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    Subfields of Linguistics Defined: Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology, Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics

    Subfields of Linguistics Defined: Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology, Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics

    Linguistics is defined as the scientific study of human language. However, because the study of language encompasses a large number of more specific disciplines, linguistics is often divided into a number of subfields. People who study linguistics are known as linguists. Grammar is the study of the set of structural rules governing the composition of words, phrases, and clauses in any given natural language. Grammar also refers to the set of structural rules. People who study grammar are known as grammarians. The following sections provide definitions of the major subfields of linguistics.

    Major Linguistic Subfields: Sounds and Words

    Phonetics is the study of human speech sounds. People who study phonetics are known as phoneticians. The subfield of phonetics is further divided into three areas of study: articulatory phonetics, acoustic phonetics, and auditory phonetics. Articulatory phonetics is the study of articulation or the study of how and where speech sounds are produced in the human speech organs. Acoustic phonetics is the study of the characteristics of speech sounds including volume, amplitude, and frequency. Auditory phonetics is the study of how speech sounds are perceived by the human ear and brain. For example, the vowel [i] is produced in the upper front of the mouth with a tensed tongue and unrounded lips.

    Phonology is the study of the organization and use of human speech sounds in a language. People who study phonology are referred to as phonologists. The subfield of phonology focuses on the inventory of sounds in a language and the rules that specify the interactions between those sounds. Phonologists study the phonemes — the smallest units of contrastive sound in a language — of a language. For example, the words bye and pie contrast in the English language because of the difference between the [b] and [p] sounds.

    Morphology is the study of the internal structure of words in a language. People who study morphology are called morphologists. The subfield of morphology focuses on what makes a word and what determines when a word changes form. Morphologists study the morphemes — the smallest linguistic units of a language with semantic meaning — of a language. For example, the plurals of most English nouns are formed by affixing the morphological suffix -s to the end of the noun.

    Lexicology is the study of words including the relations between words. People who study lexicology are known as lexicologists. A lexeme is an abstract minimal unit of morphological analysis in the lexicon of a language that roughly corresponds to a set of forms of a single word. For example, the words eat, eats, ate, eating, and eaten are all forms of the lexeme eat in English. All forms of a lexeme belong to a single grammatical form. For example, the lexeme drink as a verb differs from the lexeme drink as a noun. The forms drink, drinks, drank, drinking, and drunk of the verbal lexeme drink therefore differ from the forms drink, drinks, drink’s, and drinks’ of the nominal lexeme drink. Lexemes are related to morphemes in that morphemes comprise lexemes. The adjective lexemic means “of or relating to lexemes,” and the adjective lexical means “of or relating to the lexicon.” Lexical is in contrast to grammatical. A lexicon is the inventory of lexemes of a language. Non-linguists often refer to the lexicon of a language as the vocabulary or dictionary of the language.

    Major Linguistic Subfields: Phrases, Sentences, and Meaning

    Syntax is the study of word order of a language. People who study syntax are known as syntacticians. The subfield of syntax examines the ways in which structures that are larger than a word such as phrases and clauses are constructed within a language. For example, the predicate in the English language may consist of verb, verb-subject complement, verb-direct object, verb-direct object-object complement, verb-indirect object-direct object, or verb-verb phrase complement.

    Semantics is the study of meaning in a language. People who study semantics are called semanticists. The subfield of semantics focuses on the relationship between words and referents, the relationship between words and language users, and the relationship between words and other words. For example, the semantics of the English personal pronouns I and me indicates that both words have the same referent, the person speaking.

    Pragmatics is the study of language from the point of view of language users. People who study pragmatics are known as pragmaticists. The subfield of pragmatics examines language use in terms outside of linguistic knowledge such as context, status of speaker and addressee, and inference and implicature. For example, English pragmatics account for the interpretation of Could you open the window? as a request to open the window rather than just a question of the ability to open the window.

    Linguistics is the study of human language. These areas of study — phonetics, phonology, morphology, lexicology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics — are the major subfields of linguistics that linguists study.

    Summary

    Phonetics is the study of human speech sounds, which includes (1) articulation or the study of how and where speech sounds are produced in the human speech organs; (2) the study of the characteristics of speech sounds including volume, amplitude, and frequency; and (3) the study of how speech sounds are perceived by the human ear and brain.

    Phonology is the scientific study of the organization and use of human speech sounds, or phonemes, in a language. A phoneme is the smallest contrastive unit of sound in the sound system of a language.

    Morphology is the study of the internal structure of words, or morphemes, in a language. Morphology is a subfield of grammar. A morpheme is the smallest linguistic unit of a language with semantic meaning. The most common morphemes in English include words, prefixes, and suffixes. Morphemes may be free morphemes, bound morphemes, derivational morphemes, inflectional morphemes, or allomorphs.

    Lexicology is the study of words including the relations between words. A lexeme is an abstract minimal unit of morphological analysis in the lexicon of a language that roughly corresponds to a set of forms of a single word. Lexemes are related to morphemes in that morphemes comprise lexemes. A lexicon is the inventory of lexemes of a language.

    Syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in a language. Syntax focuses on the word order of a language and the relationships between words. Syntax is a subfield of grammar.

    Semantics is the study of meaning in a language, which includes the relationship between words and referents, the relationship between words and language users, and the relationship between words and other words.

    Pragmatics is the study of language from the point of view of language users, which includes language use in terms outside of linguistic knowledge such as context, status of speaker and addressee, and inference and implicature.

    References

    Akmajian, Adrian, Richard A. Demers, Ann K. Farmer, and Robert M. Harnish. 2001. Linguistics: An introduction to language and communication. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
    Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
    Crystal, David. 2008. A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics, 6th edn. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
    Fromkin, Victoria, Robert Rodman & Nina Hyams. 2006. An introduction to language. Boston: Wadsworth Publishing.

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