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  • Print publication year: 1968
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - Linguistics: The Scientific Study of Language



Definition of linguistics

Linguistics may be defined as the scientific study of language. This definition is hardly sufficient to give the reader any positive indication of the fundamental principles of the subject. It may be made a little more revealing by drawing in greater detail the implications contained in the qualification ‘scientific’. For the moment, it will be enough to say that by the scientific study of language is meant its investigation by means of controlled and empirically verifiable observations and with reference to some general theory of language-structure.

Linguistic terminology

It is sometimes suggested that the terminology, or ‘jargon’, of modern linguistics is unnecessarily complex. This is a criticism which need not detain us long. Every science has its own technical vocabulary: it is only because the layman takes on trust the established sciences, and especially the ‘natural’ sciences, that he does not question their right to furnish themselves with special vocabularies. The technical terms used by linguists arise in the course of their work and are easily understood by those who approach the subject sympathetically and without prejudice. It should not be forgotten that most of the terms which the non-linguist employs to talk about language (‘word’, ‘syllable’, ‘letter’, ‘phrase’, ‘sentence’, ‘noun’, ‘verb’, etc.) originated as technical terms of traditional grammar and are no less ‘abstract’ in their reference than the more recent creations of linguists.

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Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics
  • Online ISBN: 9781139165570
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