Linguistics 001 Lecture 2 Persectives and Approaches
Here are two answers from The sci.lang FAQ :
The scientific study of human language, including:
nature of speech)
Or, carving it up another way:
(pure and simple: how languages work)
The first set of six categories -- from phonetics to pragmatics -- divides up the study of the linguistic system itself. Each category focuses on a different level of description and analysis. Research that spans two levels, or deals explicitly with their relationship, may rate a compound designator. This is especially common with morphology, since word structure is inevitably tied both to sentence structure -- morphosyntax -- and to word-related effects on sound structure -- morphophonology.
The second list of categories -- theoretical, historical, socio- etc. -- tells us about possible connections between linguistics and external topics. Each of this second set of linguistic subdisciplines can in principle deal with any of the six levels of description in the first set. Thus sociolinguists study the social dimensions of pronunciation (phonetics or phonology), word and sentence structure (morphology and syntax), conversational styles (pragmatics), and so on. Psycholinguists have studied perception, production and learning of a similar range of topics. The list of topics related to language or language use is open-ended, and so the second list could be extended almost indefinitely (forensic linguistics, neurolinguistics, metrics, other applications in literary studies, etc.)
Theoretical linguistics is distinguished by focusing not on any external topics, but rather on the nature of the linguistic system in and of itself. Linguistic theory again can deal with any of the six levels of analysis. We can also cite the category of descriptive linguistics, which aims to create systematic descriptions of the facts of particular languages, and again deals with any or all of the analytic levels.
Follow this link for examples of the distinctions among levels of description.
Follow this one for examples of different connections to external topics.
For most linguists, language is the pattern of human speech, and the (implicit) systems that speaking and listening rely on.
Other phenomena come to be called "language" because of more or less
close connections or analogies to this central case: writing, sign languages,
computer languages, the language of dolphins or bees. The ordinary-language
meaning of the word reflects this process of extension from a speech-related
core . The etymology of the word, from Fr. langue "tongue," makes
the same point.
From the American Heritage Dictionary:
Note that the phenomena named by the extended senses are quite different from one another. Writing is a system of transcription for speech. Deaf sign languages are an expression in a different medium of the same underlying human capabilities and needs as spoken language. Computer languages are artificial systems with some formal analogies (of debatable significance) to the systems underlying human speech.
Some linguists think that the boundary between the patterns of spoken language and other modes of communication is not a sharp one, or even that it is entirely artificial. For them, the extended senses of the word "language" belong to the same subject matter as the core sense. A larger proportion of poets, philosophers and religious thinkers agree with them, often going on to view language as magically connected to the world it describes.
The core of the field of linguistics has always been the analysis of
linguistic structure, and this course will introduce the basic concepts
of this disciplinary core. However, there's a lot of intellectual, practical
and human interest in other aspects of the study of language, and we'll
survey these as well.
Linguistics has many more or less obvious connections with other disciplines, some of which we've just mentioned. Psychologists study how language is learned and used. Anthropologists and sociologists examine the role of language in culture and society. Philosophers are interested in the nature of sense and reference. Computer scientists try to develop artificial models of the structures and processes involved in language use. Physiologists want to understand how language is produced and perceived by the brain, mouth and ear. Criminologists and literary scholars face the problem of determining the authorship of a particular spoken or written document.
Some of these connections are made within linguistics itself. For instance, the Penn linguistics department includes specialists in sociolingustics, psycholinguistics, historical linguistics and computational linguistics. In other cases, the work may be carried out within another field, or at least another department -- neurology, psychology, computer science, philosophy, anthropology, history -- perhaps in consultation with a card-carrying linguist.
We could continue the list of connections almost indefinitely, and could also expand each item at length. During the course, we'll point out numerous connections of this kind.
In addition to these direct connections of subject matter, linguistics shares terminology, conceptual approaches, practical techniques and mathematical methods with other disciplines, often in ways that are less obvious.
We will give only a few illustrative examples here.
Semiotics is the study of signs and signalling systems. It was developed around the turn of the 20th century by the philosopher C.S. Peirce, the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and others. It provides a general framework for thinking about meaning and communication, and many technical terms for expressing such thoughts. As a result, semiotic concepts and terminology are used in fields as diverse as anthropology, computer science and the history of art.
One example of useful semiotic terminology is the opposition among syntax (the relations among signs in combination), semantics (the relations between signs and the things they refer to), and pragmatics (the relations between signs and their users or circumstances of use). Here is a recent example of the distinction between syntax and semantics used in an essay about dangers to computer networks.
Another example is the provided by the categories of index (a
sign that alludes to what it signifies through some sort of causal link),
icon (a sign that ressembles what it signifies) and symbol (a
sign connected to what it signifies by arbitrary convention).
Models of speech production and perception are developed both for scientific and technological reasons. Speech technology has become a large field, with increasingly broad applications. Much of speech technology involves particular applications of very general techniques, such as signal processing or statistical pattern recognition. The comp.speech FAQ provides an excellent overview.
There are plenty of valid controversies about language.
Some questions are entirely political: should governments try to accommodate speakers of minority languages? how important is it to maintain rigorous standards of usage? is it bad to borrow words from another languages rather than inventing native ones?
Other questions are factual, though they have immediate practical consequences: does bilingual education work? what are the consequences of oral education for deaf children? to what extent can ordinary citizens understand legal contracts? how well do computer speech recognition systems work?
A third set of questions are mainly interesting to those who care about
Reasonable and informed people can and do disagree about these and innumerable
other linguistic issues. Particular arguments may be illogical, or particular
claims may be false, as in any debate, but our state of knowledge leaves
room for a range of opinions.
In some cases, the "flat earth" position is only held by exceptionally ignorant people, and gives rise to jokes with punch lines like "if English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me." However, there are plenty of misconceptions about language among otherwise reasonable people, not to mention French literary theorists or popular pundits. These are worth calling myths.
A couple of other examples:
Myth: speech and writing are parallel forms of linguistic expression,
different but equally fundamental types of text.
Myth: non-standard dialects are degraded and errorful versions
of standard languages.
Myth: Primitive cultures have primitive languages, at a lower
level of development and less well able to express a wide range of ideas.
Yes, Jacques Derrida really believes that writing both "precedes and follows speech, it comprehends it," and that "there is no linguistic sign before writing," because "a certain model of writing was necessarily but provisionally imposed ... as instrument and technique of representation of a system of language. And ... this movement, unique in style, was so profound that it permitted the thinking, within language, of concepts like those of the sign, technique, representation, language."
This leads him to conclude that
"[t]he system of writing in general is not exterior to the system of language in general, unless it is granted that the division between the exterior and the interior passes through the interior of the interior or the exterior of the exterior, to the point where the immanence of language is essentially exposed to the intervention of forces that are apparently alien to its system." (all quotes from a translation of Of Grammatology)
It's hard to argue with that -- if only because Derrida seems determined
to prove by example his hypothesis that texts have no intrinsic meaning.
However, one wonders how this perspective can make sense of the grammatical
system of Panini,
developed (in India around 600 BC) entirely orally, for the codification
of an entirely oral literature.