What is Linguistics?

Language is the chief means which members of the human species use to communicate with each other. Its scientific and humanistic study is called linguistics. The history of linguistics goes back to ancient times, and during the 19th and 20th centuries it flourished and came to be associated most strongly with the scientific study of individual languages of the world as well as with the search to identify those traits which are common to all languages.

The study of linguistics is indispensable for anyone interested in a particular language or in a discipline with a focus on language in general. Students in many different fields of study find that linguistics makes an interesting and engaging elective or optional course (when combined with the discipline of language study, it is excellent preparation for law school, for example). In terms of careers, this means that anyone interested in language teaching of any sort (such as a Bachelors of Education, or TESL certification), in communicative disorders (including both Audiology and Speech Pathology), in translation or in interpreting should be sure to include some linguistics courses in their undergraduate preparation. The addition of linguistics, the scientific study of language, further enchances your academic program with critical and analytical skills, while contributing to your better understanding of human language (English, French and others), not simply from a grammatical or spoken perspective but also from a scientific approach.

In your linguistics studies at Western, different courses will focus on the various sub-disciplines that together represent the systematic structure of a language. Phonetics and Phonology (the study of the distinctive sounds in a language, their articulation and their variants given a specific environment), provide a more profound understanding of the mechanics of tone, accentuation and articulation (sound production). The study of Syntax (word order and sentence structure) will help you understand what languages have in common and what makes them unique. The study of Morphology (the forms and functions of words in a given language) and Semantics (word and sentence meanings) will complement your understanding of your own mother tongue and how it is related to yet different from other languages.

The program in Linguistics will familiarize you with the analytical tools needed to understand the internal functioning of language, as well as introducing you to historical and social variation in language. Historical Linguistics requires that you integrate all of the various sub-disciplines (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax) providing a synthetic understanding of language: its structure and nature.

Through linguistics you will also become acquainted with applications of linguistic theory in such areas as child language acquisition, second language acquisition, language change and variation, as well as exploring a number of common misconceptions as language correctness, simplicity or complexity of language or even the perception of a more melodious language. Your studies in linguistics will also give you opportunities to explore provocative and interdisciplinary concepts such as: the 'innateness' of human language, language evolution and extinction, machine language and human language, as well as individual and social views of language.