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 Definition The scientific study of language. [d] [e]

Suggestions for editing this page

Hi, all. I'm one of the authors of the Linguistics Workgroup.

Some suggestions:

  • Join the workgroup if you haven't already. At the moment we have no registered editors (I'm applying) and only six registered authors. To do this put Category:Linguistics Authors|Yourlastastname, Yourfirstname in [ ] at the bottom of your user page (or the equivalent editor tag if you are an editor).
  • Citizendium's first 'editor approved' page is Biology. Take a look and compare it to the Wikipedia version [1]. The CZ one is much easier to read: it doesn't get bogged down in technicalities, nor prioritise less-than-useful information (such as the origin of the word 'biology').
  • I think we should prioritise this page before moving on to others, except where your area of expertise focuses on another article. By default, let's try to work on this one.
  • The page should focus simply on what linguistics is, without going into details of e.g. the history of the field (that can be put on the History of linguistics page). So it should focus on identifying the core topics - syntax, phonology, morphology (linguistics), (linguistic) semantics, language acquisition, and the difference between theoretical and applied. This should be fairly concise.

I'm planning to manually refresh the page with the latest Wikipedia version (which I've also been editing, but developing the view that it's a lost cause), then make the page 'live' before editing it.

Good luck!

John Stephenson 21:23, 15 December 2006 (CST)

Comparative or historical-comparative linguistics

Should Comparative linguistics get a bullet in the list of fields of linguistics? It's there but in an odd place.Pat Palmer 23:42, 4 April 2007 (CDT)

Along the same lines, the Language page mentions (and points to a non-existent article on) historical-comparative linguistics--is one of these a subgroup of the other? if not perhaps their representation on the lists in the linguistics page could be evened up...I'm not sure. The organization of the lists seems a bit haphazard.Pat Palmer 00:06, 5 April 2007 (CDT)
Comparative linguistics is supposed to be a subfield of historical linguistics, effectively, although it's disputable. All these subfields are confusing, though, as there's no much vying for attention. John Stephenson 04:21, 7 April 2007 (CDT)

Sanskrit, and the first linguists

I have removed this for now as I'm not sure it's really true (what do you think?):

In the early 19th century, the existence of Sanskrit became known to European scholars. By comparing it to languages such as Latin, Greek and Germanic languages, they became aware of the historical evolution of languages and tried to establish its laws. They were the first persons to consider themselves as linguist.

John Stephenson 05:02, 13 April 2007 (CDT)

Well, I suspect that to some extent that was true if we consider that there was increasing awareness of Sanskrit and other Asian languages, but these languages had been studied by some scholars for generations by then, hadn't they? Inevitably, British colonisation of India would be a factor, I am sure. In any case, I wouldn't want to include such a claim without citing specific sources to support it.

At what exact point previous philological and etymological studies turned into "historical evolution" approaches isn't entirely clear to me, but it certainly must have been connected to the growing overall awareness of evolution as a concept that would eventually express itself in biology with Darwin & Wallace's Natural Selection. When does historical change become "evolution"? I think it is when we can identify and explain how and why changes occur (i.e. have theories), rather than just document historical change.

Richard J. Senghas 05:41, 13 April 2007 (CDT)

Agreed; I think we should leave that out. Actually, I am unhappy with the use of 'evolution' as well; I know in popular talk it just seems to mean 'change', but in fact languages themselves don't evolve much; rather, they change cyclically. e.g. We see separate words become contracted, then merge into other words as inflections, then lose their morphological identity and disappear, just as other words come in to take their place, round and round... John Stephenson 23:40, 13 April 2007 (CDT)
OK, so let's leave the Sanskrit passage aside for now.
However, I do think 'evolution' as a term is often quite suitable when discussing language(s), if used carefully, --especially if we see it involving systematic changes, and can describe and explain why. I agree with you that evolution isn't simply 'change', so it shouldn't be used as an erudite sounding synonym for change, but I would argue that evolution DOES happen with Langauge and languages. Don't fall into the teleological trap, though, of needing direction to that change. Evolution could go in circles if circumstances select for seemingly circular development. Note that languages do acquire and lose traits, that those traits are selected for or against by speakers and listeners (for all kinds of reasons: intelligibility, ease of production/perception, but also social identity, &c.), and that usually language traits don't change in isolation. When a trait changes, that change in turn puts pressure on a system, so we typically see sets of changes. Of course, it isn't 'biological evolution' (except, of course, when we're talking about the emergence of the cognitive and physical capacities for Language, speech, and related phenomena), but biological evolution isn't the only form of evolution out there, and that particular biological phenomenon shouldn't preempt all other uses of the term, I feel. Evolution is basically a systems/ecological perspective on change over time, so we could --and should-- use it in our linguitics articles. In fact, it seems we'll have to write at least a passage, if not a whole article, on language evolution itself. (I wonder if Mufwene might want to contribute something to CZ?!)
Richard J. Senghas 02:40, 14 April 2007 (CDT)
OK, I see your point and to some extent go along with it. I'd still rather avoid the term to avoid confusion, except in relation to genuine language evolution topics, though. I'm one of those who is sceptical that the conditions of life/society/culture etc. can profoundly affect the system of language itself, only the peripheral bits - perhaps vocabulary choices, stylistic decisions etc. Given that evolution is about adaptation, I can see how one could argue that languages 'evolve' to fit the culture, with a vocabulary emphasising what speakers consider important, and so on (although why we have lots of words for 'walk' in English, when few spend a lot of time thinking about this, is a puzzle to me). John Stephenson 21:01, 14 April 2007 (CDT)

Old introduction: some parts can be resurrected?

This is the introduction we had back in January, mainly written by me:

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. Broadly, all linguists investigate language itself, rather than simply describe how particular languages work. For example, what generalisations can be established to account for the similarities between languages as diverse as English, Japanese and Zulu? How do they differ? What aspects of language are universal for all humans? Theoretical linguists concern themselves with questions about this apparent 'instinct' to communicate, and explain what it is that we intuitively 'know' about language.[1]
  1. The view that language is an 'instinct' comparable to walking or bird flight is most famously articulated in Pinker (1994).

I think the use of questions makes it more interesting, in line with Larry's preference to use 'lively prose'. Perhaps the two could be merged in some way. John Stephenson 23:36, 13 April 2007 (CDT)

I agree, questions would (did!) feel more "alive" and interested (and thus interesting), and the use of questions also helps newcomers learn the motivations and orientations that draw us linguists to our particular studies. Let's try merging the two versions to include content changes, but resurrect the livelier prose. Richard J. Senghas 02:56, 14 April 2007 (CDT)
I've rewritten it; everyone please have a look and modify if necessary (both for content and how it reads). Maybe the following two paragraphs need reworking too. John Stephenson 21:25, 14 April 2007 (CDT)
Jag gillar det. I think it looks good, and agree that similar treatment might help the next two paragraphs. Richard J. Senghas 03:51, 15 April 2007 (CDT)

I like the introduction. But I still find the rest the article is somewhat indigestible. Maybe we needn't give such extensive lists of areas at the beginning of the article. I think we should rather develop on some capital points (e.g syntax from a non-psychological point of view, phonology, psycholinguistics and some applications of linguistics)--Martin Kalck 05:59, 20 April 2007 (CDT)

I'm not sure we should have pragmatics among the 'core areas', as this refers to knowledge outside language, rather than the system itself; cases where someone's intended meaning can't be derived from understanding the utterance meaning alone. John Stephenson 02:50, 9 May 2007 (CDT)
I tend to agree with you. But I'm not sure the distinction between 'field of linguistics' and 'core areas' is all clear from a theoretical point of view. There is obviously a difference between syntax and historical lingistics, or cognitive linguistics. But I'm not sure that the difference is that you imply a "adult, monolingual speaker" in the former and not in the latters. So, I think that it would be clearer if the article was organised by distinguishing several approaches to linguistics rather than enumerating disciplines, which may be more confusing than enlightening for the reader. In a way this would be quite similar to what was done with 'biology' : there are different approaches to biology that have developped at different periods (very roughly : observaton by naked eye, cell biology and molecular biology). Something similar could be done for 'linguistics' : the introduction explains what linguistics is about and then the article axplains various ways of studying language : as a structural system, from a generative point of view, from a psychological point of view and so on. It needn't be really historical : we don't need to tell what people wrongly believed at each period, but we can give the conclusions that were reached by each approach, and then go further in the following part. That would make the article more conceptual and avoid the question of what core linguistics is, which seems a little specious to me.--Martin Kalck 11:58, 10 May 2007 (CDT)
I'd like to make a STRONG pitch to keep pragmatics listed as a core area here. Linguistics often goes beyond formalism, and especially given the significant contributions of folks such as, say, Michael Tomasello, I think we have to address how important pragmatics has been, even if, (or especially because) it has been so debated. So, given that, I think Martin's suggestion about taking inspriation from the biology article is a fine one, worth exploring. I also think it worth noting the kinds of things that get noticed and pursued, depending on the backgounds and methods of the researchers. Field linguists tend to find different things than do those doing experiments "back home," and those with sociological and anthropological bents tend to address issues that differ from those coming from other approaches. Richard J. Senghas 13:19, 10 May 2007 (CDT)
I think you would expect a university Linguistics degree to include Pragmatics among its "core" classes, at least for an advanced degree. That's the case where I'm studying. So I, too, vote for leaving it where it is. Joshua M. Jensen 10:33, 1 September 2007 (CDT)

Requesting weblinks on linguistics department sites

See this post in the forums; I'm trying to get linguists and departments to link to this article. The page linking back to them is here. The first to agree to it was Gregory K. Iverson (phonology, SLA). John Stephenson 05:53, 21 April 2007 (CDT)

Natural language and human language

I don't think these are really the same thing. In computing, natural language processing (NLP) is the study of natural languages, with emphasis on understanding and production of natural language. The term is generally used in the context of algorithms and computer programs for working with human language. The qualifier "natural" is used because computer scientists are obviously also interested in artifical languages, such as programming languages. By contrast, the phrase human language suggests language used by humans. Greg Woodhouse 10:45, 14 May 2007 (CDT)

Good point. So feel free to move this over to human language and redirect this page to it. At the moment, it's opposite (human language redirects to here). Pat Palmer 11:42, 14 May 2007 (CDT)
I partially reverted Pat's edit to the first sentence because I thought 'natural language' was confusing without indirectly defining it. I also didn't think 'human language' was necessary at this point, since they both go to the same page. John Stephenson 04:58, 17 May 2007 (CDT)


I'm starting to collect together language and linguistics-related images to put in a gallery - what do you think? Or should we just put them in the article itself? Check it out here - not yet arranged how we'd want it but at present just a place to dump any images I've come across. John Stephenson 04:53, 14 July 2007 (CDT)

I'm just now seeing this, John. I think the gallery idea is great, and this is an excellently done article, I think.  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 02:44, 21 August 2007 (CDT)

Unclear to me

While in universities and research institutions worldwide, scholars are studying the facts of individual languages or the system of language itself to find evidence for theories or to test hypotheses, linguists are also at work in classrooms, clinics, courts and the highest levels of government.

Are you intending to contrast what these scholars do with linguists, or illustrate what they do by what linguists do? Or what?  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 03:14, 21 August 2007 (CDT)

The scholars and linguists bit is supposed to illustrate the difference between theoretical and applied linguistics. Will try to fix. John Stephenson 04:52, 21 August 2007 (CDT)

Pushing towards Approval

Hey folks, this article is looking quite good, and perhaps ready for the final push towards approval of its first version.

Does anyone have any immediate plans for adding or reformatting that should be executed before putting this up for approval? I think having some pictures or diagrams in the main article itself would be a great contribution, making it more inviting. (I also like having the gallery as an extra resource.) —Richard J. Senghas 23:34, 16 September 2007 (CDT)

I'd suggest just giving it a 10 day interim between nomination and approval. Seems the nomination prod really energizes people to make any needed changes/additions/what-have-yous.  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 01:08, 17 September 2007 (CDT)
I think we could argue about the fields and core areas all day, and this has been the main issue holding approval of this article up. There are problems with it, notably that it goes into Wikipedia-style lists after a more interesting opener, and we should add some of the images to the main article. But fundamentally, I don't believe there are any deep issues with it. We can, after all, fine-tune a draft version following approved version #1. John Stephenson 05:28, 17 September 2007 (CDT)

Image talk

  • John Stephenson has created a gallery for linguistics, see here.

Also see:

 —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 00:55, 17 September 2007 (CDT)