Language is a phenomenon with many layers, from the sounds that speakers produce to the meanings that those sounds express. The field of Linguistics is comprised of several sub-fields. Most professional linguists become specialists in one or more of these sub-fields.
Linguistics is the study of language – how it is put together and how it functions. Various building blocks of different types and sizes are combined to make up a language. Sounds are brought together and sometimes when this happens, they change their form and do interesting things. Words are arranged in a certain order, and sometimes the beginnings and endings of the words are changed to adjust the meaning. Then the meaning itself can be affected by the arrangement of words and by the knowledge of the speaker about what the hearer will understand. Linguistics is the study of all of this. There are various branches of linguistics which are given their own name, some of which are described below. Linguists are people who study linguistics.
Sub-Fields of Linguistics
Phonetics is the study of the sounds of speech. It includes understanding how sounds are made using the mouth, nose, teeth and tongue, and also understanding how the ear hears those sounds and can tell them apart. A study of phonetics involves practicing producing (sometimes exotic) sounds, and figuring out which sound you heard.
Phonology makes use of the phonetics in order to see how sounds or signs are arranged in a system for each language. In phonology, it matters whether sounds are contrastive or not, that is, whether substituting one sound for another gives a different, or “contrastive,” meaning.
Morphology looks at how individual words are formed from smaller chunks of meaningful units called morphemes. For example, the English word ‘untied’ is really made up of three parts, one referring to the process of reversing an action (un-), one indicating the action of twisting string like things together so they stay.
Syntax is the study of how phrases, clauses and sentences are constructed and combined in particular languages. Writing a grammar requires defining the rules that govern the structure of the sentences of the language. Such rules involve both the order of words, and the form of words in their various possible positions.
Discourse analysis looks at bigger chunks of language – texts, conversations, stories, speeches, etc. Different types of these use language differently, and there can even be differences in how a language is used based on the genre.
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between words, phrases and other bits of language and on how these words and phrases connect to the world.
Role of Linguistics
Linguistics and the Word
Every language is like a one-of-a-kind species. It captures unique conceptualizations of the world and has its own ways of constructing words, phrases and sentences for communicating ideas. As we compare the words and structures of various languages, we come to a greater understanding of our world. Apart from simply understanding the intricacies of world languages, this knowledge can be applied to improving communication between people, contributing to translation activities, assisting in literacy efforts, and treating speech disorders. And, of course, linguistic training is valuable for studying and learning languages.
Linguistics in Daily Life
Because language captures how we perceive the world around us and how we relate to one another, it defines who we are. The Mother tongue language we grow up with is the one used to express what is in our hearts; our heart language. Many minority language communities are marginalized because of their cultural background, or because their heart language is not the language of power. As a result, thousands of minority language communities do not have access to education in a language that they can understand. They become trapped in a cycle of poverty and discrimination, simply because they are not part of the majority language and culture.
Linguistics and Teaching
The use of linguistics in education is continuing to grow, and is often cross-disciplinary in nature. Not only is it utilized by language instructors, it is also used in early childhood development, psychology and anthropology education, as well. Linguistics is not only the study of language, but also includes the evolution and historical context of language, speech and memory development. It includes the structure and meaning of speech, and of written languages as well as an understanding of the context in which certain words are used.
Linguistics and Critical Thinking
You’ll be working with large amounts of data in all mediums, such as text, video and audio. Being able to find the relevant information to analyze and form conclusions is an impressive skill to have that’ll be beneficial in a number of professions. Learning linguistics means you’ll be able to spot patterns in speech and be able to decipher grammar fundamentals in different languages.
Linguistics and Career
Learning how to solve puzzles from communication, or even creating hypotheses from large amounts of data, can lead to a successful career not only in linguistics. Solving puzzles in a professional manner can help in large capacities of the police force, such as, forensic linguist, or as a lawyer, in psychology and sociology. Good communication can help in any field but especially in lexicography, HR, as a teacher, in editorial and publishing or in management.
Linguistics and Innovation
Linguistics is fairly new in the realms of science so many hypotheses are left unanswered. Linguists must tackle this by using creative strategies to problem solve in order to discover new results. This means that, if you take up this type of learning, you could help unlock new discoveries about human brains. Learning more about how and why we interact the way we do could be the most important benefit to this type of study, as there’s so much left for us to discover.