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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Linguistics is the scientific[1][2] study of natural language.[3][4] Linguistics encompasses a number of sub-fields. An important topical division is between the study of language structure (grammar) and the study of meaning (semantics and pragmatics). Grammar encompasses morphology (the formation and composition of words), syntax (the rules that determine how words combine into phrases and sentences) and phonology (the study of sound systems and abstract sound units). Phonetics is a related branch of linguistics concerned with the actual properties of speech sounds (phones), non-speech sounds, and how they are produced and perceived. Other sub-disciplines of linguistics include the following: evolutionary linguistics, which considers the origins of language; historical linguistics, which explores language change; sociolinguistics, which looks at the relation between linguistic variation and social structures; psycholinguistics, which explores the representation and functioning of language in the mind; neurolinguistics, which looks at the representation of language in the brain; language acquisition, which considers how children acquire their first language and how children and adults acquire and learn their second and subsequent languages; and discourse analysis, which is concerned with the structure of texts and conversations, and pragmatics with how meaning is transmitted based on a combination of linguistic competence, non-linguistic knowledge, and the context of the speech act.

Linguistics is narrowly defined as the scientific approach to the study of language, but language can be approached from a variety of directions, and a number of other intellectual disciplines are relevant to it and influence its study. Semiotics, for example, is a related field concerned with the general study of signs and symbols both in language and outside of it. Literary theorists study the use of language in artistic literature. Linguistics additionally draws on work from such diverse fields as psychology, speech-language pathology, informatics, computer science, philosophy, biology, human anatomy, neuroscience, sociology, anthropology, and acoustics.

Within the field, linguist is used to describe someone who either studies the field or uses linguistic methodologies to study groups of languages or particular languages. Outside the field, this term is commonly used to refer to people who speak many languages or have a great vocabulary.


Names for the discipline

Before the twentieth century, the term "philology", first attested in 1716,[5] was commonly used to refer to the science of language, which was then predominantly historical in focus.[6] Since Ferdinand de Saussure's insistence on the importance of synchronic analysis, however, this focus has shifted[7] 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,[8] where it was never as popular as it was elsewhere (in the sense of the "science of language").[5]

Although the term "linguist" in the sense of "a student of language" dates from 1641,[9] the term "linguistics" is first attested in 1847.[9] It is now the usual academic term in English for the scientific study of language.

Fundamental concerns and divisions

Linguistics concerns itself with describing and explaining the nature of human language. Relevant to this are the questions of what is universal to language, how language can vary, and how human beings come to know languages. All humans (setting aside extremely pathological cases) achieve competence in whatever language is spoken (or signed, in the case of signed languages) around them when growing up, with apparently little need for explicit conscious instruction. While non-humans acquire their own communication systems, they do not acquire human language in this way (although many non-human animals can learn to respond to language, or can even be trained to use it to a degree).[10] Therefore, linguists assume that the ability to acquire and use language is an innate, biologically-based potential of modern human beings, similar to the ability to walk. There is no consensus, however, as to the extent of this innate potential, or its domain-specificity (the degree to which such innate abilities are specific to language), with some theorists claiming that there is a very large set of highly abstract and specific binary settings coded into the human brain, while others claim that the ability to learn language is a product of general human cognition. It is, however, generally agreed that there are no strong genetic differences underlying the differences between languages: an individual will acquire whatever language(s) he or she is exposed to as a child, regardless of parentage or ethnic origin.[11]

Linguistic structures are pairings of meaning and form; such pairings are known as Saussurean signs. In this sense, form may consist of sound patterns, movements of the hands, written symbols, and so on. There are many sub-fields concerned with particular aspects of linguistic structure, ranging from those focused primarily on form to those focused primarily on meaning:

  • Phonetics, the study of the physical properties of speech (or signed) production and perception
  • Phonology, the study of sounds (or signs) as discrete, abstract elements in the speaker's mind that distinguish meaning
  • Morphology, the study of internal structures of words and how they can be modified
  • Syntax, the study of how words combine to form grammatical sentences
  • Semantics, the study of the meaning of words (lexical semantics) and fixed word combinations (phraseology), and how these combine to form the meanings of sentences
  • Pragmatics, the study of how utterances are used in communicative acts, and the role played by context and non-linguistic knowledge in the transmission of meaning
  • Discourse analysis, the analysis of language use in texts (spoken, written, or signed)

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 these structurally-motivated domains of study are other fields of linguistics, distinguished by the kinds of non-linguistic factors that they consider:

The related discipline of semiotics investigates the relationship between signs and what they signify. From the perspective of semiotics, language can be seen as a sign or symbol, with the world as its representation.[citation needed]

Variation and universality

Much modern linguistic research, particularly within the paradigm of generative grammar, has concerned itself with trying to account for differences between languages of the world. This has worked on the assumption that if human linguistic ability is narrowly constrained by human biology, then all languages must share certain fundamental properties.

In generativist theory, the collection of fundamental properties all languages share are referred to as universal grammar (UG). The specific characteristics of this universal grammar are a much debated topic. Typologists and non-generativist linguists usually refer simply to language universals, or universals of language.

Similarities between languages can have a number of different origins. In the simplest case, universal properties may be due to universal aspects of human experience. For example, all humans experience water, and all human languages have a word for water. Other similarities may be due to common descent: the Latin language spoken by the Ancient Romans developed into Spanish in Spain and Italian in Italy; similarities between Spanish and Italian are thus in many cases due to both being descended from Latin. In other cases, contact between languages — particularly where many speakers are bilingual — can lead to much borrowing of structures, as well as words. Similarity may also, of course, be due to coincidence. English much and Spanish mucho are not descended from the same form or borrowed from one language to the other;[12] nor is the similarity due to innate linguistic knowledge (see False cognate).

Arguments in favor of language universals have also come from documented cases of sign languages (such as Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language) developing in communities of congenitally deaf people, independently of spoken language. The properties of these sign languages conform generally to many of the properties of spoken languages. Other known and suspected sign language isolates include Kata Kolok, Nicaraguan Sign Language, and Providence Island Sign Language.


It has been perceived that languages tend to be organized around grammatical categories such as noun and verb, nominative and accusative, or present and past, though, importantly, not exclusively so. The grammar of a language is organized around such fundamental categories, though many languages express the relationships between words and syntax in other discrete ways (cf. some Bantu languages for noun/verb relations, ergative-absolutive systems for case relations, several Native American languages for tense/aspect relations).

In addition to making substantial use of discrete categories, language has the important property that it organizes elements into recursive structures; this allows, for example, a noun phrase to contain another noun phrase (as in "the chimpanzee's lips") or a clause to contain a clause (as in "I think that it's raining"). Though recursion in grammar was implicitly recognized much earlier (for example by Jespersen), the importance of this aspect of language became more popular after the 1957 publication of Noam Chomsky's book Syntactic Structures,[13] which presented a formal grammar of a fragment of English. Prior to this, the most detailed descriptions of linguistic systems were of phonological or morphological systems.

Chomsky used a context-free grammar augmented with transformations. Since then, following the trend of Chomskyan linguistics, context-free grammars have been written for substantial fragments of various languages (for example GPSG, for English). It has been demonstrated, however, that human languages (most notably Dutch and Swiss German) include cross-serial dependencies, which cannot be handled adequately by context-free grammars.[14]

Selected sub-fields

Historical linguistics

Historical linguistics studies the history and evolution of languages through the comparative method. Often the aim of historical linguistics is to classify languages in language families descending from a common ancestor. This evolves comparison of elements in different languages to detect possible cognates in order to be able to reconstruct how different languages have changed over time. This also involves the study of etymology, the study of the history of single words. Historical linguistics is also called "diachronic linguistics" and is opposed to "synchronic linguistics" that study languages in a given moment in time without regarding its previous stages.In universities in the United States, the historic perspective is often out of fashion. Historical linguistics was among the first linguistic disciplines to emerge and was the most widely practiced form of linguistics in the late 19th century. The shift in focus to a synchronic perspective started with Saussure and became predominant in western linguistics with Noam Chomsky's emphasis on the study of the synchronic and universal aspects of language.


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.

Descriptive linguistics and language documentation

Since the inception of the discipline of linguistics linguists have been concerned with describing and documenting languages previously unknown to science. Starting with Franz Boas in the early 1900s descriptive linguistics became the main strand within American linguistics until the rise of formal structural linguistics in the mid 20th century. The rise of American descriptive linguistics was caused by the concern with describing the languages of indigenous peoples that were (and are) rapidly moving towards extinction. The ethnographic focus of the original Boasian type of descriptive linguistics occasioned the development of disciplines such as Sociolinguistics, anthropological linguistics, and linguistic anthropology, disciplines that investigate the relations between language, culture and society.

The emphasis on linguistic description and documentation has since become more important outside of North America as well, as the documentation of rapidly dying indigenous languages has become a primary focus in many of the worlds' linguistics programs. Language description is a work intensive endeavour usually requiring years of field work for the linguist to learn a language sufficiently well to write a reference grammar of it. The further task of language documentation requires the linguist to collect a preferably large corpus of texts and recordings of sound and video in the language, and to arrange for its storage in accessible formats in open repositories where it may be of the best use for further research by other researchers.[15]

Applied linguistics

Linguists are largely concerned with finding and describing the generalities and varieties both within particular languages and among all language. Applied linguistics takes the result of those findings and "applies" them to other areas. The term "applied linguistics" is often used to refer to the use of linguistic research in language teaching only[citation needed], but results of linguistic research are used in many other areas as well, such as lexicography and translation. "Applied linguistics" has been argued to be something of a misnomer, 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 which 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 subdiscipline 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.[16] This often takes the form of an interview by personnel in an immigration department. Depending on the country, this interview is conducted in either the asylum seeker's native language through an interpreter, or in an international lingua franca like English.[16] Australia uses the former method, while Germany employs the latter; the Netherlands uses either method depending on the languages involved.[16] Tape recordings of the interview then undergo language analysis, which can be done by either 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.[16]

Description and prescription

Main articles: Descriptive linguistics, Linguistic prescription

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 which they consider to be destructive to society.

Speech and writing

Most contemporary linguists work under the assumption that spoken (or signed) language is more fundamental than written language. This is because:

  • Speech appears to be universal to all human beings capable of producing and hearing it, while there have been many cultures and speech communities that lack written communication;
  • Speech evolved before human beings invented writing;
  • People learn to speak and process spoken languages more easily and much earlier than writing;

Linguists nonetheless 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. Additionally, 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.


Some of the earliest linguistic activities can be recalled from Iron Age India with the analysis of Sanskrit. The Pratishakhyas (from ca. the 8th century BC) constitute as it were a proto-linguistic ad hoc collection of observations about mutations to a given corpus particular to a given Vedic school. Systematic study of these texts gives rise to the Vedanga discipline of Vyakarana, the earliest surviving account of which is the work of Pāṇini (c. 520 – 460 BC), who, however, looks back on what are probably several generations of grammarians, whose opinions he occasionally refers to. Pāṇini formulates close to 4,000 rules which together form a compact generative grammar of Sanskrit. Inherent in his analytic approach are the concepts of the phoneme, the morpheme and the root. Due to its focus on brevity, his grammar has a highly unintuitive structure, reminiscent of contemporary "machine language" (as opposed to "human readable" programming languages).

Indian linguistics maintained a high level for several centuries; Patanjali in the 2nd century BC still actively criticizes Pāṇini. In the later centuries BC, however, Pāṇini's grammar came to be seen as prescriptive, and commentators came to be fully dependent on it. Bhartrihari (c. 450 – 510) theorized the act of speech as being made up of four stages: first, conceptualization of an idea, second, its verbalization and sequencing (articulation) and third, delivery of speech into atmospheric air, the interpretation of speech by the listener, the interpreter.

Western linguistics begins in Classical Antiquity with grammatical speculation such as Plato's Cratylus. The first important advancement of the Greeks was the creation of the alphabet. As a result of the introduction of writing, poetry such as the Homeric poems became written and several editions were created and commented, forming the basis of philology and critic. The sophists and Socrates introduced dialectics as a new text genre. Aristotle defined the logic of speech and the argument. Furthermore Aristotle works on rhetoric and poetics were of utmost importance for the understating of tragedy, poetry, public discussions etc. as text genres.

One of the greatest of the Greek grammarians was Apollonius Dyscolus.[17] Apollonius wrote more than thirty treatises on questions of syntax, semantics, morphology, prosody, orthography, dialectology, and more. In the 4th c., Aelius Donatus compiled the Latin grammar Ars Grammatica that was to be the defining school text through the Middle Ages.[18] In De vulgari eloquentia ("On the Eloquence of Vernacular"), Dante Alighieri expanded the scope of linguistic enquiry from the traditional languages of antiquity to include the language of the day.[citation needed]

In the Middle East, the Persian linguist Sibawayh made a detailed and professional description of Arabic in 760, in his monumental work, Al-kitab fi al-nahw (الكتاب في النحو, The Book on Grammar), bringing many linguistic aspects of language to light. In his book he distinguished phonetics from phonology.[citation needed]

Sir William Jones noted that Sanskrit shared many common features with classical Latin and Greek, notably verb roots and grammatical structures, such as the case system. This led to the theory that all languages sprung from a common source and to the discovery of the Indo-European language family. He began the study of comparative linguistics, which would uncover more language families and branches.

In 19th century Europe the study of linguistics was largely from the perspective of philology (or historical linguistics). Some early-19th-century linguists were Jakob Grimm, who devised a principle of consonantal shifts in pronunciation – known as Grimm's Law – in 1822; Karl Verner, who formulated Verner's Law; August Schleicher, who created the "Stammbaumtheorie" ("family tree"); and Johannes Schmidt, who developed the "Wellentheorie" ("wave model") in 1872.

Ferdinand de Saussure was the founder of modern structural linguistics, with an emphasis on synchronic (i.e. non-historical) explanations for language form.

In North America, the structuralist tradition grew out of a combination of missionary linguistics (whose goal was to translate the bible) and Anthropology. While originally regarded as a sub-field of anthropology in the United States,[19][20] linguistics is now considered a separate scientific discipline in the US, Australia and much of Europe.

Edward Sapir, a leader in American structural linguistics, was one of the first who explored the relations between language studies and anthropology. His methodology had strong influence on all his successors. Noam Chomsky's formal model of language, transformational-generative grammar, developed under the influence of his teacher Zellig Harris, who was in turn strongly influenced by Leonard Bloomfield, has been the dominant model since the 1960s.

The structural linguistics period was largely superseded in North America by generative grammar in the 1950s and 60s. This paradigm views language as a mental object, and emphasizes the role of the formal modeling of universal and language specific rules. Noam Chomsky remains an important but controversial linguistic figure. Generative grammar gave rise to such frameworks such as Transformational grammar, Generative Semantics, Relational Grammar, Generalized Phrase-structure Grammar, Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG) and Lexical Functional Grammar (LFG). Other linguists working in Optimality Theory state generalizations in terms of violable constraints that interact with each other, and abandon the traditional rule-based formalism first pioneered by early work in generativist linguistics.

Functionalist linguists working in functional grammar and Cognitive Linguistics tend to stress the non-autonomy of linguistic knowledge and the non-universality of linguistic structures, thus differing significantly from the formal approaches.

Schools of study

There are a wide variety of approaches to linguistic study. These can be loosely divided (although not without controversy) into formalist and functionalist approaches. Formalist approaches stress the importance of linguistic forms, and seek explanations for the structure of language from within the linguistic system itself. For example, the fact that language shows recursion might be attributed to recursive rules. Functionalist linguists by contrast view the structure of language as being driven by its function. For example, the fact that languages often put topical information first in the sentence, may be due to a communicative need to pair old information with new information in discourse.

Generative grammar

During the last half of the twentieth 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. Formal linguistics remains the dominant paradigm for studying linguistics,[21] though Chomsky's writings have also gathered much criticism.

Cognitive linguistics

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 posit that language is an emergent property of basic, general-purpose cognitive processes, though cognitive linguistics has also been the subject of much criticism.[22] 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.

See also

Branches and fields

Anthropological linguistics, Semiotics, Philology, Discourse, Structuralism, Post-structuralism, Cognitive linguistics, Cognitive science, Comparative linguistics, Sociolinguistics, Varieties, Developmental linguistics, Discourse Analysis, Descriptive linguistics, Ecolinguistics, Embodied cognition, Endangered languages.

History of linguistics, Historical linguistics, Intercultural competence, Lexicography/Lexicology, Linguistic typology, Evolutionary linguistics.

Articulatory phonology, Biolinguistics, Computational linguistics, Biosemiotics, Articulatory synthesis, Machine translation, Natural language processing, Speaker recognition (authentication), Speech processing, Speech recognition, Speech synthesis, Concept Mining, Corpus linguistics, Critical discourse analysis, Cryptanalysis, Decipherment, Asemic writing, Grammar Writing.

Forensic linguistics, Global language system, Glottometrics, Integrational linguistics, International Linguistic Olympiad, Language acquisition, Language attrition, Language engineering, Language geography, Metacommunicative competence, Microlinguistics, Natural Language Processing, Neurolinguistics, Orthography, Reading, Second language acquisition, Sociocultural linguistics, Stratificational linguistics, Text linguistics, Writing systems, Xenolinguistics.


  1. ^ Fromkin, Victoria; Bruce Hayes; Susan Curtiss, Anna Szabolcsi, Tim Stowell, Donca Steriade (2000). Linguistics: An Introduction to Linguistic Theory. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 3. ISBN 0631197117. 
  2. ^ Martinet, André (1960). Elements of General Linguistics. Tr. Elisabeth Palmer (Studies in General Linguistics, vol. i.). London: Faber. p. 15. 
  3. ^ Halliday, Michael A. K.; Jonathan Webster (2006). On Language and Linguistics. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. vii. ISBN 0826488242. 
  4. ^ Greenberg, Joseph (1948). "Linguistics and ethnology". Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 4: 140–47. 
  5. ^ a b Online Etymological Dictionary: philology
  6. ^ McMahon, A. M. S. (1994), Understanding Language Change, Cambridge University Press, p. 19, ISBN 0-521-44665-1 
  7. ^ McMahon, A. M. S. (1994), Understanding Language Change, Cambridge University Press, p. 9, ISBN 0-521-44665-1 
  8. ^ A. Morpurgo Davies Hist. Linguistics (1998) 4 I. 22.
  9. ^ a b Online Etymological Dictionary: linguist
  10. ^ "Animal Language Article"
  11. ^ Nevertheless, recent research suggests that even weak genetic biases in speakers may, over a number of generations, influence the evolution of particular languages, leading to a non-random distribution of certain linguistic features across the world. (Dediu, D. & Ladd, D.R. (2007). Linguistic tone is related to the population frequency of the adaptive haplogroups of two brain size genes, ASPM and Microcephalin, PNAS 104:10944-10949; summary available here)
  12. ^ Much is from Middle English muchel, which is from Proto-Germanic *mekilaz[1], while mucho is from Latin multus[2].
  13. ^ Chomsky, Noam. 1957. "Syntactic Structures". Mouton, The Hague
  14. ^ Carl Vogel, Ulrike Hahn, Holly Branigan 1996, "Cross serial dependencies are not hard to process", Proceedings of the 16th conference on Computational linguistics - Volume 1
  15. ^ Himmelman, Nikolaus Language documentation: What is it and what is it good for? in P. Gippert, Jost, Nikolaus P Himmelmann & Ulrike Mosel. (2006) Essentials of Language documentation. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin & New York.
  16. ^ a b c d Eades, Diana (2005). "Applied Linguistics and Language Analysis in Asylum Seeker Cases". Applied Linguistics 26 (4): 503–526. doi:10.1093/applin/ami021. 
  17. ^ Apollonius Dyscolus
  18. ^ linguistics : Greek and Roman antiquity -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  19. ^ The "four fields" in American anthropology are cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, archeology and linguistics.
  20. ^ Kemmer, Suzanne (2008). Biographical sketch of Franz Boas. Houston: Rice University. 
  21. ^ McMahon, A. M. S. (1994), Understanding Language Change, Cambridge University Press, p. 32, ISBN 0-521-44665-1 
  22. ^ See Newmeyer 1998, Language Form and Language Function (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press), and Culicover and Jackendoff 2005, Simpler Syntax (OUP)[3]

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Linguistics is the scientific study of human language.

Wikipedia has an article about:



  • It’s as if we’re higher apes who had a language faculty inserted.


  • We are caught in a traffic jam of discursive thought.
    • Chogyam Trungpa

Example sentences


  1. See also Fred R. Shapiro, Joseph Epstein (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations, p. 498, in which the earliest appearance of the saying is attributed to the net.jokes post. Shapiro and Epstein give the post's date as 9 July 1982, transposing the day and month of the Usenet post.
  2. Rapaport, William J. 22 September 2006. "A History of the Sentence "Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."". Accessed 23 September 2006. (archived copy)

External links

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Look up linguistics in Wiktionary, the free dictionary

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From Wikiversity

Welcome to the School of Linguistics, part of Social Sciences.

A school is a large organizational structure which can contain various departments and divisions. The departments and divisions should be listed in the departments and divisions section. The school should not contain any learning resources. The school can contain projects for developing learning resources.


Divisions and Departments

Divisions and Departments of the School exist on pages in "topic" namespace. Start the name of departments with the "Topic:" prefix; departments reside in the Topic: namespace. Departments and divisions link to learning meaterials and learning projects. Divisions can link subdivisions or to departments. For more information on schools, divisions and departments look at the Naming Conventions.

Languages and Language Families

See Category:Languages and Language families A language family is a group of related languages said to have descended from a common proto-language. Most languages are known to belong to language families. An accurately identified family is a phylogenetic unit; that is, all its members derive from a common ancestor. The concept of language families thus entails the concept of a historical genetic ancestor of a language, implying a gradual evolution over time of one language into another language (as opposed to sudden replacement of a language). The concept of linguistic ancestry is less clear-cut than the concept of biological ancestry, as in cases of extreme historical language contact, in particular the formation of creole languages and other types of mixed languages; it may be unclear which language should be considered the ancestor of a given language. However, these types of cases are relatively rare and most languages can be unambiguously classified into families.

The common ancestor of a language family is seldom known directly, since most languages have a relatively short recorded history. However, it is possible to recover many features of a proto-language by applying the comparative method — a reconstructive procedure worked out by 19th century linguist August Schleicher. This can demonstrate the validity of many of the proposed families listed below.

Language families can be divided into smaller phylogenetic units, conventionally referred to as branches of the family, because the history of a language family is often represented as a tree diagram. However, the term family is not restricted to any one level of this "tree"; the Germanic family, for example, is a branch of the Indo-European family. Some taxonomists restrict the term family to a certain level, but there is little consensus in how to do so. Those who affix such labels also subdivide branches into groups, and groups into complexes. The terms superfamily, phylum, and stock are applied to proposed groupings of language families whose status as phylogenetic units is generally considered to be unsubstantiated by accepted historical linguistic methods.

The common ancestor of the languages belonging to a language family is known as its proto-language. For example, the reconstructible proto-language of the Indo-European language family is called Proto-Indo-European. Proto-Indo-European is not attested by written records, since it was spoken before the invention of writing, but sometimes a proto-language can be identified with a historically known language. Thus, provincial dialects of Latin ("Vulgar Latin") gave rise to the modern Romance languages, so the Proto-Romance language is more or less identical with Latin (if not exactly with the literary Latin of the Classical writers), and dialects of Old Norse are the proto-language of Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Faroese and Icelandic.

Languages that cannot be reliably classified into any family are known as language isolates. A language isolated in its own branch within a family, such as Greek within Indo-European, is often also called an isolate, but such cases are usually clarified. For instance, Greek might be referred to as an Indo-European isolate. This modern isolate however is not reflected in its own history, because Greek results from the evolution from within the larger Indo-European language. On the opposite, the Basque language is a living modern language and a near perfect isolate, whose history and lexical/phonetic/syntactic structure and history is not known and not easily associated to other languages (even if it has been influenced by Romance languages in the nearby region, like Castillian Spanish, Catalan, Occitan, and French).

Approach to Linguistics

Generative Approach

Formal Linguistics

Systemic-Functional Linguistics

Cognitive Linguistics

Areas of Study

In the scientific practice of linguistics, several distinct areas of study are recognized. Each represents a different aspect or level of abstraction. These range from phonetics — the study of the acoustic, anatomical, and other such aspects of the physical production or qualities of vocal sounds; to syntax — the study of the rules and organization of words and the relationships existing between them.

Linguistics is generally divided between theoretical and applied approaches:

Theoretical linguistics:

Applied linguistics:

Diachronic linguistics (or historical linguistics) is a field of applied linguistics that deals with changes in languages over time. The field includes comparative linguistics, which looks for relatedness between languages and language families. It also includes Etymology - the study of word origins.

Learning groups

These groups are forming:

Historical Linguistics

Language Change and Evolution

Active participants

The histories of Wikiversity pages indicate who the active participants are. If you are an active participant in this school, you can list your name here (this can help small schools grow and the participants communicate better; for large schools it is not needed).

  • DoğanCan

School news

  • 21 August 2006 - School founded!
The oldest date on the discussion page is 4 Sep 2006, so I assume the school was founded on or about that date. Junkbudha 16:20, 1 January 2008 (UTC)
If you check the page history, you'll see that the earliest edit was on 21 August. But content wasn't added until 23 August, and real content wasn't added until 3 September. The Jade Knight 15:02, 3 September 2008 (UTC)

See also

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Up to date as of January 23, 2010

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This online textbook serves to provide an introduction to the science of linguistics, its major subfields, and its theoretical consequences.

Part of the Linguistics Collection


Development stage: 75% (as of Aug 3, 2009)

00.Introduction- How does language work?

linguistics, descriptivism, hidden knowledge, deep structure, experimental data

"Freedom" (amagi), or "liberty", taken from a clay document written about 2300 B.C. in the Sumerian city-state of Lagash.
Development stage: 50% (as of Sep 6, 2009)

01.Phonetics- The sounds of speech

articulatory phonetics, acoustic phonetics, auditory phonetics, the International Phonetic Alphabet

"IPA" in IPA
Development stage: 25% (as of Aug 3, 2009)

02.Phonology- Speech sounds go to work

phonemes, allophony, morphophonology

Cardinal vowel chart-accurate(png).svg
Development stage: 00% (as of Aug 3, 2009)

03.Morphology- How we make words

morphemes, affixes, other morphemes, inflectional morphology, derivational morphology, morphosyntax, non-morphemic theories

Word structure tree of Dutch compounds
Development stage: 25% (as of Aug 3, 2009)
Parse of the sentence "John hit the ball".
Development stage: 00% (as of Aug 3, 2009)
Semantic priming center
Development stage: 00% (as of Aug 4, 2009)

06.Pragmatics- The role of context

Inclusive and exclusive "nous"
Development stage: 25% (as of Aug 3, 2009)

07.Typology- How languages differ

phonological, morphological, morphosyntactic, syntactic

Ergative morphosyntactic alignment
Development stage: 00% (as of Aug 3, 2009)

08.Historical Linguistics- How languages got the way they are

An example Old English typeface called "Blackletter".
Development stage: 50% (as of Sep 6, 2009)

09.Orthography- The use of written language

directionality, spelling systems, alphabets, abjads, abugidas, syllabaries, logographies, mixed scripts, unwritten language and new orthographies

An icon showing glyphs from different alphabets
Development stage: 00% (as of Aug 5, 2009)

10.Sociolinguistics- Language in society

Multilingual sign in Nador, Morocco
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Linguistic hedge effect
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Skull of Homo neanderthalensis
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13.Computational Linguistics- Machines learning language

3D picture of a cellphone
Development stage: 00% (as of Aug 3, 2009)


definition of terms

Development stage: 50% (as of Sep 6, 2009)

Appendix A

IPA chart

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Development stage: 00% (as of Aug 4, 2009)


See also

Simple English

Linguistics is the science that studies language. Scientists who study language are called linguists.

Linguistics divides language in many levels to study it, like sounds (phonetics), structure of words (morphology), meaning of words (lexicology), and the structure of language itself (grammar). It also studies how people understand language (semantics) and how words combine (syntax).

Linguistics studies one language next to another to find similar properties. Doing that makes it possible to find things shared by all the languages of the world.



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