The Study Of Language: What Is Linguistics?

This article explains what linguistics is. It is a subfield of anthropology involving the study of languages, its structure and origin.

There are four major subfields in Anthropology: Ethnology, Archaeology, Biological Anthropology and Linguistics. Of the four subfields, Linguistics is probably the least recognized. Linguistics is the study of language. The purpose of this study is to discover the origins of language, the structural meaning of languages, the history of a language, the relationships between languages, and the inherent meaning of certain aspects of the spoken and written word.

Some linguists (usually linguists with specialized training in biological anthropology) study the origins of language. One argument is that language could not have evolved until humans were fully modern looking and equipped with proper mouth and throat anatomy. Controversial reconstructions of Neanderthal (and other prehumans) have concluded that language would not have been possible until the dawn of modern anatomy. A fascinating aspect of the origin of language debate centers on how natural selection would have found such a complex system of communication favorable.

Structural linguists study the "˜rules' of language. These rules do not just involve formal grammar, but also the unconscious rules of language that permeate a population. Linguists use specialized symbols in order to transcribe language. It is through this transcription that specific aspects about the structure of the language can be dissected. Structural Linguists study the rules of phonology (sound patterns), morphology (sound sequence and word patterns), and syntax (sentence patterns).



Historical linguists study the evolution of languages. Historical documents are the best source of research for historical linguists. The goal of this type of linguist is to put languages into language families and be able to trace their origins as far back as possible. The English language, for example, belongs to the Indo-European family. It is even possible for a historical linguist to reconstruct a language that does not exist in writing. These reconstructed languages are called "˜protolanguages'.

Most Linguists get their training through Anthropology departments, however some obtain their degrees in Classical or Modern Language departments. If you plan to pursue a study in Linguistics, expect to take courses in anthropology, history, sociology, and at least one foreign language. You may also take courses in historical or classical literature and geography.

Linguists are often multi-lingual and find careers in the business world as translators. Cultural Resource and Preservation Centers are also interested in the skills of a linguist. They are also employed in academic fields at universities and sometimes museums. Most importantly, Linguistics is an excellent liberal arts education that allows the student the career opportunities that any other liberal arts degree would. Generally, if you would like to be involved in linguistic research, expect to earn your Ph.D. first. Like many highly specialized studies in liberal arts, in order to work in the field you will probably need to earn more than just your Bachelor's Degree!

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