Applied Sciences



Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context. The earliest known descriptive linguistics activities are said to have been Panini's Ashtadhyayi around 500 BCE with the analysis of Sanskrit. The first subfield of linguistics is the study of language form and structure, or grammar. This focuses on the system of rules followed by the speakers and hearers of a language. It encompasses morphology, the formation & composition of words, & syntax, the formation & composition of phrases & sentences from these words. This system of rules or grammar alsao involves what is called phonology or sound systems. Phonetics is a related branch of linguistics concerned with the actual properties of speech sounds and nonspeech sounds, and how they are produced and perceived.

The study of language meaning, the second category or sub-field of linguistics, is concerned with how languages employ logical structures & real-world references to convey, process, and assign meaning, as well as to manage and resolve ambiguity. This subfield encompasses semantics, that is, how meaning is inferred from words and concepts, and pragmatics, or how meaning is inferred from context. More:


Linguistics in its broader context includes evolutionary linguistics, which considers the origins of language; historical linguistics, which explores language change; sociolinguistics, which looks at the relation between linguistic variation and social structures; psycholinguistics, which explores the representation and function of language in the mind; neurolinguistics, which looks at language processing in the brain; language acquisition, how children or adults acquire language; and discourse analysis, which involves the structure of texts and conversations.

Although linguistics is the scientific study of language, a number of other intellectual disciplines are relevant to language and intersect with it. Semiotics, for example, is the general study of signs and symbols both within language and without. Literary theorists study the use of language in literature. Linguistics additionally draws on and informs work from such diverse fields as:  acoustics, anthropology, biology, computer science, human anatomy, informatics, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, sociology, & speech-language pathology. More:


Part 1:

In May 2003 in the 4th year of my retirement from 50 years of employment and student life, 1949-1999, I opened a file for the study of language.  My retirement life was one devoted to reading and writing, research and study, online blogging and journalism, editing & scholarship in various fields. The two main sections of this file were sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics among other sub-disciplines & topics for the study of language. This file has now been in existence for eleven years, 2006 to 2016, during my retirement from all of FT, PT & most casual-volunteer work--except for some volunteer activity in cyberspace.

‘Language in Use’ was a subject in which I tutored trainee primary and secondary school teachers at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education in 1974.  It was there in Tasmania, the beautiful island state of Australia that has become an impressive tourist destination on the planet, that I first came across sociolinguistics & psycholinguistics.  I was 29. Although I had studied the teaching of English to primary school students at teachers’ college in 1966-7, and studied English literature and English composition in primary & secondary school in a multitude of forms from 1949 to 1963; &, although I had taught English as a teacher to primary & secondary school students from 1967 until 1973, I had had no contact with the academic discipline of linguistics until 1974.

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I often taught specialist aspects of English to a wide range of students. I taught essay-writing at the then Ballarat College of Advanced Education in 1977 and 1978 as well as
communication in several certificate courses(certificates 1 to 4) in the 1990s. I taught communication to diploma students, business communication at advanced diploma adults, English literature to tertiary entrance examination(TEE) students, English TEE, and study skills at Technical and Further Education colleges, some of which became polytechnics by the 21st century.  All of these courses were practical programs. The study of linguistics, a course which was significantly theoretical, was the only one I taught. That was, as I say, in 1974.

After 1974 the only study of this field was peripheral in the relatively limited sections of several of the subjects I taught until I retired from all forms of teaching in 2005.  By 2015 linguistics only came across my path occasionally.  When I began this file in 2003 I had only two articles from previous courses I had taught.  After a dozen years, 2003-2016, there were only 20 items in this file.  It seemed relevant to continue with this file even though the subject has had limited value, thusfar, as I headed through my 70s from 2014 to 2024.  Who knows what will take place in my study of linguistics in the multi-discipline study that has come to occupy my time in these years of leisure, of retirement.  I no longer have my time occupied with paid employment and social tasks, with the responsibilities of raising children & of community.  My mind is free to journey across the "useful branches of learning of the day....& the varied learning of the time."(Abdul-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, Baha'i Pub. Trust, Wilmette, 1970(1928), pp.35-6.

Ron Price
5/9/'12 to 13/5/'15.


Part 1:

Avram Noam Chomsky(1928-) is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, political commentator, social justice activist, and anarcho-syndicalist advocate. Sometimes described as the "father of modern linguistics". Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy. He has spent most of his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is currently Professor Emeritus. He has authored over 100 books. He has been described as a prominent cultural figure, and was voted the "world's top public intellectual" in a 2005 poll.  The basis to Chomsky's linguistic theory is that the principles underlying the structure of language are biologically determined in the human mind and hence genetically transmitted. He therefore argues that all humans share the same underlying linguistic structure, irrespective of socio-cultural difference. In this he opposes the radical behaviourist psychology of B.F. Skinner, instead arguing that human language is unlike modes of communication used by any other animal species.

Chomskyan linguistics, beginning with his Syntactic Structures, a distillation of his Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory (1955, 75), challenges structural linguistics and introduces transformational grammar. This approach takes utterances, that is, sequences of words, to have a syntax characterized by a formal grammar; in particular, a context-free grammar extended with transformational rules.

Perhaps his most influential and time-tested contribution to the field is the claim that modeling knowledge of language using a formal grammar accounts for the "productivity" or "creativity" of language. In other words, a formal grammar of a language can explain the ability of a hearer-speaker to produce and interpret an infinite number of utterances, including novel ones, with a limited set of grammatical rules and a finite set of terms. He has always acknowledged his debt to Pāṇini for his modern notion of an explicit generative grammar, although it is also related to Cartesian approach and rationalist ideas of a priori knowledge. For more: Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy:

Part 2:

Chomsky has argued that linguistic structures are at least partly innate, and that they reflect a "universal grammar" (UG). This UG underlies and can account for all human grammatical systems. In general this is known as mentalism. Chomsky based his argument on observations about human language acquisition. For example, while a human baby and a kitten are both capable of inductive reasoning, if they are exposed to exactly the same linguistic data, the human will always acquire the ability to understand and produce language, while the kitten will never acquire either ability. Chomsky labeled whatever the relevant capacity the human has that the cat lacks as the language acquisition device (LAD).  He suggested that one of the tasks for linguistics should be to determine what the LAD is and what constraints it imposes on the range of possible human languages. The universal features that would result from these constraints are often termed UG.

Chomsky's ideas have had a strong influence on researchers of language acquisition in children, though many researchers in this area such as Elizabeth Bates and Michael Tomasello argue very strongly against Chomsky's theories, & instead advocate emergentist or connectionist theories, explaining language with a number of general processing mechanisms in the brain that interact with the extensive, & complex social environment  in which language is used and learned. For more on Chomsky go to: For an interview with Chomsky go to:


Language is one of those subjects on which it is almost impossible nowadays to say anything worth saying which is not highly controversial. That is why it takes a brave man like Professor Lyons to attempt a book which, in less than four hundred pages, aims to provide a ‘general introduction to linguistics and the study of language. Language and Linguistics: An Introduction by John Lyons was published more than 30 years ago, in 1981, and it's still a good work for those students who are studying this subject for the first time. Indeed, the book is intended particularly for beginning students and readers with no previous knowledge of or training in the subject’. Thirty years ago, the task would have been comparatively straightforward. Today it is Herculean.

Sir John Lyons(1932- ) is an English linguist, working on semantics. He was born and bought up in Stretford, Manchester.  In 1957 he was made a lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He was also awarded a one-year Rockefeller Scholarship to Yale, but declined for the more opportunistic academic position in linguistics that was rare in those days in Britain. Lyons moved from Cambridge to SOAS in London, where R. H. Robins was his PhD supervisor. In the summer of 1960, Lyons went to Indiana University to work in a machine translation project; he was chosen because of his expertise in Russian and linguistics. It was at Indiana, in a post-Bloomfieldean milieu, where Lyons gave courses on general linguistics. For more on Lyons go to:


Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and the effects of language use on society. Sociolinguistics differs from sociology of language in that the focus of sociolinguistics is the effect of the society on the language, while the latter's focus is on the language's effect on the society. Sociolinguistics overlaps to a considerable degree with pragmatics. It is historically closely related to linguistic anthropology and the distinction between the two fields has even been questioned recently. For more go to:


Psycholinguistics or psychology of language is the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, comprehend and produce language. Initial forays into psycholinguistics were largely philosophical ventures, due mainly to a lack of cohesive data on how the human brain functioned. Modern research makes use of biology, neuroscience, cognitive science, linguistics, and information theory to study how the brain processes language. There are a number of subdisciplines with non-invasive techniques for studying the neurological workings of the brain; for example, neurolinguistics has become a field in its own right.

Psycholinguistics covers the cognitive processes that make it possible to generate a grammatical and meaningful sentence out of vocabulary and grammatical structures, as well as the processes that make it possible to understand utterances, words, text, etc. Developmental psycholinguistics studies children's ability to learn language. For more go to:


The Journal of Linguistics (JL) has as its goal to publish articles that make a clear contribution to current debate in all branches of theoretical linguistics.  In line with the commitment of Cambridge University Press to advance learning, knowledge and research worldwide, the Press currently publishes over 300 peer-reviewed academic journals for the global market. JL is but one of these journals. Containing the latest research from a broad sweep of subject areas, Cambridge journals are accessible worldwide in print and online.  JL also provides an excellent survey of recent linguistics publications, with around 30 book reviews in each volume & regular review articles on major works marking important theoretical advances.  Due to my professional career as a teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator, a career spanning more than 50 years in classrooms and lecture-halls as either a student or scholar, pedagogue or trainer, a career in which I have been a generalist, it has never been necessary for me to keep-up on the increasing number of journals, especially since the burgeoning influence of cyberspace in the last 20 years. These journals now serve as a resource as I go through my 70s and my retirement from the world of the classroom.  The many instructional-and-learning roles I had for decades are now behind me.

The JL, among other journals on the subject of linguistics, has accompanied me from the start of my study of linguistics back in 1974. 'It has consistently succeeded in combining empirical rigorousness with theoretical insight. It has something for everyone who sets high standards for linguistic research.'--Bernard Comrie, Director, Department of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, & Distinguished Professor of Linguistics, University of California Santa Barbara.’ Three times a year JL releases the very best in linguistic analysis; the articles and reviews are consistently outstanding: rich in data, chock-full of theoretical insights, & refreshingly broad-minded in terms of theoretical persuasion. These are the words of Cedric Boeckx, Catalan Institute for Advanced Studies (ICREA) & Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona.  For more of the many journals now available on this subject go to:


Nineteenth-century German and British linguists, building on some 18th-century hunches, uncovered the connections between members of a large and rather dysfunctional family of languages. That family included: ancient Greek, Latin, Hittite (in ancient Anatolia), Vedic Sanskrit (in ancient India), Avestan (in ancient Iran), the Celtic and Norse-Germanic languages and, ultimately, French, German, Italian, Spanish, English and all their friends and relations. They called the family Indo-European or Indo-Germanic or Indo-Aryan, and assumed that, some time in the fourth millennium BCE, the single parent language, Proto-Indo-European (as easy as PIE), broke apart to give birth to the more ancient languages of the group, which continued to branch off into sub-groups.

There are no attested examples of the parent language before the break-up; the Indo-European speakers almost certainly had no knowledge of writing, and the earliest example of any Indo-European language that we have is a 14th-century BCE Anatolian treaty in Hittite that calls on the Hittite version of several Vedic gods. The reconstructed, hypothetical forms of Indo-European therefore, are usually designated with an apologetic or apotropaic asterisk. Thus *H1ekwo-, for instance, or more simply *ekwos, the PIE word for ‘horse’, yields the Latin equus, Gallic epos, Greek hippos, Sanskrit as´va, Old English eoh and so forth. For more on this subject which is discussed in detail in the book Indo-European Poetry and Myth by M.L. West, Oxford, 525 pages, 2007 go to:


Language and Worldview is a journal article by Alvino E. Fantini. The original paper was presented in Ottawa in 1988 at the Association’s Thirteenth Annual Conference, “Towards a Global Civilization.” The paper discusses the role of languages as more than mere tools in peoples' lives. They are, in fact, paradigms of a view of the world. Knowledge of more than one language holds promise for an expanded worldview, for understanding other people on their own terms. Viewed this way, bilingualism becomes an essential ingredient in the formation of interculturally minded individuals. Lack of awareness of our own language and language use arises from the fact that as we master our native tongue, it in turn masters us. The acquisition of our mother tongue provides language not only as a “neutral” system but also as a medium, or paradigm, that directly influences our entire lives. In linguistic terms, this notion is known as “language determinism and relativity.” In other words, the language we acquire influences the way we construct our vision of the world (hence, language determinism). And if this is so, then most probably different languages provide different visions of that same world. This is known as language relativity. For more of this paper go to: 


Literacy is pretty important; the alphabet is a phenomenal invention, but it is just a tool; it's not the ultimate tool. Inventing the alphabet let us develop other kinds of literacies, but these literacies are built upon the alphabet.  Maybe the alphabet and that kind of textual literacy isn't the end-state; maybe it's just a place along the way in a long developmental process. As tied as we are to literacy today, people like Ong and others will say that literacy is like a prison; once you're inside it you can't get out again because the mind is absolutely shaped by it, which is, I think, absolutely the case. As literate people we have enormous difficulties in thinking what it would mean to be non-literate.

The challenge for the
Chief Librarian and Chief Information Office of the University of Guelph, Michael Ridley, who spends his days integrating digital potentialities and the power of imagination with the cultural and historical resources of the library. was to ask what it meant to be post-literate. What would happen if something came along that displaced literacy? That was more powerful, more effective, more useful? And so if this could happen -- and in Ridley's mind it will happen, it's just not clear what it would be -- what would be the impact? What would it be like, and how would people react to it? We're very, very tied to our literate selves and literacy is an enormously important tool for us, but really, it's just a tool.

We know what kind of disruption occurred when we moved from primarily oral cultures to primarily written cultures, and we know the suspicion and disbelief and loss that were associated with that. We know that there was this disruption and that there will be a disruption in moving from a literate to a post-literate world. But then the interesting thing, says Ridley, is that it's not like we're losing something. Moving into post-literacy isn't like moving into some kind of Dark Age; this isn't going backwards & regressing in some way. Computers and the Internet as we know it are extremely literate environments & so they're not the model for a post-literate world; they're the model for a hyper-literate world. We need to think of something much different, something beyond this hyper-literacy, and so this is when you get into the wacky stuff. More more on this theme go to:


I want to thank Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews for the following. Gutting is the author of “Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy since 1960.” He writes regularly for the journal The Stone.  Five months go now, on 15 April 2012, Gutting wrote the following article "Arguing About Language" in The New York Times.

Part 1:

Debates about linguistic norms typically set traditionalists against revisionists.  The two sides are particularly entrenched because each is rooted in a fundamental truth: the traditionalists are right that the rules are the rules; for instance, pronouns do need to agree in number with their referents; and the revisionists are right that language does change over time; for example, nouns can come to be used as verbs. The traditionalists played an important role in the setting of linguistic norms. My first memories of learning the rules of grammar go back to the last two years of primary school in Ontario, grades 7 and 8, 1956 to 1958. Until my last year at high school in 1963 grammar and its linguistic norms was part of the curriculum I imbibed. Sometimes that grammar was part of a subject known, back then, as English composition; sometimes it was part of my study of Latin. I do not recall any study of English in my five years of post-secondary education except in my B. Ed. studies in 1966-67 at what is now the university of Windsor Ontario.

There will always be a tension between sticking to and violating linguistic rules.  The two fundamental truths represented by the traditionalists and the revisionists are reconcilable because language is both our creation and our master.   We humans invented & continue to reinvent our language to meet various needs, but language can serve these needs only if, at any given time, we conform to most of what has been already devised.  Although we, as an evolving species, make language, it is also imposed on each of us individually.  There’s a sense in which we speak language and a sense in which, in Mallarmé’s famous phrase, “language itself speaks.”

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As a result, there will always be a tension between sticking to and violating linguistic rules.  We can, however, fruitfully discuss emerging linguistic innovations if we keep in mind three main goals of language use: effective communication, pleasing expression and moral solidarity.  Language is, first of all, a tool for saying as well as possible what we intend to say.  For this purpose, it makes sense to avail ourselves of all the resources offered by our language at a given time.  Traditionalists are on their strongest ground when they are defending against changes that deprive us of useful linguistic tools.  So, for example, the slippage that allows “infer” to mean “imply” weakens the valuable distinction between a person’s drawing a conclusion and an argument’s requiring one.  Similarly, allowing “refute” to mean “deny” obscures the distinction between proving and asserting that a claim is false. And making “beg the question” a mere variant of “raise the question” deprives us of a simple way of distinguishing between asking a question and assuming a particular answer to it.

Granted, even after linguistic evolution has assimilated opposing terms to one another, it is still possible to use our language to make the distinctions they formerly expressed.  But resisting the assimilation allows us to learn important logical distinctions merely by learning our language.  Of course, language does eventually change in all sorts of ways, whether from reformist design (for instance, the 18th-century campaign for spelling uniformity), ignorance or sheer inattention.  The point, however, is that at any given stage, proper language use promotes a clarity and subtlety of thought that will diminish if certain standards aren’t upheld.

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Linguistic change is also often resisted on aesthetic grounds.  Some people find split infinitives (“to plainly see”), “verbed” nouns (“let me caveat that”) or misspelled words (“supercede”) simply ugly.  Similarly for verbal tics such as “like” and “uh,” or “echoes” that repeat the same word or phrase in close proximity.  Conversely, many enjoy the elegance, pithiness or clarity of certain modes of expressions.  Aesthetic judgments are personal but not necessarily idiosyncratic, and we may well be able to sensitize others to what we find repellent or attractive.  There is room for lively and enlightening discussion, even though the final conclusion may be “de gustibus.” The Latin words "de gustibus" are followed by "non est disputandum" and they mean: 'there is no disputing concerning tastes.'

Our attitudes toward language are also important expressions of cultural and ethical loyalties.  Knowledge of and respect for established linguistic rules may, for example, express allegiance to our literary tradition.  To be careless in how we speak and write can signal that we are ignorant or disdainful of the writers and speakers who helped craft our language.  Even worse, we may lose access to parts of that tradition: I know from my own experience that even bright undergraduates often cannot really read the lucid prose of David Hume or John Stuart Mill.

Even after more than 50 years of reading in the social sciences, 1963 to 2013, I have trouble with the writing of many social scientists.  The famous sociologist Pierre Bourdieu argued that French academic institutions strongly reinforced traditional inequalities by using an inaccessible and convoluted language. This critique of that mandarin-like language, however, was couched in a language no less esoteric. It is hard to believe that Bourdieu himself is not seriously hampered by his own obscure style. Inconsistency of thought easily goes undetected when embedded in such complexity of expression which Bourdieu uses.

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We may also approve or disapprove of neologisms out of sympathy or animus toward groups from which they originate.  Recent debates over “how young people talk” — their frequent use of “like,” the interrogative “uplift” young women often add to declarative sentences and so forth — have become proxies for disagreements about our hopes and fears for our children.  Here too disputes about language have strong moral resonance. The pure traditionalist and pure revisionist positions are both oblivious to what is at stake in arguments over language. The traditionalists claim they are just asking us to play by the rules of the game; revisionists say they are just asking us to accept the fact that language is always changing.  But both sides ignore the profound consequences of how we speak.

Language usage is and should be a battleground.  Our task is to make the conflict fruitful.  To do this, we need to understand what precisely is at issue in any particular dispute.  Does a new locution advance or retard our power to express our ideas effectively?  Is the issue primarily one of different aesthetic sensibilities?  Or is our argument over language rooted in deeper disagreements over who we are and how we should live?  Once we understand what is really at stake, we may be able to learn much through arguing about language.  Many writers seem to be past-masters of the opaque sentence, with nesting sub-clauses and parentheses, with sentences that go on seemingly forever--losing the reader and, it seems to me, even the writers themselves.


At the University of Oxford students can study philosophy,  psychology and linguistics. There are close connections between these three subjects, so studying a combination of them makes a lot of sense. Psychology includes subjects as diverse as social interaction, learning, child development, schizophrenia and information processing. Philosophy is concerned with a wide range of questions including ethics, knowledge and the nature of mind. Linguistics is the study of language in all its aspects, including the structure of languages, meaning (semantics), how children learn language, pronunciation, and how people understand, mentally represent and generate language. Psychology at Oxford is essentially a scientific discipline, involving the rigorous formulation and testing of ideas. It works through experiments and systematic observation rather than introspection. The Oxford Experimental Psychology Department is widely regarded as one of the leading psychology departments in the UK. At present, there are particularly strong groups in the fields of human cognitive processes, neuroscience, language, developmental and social psychology.

The Oxford Philosophy Faculty is the largest philosophy department in the UK, and one of the largest in the world. Philosophy at Oxford has active interests in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of science, and has very close links with those working in neuroscience and psychology.
The Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics brings together scholars working in theoretical and descriptive linguistics (especially syntax, semantics and phonology), experimental phonetics, psycholinguistics, linguistics of the Romance languages, historical linguistics and comparative philology. Unlike other subjects in the humanities, it includes two scientific research laboratories – the Language and Brain Laboratory and the Phonetics Laboratory. and

Having studied and taught philosophy for over 50 years I incude Plato here.  Plato (428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was a philosopher and mathematician in Classical Greece, and the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. He is widely considered the most pivotal figure in the development of philosophy, especially the Western tradition. Unlike nearly all of his philosophical contemporaries. Plato the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Due to a lack of surviving accounts, little is known about Plato's early life and education. The philosopher came from one of the wealthiest and most politically active families in Athens. Ancient sources describe him as a bright though modest boy who excelled in his studies. His father contributed all which was necessary to give to his son a good education, and, therefore, Plato must have been instructed in grammar, music, gymnastics and philosophy by some of the most distinguished teachers of his era. Unlike nearly all of his philosophical contemporaries. Plato's entire œuvre is believed to have survived intact for over 2,400 years. Plato's is a pivotal figure in the western intellectual tradition:


Part 1:

At a website entitled The Home of Conservatism the following article appeared on 17 September 2013: "The sinister purpose of academic jargon." There is a type of English known as ‘journalese.’ It is the tabloid English in which much of our news is written, says Michael Billig. Billig is a Professor of Social Sciences at Loughborough University and he looks at a different kind of linguistic distortion – one that seeks to obscure meaning instead of exaggerating it. “One example that linguists like to cite is the word ‘autocondimentation," he says. The story is that managers in the catering industry devised the word to describe the practice of customers applying sauce to their hamburgers: the long word made the managers appear expert.

The irony is that the academics who study the development of jargon in the public and private sectors are guilty of the same crimes against language: “Like other social scientists, and like the managers of universities and other big businesses, critical linguists have shown a penchant for big nouns. They write about the language of managers being filled with ‘nominalization’ and ‘passivization’; and they refer to the coining of new managerial terms, such as ‘autocondimentation,’ as ‘relexicalization.’ Just like the catering managers, the linguists can use big words to bolster their expertise.”

Of course, the arts and humanities have long suffered from science envy. Natural scientists can fill entire technical dictionaries with polysyllabic words of Latin and Greek derivation and, thus, social ‘scientists’ feel they have to do the same: “By giving something an official name, especially a multi-noun name which can be shortened to an acronym, you can present yourself as having discovered something real…”  But even if one abandons the pretence that sociology or literary theory can ever be as objective or empirical as chemistry or physics, is it not the case that academics still need to use specialist vocabulary? Michael Billig doesn't think so.

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“Social scientists commonly justify their use of big words," writes Billig, "by saying that ordinary language is hopelessly vague and that social scientific terminology, although it might be awkward, is at least precise.  However, the opposite is true: ordinary words usually convey much more information than the big words of the social scientists, especially when used to describe ordinary actions.”  To compound matters, social scientists often use their supposedly precise technical terms to mean different things in different contexts – adding a further layer of impenetrability. This isn’t just about sounding more intelligent than you actually are; there is an underlying ideological programme at work here: “There is another reason that social scientists, especially those on the left, have given for using difficult words. The great French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, wrote about the difficulties of using ordinary language to analyse the nature of the social world. Sociologists, according to Bourdieu, need to distance themselves from everyday assumptions which are built into the meanings of ordinary words. Therefore social critics should treat ordinary language with suspicion and develop their own technical terminology.”

If leftwing intellectuals regard plain words with suspicion we should not be surprised. Ordinary language is deeply conservative in that it is quintessentially traditional: held in common by ordinary people, it is passed down from generation to generation, growing and adapting free from central control. Chaotic and contradictory, but constantly creative, everyday speech is an affront to those who would plan society from the top down.


In sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, a language or linguistic ideology is a systematic construct about how particular ways of using languages carry--or are invested with--certain moral, religious, social, and political values, giving rise to implicit assumptions that people have about a language or about language in general. A common type of language ideology are Standard Language Ideologies, the belief that language homogeneity is beneficial to society, such as that expressed by the English-only movement in the United States. In general, differing social speech styles are judged as aspects of social identity & status. Hence, language ideologies involve interpretations & judgments about vocabulary, grammar, accent, and other vocal features used by speakers. Written language practices are also shaped by language ideologies, as can be seen in the many sociolects that develop online. For more on this subject go to:


The study of language ideology is important to many fields of research, including anthropology, sociology, and linguistics. Especially now that anthropology rejects the idea that culture or cultures represent homogeneous isolated entities, language ideology has become a useful model for understanding how human groups are organized, despite cleavages in belief and practice. For example, multiple languages are spoken in any given human society. Therefore a theory of linguistics that regards human societies as monolingual would be of limited use. Instead, speakers of different languages or dialects may share certain beliefs, practices, or conflicts involving a language, set of languages, or language in general. That is to say, speech communities may be regarded as “organizations of diversity” with language ideologies providing that organization.

 By Monica Macaulay and 

A. Kristen Syrett an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics and the Center for Cognitive Science (RuCCS) at Rutgers University. Before joining the faculty in 2011, she was a post-doctoral fellow at RuCCS and the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University. She completed her Ph.D. in Linguistics at Northwestern University in 2007. In her research, she investigates the way that language encodes the measurement of quantities--whether along a continuous dimension such as size, or of discrete units such as members of a set of objects or events--and what language learners and experienced language users know about this. The main topics she investigates include issues in word learning, gradable adjectives, numerals, quantifiers, measure phrases, and comparatives. She also has a separate line of research investigating the interaction of prosody, information structure, and syntax.

At the heart of her work is the intersection of formal linguistic theory and careful psycholinguistic experimentation. The questions that drive her research arise from theoretical claims about semantic representations, the syntax-semantics mapping, the language acquisition process, and how language & cognition interact. She also uses a variety of methodologies, motivated by the topic under investigation & the ages of the participants in her studies. These include judgment and forced choice tasks, act-out tasks, preferential looking, analysis of speech, speech perception tasks, and reaction time measures. I leave it to readers to learn about Macaulay at:

B. If you are considering becoming a linguistics major, you probably know something about the field of linguistics already. However, you may find it hard to answer people who ask you, "What exactly is linguistics, and what does a linguist do?" They might assume that it means you speak a lot of languages. And they may be right: you may, in fact, be a polyglot! But while many linguists do speak multiple languages—or at least know a fair bit about multiple languages—the study of linguistics means much more than this. Linguistics is the scientific study of language. Many topics fall under this umbrella. At the heart of linguistics is an understanding of: The unconscious knowledge that humans have about language, how children acquire language the structure of language in general & of particular languages, how languages vary, how language influences the way in which we interact with each other and think about the world. What exactly do we mean by this?

When you were born, you were not able to communicate with the adults around you by using language. But by the time you were five or six, you were able to produce sentences, make jokes, ask questions, and so on. In short, you had become a fluent native speaker. During those first few years of your life, you accumulated a wide range of knowledge about at least one language, probably with very little conscious effort. If you studied a foreign language later on, it’s likely that you discovered that it was not nearly as easy.

C. Speakers of all languages know a lot about their languages, usually without knowing that they know it. For example, as a speaker of English, you possess knowledge about English word order. Perhaps without even knowing it, you understand that Sarah admires the teacher is grammatical, while Admires Sarah teacher the is not, and also that The teacher admires Sarah means something entirely different. You know that when you ask a yes-no question, you may reverse the order of words at the beginning of the sentence and that the pitch of your voice goes up at the end of the sentence (for example, in Are you going?).

However, if you speak French, you might add est-ce que at the beginning, and if you know American Sign Language, you probably raise your eyebrows during the question. In addition, you understand that asking a wh-question (who, what, where, etc.) calls for a somewhat different strategy (compare the rising intonation in the question above to the falling intonation in Where are you going?). You also possess knowledge about the sounds of your language—for example, which consonants can go together in a word, and how they go together. You know that slint could be an English word, while sbint and lsint could not be. And you most likely know something about the role of language in your interactions with others. You know that certain words are “taboo” or controversial, that certain contexts might require more formal or less formal language, and that certain expressions or ways of speaking draw upon shared knowledge between speakers.

Linguistics a science? 

Linguists investigate how people acquire their knowledge about language, how this knowledge interacts with other cognitive processes, how it varies across speakers and geographic regions, and how to model this knowledge computationally. They study how to represent the structure of the various aspects of language (such as sounds or meaning), how to account for different linguistic patterns theoretically, and how the different components of language interact with each other. Linguists develop and test scientific hypotheses. Many linguists appeal to statistical analysis, mathematics, and logical formalism to account for the patterns they observe. Do linguists know lots of languages?

Many linguists do fieldwork, collecting empirical evidence to help them gain insight into a specific language or languages in general. They work with speakers of different languages to discover patterns and/or to document the language, search databases (or corpora) of spoken and written language, and run carefully-designed experiments with children and adults in schools, in the field, and in university labs. By now you can see that while linguists may be better informed if they know multiple languages, the work of a linguist actually involves learning about Language, rather than learning different languages.

What will I study as a linguistics major?

Linguistics is a major that gives you insight into one of the most intriguing aspects of human knowledge and behavior. Majoring in linguistics means that you will learn about many aspects of human language, including sounds (phonetics, phonology), words (morphology), sentences (syntax), and meaning (semantics). It can involve looking at how languages change over time (historical linguistics); how language varies from situation to situation, group to group, and place to place (sociolinguistics, dialectology); how people use language in context (pragmatics, discourse analysis); how to model aspects of language (computational linguistics); how people acquire or learn language (language acquisition); and how people process language (psycholinguistics, experimental linguistics).

Linguistics programs may be organized around different aspects of the field. For example, in addition to or instead of the above areas, a program might choose to focus on a particular language or group of languages; how language relates to historical, social, and cultural issues (anthropological linguistics); how language is taught in a classroom setting, or how students learn language (applied linguistics); or how linguistics is situated in the cognitive sciences.

Although linguistics programs in the United States may vary in their emphasis and their approach, they tend to have similar requirements. You will most likely be required to take an introductory course in linguistics, and to take one or more courses in the core theoretical areas of linguistics. You may also be required or encouraged to have proficiency in at least one language besides English in order to help you understand how languages vary and how your native language fits into the bigger picture and informs your judgments.

In addition, you may be encouraged to complement your linguistic studies with courses in related areas, such as cognitive psychology, cognitive science, philosophy, anthropology, computer science, or communication sciences. You might choose to double major and make your linguistic work part of an interdisciplinary program of study. A secondary specialization in one of the areas just mentioned complements a linguistics major nicely, and can enhance your training and marketability. You may also choose to engage in independent research, such as working as an assistant in a language laboratory, spending time studying and/or traveling abroad, or doing fieldwork. Taking advantage of these opportunities allows you to be more well-rounded and better informed, and will open more doors for you after graduation.

What opportunities will I have with a linguistics degree?

Students who major in linguistics acquire valuable intellectual skills, such as analytical reasoning, critical thinking, argumentation, and clarity of expression. This means making insightful observations, formulating clear, testable hypotheses, generating predictions, making arguments and drawing conclusions, and communicating findings to a wider community. Linguistics majors are therefore well equipped for a variety of graduate-level and professional programs and careers. Some may require additional training or skills, but not all do.

Semiotics (also called semiotic studies; not to be confused with the Saussurean tradition called semiology which is a part of semiotics) is the study of meaning-making, the study of sign processes and meaningful communication. This includes the study of signs and sign processes (semiosis), indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, & communication. Semiotics is closely related to the field of linguistics, which, for its part, studies the structure and meaning of language more specifically. The semiotic tradition explores the study of signs and symbols as a significant part of communications. As different from linguistics, however, semiotics also studies non-linguistic sign systems. Semiotics is often divided into three branches:

1. Semantics: relation between signs and the things to which they refer; their signified denotata, or meaning
2. Syntactics: relations among or between signs in formal structures
3. Pragmatics: relation between signs and sign-using agents or interpreters

Semiotics is frequently seen as having important anthropological dimensions; for example, the late Italian novelist Umberto Eco proposed that every cultural phenomenon may be studied as communication. Some semioticians focus on the logical dimensions of the science, however. They examine areas belonging also to the life sciences—such as how organisms make predictions about, and adapt to, their semiotic niche in the world (see semiosis). In general, semiotic theories take signs or sign systems as their object of study: the communication of information in living organisms is covered in biosemiotics (including zoosemiotics).

Syntactics is the branch of semiotics that deals with the formal properties of signs and symbols. More precisely, syntactics deals with the "rules that govern how words are combined to form phrases & sentences". Charles Morris adds that semantics deals with the relation of signs to their designata and the objects that they may or do denote; and, pragmatics deals with the biotic aspects of semiosis, that is, with all the psychological, biological, and sociological phenomena that occur in the functioning of signs.


Social semiotics is a branch of the field of semiotics which investigates human signifying practices in specific social and cultural circumstances, and which tries to explain meaning-making as a social practice. Semiotics, as originally defined by Ferdinand de Saussure, is "the science of the life of signs in society". Social semiotics expands on Saussure's founding insights by exploring the implications of the fact that the "codes" of language and communication are formed by social processes. The crucial implication here is that meanings and semiotic systems are shaped by relations of power, and that as power shifts in society, our languages and other systems of socially accepted meanings can and do change. For more on social semiotics go to: