Learn the Basics of Linguistics 20
Learn to understand the world through language study. Our worldviews, thoughts, and behaviors are shaped by language—and understanding its patterns can help you better connect with people.
Overview of comparative method and the phonology, morphology, and syntax of reconstructed Indo-European languages. Prerequisite: LING 200 or ANTH/LING 203 and LING 400.
Phonology studies the sound systems of languages and their constituent sounds. It looks at how these sounds are organized into syllables, sequences and words, and how they relate to other aspects of language, such as morphology, syntax and semantics.
Linguists studying phonology attempt to understand the rules regarding the use of speech that native speakers know (not necessarily consciously). For example, if a word has both a form indicating a number and another form indicating ordinality, the linguistic rule governing how these forms combine ensures that the word ‘tenth’ always follows the number ‘ten’.
Early work in phonology focused on the idea that behind each varying property in a particular token of speech there is some invariant, recurring properties. This led to the positing of sound units called phonemes, each consisting (according to some writers) of a set of distinctive features of contrast. This approach was later rejected in favour of generative phonology, which considers the notion of phonemes as an aspect of speaker knowledge of linguistic structure.
Syntax is the way that words are combined together to form phrases and sentences. Word order, grammatical features and inflections are all examples of syntax. Syntax is important because it allows us to communicate our ideas in a meaningful way. It also allows us to make comparisons and express emotion.
One way that people communicate their meanings is by using adverbs and adjectives. These can be used to describe nouns and verbs or to add a particular mood to a sentence. It is also possible to use syntax to convey a sense of time or place.
Different languages have different rules for arranging words. Some are more restrictive than others, depending on the type of language. For example, English has a strict subject-verb-object sequence, while other languages use different arrangements. Syntax is closely related to diction, which refers to the choice of words in a sentence.
The study of meaning is called semantics. It’s important to distinguish this term from a pejorative sense of the word often heard in the media, when someone complains that their opponent’s argument is “just semantics.”
Linguists who focus on semantics try to understand the rules that native speakers know (but may not always be conscious of) regarding language use. These rules often involve combining linguistic forms into complex structures, at multiple levels of analysis. For example, a word like “tenth” is made up of one linguistic form that indicates number and another that indicates ordinality. Linguists who focus on semantics must determine which grammatical structure to combine these forms in order to express the correct meaning.
Semantics also examines how different cultures have developed their own conceptual categories, and what these might have to do with their traditions, climates, ecologies, religions or politics. For instance, the concept of ownership is not identical across languages, and this is an issue that linguists who focus on semantics investigate.
History of Linguistics
At the beginning of the 20th century, attention shifted away from language change and towards language structure-in other words, how words and sentences are put together. This was the period of’structural linguistics’, which had its roots in the work of Ferdinand de Saussure.
Over the past two decades, linguists have come to realize that most of the world’s languages are related in very deep ways. This has been a result of careful research into the way that all languages share certain basic features.
The study of how language works is a multifaceted and rich field. It complements studies in anthropology, biology, psychology, philosophy, computer science, history and the social sciences. The work of linguists has wide applications, and has been cited in fields as diverse as philosophy, literature and theology. Linguistics is a natural science, and its theories are grounded in rigorous empirical investigation. It is one of the few disciplines that can claim an indisputable objectivity.