What Is Linguistics?

Linguistics is the study of language. Studying language helps us understand the structure of language, how language is used, variations in language and the influence of language on the way people think. Linguistics helps us understand that languages around the world have commonalities in structure, use, acquisition by children and adults, and how they change over time. Linguistics research allows us to understand commonalities and where they originated, as well as determine structural differences and their limits.

Linguists study language structure (such as sounds and meanings), linguistic patterns, how components of language interact with one another, how people gain knowledge of language, the way knowledge of language interacts with other cognitive processes and how language varies. Linguists may collect empirical evidence while working in the field to gain insight into language. They may also learn how to computationally model knowledge about language. Linguists search databases, work with people who speak different languages to discover patterns, and run experiments with children and adults in the field, classroom and lab.

Linguistics is very broad, with many different fields.  While studying linguistics you will learn about aspects of the human language including the following:

  • Phonetics and phonology (sounds)
  • Morphology (words)
  • Syntax (sentence structure)
  • Semantics (meaning)

Linguists work in many fields:

  • Historical linguistics: The study of how language changes over time
  • Sociolinguistics:  The study of language based on social factors, such as region, social class, occupation, and gender
  • Dialectology: The study of language variation based on geographic distribution
  • Pragmatics: The study of how context contributes to meaning
  • Discourse analysis: The study of how language is used
  • Computational linguistics: The application of computational programs to model aspects of language
  • Language acquisition: The study of how people acquire or learn a language
  • Psycholinguistics: The study of how people process language
  • Experimental linguistics: The study of theories of linguistics representation (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics) based on evidence
  • Neurolinguistics: The study of how language affects the structure and function of the brain
  • Lexicography: The compilation and study of dictionaries with context, history, grammar, and pronunciation in mind
  • Forensic linguistics: The study of language and the law
  • Corpus linguistics: The study of language through a collection of naturally occurring texts