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What is Linguistics ?

Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguists are interested in learning how language works. The knowledge that human beings have of their own language is unconscious; you can't ask someone how many nouns they know, or what part of their vocal cords they use to make a particular sound. Since this knowledge is unconscious, linguists have to observe and then analyze how people speak a particular language.

Language is so basic to what people do and are that it permeates everything in our experience. And yet, languages can differ from each other in a thousand interesting ways. Linguists look at everything from the sounds of language to the way that different social groups (i.e. gangs, lawyers, women, etc.) use language in various different ways.

Linguistics includes the following fields of study (this is not a complete list!):

  • phonetics : looks at how speech sounds are produced. It is a physical science; it includes the study of: human anatomy and physiology, the acoustics of sound waves, and perceptual psychology.
  • semantics : studies what words and phrases mean, and how people make use of meaning. It is related to certain branches of philosophy.
  • historical/comparative linguistics : historical linguistics looks at how languages have changed through time. Comparative linguistics proposes patterns/forms that might have exited in older, extinct languages. Both are clearly related to the study of history.
  • sociolinguistics : studies how language works in situations of social interaction. It is closely related to sociology.
  • psycholinguistics : looks at how children learn language, and how adults use it. It is closely related to psychology.
  • applied linguistics : looks at how people learn a second language. It can be related to Education.
  • morphology : looks at word structure.
  • syntax : looks at sentence structure.
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