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Why LINGUISTS get ANNOYED when you ask what language they study…

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Hello, Hola, Salut, Olá ! 

MA-Language-Cognition

What do Linguists study anyway???

Degelitos is back after a long WordPress break with some more interesting topics! Today I’m gonna try to break down in simple English what Linguistics is. Hope you got a minute.

Although it is very common for linguists to be bilingual, trilingual, or even polyglots, some or even many are actually monolingual. So today I am going to explain how it is possible for a linguist to be monolingual by explaining my version of the world of linguistics.

First of all, linguistics is an interdisciplinary field which cover all subjects that have a relation to “language”.

In English the word language poses some issues right from the start. Language can refer to the type of language used within a language (such as your native language) or it can refer to a foreign language/tongue (a second language). I think the biggest problem here is that most people think linguistics is only about foreign tongues, but let me tell you that is not the case. Linguists study language within a specific tongue (language) such as English, and/or they study linguistic phenomenons in foreign languages such as grammatical structures or dialects of Arabic. This is the first important point.

 

In other languages, like Spanish or French, there are two words to carefully distinguish one type of “language” from the other. In Spanish lengua means tongue (world language if you will) and lenguaje means language, like the type of language you use such as formal/informal. So when someone asks a linguist in Spanish what they study, one doesn’t necessarily assume foreign languages.

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Since there are different subfields of linguistics a linguist can specialize in different areas of the field such as psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, morphology, semantics, typology, phonetics, phonology, syntax, grammar, dialects, language acquisition (of a first, second, or third language), translation, interpretation, computational linguistics, animal communication, or even anthropology. You can also be interested in making up new languages and become a conlanger. Conlangers are the linguists who create fake languages for movies and video games. I’m sure I’m forgetting some… please feel free to comment.

I personally am interested more in sociolinguistics, dialectology, and phonetics. What does this mean? It means, my personal linguistic interests are related to language its role in society and particular sounds or phonological traits of a language or dialect.  How you and others speak has an effect on society even in a monolingual environment. Studying foreign languages is cool, but also studies different varieties (or dialects) of the same language can be cool too!

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Back to my point about how linguists can be monolingual… Imagine I was monolingual. I’m not, but I definitely do not speak Vietnamese for example. I do however, thanks to studying linguistics, understand some things about how the Vietnamese language works. I don’t assume every language has the same grammatical processes as my native language. In Vietnamese (correct me if I’m wrong) there are many ways to say hello, and they way you say it depends on who you’re talking to and the level of respect you want to show them. How do you say these hellos? I do not know, I learned and I forgot. Another interesting feature of Vietnamese is that it´s a tonal language which means you can have the same 1 syllable word, and the tone you put on it changes the meaning completely. My favorite example is how you say table and friend, to the English speaker these words might sound the same because our ears aren’t as sensitive to the tones. Bàn means table which has a descending tone (I believe) and bạn means friend and it has another tone. Keeping these things in mind help us understand the difficulties speakers might have in learning other languages with different typical features. 

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Anyway I hope that’s enough of an introduction for now. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO COMMENT ON or CORRECT any mistakes I have here.

If you didn´t already know much about linguistics, I hope you learned something today. Also feel free to put in the comments any linguistic particularities that you find in your native language or a language you speak.

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Author: degelitos

International comical short person

2 thoughts on “Why LINGUISTS get ANNOYED when you ask what language they study…

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