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Subfields of Linguistics Defined: Sociolinguistics, Psycholinguistics, Neurolinguistics, Historical Linguistics, Etymology, Comparative Linguistics

Subfields of Linguistics Defined: Sociolinguistics, Psycholinguistics, Neurolinguistics, Historical Linguistics, Etymology, Comparative Linguistics

Linguistics is the study of language and encompasses a large number of more specific disciplines of language study. Therefore, linguistics is divided into a number of smaller, more specific subfields. The following sections provide definitions of some major subfields of linguistics.

More Major Linguistic Subfields: Internal Language

Sociolinguistics is the study of language use in relation to society. People who study sociolinguistics are known as sociolinguists. The subfield of sociolinguistics focuses on concepts such as speech communities, language prestige, and social networks. For example, RP (Received Pronunciation) English is considered a high prestige language in comparison to the low prestige of Cockney English by many speakers of British English.

Psycholinguistics is the study of language in the mind. People who study psycholinguistics are referred to as psycholinguists. The subfield of psycholinguistics is focuses on the acquisition, use, comprehension, and production of language in the mind. For example, a psycholinguist might study how children acquire the sounds of their first language to the exclusion of all other possible human speech sounds.

Neurolinguistics is the study of the neurology that controls the acquisition, use, comprehension, and production of language in the brain. People who study neurolinguistics are called neurolinguists. The subfield of neurolinguistics studies such topics as the locations of language processes in the brain, the relationship between language acquisition and brain structures, and language disorders and breakdowns. For example, a neurolinguists might study how the brain stores and retrieves all the words a person knows.

More Major Linguistic Subfields: Language Change

Historical linguistics, or diachronic linguistics, is the study of language change over time. People who study historical linguistics are called historical linguists. The subfield of historical linguistics focuses on describing and explaining changes in languages over time, studying the history of words, reconstructing the histories of languages to explain related languages, and developing theories about language change. For example, an historical linguist might study the changes of the English language from Old English through Modern English.

Etymology is the study of the history of words. People who study etymology are referred to as etymologists. The subfield of etymology focuses on the changes to the form of a word over time, the changes to the meaning of a word over time, and when a word entered a language. For example, an etymologist might study how the Old English word for dog hund evolved into the Modern English word for a specific type of dog, a hound.

Comparative linguistics is a subfield of historical linguistics that compares two or more languages to establish the historical relationship between those languages. People who study comparative linguistics are known as comparative linguists. The subfield of comparative linguistics aims to construct language families of related languages and to reconstruct proto-languages. For example, a comparative linguist might study the syntax of Germanic languages to determine their relatedness.

As the scientific study of human language, linguistics encompasses many more specific subfields of language study. These areas of study — sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, historical linguistics, etymology, and comparative linguistics — are major subfields of linguistics that linguists study.

Summary

Linguistics is the scientific study of human language that seeks to understand the nature of language.

Sociolinguistics is the study of language use in relation to society, which focuses on concepts such as speech communities, language prestige, and social networks.

Psycholinguistics is the study of language in the mind, which focuses on the acquisition, use, comprehension, and production of language in the mind.

Neurolinguistics is the study of the neurology that controls the acquisition, use, comprehension, and production of language in the brain, which includes such topics as the locations of language processes in the brain, the relationship between language acquisition and brain structures, and language disorders and breakdowns.

Historical, or diachronic, linguistics is the study of language change over time, which includes describing and explaining changes in languages over time, studying the history of words, reconstructing the histories of languages to explain related languages, and developing theories about language change.

Etymology is the study of the history of words, which focuses on the changes to the form of a word over time, the changes to the meaning of a word over time, and when a word entered a language.

Comparative linguistics is a subfield of historical linguistics that compares two or more languages to establish the historical relationship between those languages and that aims to construct language families of related languages and to reconstruct proto-languages.

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.
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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