Descriptive linguistics definition is the subdiscipline of linguistics that focuses on documenting and describing the world’s languages, analyzing and describing how human language is actually used (or how it was in the past) by a group of people belonging to the same community. linguistics. A linguistic community is a group of people who use the same linguistic medium to communicate, which can be a local language or dialect. All academic and university linguistic research is descriptive, in accordance with the approach of all scientific disciplines, which describe reality as it is, without imposing prejudices on how it should be. The descriptive linguistic expression is sometimes used in opposition to prescriptive linguistics or prescriptive grammar. The prescriptive approach seeks to define the norms of a standard language (for example, the so-called “standard Italian”), and to define which grammatical forms are more correct or appropriate, and is often associated with linguistic purism.
The study of how language is constructed. If a descriptive linguist had been by my side that first day in Greece, he would probably have used the words “phonology” and “morphology” as well as “syntax” to explain why the Greek seemed so confusing to my ears. In today’s lesson on descriptive linguistics, we will discuss these three terms.
To begin with, phonology is simply the study of how sounds are used in a language. Coming from the Greek word ‘sound’, as in ‘phonetics‘, it is the study of why we, who speak English, pronounce the ‘g’ in ‘giraffe’ the same way we pronounce the ‘j’ in ‘Jell- EITHER’. ‘ He is also trying to understand why people from the South Pacific find it easy to start words with the ‘ng’ sound, while my English language can only say it at the end of words, as in ‘sit’, ‘ask’ or ‘talking.’
Phonology also looks at the rather abstract concept of a phoneme , a sound or set of sounds that makes a difference in the meaning of a language. For this one, let’s take a look at an example used by Carol and Melvin Ember in their book, Cultural Anthropology .
When talking about phonemes, they quote the letters ‘l’ and ‘r’ in our language versus in the South Pacific Samoan language. For example, in our language, if we put the sound “r” in front of the letters “oot”, we get the word “root”, as in the root of a tree. However, if you replace the ‘r’ with an ‘l’, you get the word ‘loot’, as in ‘taking goods by force’. In other words, in our language, the letters ‘r’ and ‘l’ differ phonemically and make a big difference in the meaning of a word.
In contrast, in the Samoan language, the letters ‘l’ and ‘r’ are used interchangeably without changing the meaning of the words in which they are used. Thus, unlike English, the Samoan ‘l’ and ‘r’ are phonemically the same.
When talking about phonemes, it is important to keep in mind that they are not single words. They are just sounds that have no meaning on their own. For example, the phoneme ‘ch’ in our language has no meaning on its own. However, paste it in front of the letters “urch” and you will have the word “church”. This brings us to our next topic, what descriptive linguists call morphology. Descriptive linguistics definition
Morphology is the study of how sound sequences have meaning. In other words, it is the study of how different languages give meaning to individual sounds or phonemes. I like to think of it as how different sounds come together to create meaning. With this in mind, a morph is the smallest unit of sound that has meaning. For this one, let’s take a look at the letters ‘.
If you were walking down the street and saw a man walking his little furry friend, you would say, ‘That man is walking his dog.’ However, if you saw him the next day and he had two furry friends, you would say, ‘That man is walking his dogs.’ By using only the letter ‘,’ you have conveyed that this man is now walking more than one dog. In other words, that lowercase ‘s’ changed the meaning of his statement, letting his listener know that there was more than one dog in the scene. For this reason, the ‘s’ in the word ‘dogs’ stands for plural and is therefore considered a transformation. Yes, it’s a very small sound unit, but it changes the meaning anyway.
Lastly, we come to syntax , the ways words are arranged to form sentences and phrases. For this one, I like to think of syntax as the way words are ‘joined’ together to form sentences. For example, in American syntax, adjectives are usually placed before nouns, as in a “white house.” However, in Spanish, the adjective is placed after the noun. So, while we, in English, say ‘white house‘, our Spanish speaking friends say white house or ‘white house’.
Interestingly, descriptive linguists claim that syntax is not actually taught, but captured. For example, young children seldom need to be taught that it is a white house, rather than a white house. It’s just something they seem to pick up along the way as their language forms.
Descriptive vs prescriptive linguistics
History of the discipline
Linguistic description methods
- A description of the phonology of the language in question.
- A description of the morphology of the words belonging to that language.
- A description of the well-formed sentence syntax of that language.
- A description of lexical derivation.
- A vocabulary documentation, including at least a thousand entries.
- A reproduction of some genuine texts.
Phonology is the study of how sounds are used in a language. With this, a phoneme is a sound or set of sounds that makes a difference in the meaning of a language. For example, in English, the letters ‘l’ and ‘r’ can change the meaning of an entire word, as in ‘root’ and ‘loot’.
Morphology is the study of how sound sequences have meaning. With this, a morph is the smallest unit of sound that has meaning. An example is the English use of the letter ‘s’ which is placed after a noun to make it plural.
Finally, syntax denotes the way words are arranged to form sentences and phrases. An example of this is the placement of adjectives in English before nouns, as in ‘casa blanca’, while the Spanish language places them after, as in casa blanca . Unlike other parts of language and speech, speakers of a language tend to inherently learn syntax.