OhhNo
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Could someone give me an accurate description of what studying linguistics consists of? I really enjoy English language, is linguistics like the science-y side of that? I just want something which will give me a feel of what it's about so I know if it's what I'd like


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Estreth
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You could read something like the OUP Very Short Introduction to Linguistics to give you a feel for it.

In short, it's the scientific study of language. Some of its principal branches include:

Phonology, which is the study of the sounds that constitute spoken languages. It looks at how vowels and consonants are articulated. Consider, for instance, the difference between the articulation of the 't' sound in the word 'letter' in British and American English. Think about the point at which and the way in which your tongue connects with the top of your mouth to produce these different sounds. Phonetics is the study of how languages differentiate (or don't) between sounds and sort them into units ('phonemes'). For instance, consider how the letter 'l' sounds in 'million' and in 'hull'. There is a difference in articulation but it's not one that's important in English. You don't need to distinguish between them to understand words properly. Whereas in Russian, the difference between the sounds is important: mjel (hard 'l') means 'chalk', but mjel' (soft 'l') means 'sandbank'.

Morphology. This is the study of the grammatical units of language rather than the sound units. Languages differ widely in the complexity of the morphology. In English, for instance, the word 'house' doesn't change except in the plural 'houses'. The '-s' is a grammatical unit, namely a plural marker. But in many languages the form of the word changes according to the role it plays in the sentence. So in the sentence 'the house stands on the corner of the road' the Latin for 'house' would be 'domus'. But in the sentence 'I sold the house' it would be 'domum' because it's in the 'accusative case': it is the object rather than the subject of the verb. (Finnish has 15 different cases!)

Syntax is about the way sentences are constructed. For example, everyone agrees that 'He gave the book to me' is a well-formed sentence in English. What about 'He gave it to me'? Again, it seems fine to everyone - just substitute the pronoun 'it' to stand in for 'the book'. Now switch things round a bit: 'He gave me the book'. Is that OK? Presumably yes - all dialects (as far as I know) accept the substitution of 'me' for 'to me' - but note that you have to change the position in the sentence of the pronoun in order to make it work. (Why isn't 'He gave the book me' a proper sentence??) Finally, insert a pronoun for 'the book' and we get 'He gave me it'. Is that a well-formed sentence? I (a Northerner) say yes. My girlfriend (a Southerner) says no. She was taught that you must say 'He gave it to me.' Which leads on to...

Sociolinguistics - how and why language differs according to social context. Consider how BBC TV and radio presenters used to sound in the 1950s. Did everyone sound like that then? Of course not - no more than they do now. British English varies enormously in pronunciation and accent across the country. But there were social reasons why it was thought appropriate that 'BBC English' should be uniformly the speech of a certain (really rather small) subsection of British society. Today the trend is very much in the opposite direction, with a positive effort to show a greater range of accents. Why do these differences in speech tend to track certain social categories in the first place?

If you think these are all interesting things to think about then you will probably enjoy linguistics. And if you haven't studied any foreign languages then you definitely need to!
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OhhNo
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(Original post by Estreth)
You could read something like the OUP Very Short Introduction to Linguistics to give you a feel for it.

In short, it's the scientific study of language. Some of its principal branches include:

Phonology, which is the study of the sounds that constitute spoken languages. It looks at how vowels and consonants are articulated. Consider, for instance, the difference between the articulation of the 't' sound in the word 'letter' in British and American English. Think about the point at which and the way in which your tongue connects with the top of your mouth to produce these different sounds. Phonetics is the study of how languages differentiate (or don't) between sounds and sort them into units ('phonemes'). For instance, consider how the letter 'l' sounds in 'million' and in 'hull'. There is a difference in articulation but it's not one that's important in English. You don't need to distinguish between them to understand words properly. Whereas in Russian, the difference between the sounds is important: mjel (hard 'l') means 'chalk', but mjel' (soft 'l') means 'sandbank'.

Morphology. This is the study of the grammatical units of language rather than the sound units. Languages differ widely in the complexity of the morphology. In English, for instance, the word 'house' doesn't change except in the plural 'houses'. The '-s' is a grammatical unit, namely a plural marker. But in many languages the form of the word changes according to the role it plays in the sentence. So in the sentence 'the house stands on the corner of the road' the Latin for 'house' would be 'domus'. But in the sentence 'I sold the house' it would be 'domum' because it's in the 'accusative case': it is the object rather than the subject of the verb. (Finnish has 15 different cases!)

Syntax is about the way sentences are constructed. For example, everyone agrees that 'He gave the book to me' is a well-formed sentence in English. What about 'He gave it to me'? Again, it seems fine to everyone - just substitute the pronoun 'it' to stand in for 'the book'. Now switch things round a bit: 'He gave me the book'. Is that OK? Presumably yes - all dialects (as far as I know) accept the substitution of 'me' for 'to me' - but note that you have to change the position in the sentence of the pronoun in order to make it work. (Why isn't 'He gave the book me' a proper sentence??) Finally, insert a pronoun for 'the book' and we get 'He gave me it'. Is that a well-formed sentence? I (a Northerner) say yes. My girlfriend (a Southerner) says no. She was taught that you must say 'He gave it to me.' Which leads on to...

Sociolinguistics - how and why language differs according to social context. Consider how BBC TV and radio presenters used to sound in the 1950s. Did everyone sound like that then? Of course not - no more than they do now. British English varies enormously in pronunciation and accent across the country. But there were social reasons why it was thought appropriate that 'BBC English' should be uniformly the speech of a certain (really rather small) subsection of British society. Today the trend is very much in the opposite direction, with a positive effort to show a greater range of accents. Why do these differences in speech tend to track certain social categories in the first place?

If you think these are all interesting things to think about then you will probably enjoy linguistics. And if you haven't studied any foreign languages then you definitely need to!
Thank you this was really helpful! And I have studied Spanish so I know some of that, so that's a start


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