Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 17

Names for the discipline

Before the twentieth century, the term philology, first attested in 1716, was
commonly used to refer to the science of language, which was then
predominantly historical in focus. Since Ferdinand de Saussures insistence on
the importance of synchronic analysis, however, this focus has shifted and the
term philology is now generally used for the "study of a language's grammar,
history and literary tradition," especially in the United States, where it was
never as popular as it was elsewhere (in the sense of the "science of
language"). Although the term "linguist" in the sense of "a student of language"
dates from 1641, the term linguistics is first attested in 1847. It is now the
usual academic term in English for the scientific study of language.

Goals of linguistics

What are the goals of linguistics? How does a linguist determine if his or her
analysis is good? To what degree does an analysis of a language reflect the
truth about the language? We can look at language descriptions in terms of
three tasks: Observational adequacy Descriptive adequacy Explanatory

Observational adequacy: A linguistic theory which presents the data in the

corpus, predicting which sentences are well-formed.

Descriptive adequacy: A linguistic theory which, apart from explaining the

well-formedness of the observed language data, accounts for native speakers
intuitions about well-formedness.

Explanatory adequacy: A linguistic theory which accounts for language

universals and how children acquire their language.

For example

(1) He studied for the exam

(2) * Studied for the exam

Observational adequacy: (1) is grammatical but (2) is not. Descriptive

adequacy: (1) is grammatical but (2) is not because English sentences require
an explicit subject. Explanatory adequacy: (1) is grammatical but (2) is not.
Unlike Spanish or Japanese, which are pro-drop languages, English does not
permit the omission of a subject pronoun.

Use of studying linguistics

For a student of language: to know the general properties of language can
help the student to have an overview of human language which in turn will stop
him from asking unnecessary questions.

For a teacher of foreign languages: the teacher will definitely benefit a great
deal from the knowledge of linguistics. He will learn about not only how
language is pronounced or structured, but also how it should be presented to
learners. He will know not only how each level of the language system is
related to other levels, but also how language is closely related to many things
outside itself, such as the mind, the brain, and society, among other things.

For a researcher: there is even more scope for displaying his abilities. First,
there are various branches of linguistics, each of which is equally fascinating
and challenging. Secondly, linguistic research is going deeper and deeper,
often from mere descriptions to logical and philosophical explanations.
Thirdly, linguistics is becoming more and more interdisciplinary, which means
that it draws on the findings of other disciplines while it also sheds light on
their research.

Important distinctions in linguistics

Description vs. Prescription

Description: it aims to describe and analyze the language people actually use.
E.g. People dont say X

Prescription: it aims to lay down rules for correct and standard behavior in
using language. E.g. Dont say X

The distinction lies in prescribing how things ought to be and describing how
things are.

Synchrony vs. Diachrony

Synchronic: a synchronic description takes a fixed instant (usually, but not

necessarily, the present) as its point of observation. It describes language at
some point of time in history (static) without paying attention to its previous
stages. Most grammars are of this kind.

Diachrony: a diachronic description considers the study of a language through

the course of its history. It describes a language as it changes through time

Langue (lengua) vs. Parole (palabra)

Langue: refers to the abstract linguistic system shared by all the members of a
speech community.
Parole: refers to the realization of langue in actual use.

Competence vs. Performance Form vs. Function

Language: It refers to the human biological faculty of speech

Langue: It is abstract because it refers to the linguistic system shared by the

speakers of a language.

Its social because it refers to the set of conventions and rules which the
speakers of a community all have to abide by.

It refers to the code.

It is static due to the invariant nature of its elements.

Parole: It is concrete because it refers to the act of speaking (or writing) in

actual situations

It is individual because it refers to the use of the conventions and the

application of the rules on the part of an individual.

It refers to the message.

Its dynamic because it varies according to register, age, dialect,

For Saussure, language includes both langue and parole. These are French

Competence vs. Performance

Competence refers to a language user's underlying knowledge about the

system of rules of a language. Performance refers to the actual use of this
language knowledge in concrete situations. (Noam Chomsky)

Chomskys distinction of competence and performance is strikingly reminiscent

of the distinction between langue and parole introduced generations earlier by
Saussure, though not quite identical to it.
Form vs. Function

How is language
structured? Structure

Formal analysis

How does language work? Meaning

Functional analysis
Main Branches of Linguistics

Linguistics concerns itself with the fundamental questions of what language is

and how it is related to the other human faculties. In answering these
questions, linguists consider language as a cultural, social, and psychological
phenomenon and seek to determine what is unique in languages, what is
universal, how language is acquired, and how it changes. Linguistics is,
therefore, one of the cognitive sciences; it provides a link between the
humanities and the social sciences, as well as education and hearing and
speech sciences. Language is a complicated entity with multiple layers and
facets, so the linguists often have to concentrate on one aspect of it at a time.
Macrolinguistics (Peripheral on the edges- branches of Linguistics)

Macrolinguistics refers to the interdisciplinary study of language (language and

other disciplines). For example:

Psycholinguistics: Language + mind

Neurolinguistics: Language + brain

Sociolinguistics: Language + society

Anthropological linguistics: Language + culture

Evolutionary linguistics: Language + evolution

Computational linguistics: Language + computer

Theoretical and Applied Linguistics

Theoretical linguistics is concerned with the development of models (i.e.

theories) of linguistic knowledge. It also involves the search for an explanation
of linguistic universals (properties all languages have in common).

Applied (or practical) linguistics is primarily concerned with the application of

linguistic theories, methods and findings to problems involving language:
language teaching and learning (educational linguistics), lexicography,
translation, terminology, language disability (clinical linguistics), etc.

Historical and Descriptive Linguistics

Historical (or diachronic) linguistics studies how languages change or

maintain their structure through time and the relationships among languages.

Descriptive (or synchronic) linguistics investigates the linguistic data without

any regard for the time factor. It is the study of how language is actually
organized and used.

The state of a language at a given point of time is the consequence of historical

processes, and these processes continue to operate in the present. There is a
close interrelationship between synchronic linguistic variations and diachronic
linguistic change.

Domain of historical linguistics

Historical linguistics is that branch of linguistics which focuses on the

interconnections between different languages in the world studies their
historical developments: how languages evolve and change over time
analyses how multiple offspring languages can arise from one past parent
language (reconstruction of languages, e.g. Proto-Indo-European), and
describes how cultural contact between speakers of different languages can
influence language development and evolution.

Descriptive Linguistics

Tries to discover the rules of phonology, morphology, and syntax of a

language, especially those with no written dictionary or grammar. Seeks to
discover language rules that are not written down but are discoverable in
actual speech. Uses common scientific tools such as observation, data
collection and hypothesis formation...

The word Grammar

The word grammar is used with different meanings: Grammar as the

knowledge and study of the morphosyntactic aspects of a natural (i.e. human)
language. In this sense, grammar excludes phonetics, phonology and
semantics as specialized areas of linguistics. Grammar as language theory,
i.e. the phonological, morphological, syntactic, lexical and logical structures in
a language. Systematic description of the formal regularities of a natural
language in the form of a reference work or textbook.

There are different types of grammars (using the term grammar as theorical
models). Some of them are: Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Grammar Formal vs.
Functional Grammar
A descriptive grammar is built up by analyzing how speakers use a language, and deducing the rules they are
following. A prescriptive grammar is a set of explicit rules for using language that are taught, or enforced, so
that people will use the language in a particular way. Typically the rules are handed down from generation to
generation. Both kinds of grammars have their places in the world.

Linguists create descriptive grammars in order to understand language more deeply. They understand that a
single language can have multiple dialects, and that each dialect will have its own grammatical rules--internally
consistent, but perhaps different from other dialects of the same language. The rules they deduce are
sometimes more nuanced than the ones taught by prescriptivists.

Prescriptivists include schoolteachers, copyeditors, and others charged with correcting people's use of the
language. (Also some people who just have strong opinions on the topic.) Prescriptivists start with the
assumption that there is one "correct" way to use the language, and many incorrect ways.

Usage: customary or habitual nature.

Formal vs. Notional Descriptions or Definitions

Grammatical descriptions are of two types: formal or notional. Formal

descriptions or definitions focus on specific characteristics of a grammatical
construction. For instance, the word truck in English can be classified as a noun
because it shares with many (but not all) nouns in English the ability to be
pluralized by the addition of orthographic s: trucks. Notional descriptions or
definitions, in contrast, are more semantic in nature and define constructions in
terms of general qualities that they possess. Notionally, nouns are defined as
anything that is a person, place, thing, or idea. Truck is a noun because it is a

Modern linguistics favors formal over notional definitions, largely because

formal descriptions provide a better means of identifying constructions than
notional descriptions.

An Introduction to Linguistics

Students studying linguistics and other language sciences for the first time
often have misconceptions about what they are about and what they can offer
them. They may think that linguists are authorities on what is correct and what
is incorrect in a given language. But linguistics is the science of language; it
treats language and the ways people use it as phenomena to be studied much
as a geologist treats the earth. Linguists want to figure out how language
works. But language is a cultural phenomenon and we all have deep-seated,
cultural ideas about what it is and how we ought to use it, so knowing where to
begin in studying it scientifically is not a trivial matter at all.

What we study
A science takes phenomena of one kind or another as its subject matter and
attempts to describe and explain them objectively. Scientists gather particular
kinds of data, analyze them, and create theories that account for the data. How
would linguists and other language scientists go about objectively describing
and explaining how language works? What kind of data would they examine?
How would they analyze the data? What would it mean to "account for" the
data with a theory? It is important to come to grips with some of our
preconceptions about language before we begin to approach language as the
object of scientific study. As you certainly know, people are quite conscious of
how they differ from people from other regions, social groups, or ethnic groups.
They notice differences in dress, in food, in patterns of social interaction, in
which qualities are valued or attract attention. And it is natural to evaluate
these features of other groups, to think of their dress as fashionable or weird,
to think of their food as tasteless or gross, to think of their social behaviors as
friendly or offensive. The same is true for language. People hear speech that
differs from their own and they may find it sloppy, elegant, or monotonous.
These impressions may also be associated with the languages of particular
groups rather than (or in addition to) the people themselves: we may find a
certain language more expressive, more logical, even more masculine. What's
the source of these impressions? Are they accurate? Undeniably communities
of people do tend to differ. To take an obvious example, food preparation is
more important in some cultures than others; some cultures are famous the
world over for their cuisine. For language, the differences are again obvious to
anyone. It's not just that languages sound different. Some languages make
distinctions in sounds, in words, in grammar that others don't. And people
learning a second language often have trouble making the distinctions that
aren't part of their first language. What we naturally notice, as speakers of a
particular language, is what is "missing" in other languages and what kinds of
mistakes second-language learners make in trying to speak our language. This
may lead us, consciously or unconsciously, to think there is something deficient
about the other language or even about the speakers of the other language. It
is very difficult for us to see it from the other perspective, to see that we also
fail to make distinctions that matter in the other language and have trouble
making them when we try to learn that language. For example, as speakers of
English, we may be surprised to find that Japanese has no words corresponding
to English a and the, words that are so basic to English we may almost take
them for granted. And we may be struck by the errors that Japanese learners of
English make in trying to master these words. Similarly, we are struck by the
confusions Japanese learners may have in pronouncing English words with the
sounds that we write with l and r, a distinction not made in Japanese. But these
same Japanese speakers may be surprised when they first learn that English
has only one word for 'you' (Japanese has at least six possibilities) and struck
by the tendency of English-speaking learners of Japanese to always use the
same word for 'you'. And they are similarly struck by the difficulty English-
speaking learners of Japanese have with distinctions in vowel length and pitch
change, distinctions that don't exist in English. In fact there is no evidence that
people in some cultures speak in sloppier or more elegant or more monotonous
ways than people in other cultures. And while languages do differ in striking
ways, these different features seem to balance each other out. There is also
considerable variation within English (or any other major language); that is,
English has dialects. We have a lot more to say about dialects but for now the
main point to be made is that what linguists have learned about the essential
equality of languages applies to dialects as well. Though it is often even harder
for people to accept this fact for dialects than for languages, as far as anyone
knows, there is nothing inherently inferior or superior about any dialect of any
language. Data for research on language Linguists and other language
scientists are interested in what people do, not what somebody thinks they
should do. To carry on their study, clearly researchers need to gather examples
of language. There are two sorts of ways to get these. By collecting naturally
occurring language, either written texts or spoken language. Linguists usually
study spoken (or signed) language because it is more basic than written
language. Most of the human languages that have existed have not been
written at all, and among those that are written, many people do not read or
write them. In addition, though language learning continues throughout life,
most of the basic patterns of a language are probably mastered by the time a
child is six years old. So the written form of the language has little or nothing to
do with this fundamental early learning of language. By eliciting language by
asking people particular questions or by doing experiments that call for
language. Linguists use both kinds of data. For example, once you'd arrived in
Grenada, you might get permission to record phone conversations, then
transcribe the conversations, perhaps using a special notation that shows the
speakers' pronunciation. Or you might recruit one or more willing speakers to
help you in your study by translating words or sentences from your English into
theirs or by telling you whether certain sentences are possible in their English.

The content of research on language

Language, even a particular individual language, is far too complex a subject to

be studied in its entirety by any one researcher. There is a higher-level
distinction we can make concerning what research is supposed to be about,
between the study of language as system and the study of language behavior.
In either of these two cases, the language scientist is normally studying only
some aspect of a language (or dialect): its sounds, its words, its grammar, and
its use in context. How we study language

In addition to content, we can look at research on language from the

perspective of what it is trying to accomplish and how it does that. First, we
need to go back and consider again what science is all about. A scientist starts
with a phenomenon of interest, gathers some data on the phenomenon, and
attempts to come up with a description or explanation of it. This may take the
form of a discussion in some language, a set of equations, or an algorithm, that
is, a precise description of a set of processes to be carried (by a person or a
computer). Whatever form it takes, this result of the scientist's research may
be referred to as an "account" or an "analysis" of the phenomenon. A scientific
account is expected to include some sort of generalization about the
phenomenon, that is, to go beyond simply listing the data. A generalization can
be relatively specific, applying only to a very narrow range of data. In the most
general cases, the generalization is usually stated in terms of a particular
theory, which is a general set of principles for understanding phenomena of a
particular type. A theory is supposed to offer an explanation of the phenomena,
not just a description. To summarize, we see that a scientist trying to
understand language makes generalizations about data. These generalizations
can apply only to one language, or they can apply to language in general. A
linguist or other language scientist often works within the context of a
particular theory of language. 4 Fields of linguistics Language is a phenomenon
with many layers, from the sounds that come out of peoples mouths to the
meanings that those sounds express. The field of Linguistics is composed of
sub-fields, and most professional linguists become specialists in one or more of
those sub-fields. The major branches are the following: Theoretical vs. Applied
Linguistics Historical vs. Descriptive Linguistics Microlinguistics vs.
The Scientific Method

You know that linguistics is the scientific study of language. How does one
study something scientifically? What is meant by scientific method? What will
studying linguistics mean? When we go about the everyday business of
studying, it is easy to see this as a process of learning what those who know
teach us. Yet we should always remember the crucial importance of questions,
since they are what moves science, in its broadest sense, forward. Asking
questions is a skill well-developed in every child, yet often lost by the time we
become adults. It is so easy to imagine the little farm boy asking, Granny,
Granny, why do apples fall down from trees? Why dont they fall up? and the
irritated reply of the busy care-giver who says, Dont bother me with your silly
questions. Go out and do something useful, like chop wood! Fortunately, the
little boy Isaac Newton grew up to be a man who posed that question again,
and found a way to answer it. Now we all know about the law of gravitation.
From this simple example, we can learn a great deal about the scientific
method, for little Isaacs question shows that he had noticed that something
happened with regularity. He then described this regularity, and looked for a
reason to explain it. These three elements come up again and again in any
academic field of study: observation, description, and explanation. Before he
published his theory of gravitation, Newton also read about and studied what
others had done in the past. Scientific knowledge is The scientific method
cumulative, building always on the work of others. Not that this path is simple
and orderly: hypotheses are proposed, studied, argued about, verified and/or
rejected. Even Newtons theory, which explained all the observed facts and
made predictions that were tested by others and found to be correct, so that
for many people over many centuries it was considered the Truth, eventually
reached a point where new, more accurate instruments started to allow new
facts to be observed that could no longer comfortably fit the theory. Albert
Einstein then proposed his Theory of Relativity, explaining the newly observed
facts and making predictions, which have since been tested and found to be
accurate. Of course, the universe itself has not changed. The important point to
remember is that the best of theories have been found to be incorrect.
Mankinds store of knowledge increases with replicating and testing and
sometimes repudiating the findings of others. This is true as much for
Linguistics as for Physics and indeed even for something as everyday as
learning a language or finding out what the funny noise is that your car makes
when it is cold.

Linguistics uses an empirical scientific method

Linguistics is taken to be an empirical science. But what does it mean to claim

that an area of intellectual inquiry is an empirical science? At least four criteria
apply: (1) the inquiry must treat perceivable phenomena; (2) it must result in
objective statements about the phenomena; (3) these statements must be
systematically ordered; (4) the statements must be logical. Perceivable
phenomena act upon the senses: they are seen, heard, touched, tasted, or
smelled. They are by definition outside the mind, and by implication
measurable in some way. But it is not enough for a scientist to see, hear, touch,
taste, or smell for his labors to constitute part of an empirical inquiry; he must
write down his perceptions or, in some other way, make objective statements
to give them an independent existence. But not just any statement based on
sense perception qualifies as part of an empirical inquiry. Only statement of the
following systematically ordered types qualify: (1) observations, (2)
hypotheses, (3) laws, and (4) theoretical statements. Observations describe
specific facts. An inquiry takes on the systematic order of an empirical science
when an investigator, carefully examining and comparing his observations,
formulates a different kind of statement: a hypothesis. Hypotheses do not
directly describe specific facts; they are general statements expressing
relationships among observed phenomena. In an empirical inquiry, hypotheses
function as guiding principles for making further observations. That is, even
though hypotheses logically follow observations in the practice of empirical
science, they always give rise to further observations, which in turn may lead
to revisions in the hypotheses, and so the cycle goes. If, after a reasonable
amount of investigation, a hypothesis is confirmed by all the scientists
observations and not falsified by any, then the hypothesis achieves the status
of a law. Whereas observations and hypotheses differ in the way they are
worded, hypotheses and laws are worded exactly alike: both are generalized
statements which express relationships among observations. Hypotheses and
laws differ in the relative amount of observation supporting them. Thus, an
empirical inquiry requires the formulation of statements which describe specific
observed phenomena, but these observations are made with a view to
formulating hypotheses, which in turn guide the investigator to make further
observations aimed at verifying the hypotheses. And after a reasonable amount
of verification, hyotheses achieve the status of empirical laws. This, in part, is
what is meant by the third criterion of an empirical enquiry: that its statements
are systematically ordered. Notice that, even though hypotheses and laws are
general statements, the terms used in them correspond to observed
phenomena. However, a fourth type of statement is common in empirical
science: the theoretical statement. But it differs from all three other types of
statements. A theoretical statement is more than a descriptive generalization
of observations. It does not describe, rather it attempts to explain, to give
reasons for, observed phenomena and the relationships among them. The
terms in theoretical propositions do not usually correspond to any observed
phenomena. Theoretical statements can be viewed as hypotheses of a different
sort. They usually introduce terms which name entities that are not observed to
exist, but which, if they did exist, would explain what is observed. Theoretical
statements are therefore, by definition, not verifiable in an experimental sense.
Yet we call them empirical scientific statements because empirical science is as
much rooted in logic as it is in experimentation. (This is the fourth criterion of
science) The empirical scentific method seems to be a function of the way the
human mind works. If the investigator did not intuitively conceptualize
(categorize), science would not exist. Science seems to presuppose a certain
structure of mind. Flashes of insight in the initial stages of a scientific inquiry
where the first tentative hypotheses are drawn from the first few observations
happen because the mind of the investigator is disposed to notice and to
categorize relationships. Theories are possible because the human mind
functions logically. Science is possible because logical processes are seemingly
invariable and inherent to all human intelligence. Since logic attempts to make
explicit the processes of human thought and judgement, it is only by apeal to
logical principles that scientific theories can be compared and evaluated. The
following are the three logical criteria often employed in evaluating theoretical
statements: (1) adequacy, (2) generality, and (3) simplicity. A theoretical
statement is adequate to the extent that it applies to all the known data which
it is established to explain. It is general insofar as it posits entities beyond
observed phenomena, and can therefore apply to the greatest amount of yet
undiscovered data. Simplicity is an internal criterion: a set of theoretical terms
and statements fulfilling the conditions of adequacy and generality but
containing fewer terms and no internal contradictions is simpler. Adequacy and
generality are competing evaluative criteria. Adequacy requires a theory to be
true to the facts as expressed in observations, hypotheses, and laws, but
generality calls on a theory to be imaginative. If a theory is adequate but not
general, it will do little more than paraphrase laws. If it is general but not
adequate, it is fantasy. For any given collection of observations, hypotheses,
and laws, there are many alternative theoretical explanations of them that are
both adequate and general. For this reason, the third evaluative criterion
simplicityusually plays the decisive role in determining which of two
competing theoretical explanations is preferred. Linguistics has only recently
used the methology of empirical science to study human languages.
Consequently, there are perhaps half a dozen The scientific method Page 5 of 5
fully developed competing theories of language in the world today, each of
which aims to explain what linguists have observed about language