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Branches of Linguistics

So how do you categorize the multitudinous subcategories of linguistics? I am going to go with the following five divisions (a.k.a., categories, domains, fields, specializations):

1. Foundational Linguistics
2. Theoretical Linguistics
3. Descriptive Linguistics
4. Applied Linguistics
5. Mathematical Linguistics

Please feel free to quibble with this organizational schema. Feel free to entirely overthrow it, for that matter. It is just what makes the most sense to me for now.

These are all generally accepted categories except for the term Foundational Linguistics. I could call that category General Linguistics but the other gets more at what I mean. Plus, I am already using the tag/label general linguistics on this blog to refer to general (non-technical, non-domain-specific, I-don't-want-to-worry-about-classifying) discussions of linguistics and language.

So Foundational Linguistics refers to what a linguist cannot not know (and must know in the following alphabetical order, or else it simply won't work): discourse analysis, grammar, lexis (a term I prefer to lexicology, and under which I'm going to go ahead and include etymology), morphology, orthography (let's include graphemics here for the time being), phonetics, phonology, pragmatics, semantics, stylistics, and syntax (I will cover semiotics somewhere along the way too, probably in relation to pragmatics, semantics, and syntax). I would wonder about a linguist who didn't have at least passing familiarity with all of these fields--thus foundational. But I would not expect a linguist to be well-versed in both, say, psycholinguistics and systemic functional linguistics (though one could be).

Theoretical Linguistics refers to specific linguistic theories or systems (including schools of thought and movements): cognitive linguistics, structuralist linguistics, generative linguistics, relevance theory, speech-act theory, systemic functional linguistics. Two unrelated comments: 1) I may eventually also post about the Danish School, the Geneva School, the Prague School, etc., and 2) I am parting from the standard schema that would include morphology, phonology, etc., under Theoretical Linguistics.

Descriptive Linguistics is fairly self-descriptive as a label. It comprises anthropological, comparative, evolutionary, and historical (diachronic) linguistics, as well as sociolinguistics. I think evolutionary linguistics fits better here than under Applied Linguistics.

Applied Linguistics is all kinds of fun. It includes forensic linguistics, internet linguistics, neurolinguistics, and psycholinguistics. It also includes all of the linguistic subcategories that contain the word language or the suffix ism: bilingualism, language acquisition (including second language acquisition), language development, language pedagogy, and multilingualism. I could include Translation Studies here but will not (nor under any other linguistic category), for some very important reasons that I will develop later. There will be a parallel universe of blog posts on Translation Studies, separate from this series on linguistics.

Mathematical Linguistics is not making me entirely happy as its own category, but I think it makes sense because under it I can include computational, corpus, and quantitative linguistics. I am also interested in stylometrics (which I prefer to stylometry for the sole reason that it strikes my ears as more linguistic-sounding). Perhaps all four of these fields could be put under Descriptive or Applied Linguistics, but I think their mathematical rigors warrant a separate category. For me, Descriptive Linguistics focuses more on historical and social factors and Applied Linguistics is concerned with studying the brain, development, and teaching/learning, while Mathematical Linguistics is inherently concerned with intensive mathematical models.

Are biolinguistics, ecolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, linguistic geography, and linguistic typology other categories that I should have included somewhere?

Descriptive vs. prescriptive linguistics

Let me reiterate that I will not be covering Translation Studies in this series on linguistics. I think TS deserves its own series, as linguistics relies on TS and TS relies on linguistics. To be continued . . .


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