Linguistics is defined as the scientific study of language. It includes subdisciplines such as the following:
- The study of the sounds of language, including their production (articulatory phonetics), transmission (acoustic phonetics), and perception (perceptual or auditory phonetics). Articulatory phonetics deals with the incredible variety of sounds occurring in human languages, ranging from the more mundane vowels and consonants to the more exotic trills, flaps, nasals, pharyngeals, and clicks.
- The study of sound systems language. What are the restrictions on how sounds are put together? (Why "Ctvrtlik" and "Szycsczak" are unusual names in English) How context impacts the pronunciation (and perception) of sounds. (The difference between the initial consonant in "keep" and that in "coop")
- The study of morphemes -- minimal meaningful units. How complex words can be broken down into meaning parts. (or to quote Jack Handey, "Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself: 'Mankind'. Basically, it's made up of two separate words - 'mank' and 'ind'. What do these words mean ? It's a mystery, and that's why so is mankind.")
- How words are put together to form more complex utterances. (Why you can "run a big bill up" but you can't "run a big hill up") The mind-boggling world of infinite recursion (The story of the flea on the fly on the feather on the wing on the bird on the egg in the nest on the branch on the limb on the tree in the hole in the ground...)
- The study of linguistic meaning. Together with syntax explains the amazing fact that you can understand utterances that you've never heard before. ("I sure do hope that that peripatetic pachyderm dressed in zebra tights doesn't mistake me for her long-lost pet leptocephalus")
- The study of language use in context. When nice means awful, up means down, good means bad, and smart means stupid. You and I, this and that, here and there, threats and promises.
Linguistics in Interdisciplinary contexts
Linguistic methods are also applied in a variety of intriguing contexts:
- Historical Linguistics
- Where did English come from? Does English sound good, like a language should?
- How is language stored and processed in the brain?
- Animal Communication
- Do dolphins speak? Can Koko the gorilla really chat on the internet?
- "The floor needs swept," "we might should study," "I gotta go to the park yesterday," and other regionalisms.
- Language Acquisition
- Why children both learn and forget languages faster than their parents.
- Computational Linguistics
- Will computers ever use natural language the way that we do?