What is Linguistics?

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. Instead of trying to learn individual languages, linguists want to know how language works. Where did language come from? How are languages developing? How does language affect the way we think, the way we interact, and our cultural identity? What are the mental processes involved in understanding, producing, and acquiring language? What does language development in childhood look like, and how do we learn additional languages later in life? What are the linguistic and cognitive consequences of bilingualism?

The answers to these questions are to be found by looking at the human capacity for language and how that is realized in different ways in different languages. About 7,000 different languages are spoken in the world today, and their similarities are remarkable. By looking at these similarities and differences, linguists hope to get to the heart of language, to the quality that makes humans unique.

How Can Linguistics Fit into your Course of Study?

Since Linguistics is concerned with many facets of language and approaches them in various ways, Linguistics is an invaluable complement to many courses of study.

SOCIAL SCIENCES--Sometimes Linguistics is considered a branch of Cognitive Psychology, since one of its driving questions is "Which aspects of language are learned and which are genetically conditioned?" Linguistic interests overlap with almost every social science, including Anthropology and Sociology, since the phenomenon of language is both psychological and social.

HUMANITIES--Linguistics is an excellent complement to a language major, since it looks at the structure, history, and relations of all languages. Linguistics also shares many concerns with Philosophy in the areas of meaning and logic. Linguistics complements the study of literature, in that it allows us to consider structural and social contributions to meaning.

PURE AND APPLIED SCIENCES--Students of math and the sciences will be interested in the linguistic study of language, since Linguistics is a science in both senses of the word: it is a study of natural phenomena, and it utilizes the scientific method. As the computer age progresses, linguistic expertise is needed in more and more scientists, since we cannot teach machines to use human language until we understand how humans use it in the first place.

EDUCATION--A knowledge of Linguistics is essential not only for teaching Linguistics, but also for teaching any subject in a multilingual setting. It is also helpful for understanding language skills such as reading, writing, and grammar.