What is Linguistics?

Linguistics is the scientific study of language, and its focus is the systematic investigation of the properties of particular languages as well as the characteristics of language in general. It encompasses not only the study of sound, grammar and meaning, but also the history of language families, how languages are acquired by children and adults, and how language use is processed in the mind and how it is connected to race and gender. With close connections to the humanities, social sciences and the natural sciences, linguistics complements a diverse range of other disciplines such as anthropology, philosophy, psychology, sociology, biology, computer science, health sciences, education and literature. The subfield of Applied Linguistics emphasizes the use of linguistic concepts in the classroom to help students improve their ability to communicate in their native language or a second language.

Vowel chart of the Smith-Trager phonemic system, on display in Baldy Hall, created by Henry Lee Smith and eorge L. Trager in 1951.

Important subfields of linguistics include:

  • Phonetics - the study of how speech sounds are produced and perceived
  • Phonology - the study of sound patterns and changes 
  • Morphology - the study of word structure
  • Syntax - the study of sentence structure
  • Semantics - the study of linguistic meaning
  • Pragmatics - the study of how language is used in context
  • Historical Linguistics - the study of language change
  • Sociolinguistics - the study of the relation between language and society
  • Computational Linguistics - the study of how computers can process human language
  • Psycholinguistics - the study of how humans acquire and use language

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