The Study of Language

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Linguistics is the study of languages and therefore should be studied objectively. A slight contradiction, however, is that as humans, we are studying an aspect of ourselves with no other way of talking about the language other than through the language itself and therefore may be prone to make subjective assumptions that an outsider may not.

Many species communicate through sound. Although there is no evidence with things such as animals, we can assume that pauses and tones in sounds lend themselves to forming complex phrases. This is also made easier by visual stimuli whereby we are able to correlate repeated signals in accordance with specific actions. For example, the scream of a child or a hiss of a snake is only heard in specific situations that can often be interpreted as dangerous or painful. Thus by observing certain sounds in different situations, we can gain clues as to their meaning.

Being humans we have an advantage in that we are able to distinguish between what a natural body function like sneezing is compared with spoken language. We know that language is made up of units of words. However, it is important to note that we cannot take a word in our own language and assume that it has exactly the same meaning in another. For instance,  the word ‘Shima’ taken from the Navajo language, while this word translates as ‘mother’, it has a far broader meaning that lends itself more towards ‘a giver of life’ and as such many things fall under the term ‘mother’ such as earth and trees.

Another important issue to bear in mind particularly within the English language is that of the written word contrasted with the spoken word.  Written words often do not correspond with their phonetic pronunciation. Therefore it became necessary to create a system to help overcome this. This system is now commonly used with many languages and is known as IPA or the International Phonetic Alphabet. This system allows us to know the phonetic spelling of a word. It is a rather scientific approach in trying to develop an insight into a language and almost ironic that we have to develop another language to try and understand or explain our own language.

Linguistics makes advances into many areas of study such as sociology, anthropology and even philosophy. While many argue that it is a subject of the humanities, the approach needed to study it is systematic and scientific by nature and thus generally considered a scientific study.


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