Introduction to Linguistics

Introduction to Linguistics
Linguistics tries to explain what language is by scientifically studying the rules, systems, and principles
of human language. A few of the major aspects of linguistics are phonology (sounds), morphology
(words), semantics (meaning), pragmatics (context), and syntax (rules and structures). Other aspects
include grammar, punctuation, prescriptivism, and descriptivism.
I. Phonology
Phonology is the study of sounds used in language. Not all languages share the same sounds. For instance, the
sounds that the letters “p” and “b” make are very similar. If someone speaks Arabic, they might say the words
“pair” and “bear” the same way. If someone speaks Spanish, they might have difficulty saying the word
“station” without adding the letter “e” at the beginning of the word: “estation.” In contrast, an English speaker
might have difficulty pronouncing the rolling “r” in the Spanish word “perro.”
1. I take it you already know of tough and bough and cough and dough?
2. Some may stumble, but not you, on thorough, slough, and through?
3. Beware of heard, a dreadful word, that looks like beard, but sounds like bird.
4. And dead, it's said like bed, not bead; for goodness' sake, don't call it deed!
5. Watch out for meat and great and threat. (They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.)
6. A moth is not a moth in mother, nor both in bother, broth in brother.
7. And here is not a match for there, nor dear and fear, for bear and pear.
8. And then there's dose and rose and lose - just look them up - and goose and choose
9. And cork and work and card and ward and font and front and word and sword
10. And do and go, then thwart and cart, come, come! I've hardly made a start.
The difference between spelling and sounds led to the formation of the International Phonetics
Alphabet (IPA.) The symbols used in this alphabet can be used to represent all sounds of all human
languages. The following is the English Phonetic alphabet.
II. Morphology
Morphology deals with the smallest units of a language: the individual letters. By using the letters, we can
create words. We can also change the meaning of the same word by adding more letters. There are two types of
letter combinations: free morphemes and bound morphemes. A free morpheme is understood by itself. But
bound morphemes are not understood alone. For instance, a word like “quick” is a free morpheme, but if we add
the the letters “-ly” to the end, we get the word “quickly.” Therefore, the letters “-ly” create a bound morpheme
since “-ly” has no meaning when it is alone. Prefixes and suffixes are bound morphemes.
*Are the morphemes free and bound in following words:
1. Smartphone
2. Dogs
3. Biology
4. Rewind
5. Walker
6. Talking
7. Desirable
8. Rewriteable
9. Previously
10. Walked
III. Semantics and Pragmatics
Semantics and pragmatics are very similar and overlap in some ways. Semantics relates to the exact meaning of
individual words and how those meanings create a greater meaning in a sentence.
 I am extremely hungry. (this person really wants to eat)
However pragmatics is the study of how context affects meaning, such as how sentences are interpreted in
certain situations and places.
 I am so starving I could eat a horse. (Does this person really want to eat an entire horse?)
The word “trunk” has many semantic understandings and definitions. We do not know what the word “trunk”
means until we have more words connected to it. Both trees and elephantsh have trunks, but trees and elephants
are very different things. Therefore, the context of the sentence helps us know the pragmatics of the situation. If
you are in a forest and someone says the word “trunk,” they are probably referring to a tree. But, if you are at a
zoo, the word “trunk” might refer to the animal. Therefore, the meaning of the word depends on the
context/situation. Pragmatics tells us which meaning of the word “trunk” is the correct one. Homonyms, slang,
and idioms usually relate to pragmatics more than semantics.
 The movie was cool.
 I am under the weather.
 He needs to blow off steam.
 My dad has a green thumb.
 I painted myself into a corner.
 I always bring exotic dates on my romantic dates with my girlfriend.
 The children always play in the leaves when their father leaves for work.
He used the sharp point on the pencil to point to the sky.
I rose from my seat after sitting on a rose.
That type of computer is difficult to type on.
Using words to create sentences, questions, paragraphs, and utterances. Syntax helps illustrate the grammar of a
specific language. Not all languages share the same grammar or syntax. Most languages have specific locations
for a type of word to be in. For instance, English usually begins with the subject, places the verb in the middle,
and ends with an object. However, some questions in English begin with the verb. English also places adjectives
before the nouns. But adverbs can go in a few different locations.
Where are you going?
I am going to school.
The big old white church is empty.
He quickly ran to school.
He ran quickly to school.
Quickly, he ran to school.
He ran to school quickly.
Prescriptivism and Descriptivism
There are two beliefs in language use. Prescriptivists believe that speakers must always follow the rules and
grammar of their language. These people believe that there are correct and incorrect ways to communicate. On
the other hand, descriptivists believe that speakers do not always need to follow the grammar rules of their
language. Descriptivists argue that grammar rules change so frequently that it is foolish to follow the rules all of
the time.
In old English, the word “brid” was used to describe a small animal with wings that can fly.
In the 1880’s a “dude” was a man who wore strange clothing.
Thou meant “you” as the subject of a sentence—Thou were speaking to me.
Thee meant “you” as the object of a sentence—He was speaking to thee.
Thy meant “your” but was only used before a noun beginning with a consonant—Thy coffee is on the
Thine meant “your” but was only used before a noun beginning with a vowel—Thine eyes are blue like
the ocean.
*If these changes occurred in English, do prescriptivists wrong?