Linguistics is the science of language, and linguists are scientists who apply the scientific method to questions about the nature and function of language.

Linguists conduct formal studies of speech sounds, grammatical structures, and meaning across all the world’s over 6,000 languages. They also investigate the history of and changes within language families and how language is acquired when we are infants. Linguists examine the relationship between written and spoken language as well as the underlying neural structures that enable us to use language.

Clearly, many of the questions that linguists pose overlap with fields in the life sciences, social sciences, and humanities, thus making linguistics a multidisciplinary field. Linguistics, as a multidisciplinary field, attempts to understand how language is stored in the human mind/brain and how it is part of everyday human behavior through its sister fields of neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, sociology, and computer science.

It is important to note that the term “linguist” may cause some confusion because it is known to be used differently in non-academic domains. Sometimes language experts are referred to as linguists, but those individuals do not generally conduct the same kind of scientific research on language that is carried out by those with advanced degrees in linguistics. “Polyglot” is the term used for a person who has knowledge of multiple languages. And although it is possible for a person to be both a linguist and a polyglot, it is just as likely that a linguist speaks only one language.

 

The resources available below on this page offer some perspectives on the science and applied science of linguistics. A selection of FAQ pamphlets which offer particular insights into language from a scientific perspective may be found here. Other resources describing the science of linguistics from the LSA YouTube channel may be found below:

The Domain of Linguistics is a series first published by the Linguistic Society of America in 1982. It was written to explain the discipline to the general public, facilitated by a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. A selection is available below:

The Routledge Guides to Linguistics series, produced as part of the LSA’s publishing partnership with Routledge, is a new series of publications meant to serve as introductions to various topics and questions within the field of Linguistics. You can find a full list of available new titles and purchase them here. The series includes approachable and informative guides to many topics in Linguistics:

  • Language in Children by Eve V. Clark
  • Language and Meaning by Betty J. Birner
  • Is English Changing? by Steve Kleinedler
  • Sign Languages by Diane Lillo-Martin, Sandra Wood, and Joseph Hill (forthcoming)
  • Why Study Linguistics by Kristen Denham and Anne Lobeck (forthcoming)
  • Language, Gender, and Sexuality by Scott F. Kiesling (forthcoming)
  • Bilingualism by Sharzad Mahootian (forthcoming)
  • Ebonics by Sonja L. Lanehart (forthcoming)