Note that the word “mute” (from Latin mutus and Greek μύειν) is regarded by linguists as an onomatopoeic formation referring not to silence but to a certain fundamental opacity of human being, which likes to show the truth by allowing it to be seen hiding.


Linguistics, the social science of language, studies human language use as though it were a natural phenomenon. Linguistic theories generally first gather and regularize a body of data - for example by constructing sentences and asking research subjects to evaluate whether they sound proper (or leaving it to the ear of the linguist and the article's reviewers), by searching large archives of newspaper articles, or on rare occasions recording and transcribing (for linguistics most commonly makes its arguments in writing, considering symbolic written data). The theorist then offers a theory, sometimes simple classifications and sometimes complex mathematical models, for patterns observed within the body of data. Further linguists then try to find counterexamples, and see whether the theory holds across other languages, or can be made to do so with sufficient coaxing. Linguistics presupposes a distinction between "natural" language as a behavior the human animal "produces" and language as a contested aspect & creation of human culture, attempting (with sometimes-acknowledged impossibility) to only study the first one: speech is generally supposed to be "natural" while writing is seen as a secondary manufactured representation of speech, though others disagree, and point out, among other things, that linguistics proceeds by first producing written symbols or numerical data and then exclusively studying those symbolic sequences.

Frequently, linguists posit a hierarchical division of language. Despite this hierarchy, much work occurs between or at the interface of postulated levels. Modern linguistics also frequently includes computational modeling or digital data gathering, which often treat their data differently.


The study of the sounds used in spoken languages, sometimes extended to language in other sensory modes (the gestures used in sign languages). Presupposes a kind of atomism / digitality: the stream of spoken or signed language can be separated into a sequence of a finite number of tokens and attributes (like pitch, voicedness, position of tongue in the mouth ...)


The study of how units of meaning combine to form words (eg. how "un" + "happ" + "ily" combines the meanings of its components to be in the negative and a modifier)


The study of the ways in which words and phrases can and cannot combine in "grammatical" (a slippery concept, since it is supposed to capture those things humans judge valid and use in speech, but exclude judgements by learned rules that may have been imposed by education from theoretical "misconceptions" like the prohibitions on split infinitives or starting sentences with "and" and "but"; on the other hand, "grammaticality" wants to exclude things people do say but which are deemed nonsense or considered accidental errors) speech


The study of the "meaning" of language. Usually here, "meaning" means something much narrower than the everyday sense: an assertion in a formal logic - a string of mathematical symbols that claim something is true or false about a set of entities and their relations


The study of some of what's that's left: particularly, how language is made sense of socially.

An Illustrative Example

An illustrative example of language use, an utterance demanding formal study.

Created by Geryon on 2019/01/12 06:05


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