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Term Definition

Linguistics studies the scientific structure of the human language, as well as the diversity of language. The scope of study includes how adults and children construct, learn and use language.

Introduction & Definition

Linguistics is the study of human language, structure, and diversity. Language form, meaning, and context are the three areas of linguistics. Linguistics also studies how children and adults learn, use, and produce language, and how social practices shape and are shaped by language. 

Human language is an organized system of sounds, symbols, and meaning including phonetics, encoding, assignment of meaning, and ambiguity. Grammar includes phonology, morphology, and syntax. 

Psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, and language acquisition are separate linguistic fields. Linguistics occupations may include dictionary production, orthography development, literacy teaching, translation, or language documentation.

Examples & Rules

The theory of linguistic variation focuses on differences in language between sections of society, and universality theory focuses on commonalities. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis defines relativity as the structure of language influencing a person’s world view. Perception and language, relativists believe, varies from language to language and person to person.

A lexicon is all words stored in the user’s mind. It consists of words and bound morphemes (words that cannot stand alone, like prefixes or affixes: “pre-” or “-able,”). Lexicography is the science of mapping words to an encyclopedia or dictionary; neologisms are new added words.

A discourse is a way of speaking based on conversational subjects and social settings. Called a register when used only for a certain purpose, it may include specialized terms. Vocabulary differentiates registers and discourses in professions, organizations, or groups. Examples are medical or government discourse.

A dialect is the language of a certain speaker group. Social and cultural identity define dialects through unique grammar, phonology, linguistic features, and stylistic aspects, but are not “official” languages. An example of dialect is slang.

Linguistic structures consist of meaning and form pairings called Saussurean signs. For example, the meaning “dog” can be represented through oral sound, written symbols, or hand movements.

Phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, discourse analysis, stylistics, and semiotics are sub-fields of structure-focused linguistics.

Stylistics is the interpretation of texts for linguistic aspects. For example, stylistic analysis might study description of dialects in a speech community. Stylistics vocabulary includes dialogue, rhetoric, diction, stress, satire, and irony.

Additional Information

Human language is a system of symbols, sounds, and meanings. Phonetics is the study of acoustic, visual, and articulatory aspects of the production and perception of speech and non-speech sounds. Language meaning studies language encoding of relationships between entities and properties. Semantics studies truth conditions, while pragmatics deals with context and meaning. Pānini analyzed Sanskrit in Ashtadhyayi in the 4th century BCE; this is thought to be the first work with description of languages. Patanjali and Katyayana differentiated between dhvani “sound” and sphota “light.”

Ferdinand de Saussure originally detailed structural linguistics, stating that parole is the specific speech utterance, and langue is the abstract phenomenon which defines the language-governing system of rules. Jacques Derrida wrote about the different traits of speech versus writing, and Noam Chomsky believed that competence is a person’s ideal knowledge of language, and performance is the way the language is used.

Sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, corpus linguistics, and theoretical linguistics are sub-fields of linguistics study.

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