On Linguistics

What is Linguistics? Who is a linguist? What do linguists do? What is the scope of linguistics? How does linguistics differ from literature studies? How does linguistics relate to other disciplines like sociology, psychology, philosophy, literary theory, speech-language pathology and such other disciplines? These are some of the questions, which come to our mind in relation to the subject to linguistics.

The word Linguistics has been derived from Latin lingua (tongue) and istics (knowledge or science). Etymologically, therefore, linguistics is the scientific study of language. Linguistics deals with the structure and development of particular language and its relationship to other languages. It is the study not of one particular language but of human language in general. Broadly, linguistics is the study of human language, its sound, structure, meaning and function. It studies language as a universal and recognizable part of human behaviour. It attempts to describe and analyze language.

    A linguist is a person who engages in such studies. Linguists are interested in all aspects of language, and in all languages of the world, but he/she is not a polyglot necessarily. They are concerned with language variation according to social setting (socio-linguistics), geographical regions (dialectology), time periods (historical linguistics), relationship between language and mind (psycholinguistics) and many such issues.

    The study of linguistics can be conceived as occurring along three major axes. The endpoints of which are:

  • Synchronic and diachronic– Synchronic study of a language is concerned only with the language as it is at the given time; diachronic study is concerned with the history of language or group of languages, and what structural changes have occurred.
  • Theoretical and applied– Theoretical linguistics is concerned with creating frameworks for the description of individual languages as well as with theories about universal aspects of language. On the other hand, applied linguistics is linguistics in action and interaction. It is not merely an application of linguistic theory to something, but it has a philosophy of its own and is a discipline in its own right.
  • Contextual and independent–These terms are used here only for convenience, as terms for this dichotomy are not well established. Contextual linguistics is concerned with how language fits into the world: its social function, how it is acquired and also how it is produced and perceived. On the contrary, independent linguistics considers languages for its own sake and without externalities related to a language. 

Theoretical linguistics:
    Theoretical linguistics is often divided into a number of separate areas, to be studied more or less independently. The following divisions are currently widely acknowledged:

  • Phonetics, the study of different sounds that are employed across all human languages.
  • Phonology, the study of patterns of a language’s basic sounds.
  • Morphology, the study of the internal structure of words.
  • Syntax, the study of how words combine to form grammatical sentences.
  • Semantics, the study of the meaning of words, and how these words combine to form grammatical sentences.
  • Stylistics, the study of style in languages.
  • Pragmatics, the study of how utterances are used (figuratively, literally or otherwise) in communicative acts.

Diachronic linguistics:

    Whereas the core of theoretical linguistics is concerned with studying languages at a particular point of time (usually the present), diachronic linguistics examines how language changes through time, sometimes over centuries. Historical linguistics enjoys both a rich history and a strong theoretical foundation for the study of language change. Explicitly historical perspectives include historical-comparative linguistics and etymology.

Applied linguistics:

    Whereas theoretical linguistics is concerned with finding and describing generalities both within languages and among all languages, as a group, applied linguistics takes the results of those findings and applies them to other areas. It not only covers the area of language teaching, but the areas of speech synthesis, speech recognition and speech/language pathology as well. This area, not only helps to use linguistic knowledge to provide voice interfaces to computers, but also provides a helping hand to the clinicians/speech pathologists to assess and provide therapeutic measures as per the requirements of their patients.

Contextual linguistics:

    Contextual linguistics is that realm where the linguistics interacts with other academic disciplines. Whereas core linguistics studies languages for their own sake, the inter-disciplinary areas of linguistics consider how language interacts with the rest of the world. Some of these are:

  • Socio-linguistics and anthropological linguistics, where social scientists interact with linguistics.
  • Discourse analysis, where rhetoric and philosophy interact with linguistics.
  • Psycholinguistics and neuro-linguistics, where medical sciences meet linguistics.

    Other cross-disciplinary areas of linguistics include language acquisition, evolutionary linguistics, stratificational linguistics and cognitive science.

Representative job titles and areas of specialization:

  • Bilingual Education
  • Broadcaster/News Reader
  • Communication Disorders Specialist
  • Copywriter
  • Editor
  • Grant / Proposal writer
  • Interpreter
  • Language Planner
  • Lexicographer
  • Professor/Instructor/Teacher
  • Psycholinguist
  • Public Relations
  • Publishing
  • Researcher
  • Technical Writer
  • Translator; and many more.

    A degree in linguistics can be of great value in the pursuit of careers in education, publishing, media, social services, communication, computer languages, voice analysis research, communicative disorders and other language related fields. In recent years, there has been a surge of demand from various industries for competent linguists. This is due to developments in artificial intelligence, communication sciences, and computer applications in natural language processing and understanding, information sciences and other high-technology activities. There are also developing fields in bilingualism, literacy, linguistic problems of ethnic minorities, and other topics in applied linguistics.

    Teaching is one of the best options, which is provided by linguistics studies. There are openings in schools, colleges and other institutions that carry out foreign language training/teaching programmes.

    Several government agencies hire linguists to supervise language-training programme. Others have linguists to carry out research on various languages, or to work in specialized fields such as, the determination of geographical names for mapping and other purposes.

    Lexicographers are involved in the publishing of dictionaries (electronic as well). They are concerned with such matters as pronunciation, the definition of grammatical terms, various languages’ dialectical variation, and etymology. Other areas of publishing in which linguists are involved include foreign language textbooks, editing, consulting and planning elementary and secondary programmes in reading, writing and spelling (curriculum designing).

    The role of linguists in speech pathology and audiology is varied. Through research efforts they have improved ways of analyzing and evaluating the language disintegration associated with various disorders such as aphasia, dyslexia etc. Linguistic researches have also provided valuable information about the stages normal children go through after the first word appears, enabling the evaluation of child language disorders and the design of intervention programmes based on the normal sequence of development. This is a major area, which will demand the contribution of more and more linguists in coming days.

    Linguists play a major role in solving certain criminal cases. Even Investigation agencies have to take the help of a linguist in cases, which involve speaker identification. As acoustic phonetics is one of the significant courses of linguistics study, a linguist proves to be a technically trained manpower for such investigations.

    Today, there is a boom in Call center jobs. Linguistics caters their needs directly. These centers not only utilize the services of linguists to prepare training modules but to get their trainees trained professionally. This industry poses an everlasting demand for linguists.

    Technical writing involves putting scientific and technical information into readily understandable language in the preparation of manuals, instructional materials and engineering reports. These technical writers are none other than linguists who are usually part of the team, working closely with scientists, engineers, accountants, and others.

    Translation studies are part and parcel of linguistics programme. A linguist is trained in translation techniques, which makes him/her eligible for translator’s posts both in public and private sectors.

    Other than these areas, there is a new upcoming field for linguists where his/her contribution will be playing a major role. This field is our banking and financial service sector, which offers managerial posts to linguists making him/her responsible for providing effective phonetics, language, input, culture and customer service training to delegates and monitor consistency of training.

    In addition to above mentioned job oriented fields, if one wants to excel in research, linguistics offers comprehensive options not only in India but in other parts of the world as well. If you are willing to travel extensively, knowing various culture and civilizations around the globe, linguistics is one of the best options. Almost all major and minor funding agencies (both national and international), provide fellowship/scholarship assistance for conducting linguistic researches depending upon their area of interest.

Places of Employment:

  • Consulting firms
  • Elementary and secondary schools
  • Government services:

            —         Investigation Agencies.
            —         Department of Defence, etc.

  • International Organizations
  • Language Institutions
  • Media houses
  • Publishing companies
  • Research Institutions
  • Speech/language rehabilita-tion centers
  • Sign language cell
  • Universities and colleges

Where to study and what is the eligibility:

    Almost all Central Universities in India offer research programme (M.Phil/Ph.D) in linguistics. Most of them run Master’s programme in linguistics as well. The eligibility for taking up the entrance test in these Universities is Graduation in any stream. If interested to join the course in other parts of the world, linguistics is offered in almost all Universities and Colleges of repute beginning from the Graduation level. Detailed information regarding overseas programme may be sought from concerned Colleges/Universities.

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