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Linguistics

Naomi S. Baron


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Linguistics is the study of language. Because linguists disagree on the scope of “language,” definitions of linguistics have varied. Descriptively, the study of language has gone from a search for relationships between specific languages to current interest in the biological bases for language and in language use. Methodologically, linguistics has changed from an empirical discipline to one admitting a priori suppositions and personal introspection in model building. Regardless of theoretical bent, students of language generally divide linguistic inquiry with respect to several conceptual parameters. Linguists distinguish between looking at language at a specific moment in time (synchronically) as opposed to tracing historical language change (diachronically). A second parameter decomposes language into multiple levels for analysis: phonology (sounds), morphology (units of meaning that combine to form words), and syntax (how words are combined to form sentences). In addition, linguistics entails semantics (word and sentence meaning), discourse analysis (connected speech), and pragmatics (language structure and meaning in nonlinguistic context). In defining “language,” it is useful to understand the relationship between language and other systems of signs in which material forms (such as a yawn or the Italian word grazie ) are paired with meanings (here, “I'm tired” or “thank you”). ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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