Linguistics, the scientific study of language. It encompasses the description of languages, the study of their origin, and the analysis of how children acquire language and how people learn languages other than their own. Linguistics is also concerned with relationships between languages and with the ways languages change over time. Linguists may study language as a thought process and seek a theory that accounts for the universal human capacity to produce and understand language. Some linguists examine language within a cultural context. By observing talk, they try to determine what a person needs to know in order to speak appropriately in different settings, such as the workplace, among friends, or among family. Other linguists focus on what happens when speakers from different language and cultural backgrounds interact. Linguists may also concentrate on how to help people learn another language, using what they know about the learner’s first language and about the language being acquired.
|II||DESCRIPTIVE AND COMPARATIVE LINGUISTICS|
Although there are many ways of studying language, most approaches belong to one of the two main branches of linguistics: descriptive linguistics and comparative linguistics.
Descriptive linguistics is the study and analysis of spoken language. The techniques of descriptive linguistics were devised by German American anthropologist Franz Boas and American linguist and anthropologist Edward Sapir in the early 1900s to record and analyze Native American languages. Descriptive linguistics begins with what a linguist hears native speakers say. By listening to native speakers, the linguist gathers a body of data and analyzes it in order to identify distinctive sounds, called phonemes. Individual phonemes, such as /p/ and /b/, are established on the grounds that substitution of one for the other changes the meaning of a word. After identifying the entire inventory of sounds in a language, the linguist looks at how these sounds combine to create morphemes, or units of sound that carry meaning, such as the words push and bush. Morphemes may be individual words such as push; root words, such as berry in blueberry; or prefixes (pre- in preview) and suffixes (-ness in openness).
The linguist’s next step is to see how morphemes combine into sentences, obeying both the dictionary meaning of the morpheme and the grammatical rules of the sentence. In the sentence “She pushed the bush,” the morpheme she, a pronoun, is the subject; push, a transitive verb, is the verb; the, a definite article, is the determiner; and bush, a noun, is the object. Knowing the function of the morphemes in the sentence enables the linguist to describe the grammar of the language. The scientific procedures of phonemics (finding phonemes), morphology (discovering morphemes), and syntax (describing the order of morphemes and their function) provide descriptive linguists with a way to write down grammars of languages never before written down or analyzed. In this way they can begin to study and understand these languages.
Comparative linguistics is the study and analysis, by means of written records, of the origins and relatedness of different languages. In 1786 Sir William Jones, a British scholar, asserted that Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin were related to one another and had descended from a common source. He based this assertion on observations of similarities in sounds and meanings among the three languages. For example, the Sanskrit word bhratar for “brother” resembles the Latin word frater, the Greek word phrater, (and the English word brother).
Other scholars went on to compare Icelandic with Scandinavian languages, and Germanic languages with Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin. The correspondences among languages, known as genetic relationships, came to be represented on what comparative linguists refer to as family trees. Family trees established by comparative linguists include the Indo-European, relating Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, German, English, and other Asian and European languages; the Algonquian, relating Fox, Cree, Menomini, Ojibwa, and other Native North American languages; and the Bantu, relating Swahili, Xhosa, Zulu, Kikuyu, and other African languages.
Comparative linguists also look for similarities in the way words are formed in different languages. Latin and English, for example, change the form of a word to express different meanings, as when the English verb go changes to went and gone to express a past action. Chinese, on the other hand, has no such inflected forms; the verb remains the same while other words indicate the time (as in “go store tomorrow”). In Swahili, prefixes, suffixes, and infixes (additions in the body of the word) combine with a root word to change its meaning. For example, a single word might express when something was done, by whom, to whom, and in what manner.
Some comparative linguists reconstruct hypothetical ancestral languages known as proto-languages, which they use to demonstrate relatedness among contemporary languages. A proto-language is not intended to depict a real language, however, and does not represent the speech of ancestors of people speaking modern languages. Unfortunately, some groups have mistakenly used such reconstructions in efforts to demonstrate the ancestral homeland of a people.
Comparative linguists have suggested that certain basic words in a language do not change over time, because people are reluctant to introduce new words for such constants as arm, eye, or mother. These words are termed culture free. By comparing lists of culture-free words in languages within a family, linguists can derive the percentage of related words and use a formula to figure out when the languages separated from one another.
By the 1960s comparativists were no longer satisfied with focusing on origins, migrations, and the family tree method. They challenged as unrealistic the notion that an earlier language could remain sufficiently isolated for other languages to be derived exclusively from it over a period of time. Today comparativists seek to understand the more complicated reality of language history, taking language contact into account. They are concerned with universal characteristics of language and with comparisons of grammars and structures.
|III||SUBFIELDS OF LINGUISTICS|
The field of linguistics both borrows from and lends its own theories and methods to other disciplines. The many subfields of linguistics have expanded our understanding of languages. Linguistic theories and methods are also used in other fields of study. These overlapping interests have led to the creation of several cross-disciplinary fields.
Sociolinguistics is the study of patterns and variations in language within a society or community. It focuses on the way people use language to express social class, group status, gender, or ethnicity, and it looks at how they make choices about the form of language they use. It also examines the way people use language to negotiate their role in society and to achieve positions of power. For example, sociolinguistic studies have found that the way a New Yorker pronounces the phoneme /r/ in an expression such as “fourth floor” can indicate the person’s social class. According to one study, people aspiring to move from the lower middle class to the upper middle class attach prestige to pronouncing the /r/. Sometimes they even overcorrect their speech, pronouncing an /r/ where those whom they wish to copy may not.
Some sociolinguists believe that analyzing such variables as the use of a particular phoneme can predict the direction of language change. Change, they say, moves toward the variable associated with power, prestige, or other quality having high social value. Other sociolinguists focus on what happens when speakers of different languages interact. This approach to language change emphasizes the way languages mix rather than the direction of change within a community. The goal of sociolinguistics is to understand communicative competence—what people need to know to use the appropriate language for a given social setting.
Psycholinguistics merges the fields of psychology and linguistics to study how people process language and how language use is related to underlying mental processes. Studies of children’s language acquisition and of second-language acquisition are psycholinguistic in nature. Psycholinguists work to develop models for how language is processed and understood, using evidence from studies of what happens when these processes go awry. They also study language disorders such as aphasia (impairment of the ability to use or comprehend words) and dyslexia (impairment of the ability to make out written language).
Computational linguistics involves the use of computers to compile linguistic data, analyze languages, translate from one language to another, and develop and test models of language processing. Linguists use computers and large samples of actual language to analyze the relatedness and the structure of languages and to look for patterns and similarities. Computers also aid in stylistic studies, information retrieval, various forms of textual analysis, and the construction of dictionaries and concordances. Applying computers to language studies has resulted in machine translation systems and machines that recognize and produce speech and text. Such machines facilitate communication with humans, including those who are perceptually or linguistically impaired.
Applied linguistics employs linguistic theory and methods in teaching and in research on learning a second language. Linguists look at the errors people make as they learn another language and at their strategies for communicating in the new language at different degrees of competence. In seeking to understand what happens in the mind of the learner, applied linguists recognize that motivation, attitude, learning style, and personality affect how well a person learns another language.
Anthropological linguistics, also known as linguistic anthropology, uses linguistic approaches to analyze culture. Anthropological linguists examine the relationship between a culture and its language, the way cultures and languages have changed over time, and how different cultures and languages are related to one another. For example, the present English use of family and given names arose in the late 13th and early 14th centuries when the laws concerning registration, tenure, and inheritance of property were changed.
Philosophical linguistics examines the philosophy of language. Philosophers of language search for the grammatical principles and tendencies that all human languages share. Among the concerns of linguistic philosophers is the range of possible word order combinations throughout the world. One finding is that 95 percent of the world’s languages use a subject-verb-object (SVO) order as English does (“She pushed the bush.”). Only 5 percent use a subject-object-verb (SOV) order or verb-subject-object (VSO) order.
Neurolinguistics is the study of how language is processed and represented in the brain. Neurolinguists seek to identify the parts of the brain involved with the production and understanding of language and to determine where the components of language (phonemes, morphemes, and structure or syntax) are stored. In doing so, they make use of techniques for analyzing the structure of the brain and the effects of brain damage on language.
|IV||HISTORY OF LINGUISTICS|
Speculation about language goes back thousands of years. Ancient Greek philosophers speculated on the origins of language and the relationship between objects and their names. They also discussed the rules that govern language, or grammar, and by the 3rd century bc they had begun grouping words into parts of speech and devising names for different forms of verbs and nouns.
In India religion provided the motivation for the study of language nearly 2500 years ago. Hindu priests noted that the language they spoke had changed since the compilation of their ancient sacred texts, the Vedas, starting about 1000 bc. They believed that for certain religious ceremonies based upon the Vedas to succeed, they needed to reproduce the language of the Vedas precisely. Panini, an Indian grammarian who lived about 400 bc, produced the earliest work describing the rules of Sanskrit, the ancient language of India.
The Romans used Greek grammars as models for their own, adding commentary on Latin style and usage. Statesman and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote on rhetoric and style in the 1st century bc. Later grammarians Aelius Donatus (4th century ad) and Priscian (6th century ad) produced detailed Latin grammars. Roman works served as textbooks and standards for the study of language for more than 1000 years.
It was not until the end of the 18th century that language was researched and studied in a scientific way. During the 17th and 18th centuries, modern languages, such as French and English, replaced Latin as the means of universal communication in the West. This occurrence, along with developments in printing, meant that many more texts became available. At about this time, the study of phonetics, or the sounds of a language, began. Such investigations led to comparisons of sounds in different languages; in the late 18th century the observation of correspondences among Sanskrit, Latin, and Greek gave birth to the field of Indo-European linguistics.
During the 19th century, European linguists focused on philology, or the historical analysis and comparison of languages. They studied written texts and looked for changes over time or for relationships between one language and another.
|A||The 20th Century|
In the early 20th century, linguistics expanded to include the study of unwritten languages. In the United States linguists and anthropologists began to study the rapidly disappearing spoken languages of Native North Americans. Because many of these languages were unwritten, researchers could not use historical analysis in their studies. In their pioneering research on these languages, anthropologists Franz Boas and Edward Sapir developed the techniques of descriptive linguistics and theorized on the ways in which language shapes our perceptions of the world.
An important outgrowth of descriptive linguistics is a theory known as structuralism, which assumes that language is a system with a highly organized structure. Structuralism began with publication of the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure in Cours de linguistique générale (1916; Course in General Linguistics, 1959). This work, compiled by Saussure’s students after his death, is considered the foundation of the modern field of linguistics. Saussure made a distinction between actual speech, or spoken language, and the knowledge underlying speech that speakers share about what is grammatical. Speech, he said, represents instances of grammar, and the linguist’s task is to find the underlying rules of a particular language from examples found in speech. To the structuralist, grammar is a set of relationships that account for speech, rather than a set of instances of speech, as it is to the descriptivist.
Once linguists began to study language as a set of abstract rules that somehow account for speech, other scholars began to take an interest in the field. They drew analogies between language and other forms of human behavior, based on the belief that a shared structure underlies many aspects of a culture. Anthropologists, for example, became interested in a structuralist approach to the interpretation of kinship systems and analysis of myth and religion. American linguist Leonard Bloomfield promoted structuralism in the United States.
Saussure’s ideas also influenced European linguistics, most notably in France and Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). In 1926 Czech linguist Vilem Mathesius founded the Linguistic Circle of Prague, a group that expanded the focus of the field to include the context of language use. The Prague circle developed the field of phonology, or the study of sounds, and demonstrated that universal features of sounds in the languages of the world interrelate in a systematic way. Linguistic analysis, they said, should focus on the distinctiveness of sounds rather than on the ways they combine. Where descriptivists tried to locate and describe individual phonemes, such as /b/ and /p/, the Prague linguists stressed the features of these phonemes and their interrelationships in different languages. In English, for example, the voice distinguishes between the similar sounds of /b/ and /p/, but these are not distinct phonemes in a number of other languages. An Arabic speaker might pronounce the cities Pompei and Bombay the same way.
As linguistics developed in the 20th century, the notion became prevalent that language is more than speech—specifically, that it is an abstract system of interrelationships shared by members of a speech community. Structural linguistics led linguists to look at the rules and the patterns of behavior shared by such communities. Whereas structural linguists saw the basis of language in the social structure, other linguists looked at language as a mental process.
The 1957 publication of Syntactic Structures by American linguist Noam Chomsky initiated what many view as a scientific revolution in linguistics. Chomsky sought a theory that would account for both linguistic structure and for the creativity of language—the fact that we can create entirely original sentences and understand sentences never before uttered. He proposed that all people have an innate ability to acquire language. The task of the linguist, he claimed, is to describe this universal human ability, known as language competence, with a grammar from which the grammars of all languages could be derived. The linguist would develop this grammar by looking at the rules children use in hearing and speaking their first language. He termed the resulting model, or grammar, a transformational-generative grammar, referring to the transformations (or rules) that generate (or account for) language. Certain rules, Chomsky asserted, are shared by all languages and form part of a universal grammar, while others are language specific and associated with particular speech communities. Since the 1960s much of the development in the field of linguistics has been a reaction to or against Chomsky’s theories.
At the end of the 20th century, linguists used the term grammar primarily to refer to a subconscious linguistic system that enables people to produce and comprehend an unlimited number of utterances. Grammar thus accounts for our linguistic competence. Observations about the actual language we use, or language performance, are used to theorize about this invisible mechanism known as grammar.
The orientation toward the scientific study of language led by Chomsky has had an impact on nongenerative linguists as well. Comparative and historically oriented linguists are looking for the various ways linguistic universals show up in individual languages. Psycholinguists, interested in language acquisition, are investigating the notion that an ideal speaker-hearer is the origin of the acquisition process. Sociolinguists are examining the rules that underlie the choice of language variants, or codes, and allow for switching from one code to another. Some linguists are studying language performance—the way people use language—to see how it reveals a cognitive ability shared by all human beings. Others seek to understand animal communication within such a framework. What mental processes enable chimpanzees to make signs and communicate with one another and how do these processes differ from those of humans?