Monday, March 16, 2009

Scope of linguistics

The use of language is an integral part of being human. Children all over the world start putting words together at approximately the same age, and follow remarkably similar paths in their speech development. All languages are surprisingly similar in their basic structure, whether they are in South Africa, Australia or near the North Pole. Language and abstract thought are closely connected, and many people think that these two characteristics above all distinguish human beings from animals.
Linguistics is 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.
Linguistics covers a wide range of topics and its boundaries are difficult to define. The famous Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure, in his book The course in General Linguistics (Cours de Linguistique Generale) published in 1916, gave a rough impression of the range covered by Linguistics in the shape of a wheel. The description of the wheel is as below.
“The study speech sounds is called Phonetics”. Strictly speaking, phonetics is not the part of linguistics, though of course there are close connections between the two disciplines. Phoneticians investigate such topics as the anatomical, physiological and neurological basis of speech (physiological phonetics), the actions of the speech organs in producing speech sounds (articulatory phonetics), the acoustic nature of the sound waves which transmit speech (acoustics phonetics), and the manners in which the ears and brain interpret speech (auditory and perceptual phonetics). Linguists, on the other hand are more interested in the way in which language is patterned. They analyse the shape or form of these patterns rather than the physical substance out of which the units of language are made. Phonetics is not as central to general linguistics as the study of language patterning.
According to Loreto Todd “Phonology is the study of sounds and sound combinations in a particular language”. Whereas phonetics is chiefly concerned with the physical nature of speech sounds, and hence is not strictly a part of linguistics, phonology deals with the ways in which sounds behave in language, and it is a central part of linguistics. The central concept in the phonological approach is the phoneme principle which allows linguists to understand the sounds of a language as constituting an orderly system, instead of being a mere collection of individual sounds.
According to Loreto Todd “The form and arrangement of words into larger units such as phrases, clauses, sentences etc is called syntax”. R.L.Trask defines it as the sentence structure. It is that part of language which links together the sound patterns and the meanings Knowledge of syntactic system allows the speaker to generate an almost endless number of sentences and to recognize those that are not grammatically acceptable.
“Semantics refers to the study of meaning in language”. Word meanings are complicated to learn; words are related to one another in complex networks, and awareness of words comes later than does word use. Under the subject of semantics the such areas of interest are dealt, as the fact that a word can have more than one meaning, different words appear to have the same meaning, some words seem to have opposites, the meaning of some words are included in the meaning of others and the certain combinations of words have meanings which are very different from the combination of their separate meanings etc.
Phonology, syntax and semantics are the bread and butter of linguistics, and together they constitute the grammar of a language.

According to Jean Berko Gleason “Pragmatics refers to the use of language to express one’s intentions and getting done in the world”. Pragmatics is the branch of linguistics, which studies how utterances communicate meaning in context. It includes the study of how the interpretation and the use of utterances depend on the knowledge of the real word, how speakers use and understand speech acts, and how the structure of the sentences is influenced by the relationship of the speaker and the hearer.
Socio Linguistics
“Socio linguistics concentrates on language in society”. In other words, it tries to examine how and why people use language as they interact with other members of their society. It examines variety in language and shows that language is not merely used to communicate ideas but also to communicate our opinions of others and of ourselves. In considering any spoken communication, we notice that a speaker's language reveals information on his sex, approximate age, regional and perhaps ethnic origins, education and attitude to his listeners. Socio-linguists thus set themselves the tasks of examining language use, its variation, its development, change and standardization, its regional and class dialects, its lingua francas, its specialized codes.
Anthropological Linguistics
“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.
Philosophical Linguistics
“Philosophical linguistics examines the philosophy of language that is the link between language and logical thought”. 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.
“The study of the aesthetic uses of languages, particularly the use of language in literature is called stylistics”. Stylistics exploits our knowledge of linguistics variety, our awareness of the appropriateness of certain combinations and provides us with the tools necessary to deepen our awareness of literature. It is not, however, an alternative to sensitive intuition, but a means of exploring and reinforcing such intuition.
Computational Linguistics
“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.
Applied Linguistics
“The application of the concepts and methods of linguistics to any of various problems involving language is known an applied linguistics”. Applied linguistics is the collective term for the various applications such as foreign language teaching, lexicography, translation, speech pathology and therapy, error analysis, etc.
Psycho Linguistics
“The study of the relationship between language and the mind focusing mainly on how language is learnt, stored and occasionally lost is known as psycho linguistics”. Psycholinguists also attempt to understand dysphasia (literally 'bad speech'), dyslexia (word blindness) and aphasia (the sudden or gradual loss of language due to age, an accident or a stroke).
Various branches of linguistics overlap to some extent so are hard to define clearly. Psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics have expanded fastest in recent years. Finally two aspects of linguistics have been omitted from the diagram. The first is historical linguistics, the study of language change. This omission was inevitable in a two dimensional diagram. But if the wheel diagram is regarded as three dimensional, like that of the cross-section of a tree, the topic can be included. We can either look at a grammar at one particular point in time (a single cut across the tree) or we can study its developments over a number of years, by comparing a number of different cuts made across the tree trunk at different places, shown in the figure. Because it is necessary to know how a system works at any one time before one can hope to under stand changes, the analysis of language at a single point in time, or synchronic linguistics, is usually dealt with before historical or diachronic linguistics.
The second omission is linguistic typology, the study of different language types. This could not be fitted in because it spreads over several layers of the diagram, covering phonology, syntax, and semantics.

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