Linguistics is the scientific study of language. There are three aspects to this study: language form, language meaning, and language in context. The earliest activities in the description of language have been attributed to Pāṇini, who was an early student of linguistics(fl. 4th century BCE),〔Sanskrit Literature The Imperial Gazetteer of India, v. 2 (1909), p. 263.〕 with his analysis of Sanskrit in ''Ashtadhyayi''.
Linguistics analyzes human language as a system for relating sounds (or signs in signed languages) and meaning. Phonetics studies acoustic and articulatory properties of the production and perception of speech sounds and non-speech sounds. The study of language meaning, on the other hand, deals with how languages encode relations between entities, properties, and other aspects of the world to convey, process, and assign meaning, as well as to manage and resolve ambiguity. While the study of semantics typically concerns itself with truth conditions, pragmatics deals with how context influences meanings.
Grammar is a system of rules which govern the form of the utterances in a given language. It encompasses both sound〔All references in this article to the study of sound should be taken to include the manual and non-manual signs used in sign languages.〕 and meaning, and includes phonology (how sounds and gestures function together), morphology (the formation and composition of words), and syntax (the formation and composition of phrases and sentences from words).
In the early 20th century, Ferdinand de Saussure distinguished between the notions of ''langue'' and ''parole'' in his formulation of structural linguistics. According to him, parole is the specific utterance of speech, whereas langue refers to an abstract phenomenon that theoretically defines the principles and system of rules that govern a language.〔de Saussure, F. (1986). Course in general linguistics (3rd ed.). (R. Harris, Trans.). Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company. (Original work published 1972). p. 9-10, 15.〕 This distinction resembles the one made by Noam Chomsky between competence and performance, where competence is individual's ideal knowledge of a language, while performance is the specific way in which it is used.〔Chomsky, Noam. (1965). ''Aspects of the Theory of Syntax''. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.〕
The formal study of language has also led to the growth of fields like psycholinguistics, which explores the representation and function of language in the mind; neurolinguistics, which studies language processing in the brain; and language acquisition, which investigates how children and adults acquire a particular language.
Linguistics also includes nonformal approaches to the study of other aspects of human language, such as social, cultural, historical and political factors.〔(Journal of Language and Politics )〕 The study of cultural discourses and dialects is the domain of sociolinguistics, which looks at the relation between linguistic variation and social structures, as well as that of discourse analysis, which examines the structure of texts and conversations. Research on language through historical and evolutionary linguistics focuses on how languages change, and on the origin and growth of languages, particularly over an extended period of time.
Corpus linguistics takes naturally occurring texts or films (in signed languages) as its primary object of analysis, and studies the variation of grammatical and other features based on such corpora. Stylistics involves the study of patterns of style: within written, signed, or spoken discourse.〔("Stylistics" by Joybrato Mukherjee. Chapter 49. ''Encyclopedia of Linguistics''. )〕 Language documentation combines anthropological inquiry with linguistic inquiry to describe languages and their grammars. Lexicography covers the study and construction of dictionaries. Computational linguistics applies computer technology to address questions in theoretical linguistics, as well as to create applications for use in parsing, data retrieval, machine translation, and other areas. People can apply actual knowledge of a language in translation and interpreting, as well as in language education – the teaching of a second or foreign language. Policy makers work with governments to implement new plans in education and teaching which are based on linguistic research.
Areas of study related to linguistics include semiotics (the study of signs and symbols both within language and without), literary criticism, translation, and speech-language pathology.
Before the 20th century, the term ''philology'', first attested in 1716,〔(Online Etymological Dictionary Definition of ''Philology'' )〕 was commonly used to refer to the science of language, which was then predominantly historical in focus.〔(JSTOR preview: ''Introduction: Philology in a Manuscript Culture'' by Stephen G. Nichols. )〕 Since Ferdinand de Saussure's insistence on the importance of synchronic analysis, however, this focus has shifted and the term "philology" is now generally used for the "study of a language's grammar, history, and literary tradition", especially in the United States〔A. Morpurgo Davies Hist. Linguistics (1998) 4 I. 22.〕 (where philology has never been very popularly considered as the "science of language").〔(Online Etymological Dictionary of ''Philology'' )〕
Although the term "linguist" in the sense of "a student of language" dates from 1641,〔 the term "linguistics" is first attested in 1847.〔(Online Etymological Dictionary Definition of ''Linguist'' )〕 It is now the common academic term in English for the scientific study of language.
Today, the term ''linguist'' applies to someone who studies language or is a researcher within the field, or to someone who uses the tools of the discipline to describe and analyze specific languages.
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