Defining Linguistics: The Study of Language

What is Linguistics? Definition and Background

definition of linguistics

What is Linguistics: A Study of Language

Language is a method of human communication, either spoken or written, comprising the use of words in a structured and conventional way; language is a method of expression or communication. Linguistics can be defined as the scientific study of language, encompassing its structure, sounds, meaning, and social contexts. It investigates how languages are structured, acquired, and used by individuals and communities. By analyzing phonetics, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, linguists gain insights into the intricate workings of language.

Objectives of linguistics

Linguistics covers a wide range of subjects. Linguistics answers many question regarding language learning. Here are a few questions which linguistics encompasses:

  • How does a language work?
  • How does a child learn to speak?
  • What do all languages have in common?
  • Why does language change?
  • How language reflects a culture?
  • How does human language differ from animal communication?
  • How does one write and analyze an unwritten language?
  • To what extent are social class differences reflected in language?

The Relationship between Language and Linguistics: A Symbiotic Connection

Language and linguistics share a symbiotic relationship, with each informing and enriching the other. Linguistics provides a framework to understand language systems, while language serves as the primary data source for linguistic analysis. By studying language, linguists gain insights into human cognition, culture, and social dynamics, contributing to fields such as psychology, anthropology, and computer science.

The Historical Overview of Linguistics

Linguistics is not the subject of the current era. It would not be wrong if we say that the roots of linguistics goes back to the birth of language. Because it is associated with language learning and language teaching. We can trace it back to ancient civilizations, where scholars and philosophers contemplated the nature of language. Ancient Indian grammarians, such as Panini, developed sophisticated systems to describe Sanskrit grammar, while ancient Greek thinkers like Plato and Aristotle pondered over language’s role in human cognition and society.


The Evolution of Linguistics: From Ancient Roots to Modern Theories

Linguistics, as a distinct field of study, emerged during the 19th century when scholars applied scientific principles to language analysis. Throughout history, many linguists have made significant contributions to the development of linguistic theory and methodology. Noam Chomsky, a prominent figure in modern linguistics, introduced transformational-generative grammar, proposing that language is an innate human ability governed by a universal grammar. Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, laid the foundation of modern linguistics with his structuralist approach, focusing on the relationships between linguistic elements. This approach paved the way for subsequent schools of thought, such as generative grammar and cognitive linguistics, which revolutionized the field. Other notable linguists include William Labov, known for his groundbreaking work in sociolinguistics.


Linguistics Covers Diverse Subjects

From different viewpoints, we can divide linguistics into several categories:

  • Macro linguistics and micro linguistics
  • Descriptive linguistics and historical linguistics
  • Synchronic and diachronic linguistics
  • Sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics


Micro linguistics focuses on the study of language itself, including its sound (phonetics and phonology) grammatical structures (morphology), syntax, and meanings (semantics) in context (pragmatics). While macro linguistics takes a broad view of linguistic phenomena, studying language in different context and its development over time. Macro-linguistics includes the study of other disciplines that are connected with language study in any perspective e.g. the study of relation between society and linguistics is sociolinguistics.


The Scope of Linguistics

Linguistics encompasses the scientific study of languages, offering a vast and expansive scope for unraveling the details of human development across multiple domains. It serves as a key discipline in comprehending various aspects, such as the vocalization of communication, history, social values of a society, anthropological insights, psychological dynamics, and many of other interconnected fields of study. Additionally, linguistics finds its connections with cognitive neural sciences, adding further depth to our understanding. Within the realm of micro-linguistics, the focus lies on detailed analysis of phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, diving deep into the fundamental building blocks of language. On the other hand, macro-linguistics expands the horizons, encompassing fields like sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, stylistics, discourse analysis, computational linguistics, cognitive linguistics, and applied linguistics, among others. Each of these branches contributes to the comprehensive exploration of language and its impact on human communication, thought processes, social interactions, and the intricate workings of the mind.

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