Subfields of linguistics
: is an interdisciplinary field dealing with the statistical and/or rule-based modeling of natural language from a computational perspective. This modeling is not limited to any particular field of linguistics. Traditionally, computational linguistics was usually performed by computer scientists who had specialized in the application of computers to the processing of a natural language. Recent research has shown that human language is much more complex than previously thought, so computational linguists often work as members of interdisciplinary teams, including linguists (specifically trained in linguistics), language experts (persons with some level of ability in the languages relevant to a given project), and computer scientists. Computational linguistics draws upon the involvement of linguists, computer scientists, experts in artificial intelligence, cognitive psychologists, mathematicians, and logicians, amongst others.
Comparative linguistics (originally comparative philology) is a branch of historical linguistics that is concerned with comparing languages in order to establish their historical relatedness. Languages may be related by convergence through borrowing or by genetic descent.
Genetic relatedness implies a common origin or proto-language, and comparative linguistics aims to construct language families, to reconstruct proto-languages and specify the changes that have resulted in the documented languages. In order to maintain a clear distinction between attested and reconstructed forms, comparative linguists prefix an asterisk to any form that is not found in surviving texts.
Dialectology is a sub-field of linguistics, the scientific study of linguistic dialect. It studies variations in language based primarily on geographic distribution and their associated features (as opposed to variations based on social factors, which are studied in sociolinguistics, or variations based on time, which are studied in historical linguistics). Dialectology treats such topics as divergence of two local dialects from a common ancestor and synchronic variation.
Dialectologists are ultimately concerned with grammatical features which correspond to regional areas. Thus they are usually dealing with populations living in their areas for generations without moving, but also with immigrant groups bringing their languages to new settlements.
Etymology is the study of the history of words - when they entered a language, from what source, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.
In languages with a long written history, etymology makes use of philology, the study of how words change from culture to culture over time. However, etymologists also apply the methods of comparative linguistics to reconstruct information about languages that are too old for any direct information (such as writing) to be known. By analyzing related languages with a technique known as the comparative method, linguists can make inferences about their shared parent language and its vocabulary. In this way, word roots have been found which can be traced all the way back to the origin of, for instance, the Indo-European language family.
Even though etymological research originally grew from the philological tradition, nowadays much etymological research is done in language families where little or no early documentation is available, such as Uralic and Austronesian.
Historical linguistics (also diachronic linguistics) is the study of language change. It has five main concerns:
to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages*;
*to reconstruct the pre-history of languages and determine their relatedness, grouping them into language families (comparative linguistics);
to develop general theories about how and why language changes;*
to describe the history of speech communities*;
*to study the history of words, i.e., etymology.
History and development
Modern historical linguistics dates from the late 18th century and grew out of the earlier discipline of philology, the study of ancient texts and documents, which goes back to antiquity.
At first historical linguistics was comparative linguistics and mainly concerned with establishing language families and the reconstruction of prehistoric languages, using the comparative method and internal reconstruction. The focus was on the well-known Indo-European languages, many of which had long written histories. But since then, significant comparative linguistic work has been done on the Uralic languages, Austronesian languages and various families of Native American languages, among many others. Comparative linguistics is now, however, only a part of a more broadly conceived discipline of historical linguistics. For the Indo-European languages comparative study is now a highly specialised field and most research is being carried out on the subsequent development of these languages, particularly the development of the modern standard varieties.
Evolution into other fields
Initially, all modern linguistics was historical in orientation - even the study of modern dialects involved looking at their origins. But Saussure drew a distinction between synchronic and diachronic linguistics, which is fundamental to the present day organization of the discipline. Primacy is accorded to synchronic linguistics, and diachronic linguistics is defined as the study of successive synchronic stages. Saussure's clear demarcation, however, is now seen to be idealised. In practice, a purely synchronic linguistics is not possible for any period before the invention of the gramophone: written records always lag behind speech in reflecting linguistic developments, and in any case are difficult to date accurately before the development of the modern title page. Also, the work of sociolinguists on linguistic variation has shown synchronic states are not uniform: the speech habits of older and younger speakers differ in ways which point to language change. Synchronic variation is linguistic change in progress.
The biological origin of language is in principle a concern of historical linguistics, but most linguists regard it as too remote to be reliably established by standard techniques of historical linguistics such as the comparative method. Less standard techniques, such as mass lexical comparison, are used by some linguists to overcome the limitations of the comparative method, but most linguists regard them as unreliable.
The findings of historical linguistics are often used as a basis for hypotheses about the groupings and movements of peoples, particularly in the prehistoric period. In practice, however, it is often unclear how to integrate the linguistic evidence with the archaeological or genetic evidence. For example, there are a large number of theories concerning the homeland and early movements of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, each with their own interpretation of the archaeological record.
Interlinguistics is the study of various aspects of international communication. This may include, for example, changes in languages related to contacts between two or more languages. For the most part, however, interlinguistics refers to research on the possibilities of optimizing international communication, usually involving international auxiliary languages or IALs.
While interlinguistics may include study of existing IALs, its purpose is generally to develop a new one. The International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA), which developed Interlingua, is an example of an interlinguistic research body. The International Delegation, which developed Ido, also engaged in interlinguistic research.
Grammar is the study of the rules governing the use of a given natural language, and as such a field of linguistics. Traditionally, grammar included morphology and syntax, in modern linguistics commonly expanded by the subfields of phonetics, phonology, orthography, semantics, and pragmatics.
The same term is also applied to any set of such rules; thus, each language can be said to have its own distinct grammar. Thus "English grammar" (uncountable) refers to the rules of the English language itself, while "an English grammar" (countable) refers to a specific study or analysis of these rules. A fully explicit grammar exhaustively describing the grammatical constructions of a langauge is called a prescriptive grammar, or, in theoretical linguistics, a generative grammar. Specific types of grammars, or approaches to constructing them, are known as grammatical frameworks. The standard framework of generative grammar is the transformational grammar model developed by Noam Chomsky in the 1950s to 1980s.
Lexicology (from lexiko-, in the Late Greek lexikon) is that part of linguistics, which studies words, their nature and meaning, words' elements, relations between words (semantical relations), words groups and the whole lexicon.
The term first appeared in the 1820s, though there were lexicologists in the straight meaning even before that. Computational lexicology as a related field (in the same way that computational linguistics is related to linguistics) deals with the computational study of dictionaries and their contents. An allied science to lexicology is lexicography, which also studies words in relation with dictionaries - it is actually concerned with the inclusion of words in dictionaries and from that perspective with the whole lexicon. Therefore lexicography is the theory and practice of composing dictionaries. Sometimes lexicography is considered to be a part or a branch of lexicology, but the two disciplines should not be mistaken: lexicographers are the people who write dictionaries, they are at the same time lexicologists too, but not all lexicologists are lexicographers! It is said that lexicography is the practical lexicology, it is practically oriented though it has its own theory, while the pure lexicology is mainly theoretical.
Linguistic Typology is an international peer-reviewed journal in the field of linguistic typology, founded in 1997. It is published by Mouton de Gruyter on behalf of the Association for Linguistic Typology. Its editor-in-chief is Prof. Frans Plank (University of Konstanz). The journal is accessible online with subscription via the site of the publisher and Atypon Link.
Morphology is the field within linguistics that studies the internal structure of words. (Words as units in the lexicon are the subject matter of lexicology.) While words are generally accepted as being (with clitics) the smallest units of syntax, it is clear that in most (if not all) languages, words can be related to other words by rules. For example, English speakers recognize that the words dog, dogs, and dog-catcher are closely related. English speakers recognize these relations from their tacit knowledge of the rules of word-formation in English. They intuit that dog is to dogs as cat is to cats; similarly, dog is to dog-catcher as dish is to dishwasher. The rules understood by the speaker reflect specific patterns (or regularities) in the way words are formed from smaller units and how those smaller units interact in speech. In this way, morphology is the branch of linguistics that studies patterns of word-formation within and across languages, and attempts to formulate rules that model the knowledge of the speakers of those languages.
Phonetics (from the Greek word φωνή, phone meaning 'sound, voice') is the study of the sounds of human speech. It is concerned with the actual properties of speech sounds (phones), and their production, audition and perception, while phonology, which emerged from it, studies sound systems and abstract sound units (such as phonemes and distinctive features). Phonetics deals with the sounds themselves rather than the contexts in which they are used in languages. Discussions of meaning (semantics) do not enter at this level of linguistic analysis.
Phonetics has three main branches:
, concerned with the positions and movements of the lips, tongue, vocal tract and folds and other speech organs in producing speech;
, concerned with the properties of the sound waves and how they are received by the inner ear; and
, concerned with speech perception, principally how the brain forms perceptual representations of the input it receives
There are over a hundred different phones recognized as distinctive by the International Phonetic Association (IPA) and transcribed in their International Phonetic Alphabet.
Phonetics was studied as early as 2,500 years ago in ancient India, with Pāṇini's account of the place and manner of articulation of consonants in his 5th century BCE treatise on Sanskrit. The major Indic alphabets today, except Tamil script, order their consonants according to Pāṇini's classification.
Phonology (Greek φωνή (phōnē), voice, sound + λόγος (lógos), word, speech, subject of discussion), is a subfield of linguistics which studies the sound system of a specific language (or languages). Whereas phonetics is about the physical production and perception of the sounds of speech, phonology describes the way sounds function within a given language or across languages.
An important part of phonology is studying which sounds are distinctive units within a language. In English, for example, /p/ and /b/ are distinctive units of sound, (i.e., they are phonemes / the difference is phonemic, or phonematic). This can be seen from minimal pairs such as "pin" and "bin", which mean different things, but differ only in one sound. On the other hand, /p/ is often pronounced differently depending on its position relative to other sounds, yet these different pronunciations are still considered by native speakers to be the same "sound". For example, the /p/ in "pin" is aspirated while the same phoneme in "spin" is not. In some other languages, for example Thai and Quechua, this same difference of aspiration or non-aspiration does differentiate phonemes.
In addition to the minimal meaningful sounds (the phonemes), phonology studies how sounds alternate, such as the /p/ in English described above, and topics such as syllable structure, stress, accent, and intonation.
The principles of phonological theory have also been applied to the analysis of sign languages, even though the phonological units are not acoustic. The principles of phonology, and for that matter, language, are independent of modality because they stem from an abstract and innate grammar.
Pragmatics is the study of the ability of natural language speakers to communicate more than that which is explicitly stated. The ability to understand another speaker's intended meaning is called pragmatic competence. An utterance describing pragmatic function is described as metapragmatic. One thing we might add, is that pragmatics deals about how to reach our goal in communication. Suppose, we want to ask someone beside us to stop smoking. We can achieve that goal by using several utterances. We can say, 'stop smoking, please!' which is direct. We can also say in an indirect way, just like 'sir, this room has air conditioners'. In this way, we want the smoker to understand that he or she is not allowed to smoke in an air conditioned room.
Pragmatics is regarded as one of the most challenging aspects for language learners to grasp, and can only truly be learned with experience.
Psycholinguistics or psychology of language is the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, and understand language. Initial forays into psycholinguistics were largely philosophical ventures, due mainly to a lack of cohesive data on how the human brain functioned. Modern research makes use of biology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and information theory to study how the brain processes language. There are a number of subdisciplines; for example, as non-invasive techniques for studying the neurological workings of the brain become more and more widespread, neurolinguistics has become a field in its own right.
Psycholinguistics covers the cognitive processes that make it possible to generate a grammatical and meaningful sentence out of vocabulary and grammatical structures, as well as the processes that make it possible to understand utterances, words, text, etc. Developmental psycholinguistics studies children's ability to learn language.
Semantics (Greek sēmantikos, giving signs, significant, seebma symptomatic meaning, from sēma (σῆμα), sign) refers to aspects of meaning, as expressed in language or other systems of signs. Semantics contrasts with syntax, which is the study of the structure of sign systems (focusing on the form, not meaning). Related to semantics is the field of pragmatics, which studies the practical use of signs by agents or communities of interpretation within particular circumstances and contexts. By the usual convention that calls a study or a theory by the name of its subject matter, semantics may also denote the theoretical study of meaning in systems of signs.
Semanticists generally recognize two sorts of meaning that an expression (such as the sentence, "John ate a bagel") may have: (1) the relation that the expression, broken down into its constituent parts (signs), has to things and situations in the real world as well as possible worlds, and (2) the relation the signs have to other signs, such as the sorts of mental signs that are conceived of as concepts.
Most theorists refer to the relation between a sign and its objects, as always including any manner of objective reference, as its denotation. Some theorists refer to the relation between a sign and the signs that serve in its practical interpretation as its connotation, but there are many more differences of opinion and distinctions of theory that are made in this case. Many theorists, especially in the formal semantic, pragmatic, and semiotic traditions, restrict the application of semantics to the denotative aspect, using other terms or completely ignoring the connotative aspect.
Sociolinguistics is the study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context on the way language is used. Sociolinguistics overlaps to a considerable degree with pragmatics.
It also studies how lects differ between groups separated by certain social variables, e.g., ethnicity, religion, status, gender, level of education, etc., and how creation and adherence to these rules is used to categorize individuals in social class or socio-economic classes. As the usage of a language varies from place to place (dialect), language usage varies among social classes, and it is these sociolects that sociolinguistics studies.
The social aspects of language were in the modern sense first studied by Indian and Japanese linguists in the 1930s, and also by Gauchat in Switzerland in the early 1900s, but none received much attention in the West until much later. The study of the social motivation of language change, on the other hand, has its foundation in the wave model of he late 19th century. Sociolinguistics in the west first appeared in the 1960s and was pioneered by linguists such as William Labov in the US and Basil Bernstein in the UK.
Syntax is the study of language structure and word order. It is concerned with the relationship between units at the level of words or morphology. Syntax seeks to delineate exactly all and only those sentences which make up a given language, using native speaker intuition. Syntax seeks to describe formally exactly how structural relations between elements (lexical items/words and operators) in a sentence contribute to its interpretation. Syntax uses principles of formal logic and Set Theory to formalize and represent accurately the hierarchical relationship between elements in a sentence. Abstract syntax trees are often used to illustrate the hierarchical structures that are posited. Thus, in active declarative sentences in English the subject is followed by the main verb which in turn is followed by the object (SVO). This order of elements is crucial to its correct interpretation and it is exactly this which syntacticians try to capture. They argue that there must be such a formal computational component contained within the language faculty of normal speakers of a language and seek to describe it