What is Linguistics?

Linguistics is the systematic study of the structure and evolution of human language, and it is applicable to every aspect of human endeavor.

Did You Know?

The Linguistic Society of America observes that linguistics is a field of science that is almost 3,000 years old. Modern linguists primarily concern themselves with either theoretical or applied linguistics. Their research includes many facets of language and language structure, which can be studied at various levels.

The discipline of linguistics focuses on theories of language structure, variation and use, the description and documentation of contemporary languages, and the implications of theories of language for an understanding of the mind and brain, human culture, social behavior, and language learning and teaching.

Phonology and phonetics — the study of the sound systems of languages — deals with the basic utterances in speech. It can be investigated by observing which physical properties of the vocal tract (including the lips and tongue) are used to form distinct linguistic sounds to convey information. Morphology and syntax are concerned with the study of the internal structure of words and sentences. Apart from the study of the sound systems of languages and word and sentence structure, linguists seek to specify the meaning behind words and combinations of words. This investigation is known as semantics. Semanticists also compare the meanings of these combinations when they interact with contextual information, a subfield known as pragmatics. 

Linguists investigate how people acquire their knowledge about language, how this knowledge interacts with other cognitive processes, how it varies across speakers and geographic regions, and how to model this knowledge computationally. They study how to represent the structure of the various aspects of language (such as sounds or meaning), how to account for different linguistic patterns theoretically, and how the different components of language interact with each other. Many linguists collect empirical evidence to help them gain insight into a specific language or languages in general. They may conduct research by interacting with children and adults in schools, in the field, and in university labs.

Because of the pervasive influence of language in our everyday lives, work in linguistics interacts in important ways with studies carried out in many other fields, including psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, law, philosophy, computer science, communication, and education. Majors in linguistics find practical outlets for their linguistic training in the computer industry, law and forensics, teaching foreign languages and English as a second language, translation and interpretation, speech pathology, lexicography, and policy-making in government and education. All these fields of employment share an interest in people with highly developed skills in the analysis and use of spoken or written language. The major in linguistics equips students with just such skills.