- For a topical guide of this subject, see Outline of linguistics
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Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It involves analysing language form, language meaning, and language in context. The earliest activities in the documentation and description of language have been attributed to the 6th-century-BC Indian grammarian Pāṇini who wrote a formal description of the Sanskrit language in his Aṣṭādhyāyī.
Linguists traditionally analyse human language by observing an interplay between sound and meaning. Phonetics is the study of speech and non-speech sounds, and delves into their acoustic and articulatory properties. 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 manage and resolve ambiguity. While the study of semantics typically concerns itself with truth conditions, pragmatics deals with how situational context influences the production of meaning.
Grammar is a system of rules which governs the production and use of utterances in a given language. These rules apply to sound as well as meaning, and include componential subsets of rules, such as those pertaining to phonology (the organisation of phonetic sound systems), morphology (the formation and composition of words), and syntax (the formation and composition of phrases and sentences). Many modern theories that deal with the principles of grammar are based on Noam Chomsky's framework of generative linguistics.
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. This distinction resembles the one made by Noam Chomsky between competence and performance in his theory of transformative or generative grammar. According to Chomsky, competence is an individual's innate capacity and potential for language (like in Saussure's langue), while performance is the specific way in which it is used by individuals, groups, and communities (i.e., parole, in Saussurean terms).