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3.2 Theoretical Linguistics

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Traditionally, theoretical linguistics departments focus on morphology, phonetics, phonology, semantics, and syntax. Some departments have concentrations in acquisition, generative linguistics, lexis, language processing, sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics. And a still other programs have research interests that include variation, pragmatics, computational linguistics, historical linguistics, typology, and the biological bases for language. Here are some distinctions that many theoretical departments make about their courses of study.

One distinction that can be made is what is called Descriptive Linguistics. As the name suggests, programs that engage in descriptive linguistics are concerned with analyzing and describing language. For example, some departments such as UC Berkeley claims a “distinguished tradition of rigorous linguistic documentation and theoretical innovation.” Descriptive Linguistics Departments may offer specializations in anthropological linguistics, comparative linguistics, etymology, and historical linguistics.

Another distinction that can be made under the heading “Theoretical Linguistics” is what we can call “Physical Science Linguistics.” Over the last 20 years, numerous theoretical linguistics programs have adopted new tools to examining linguistic phenomena. Hence, there are now theoretical linguistic programs that research computational linguistics, neurolinguistics, and cognitive linguistics. In the future, you can expect to see departments having concentrations on biological linguistics or DNA linguistics.

A final distinction that is often talked about is “Experimental Linguistics.” This is really false comparison when compared to “Theoretical Linguistics,” since all theories must be tested in order to be validated as true or false. “Experimental Linguistics” refers specifically to “reproducible research.” That is research whose methods and models can be reproduced to determine the reliability of the phenomena being tested.


Written by applelinguist

January 7, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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