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UGC MHRD ePG Pathshala

Subject: English
Principal Investigator: Prof. Tutun Mukherjee, University of Hyderabad

Paper 13: Introduction to Linguistics and Phonetics

Paper Coordinator: Dr. Neeru Tandon; VSSD College, CSJMU Kanpur

Module No 01: What is Linguistics?

Content writer: Dr. Neeru Tandon; VSSD College, CSJMU Kanpur

Content Reviewer: Dr. Chhaya Jain, Principal VSSD College, CSJMU Kanpur

Language Editor: Prof. Ghanshyam Iyengar, Govt. Lahiri College, Chhattisgarh

1.0 Learning Outcome: This Module ‘What is Linguistics’ will tell you about the key
components of linguistics and various elements and theories. In a nutshell it will make
you comfortable with key concepts of linguistics.

1.1 What is Linguistics?

Linguistics is a growing and interesting area of study, having a direct hearing on fields as
diverse as education, anthropology, sociology, language teaching, cognitive psychology
and philosophy. Fundamentally, it is concerned with the nature of language and
communication. Some of the definitions of linguistics are as under:

“Linguistics observes language in action as a means for determining how

language has developed, how it functions today, and how it is currently evolving.” (G.

“Linguistics is concerned with the nature of human language, how it is learned and what
part it plays in the life of the individual and the community.” (S. Pit Corder)
“Linguistics tries to answer two basic questions:

“The scientific study of human language is called linguistics”. (Victoria A. Fromkin)

Again and again we hear that Linguistics is the scientific study of language. By this we
mean language in general, not a particular language. If we were concerned with studying
an individual language, we would say ‘I’m studying French… or English,’ or whichever
language we happen to be studying. But linguistics does not study an individual language;
it studies ‘language’ in general. That is, linguistics, according to Robins (1985):
It is concerned with human language as a universal and recognizable part of the human
behaviour and of the human faculties, perhaps one of the most essential to human life as
we know it, and one of the most far-reaching of human capabilities in relation to the
whole span of mankind’s achievements.

1.2 Elements of General Linguistics

1.1.2 Linguistics is a scientific study of the systems underlying human languages. It

studies language as a universal and recognizable part of human behaviour. In simple
terms we can understand that linguistics studies the origin, organization, nature and
development of language descriptively, historically, comparatively and explicitly. It also
formulates the general rules related to language. We call linguistics a science and its
working scientific because it follows the general methodology of science such as
controlled observation, hypothesis formation, analysis, generalization, prediction, testing
by further observation etc. It may be inductive or deductive but it is objective, precise,
tentative and systematic. It is between natural and social sciences. According to Robins:
‘Linguistics is an empirical science and within the empirical sciences it is one of the
social sciences because its subject matter concerns human beings and is very much
different from that of natural sciences.’ Thus a linguist is a scientist who investigates
human language in all its facets, its structure, its use, its history, and its place in society.
But the field of linguistics is not limited to grammatical theory; it includes a large number
of subfields, which is true of most sciences concerned with phenomena as complex as
human language.

1.2 Historical evolution of Linguistics: Panini to Chomsky and After

The philosophers of ancient Greece argued and debated questions dealing with the origin and
the nature of language. Plato, writing between 427 and 348 BC, devoted his Dialogue to
linguistic issues of his day and Aristotle was concerned with language from both rhetorical
and philosophical points of view. The Greeks and the Romans also wrote grammars, and
discussed the sounds of language and the structures of words and sentences. This interest
continued through the medieval period and the renaissance in an unbroken thread to the
present period.
Linguistic scholarship, however, was not confined to Europe. In India the Sanskrit language
was the subject of detailed analysis as early as the twelfth century BC. Panini’s Sanskrit
grammar dated ca. 500 BC is still considered to be one of the greatest scholarly linguistic
achievements. In addition, Chinese and Arabic scholars have all contributed to our
understanding of human language. The major efforts of the linguists of the nineteenth century
were devoted to historical and comparative studies. Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), a
Swiss linguist in this tradition, turned his attention instead to the structural principles of
language rather than to the ways in which languages change and develop, and in so doing,
became a major influence on twentieth century linguistics.

Scholars from different disciplines and with different interests turned their attention to the
many aspects of language and language use. American linguists in the first half of the century
included the anthropologist Edward Sapir (1884–1939, and Leonard Bloomfield (1887–
1949), himself a historical and comparative linguist, as well as a major descriptive linguist
who emerged as the most influential linguist in this period. Both Sapir and Bloomfield were
also concerned with developing a general theory of language. In Europe, Roman Jakobson
(1896–1982), one of the founders of the Prague School of Linguistics, came to America in
1941 and contributed substantially to new developments in the field. His collaboration with
Morris Halle and Gunnar Fant led to a theory of Distinctive Features in phonology, and Halle
has remained one of the leading phonologists of the last decades. In England, phoneticians
like Daniel Jones (1881–1967) and Henry Sweet (1845–1912) (the prototype for G. B.
Shaw’s Henry Higgins) have had a lasting influence on the study of the sound systems of
language. In 1957 with the publication of Syntactic Structures, Noam Chomsky ushered in the
era of generative grammar, a theory that has been referred to as creating a scientific
revolution. It is concerned with the biological basis for the acquisition, representation and use
of human language and seeks to construct a scientific theory that is explicit and explanatory.

1.3 Aims of Linguistics:

Linguistics has two major aims: to study the nature of language and establish a theory
of language and to describe a language and all languages by applying the theory

1.4-Types of Linguistics

 Theoretical Linguistics often referred to as generative linguistics, has its basis in

views first put forth by Chomsky’s The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory. Its
aim was to characterize the nature of human linguistic knowledge or competence
(represented in the mind as a mental grammar); that is, to explain or account for what
speakers know which permits them to speak and comprehend speech or sign (the
languages of the deaf). The production and comprehension of speech is referred to as
performance, distinct from competence but dependent on it.
 Descriptive linguistics provides analyses of the grammars of languages such as
Choctaw, Arabic, Zulu. ‘Indo-European-linguistics,’ ‘Romance linguistics,’ and‘
African linguistics,’ refer to the studies of particular languages and language families,
from both historical and synchronic points of view.
 Historical linguistics is concerned with a theory of language change – why and how
languages develop. The comparative method, developed in the nineteenth century by
such philologists as the brothers Grimm and Hermann Paul, is a method used to
compare languages in the attempt to determine which languages are related and to
establish families of languages and their roots.
 Anthropological or ethno-linguistics and Sociolinguistics focus on languages as
part of culture and society, including language and culture, social class, ethnicity, and
 Dialectology investigates how these factors fragment one language into many.
 Applied linguistics also covers such areas as discourse and conversational analysis,
language assessment, language pedagogy.
 Computational linguistics is concerned with natural language computer
applications, e.g. automatic parsing, machine processing and understanding,
computer simulation of grammatical models for the generation and parsing of
 Mathematical linguistics studies the formal and mathematical properties of
language. Pragmatics studies language in context and the influence of situation on
meaning. Neurolinguistics is concerned with the biological basis of language
acquisition and development and the brain/mind/language interface. It brings
linguistic theory to bear on research on aphasia (language disorders following brain
injury) and research involving the latest technologies in the study of brain imaging
and processing.
 Psycholinguistics is the branch of linguistics concerned with linguistic performance
– the production and comprehension of speech (or sign).
 Ontogeny Linguistics deals with child language acquisition – how children acquire
the complex grammar, which underlies language use.

1.5 The Basic Dimensions of Linguistics:

Modern linguistics has evolved as a discipline, which is more concerned with application
of linguistic data, information and observations in various domains of human enterprise.
Several new field of linguistics have been introduced such as computational Linguistics,
Corpus linguistics, forensic linguistics etc. This has made it possible to look at the
languages from different perspectives. Although the modern linguistics has been
drastically different from the traditional linguistics in approach, attitude, methods,
orientation, subject matters and focus, it has not yet succeeded to ignore the basic
dimensions of linguistics. The basic dimensions are as following:
1.5.1Descriptive linguistics and perspective linguistics: Descriptive linguistics or
language description, in the study of language, is a kind of study that objectively analyses
and describes how languages is used in all kinds of activity related to it and other things.
It has been much dependent on a structural approach to language study, as shown in the
works of Bloomfield, Hockett and others, which has given birth to a new idea known as
descriptivism that argues that authentic description of a language and its properties is
much more significant or important than prescribing it in case of understanding a
language, teaching a language, and developing resources for language planning.
Perspective linguistics refers both to the codification and the enforcement of rules
governing how the people of a particular speech community should use a language.
An extreme version of prescriptivism can be found among the censoring authorities,
which attempt to eradicate words (such as slang) and structures which they consider
to be destructive to a society or culture, which eventually leads to the birth of purism
in language use.

1.5.2 Theoretical linguistics and applied linguistics: Theoretical linguistics studies a

particular language as well as a group of languages with a view for constructing
theory of their structure and functions without regard to any practical applications
that the investigation of language and languages might have (Lyons 1981:35)
Applied linguistics is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry that identifies, investigates
and offers solutions to language

1.5.3 Microlinguistics and Macrolinguistics: These familiar prefixes (micro=very small;

macro=very large) differentiate two approaches to the study of languages. The micro-linguist
is interested in how small changes in a distinct word or other linguistic element may offer
clues to larger trends: for example, how did “thou thee thy thine” become “you, you, your,
yours” in modern English? Or how did contractions form (wouldn’t, won’t, can’t, doesn’t,
etc.) evolve? These shifts in specific areas might offer clues to how language works—what
forces are at work?

The macro-linguist, on the other hand, studies major changes in language from outside
forces—the Latin language influence on English came from the Roman Empire’s expansion,
for example. Look at how these two approach work together: The macro-linguist notes that
the Norman Invasion brought French to the English; the micro-linguist, wondering why cow-
meat is called beef, sheep-meat is called mutton, pig-meat is called pork, etc., notes that the
French word for cow is “boeuf,” the French word for sheep is “mouton,” the French word for
pig is “porque.” Together the linguists realize that the French invaders, whose servants were
the conquered English peasants, ordered their meals using the French words, so the food
names that the servants got used to were the French terms, and entered the English language
that way.

Micro linguistics deals with phonetics, grammar, etc. on the individual example level; Macro
linguistics deals with comparative studies among languages, language families, and large
influences on language development.

1.5.4 Synchronic linguistics and diachronic linguistics both study a language.

Synchronic linguistics will be concerned with the logical and psychological
relations that bind together co existing terms and form a system in the collective
mind of speakers. Diachronic or historical linguistics studies the development of
languages through time, for example, the way in which French and Italian have
evolved from Latin or Hindi from Sanskrip. It also investigates language changes.
Synchronic deals with systems and diachronic with units. Saussure considered
synchronic linguistics to be more important.

1.5.5.Competence and Performance

Chomsky’s concept of Competence and Performance is somewhat similar to
Saussure’s concept of Langue and Parole. Competence is the native speaker’s
knowledge of his language, the system of rules he has mastered, his ability to produce
and understand a vast number of new sentences. Performance is the study of actual
sentences themselves, of the actual use of language in real life situation. The
speaker’s knowledge of the structure of a language is his linguistic competence and
the way in which he uses it, is his linguistic performance.
The competence is free from the interference of memory span, characteristics errors,
lapses of attention etc. Competence in linguistics is the linguistic ability.-the ability to
produce and understand. Saussure stressed the sociological implications of langue,
while Chomsky stresses the psychological implications of competence.

1.5.6 Linguistic phylogeny

Russell Gray and his colleagues have taken powerful phylogenetic methods that were
developed by biologists to investigate molecular evolution, and applied them to linguistic data
in order to answer questions about the evolution of language families.

1.5.7 I-Language’ and ‘E-Language’

Chomsky (1986) introduced into the linguistics literature two technical notions of a language:
‘E-Language’ and ‘I-Language’. He deprecates the former as either undeserving of study or
as a fictional entity, and promotes the latter as the only scientifically respectable object of
study for a serious linguistics.


Chomsky's notion ‘E-language’ is supposed to suggest by its initial ‘E’ both ‘extensional’
(concerned with which sentences happen to satisfy a definition of a language rather than with
what the definition says) and ‘external’ (external to the mind, that is, non-mental). The
dismissal of E-language as an object of study is aimed at critics of Essentialism—many but
not all of those critics falling within our categories of Externalists and Emergentists.

Chomsky therefore concludes that languages cannot be defined or individuated extensionally

or mind-externally, and hence the only scientifically interesting conception of a ‘language’ is
the ‘I-language’ view.

1.6 Grammar as the Representation of Linguistic Competence

Linguistic knowledge as represented in the speaker’s mind is called a grammar. Linguistic
theory is concerned with revealing the nature of the mental grammar, which represents
speakers’ knowledge of their language. If one defines grammar as the mental representation
of one’s linguistic knowledge, then a general theory of language is a theory of grammar. A
grammar includes everything one knows about the structure of one’s language –
 Its lexicon (the words or vocabulary in the mental dictionary),
 Its morphology (the structure of words),
 Its syntax (the structure of phrases and sentences),
 Its semantics (the meaning of words and sentences)
 And its phonetics and phonology (the sounds and the sound system or patterns).
1.7 Types of Grammar: Grammar as viewed here are different from the usual notion of
grammar. When viewed as the representation of a speaker’s linguistic competence, a grammar
is a mental system, a cognitive part of the brain/mind, which, if it is one’s first native
language, is acquired as a child without any specific instruction. The word grammar is often
used solely in reference to syntax. But we use it to refer to all aspects of linguistic
competence. In addition to its use as referring to the mental system, when linguists describe
this knowledge shared by a language community, the description is also called the grammar
of the language.

1.7.1 Mental Grammar: Of course no two speakers of a language have identical grammars;
some may know words that others do not, some may have some idiosyncratic rules or
pronunciations. But since they can speak to each other and understand each other there is a
shared body of knowledge, which is what we are calling their mental grammars.

1.7.2 Universal Grammar: The more we look at the languages of the world, the more
support there is for the position taken by Roger Bacon, a thirteenth century philosopher, who
wrote: He that understands grammar in one language, understands it in another as far as the
essential properties of grammar are concerned. The fact that he can’t speak, nor comprehend,
another language is due to the diversity of words and their various forms, but these are the
accidental properties of grammar. There is much evidence to support this view, which today
is based on the recognition that there is a biological basis for the human ability to acquire
language. The child enters the world with an innate predisposition to acquire languages which
adhere to these universal principles, that is, genetically determined mental system which is
referred to as Universal Grammar or UG.

1.7.3 Descriptive Grammars Descriptive grammars are thus idealized forms of the mental
grammars of all the speakers of a language community. The grammars of all languages are
constrained by universal ‘laws’ or ‘principles,’ a view which differs from that of many
linguists in the pre-Chomsky period some of whom held that languages could differ in
innumerable ways.

1.7.4 Prescriptive Grammars: Descriptive grammars aim at revealing the mental grammar
which represents the knowledge a speaker of the language has. They do not attempt to
prescribe what speakers’ grammars should be. While certain forms (or dialects) of a language
may be preferred for social or political or economic reasons, no specific dialect is
linguistically superior to any other. The science of linguistics therefore has little interest in
prescriptive grammars.

1.8 Three Approaches to Linguistic Theorizing: Externalism, Emergentalism, and


Table 1: Three Approaches to the Study of Language


Facts of social cognition,
Primary Actual utterances as Intuitions of grammaticality
interaction, and
phenomena produced by language users and literal meaning

Primary Language use; structural Linguistic communication, Abstract universal principles

subject properties of expressions and cognition, variation, and that explain the properties of
matter languages change specific languages

To describe attested To explain structural To articulate universal

expression structure and properties of languages in principles and provide
Aim interrelations, and predicting terms of general cognitive explanations for deep and
properties of unattested mechanisms and cross-linguistically constant
expressions communicative functions linguistic properties

A system of patterns, A system of constructions that A system of abstract

Linguistic inferable from generally range from fixed idiomatic conditions that may not be
structure accessible, objective features phrases to highly abstract evident from the experience
of language use productive types of typical language users

Accurate modeling of
Cognitive, cultural, historical,
linguistic form that accords Highly abstract, covering-law
and evolutionary explanations
with empirical data and explanations for properties of
Values of phenomena found in
permits prediction language as inferred from
linguistic communication
concerning unconsidered linguistic intuitions

A series of stages in an Very similar to adult

A nascent form of language,
Children's ontogenetic process of linguistic competence though
very different from adult
language developing adult obscured by cognitive,
linguistic competence
communicative competence articulatory, and lexical limits

A grasp of the distributional A mainly conventional and An internalized generative

What is
properties of the constituents culturally transmitted system device that characterizes an
of expressions of a language for linguistic communication infinite set of expressions

The names we have given these approaches are just mnemonic tags, not descriptions. If
Leonard Bloomfield is the intellectual ancestor of Externalism, and Sapir the father of
Emergentism, then Noam Chomsky is the intellectual ancestor of Essentialism. The
researcher with predominantly Essentialist inclinations aims to identify the intrinsic properties
of language that make it what it is.

1.8.1The Externalists
If one assumes, with the Externalists, that the main goal of a linguistic theory is to develop
accurate models of the structural properties of the speech sounds, words, phrases, and other
linguistic items, then the clearly privileged information will include corpora (written and
oral)—bodies of attested and recorded language use (suitably idealized).

1.8.2 The Emergentists

Emergentists aim to explain the capacity for language in terms of non-linguistic human
capacities: thinking, communicating, and interacting. Edward Sapir expressed a characteristic
Emergentist theme when he wrote:
Language is primarily a cultural or social product and must be understood as such… It is
peculiarly important that linguists, who are often accused, and accused justly, of failure to
look beyond the pretty patterns of their subject matter, should become aware of what their
science may mean for the interpretation of human conduct in general. (Sapir 1929: 214)

1.8.3 The Essentialists

The idea that linguistic form is autonomous, and more specifically that syntactic form (rather
than, say, phonological form) is autonomous, is a characteristic theme of the Essentialists.
Rather than being impressed with language variation, as are Emergentists and many
Externalists, the generative Essentialists are extremely impressed with the idea that very
young children of almost any intelligence level, and just about any social upbringing, acquire
language to the same high degree of mastery. From this it is inferred that there must be
unlearned features shared by all languages that somehow assist in language acquisition.

1.9 The Subject Matter of Linguistic Theories

The complex and multi-faceted character of linguistic phenomena means that the discipline of
linguistics has a whole complex of distinguishable subject matters associated with different
research questions. Among the possible topics for investigation are these:

i. the capacity of humans to acquire, use, and invent languages;

ii. the abstract structural patterns (phonetic, morphological, syntactic, or semantic)
found in a particular language under some idealization;
iii. systematic structural manifestations of the use of some particular language;
iv. the changes in a language or among languages across time;
v. the psychological functioning of individuals who have successfully acquired
particular languages;
vi. the psychological processes underlying speech or linguistically mediated thinking in
vii. the evolutionary origin of (i), and/or (ii).

1.10 Linguistic Methodology and Data

The strengths and limitations of different data gathering methods began to play an important
role in linguistics in the early to mid-20th century. Voegelin and Harris (1951: 323) discuss
several methods that had been used to distinguish Amerindian languages and dialects:

 Informal elicitation: asking an informant for a metalinguistic judgment on an

expression. [E.g., “Is this sentence grammatical?” “Do these two sentences mean the
same thing?”]
 Corpus collection: gathering a body of naturally occurring utterances.
 Controlled experimentation: testing informants in some way that directly gauges
their linguistic capacities.
1.11 Whorfianism
Emergentists tend to follow Edward Sapir in taking an interest in interlinguistic and
intralinguistic variation. Linguistic anthropologists have explicitly taken up the task of
defending a famous claim associated with Sapir that connects linguistic variation to
differences in thinking and cognition more generally. The claim is very often referred to as
the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis . The term “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis” was coined by Harry
Hoijer in his contribution (Hoijer 1954) to a conference on the work of Benjamin Lee Whorf
in 1953.

The central idea of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that language functions, not simply as a
device for reporting experience, but also, and more significantly, as a way of defining
experience for its speakers.
Whorf himself did not offer a hypothesis. He presented his “new principle of linguistic
relativity” (Whorf 1956: 214) as a fact discovered by linguistic analysis:
‘No one is going to be impressed with a claim that some aspect of your language may affect
how you think in some way or other; that is neither a philosophical thesis nor a psychological
hypothesis. So it is appropriate to set aside entirely the kind of so-called hypotheses that
Steven Pinker presents in The Stuff of Thought (2007: 126–128) as “five banal versions of the
Whorfian hypothesis”:

 “Language affects thought because we get much of our knowledge through reading
and conversation.”
 “A sentence can frame an event, affecting the way people construe it.”
 “The stock of words in a language reflects the kinds of things its speakers deal with in
their lives and hence think about.”
 “[I]f one uses the word language in a loose way to refer to meanings,… then language
is thought.”
 “When people think about an entity, among the many attributes they can think about
is its name.”
These are just truisms, unrelated to any serious issue about linguistic relativism.

1.12 Linguistic nativism

General nativists maintain that the prerequisites for language acquisition are just general
cognitive abilities and resources. Linguistic nativists, by contrast, claim that human infants
have access to at least some specifically linguistic information that is not learned from
linguistic experience. Table 3 briefly sketches the differences between the two views.

Table 3: General and linguistic nativism contrasted


Languages are acquired mainly through the exercise of Language cannot be acquired by defeasible
defeasible inductive methods, based on experience of inductive methods; its structural principles
linguistic communication must to a very large degree be unlearned
In addition to various broadly language-
The unlearned capacities that underpin language
relevant cognitive and perceptual capacities,
acquisition constitute a uniquely human complex of non-
language acquisition draws on an unlearned
linguistic dispositions and mechanisms that also subserve
system of ‘universal grammar’ that constrains
other cognitive functions
language form

There is a special component of the human

Various non-human animal species may well have most or
mind which has the development of language
all of the capacities that humans use for language
as its key function, and no non-human species
acquisition—though no non-human species seems to have
has anything of the sort, so there is a
the whole package, so interspecies differences are a matter
difference in kind between the abilities of
of degree
humans and other animals

1.13 Summary: Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. There are many
subfields of linguistics. The interest in human language goes back as far as recorded history.
The publication of Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures in 1957 ushered in the current period of
generative linguistics, the aims of which concern answers to three key questions: what
constitutes knowledge of language (linguistic competence), how is the knowledge acquired,
and how is this knowledge put to use in linguistic performance?

1.14 Books Consulted

 Isac, Daniela; Charles Reiss (2013). I-language: An Introduction to Linguistics

as Cognitive Science, 2nd edition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-
 Chomsky, Noam (1998). On Language. The New Press, New York. ISBN 978-
 Crystal, David (1990). Linguistics. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140135312.
 Hall, Christopher (2005). An Introduction to Language and Linguistics.
Breaking the Language Spell. Routledge. ISBN 9780826487346.