Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of Linguistics & Germanic, Slavic, Asian and African Languages

What is Linguistics?

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. As a linguistics student, you become adept at noticing what people say, aware of the unconscious choices implicit in this, and able to provide a rigorous explanation of how such choices are made. The field encompasses questions such as these:

  • What are the physical properties of sounds (phonetics) and how do sounds interact (phonology)?
  • What is the structure of words (morphology) and sentences (syntax)?
  • What is the nature of linguistic meaning (semantics and pragmatics)?
  • How does language reflect and shape the social circumstances of its users (sociolinguistics)?
  • What are the psychological and neurological mechanisms that make language use possible (psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics)?
  • How are languages learned (language acquisition)?

Linguistics is one of the principal areas of cognitive science, and is closely allied with many other fields of study, including cognitive psychology, speech and language pathology, the social sciences, education, computer science, philosophy, and the study of particular languages.

What linguistics emphatically is not is simply the study of many languages. A person who knows many languages is a polyglot, not a linguist.