Linguistics 101

What is Linguistics?

An Introduction to the Study of Language

LINGUISTICS TOPICS 


Every human knows at least one language, spoken or signed. Linguistics is the science of language, including the sounds, words, and grammar rules. Words in languages are finite, but sentences are not. It is this creative aspect of human language that sets it apart from animal languages, which are essentially responses to stimuli.

The rules of a language, also called grammar, are learned as one acquires a language. These rules include phonology, the sound system, morphology, the structure of words, syntax, the combination of words into sentences, semantics, the ways in which sounds and meanings are related, and the lexicon, or mental dictionary of words. When you know a language, you know words in that language, i.e. sound units that are related to specific meanings. However, the sounds and meanings of words are arbitrary. For the most part, there is no relationship between the way a word is pronounced (or signed) and its meaning.

Knowing a language encompasses this entire system, but this knowledge (called competence) is different from behavior (called performance.) You may know a language, but you may also choose to not speak it. Although you are not speaking the language, you still have the knowledge of it. However, if you don’t know a language, you cannot speak it at all.

There are two types of grammars: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive grammars represent the unconscious knowledge of a language. English speakers, for example, know that “me likes apples” is incorrect and “I like apples” is correct…

 

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