisition, Semiotics, Sociocultural linguistics, Sociolinguistics, Speaker recognition (authentication), Speech processing, Speech recognition, Speech synthesis, Stratificational linguistics, Structuralism, Text linguistics, Varieties, Writing systems.
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