It is only since linguistics has become aware of its object of study, i.e. perceives the whole extent of it, that it is evident that this science can make a contribution to a range of studies that will be of interest to almost anyone.Ferdinand de Saussure
At least 95 % of the time, when I say I study linguistics at university, someone will say: « Oh Cool », and will then ask me how many languages I speak.
But in fact, being a linguist is not about the number of languages you speak. It is being part of the science that studies these languages. It is contributing to the research and academia that is needed in order for findings about our languages to expand. It is applying methods for studying language and to understand how meaning is created. It is finding solutions about problems revolving around language. It is studying the patterns behind each individual language, and how they relate to others. It is so many things at once, and I love it.
One of the first things you should know about the science of linguistics, is that it can be divided into major branches.
The first branch is Theoretical Linguistics. As it name says, it looks at theory. It is the branch that studies patterns and technicalities of languages. As a theoretical linguist, your main research question is the following: What do you really know when you know a language? You will mostly interact with the following fields of expertise.
Syntax: “How sentences are structured” (Carnie, 2013, p.4)
Phonology: “Phonology is the study of the organization of sounds in human languages. It is a subfield of linguistics concerned with understanding how languages use certain sounds and combine them to build meaningful units – essentially, words” (Kennedy, 2017, p.1)
Phonetics: “Phonetics is the study of human speech sounds.” (SIL International, 2019)
Morphology: Morphology is the study of the smallest units of meaning that create words when put together. More formally, it is : “The study of systematic covariation in the form and meaning of words” (Haspelmath & Sims, 2013, p.335)
Semantics: Study of “the literal meaning of words and the meaning of the way they are combined, which taken together form the core of meaning, or the starting point from which the whole meaning of a particular utterance is constructed” (Kearns, 2011, p.1)
Pragmatics: “How language can be used to do things and mean things in real-world situations.” (Cameron, 2001, p.68)
Typology: “Linguistic Typology is the analysis, comparison, and classification of languages according to their common structural features and forms.” (Nordquist, 2019)
Historical Linguistics: “Traditionally known as philology—is the branch of linguistics concerned with the development of a language or of languages over time.” (Nordquist, 2019)
The second branch is Applied linguistics. Again, as the name states, it is the branch where linguistics is applied for beneficial purposes. As an applied linguist, your research question could look like the following: How are women discursively represented in the media? How beneficial is it to learn a second language earlier in life? How are oral languages preserved from generation to generation? etc.
You would mostly work within these fields:
Discourse studies: “It is a method for doing social research; it is a body of empirical knowledge about how talk and text are organized; it is the home of various theories about the nature of workings of human communication, and also of theories about the construction and reproduction of social reality. It is both about language and life.” (Cameron & Panovic, 2014, p.13)
Discourse studies involve a lot of methods for analyzing written and oral language, such as :
- Systemic Functional Linguistics
- Critical Discourse Analysis
- Genre analysis
- Multimodal Discourse Analysis:
- Conversation Analysis
- Corpus Analysis
Language revitalization: “Language revitalization is a fairly recent subfield of linguistics that is concerned with halting and reversing the extinction of languages” (Wilhelm, 2013)
Corpus linguistics: “Corpus linguistics is the study of language based on large collections of “real life” language use stored in corpora (or corpuses)–computerized databases created for linguistic research. Also known as corpus-based studies.” (Nordquist, 2019)
Sociolinguistics: “The study of language as it functions in society; the study of the interaction between linguistic and social variables.” (Dictionary.com, 2019)
*Note that sociolinguistics could in fact be its own branch, but it also largely relates to applied linguistics. Within sociolinguistics you will find some fields, such as :
- Ethnography: The investigation of culture(s), using a particular methodology, that of participant observation (Cameron, 2001)
Forensic Linguistics: “The application of linguistic research and methods to the law, including evaluation of written evidence and the language of legislation” (Nordquist, 2019)
Language teaching: The notions surrounding the teaching of a first language (L1), second language (L2), language as a second language where the target language is one of the main language spoken in the country (SL) and language as a foreign language, where the target language is not a main language spoken in the country (FL).
Language acquisition: The study of how first and second languages are acquired unconsciously or learned consciously.
Bilingualism & Multilingualism: The study of individuals who speak and/or understand more than one languages, the impacts it has on the brain, and the study of multilingualism within societies.
Lexicography: “the process of writing, editing, and/or compiling a dictionary.” (Nordquist, 2019)
The third branch of linguistics concerns what I would consider the medical and technological part of linguistics. Research questions might be : What are the effects of bilingualism on the brain ? What causes individuals to have a lapsus, and involuntarily say the wrong word? What cause Patient X to have difficulties producing speech ? etc.
Psycholinguistics: “Psycholinguistics is the study of the mental aspects of language and speech. It is primarily concerned with the ways in which language is represented and processed in the brain.” (Nordquist, 2019)
Computational linguistics: “Computational linguistics involves looking at the ways that a machine would treat natural language, or in other words, dealing with or constructing models for language that can allow for goals such as accurate machine translation of language, or the simulation of artificial intelligence.” (Techopedia, 2019)
Cognitive linguistics: “Cognitive linguistics is a cluster of overlapping approaches to the study of language as a mental phenomenon.” (Nordquist, 2019)
Neurolinguistics: “The interdisciplinary study of language processing in the brain, with an emphasis on the processing of spoken language when certain areas of the brain are damaged.” (Nordquist, 2019)
Speech Pathology: “The scientific study and treatment of defects, disorders, and malfunctions of speech and voice, as stuttering, lisping, or lalling, and of language disturbances, as aphasia or delayed language acquisition.” (Dictionary.com, 2019)
Linguistics is really diverse, broad and can relate to almost any field. Language, whether it is visual or oral is part of our everyday life. Take for example, reading the newspaper, listening to the radio in the car, the words you exchange with your colleagues at work, the text on the poster promoting the next show in town. Language is everywhere, and that is why it is important to have a science, so we can understand it, preserve it, and apply it.
With this blog, my goal is to bring awareness on the field of linguistics and what lay individuals may not think about, when they think about language. I am also looking to create a platform for linguists, or future linguists like me to be heard, share ideas and develop a network across the world.
Hopefully this blog will give you the opportunity to learn more about this wonderful science through my own experience with it, my work and through the available research that I will try to share here.
Subscribe if you would like to learn more, and if you would like to read my future posts.
I will keep you posted wink, wink 😉 !
-Mariève, enthusiastic future linguist of this world.
Almost all definitions above have been taken from different books, and websites that are useful to get an introduction of the different fields of linguistics.
Cameron, D. (2001). Working with Spoken Discourse. London: Sage.
Cameron, D. & Panovic, I. (2014). Working with Written Discourse. London: Sage.
Carnie, A. (2013) Syntax: A Generative Introduction (3rd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.
Computational Linguistics. (2019). In Techopedia. Retrieved from https://www.techopedia.com/definition/194/computational-linguistics
Haspelmath, M. & Sims, A.D. (2010) Understanding Morphology (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Kearns, K. (2011) Semantics (2nd, ed.). Palgrave.
Kennedy, R. (2017). Phonology: A Coursebook. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Nordquist, R. (2019, May 25th). An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/historical-linguistics-term-1690927
Nordquist, R. (2019, July 3rd). Definition and Discussion of Cognitive Linguistics. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-cognitive-linguistics-1689861
Nordquist, R. (2019, July 3rd). Definition and Examples of Corpus Linguistics. ThoughtCo.Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-corpus-linguistics-1689936
Nordquist, R. (2019, July 3rd). Definition and Examples of Lexicography. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-lexicography-1691229
Nordquist, R. (2019, July 3rd). Linguistic Typology. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-linguistic-typology-1691129
Nordquist, R. (2019, July 3rd). Psycholinguistics Definition and Examples. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/psycholinguistics-1691700
Nordquist, R. (2019, July 3rd). What are Forensic Linguistics?. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-forensic-linguistics-1690868.
Nordquist, R. (2019, May 25th). What is Neurolinguistics?. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-neurolinguistics-1691342.
Phonetics. (2019) In SIL Glossary of Linguistic Terms. Retrieved from https://glossary.sil.org/term/phonetics
Sociolinguistics. (2019). In Dictionary.com. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/sociolinguistics
Speech Pathology. (2019) In Dictionary.com. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/speech-pathology?s=t
Wilhelm, A. (2013) Language Revitalization. Oxford Bibliographies. DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199772810-0091.