Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Linguistics

What is linguistics? Since this blog is informally about linguistics, and more generally about language, it is about time to get around to a discussion of linguistics proper.

Dictionary.com defines "linguistics" as "the science of language." The definition actually goes on to state "including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and historical linguistics." But that leaves out a whole lot of other fields in linguistics, so I don't think it is helpful. "The science of language" is a good start.

The American Heritage College Dictionary (which just happens to fulfill the criteria of being on hand and being a non-electronic source) expands on the science idea for us: "The study of the nature, structure, and variation of language." Pretty good. In fact, nature-structure-variation could be a really nice breakdown for a syllabus in an Introduction to Linguistics course.

Now allow me to venture my own definition: Linguistics is the study of language. 

Why so simple and short, you ask? Well, we don't slap "logy" onto the end of "lingua" but if we were to do so, as we do with other fields such as theology, we would end up with something basically meaning "the study of language." That is the meaning of the Japanese word for linguistics: 言語学. And I think simple and short is a good starting point. Now, when we get into descriptive linguistics or neurolinguistics, we will have to define a whole lot more.

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