Language and Linguistics

Descriptive linguistics definition

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 grammarThe 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.

Linguistic description

In the study of language , descriptive or descriptive linguistics is the work of objectively analyzing and describing how language is actually used (or used in the past) by a speech community .All academic research in linguistics is descriptive; like all other scientific disciplines, it seeks to describe reality, without the bias of preconceived ideas about how it should be. Modern descriptive linguistics is based on a structural approach to language, as exemplified in the work of Leonard Bloomfield and others. This type of linguistics uses different methods to describe a language, such as basic data collection and different types of retrieval methods.

Linguistic description is often contrasted with linguistic prescription , found especially in education and publishing .As described by English linguist Larry Andrews, descriptive grammar is the linguistic approach that studies what a language is like, as opposed to prescriptive, which states what a language should be like. [11] : 25 In other words, descriptive grammarians focus their analysis on how all kinds of people communicate in all kinds of settings, usually in more casual and everyday settings, while prescriptive grammarians focus on grammatical rules and structures. predetermined by linguistic registers and figures of powerAn example Andrews uses in his book is less than vs less than . A descriptive grammarian would say that both statements are equally valid, as long as the meaning behind the statement can be understood. A prescriptive grammarian would analyze the rules and conventions behind both statements to determine which statement is correct or preferable. Andrews also believes that while most linguists would be descriptive grammarians, most public school teachers tend to be prescriptive.

The earliest works of linguistic description can be attributed to Pāṇini , a Sanskrit grammarian commonly dated to around the 4th century BC. C.  Later philological traditions arose around the description of Greek , Latin , Chinese , Hebrew and Arabic . Description of modern European languages ​​did not begin before the Renaissance , e.g. Spanish in 1492 , French in 1532 , English in 1586; the same period saw the first grammatical descriptions of Nahuatl ( 1547 ) or Quechua ( 1560 ) in the New World , followed by many others. Although more and more languages ​​were discovered, the diversity of languages ​​was still not fully recognized. For centuries, language descriptions tended to use grammatical categories that existed for languages ​​considered more prestigious, such as Latin .Linguistic description as a discipline really took off at the end of the 19th century, with the structuralist revolution (from Ferdinand de Saussure to Leonard Bloomfield ), and the notion that each language forms a unique symbolic system, different from other languages, worthy of description” on their own terms.”

The critical first step of language description is collecting data. To do this, a researcher conducts fieldwork in a speech community of their choice and records samples of different speakers. The data they collect often comes from different types of speech genres including narratives, daily conversations, poetry, songs, and many others. While speech that comes naturally is preferred, researchers use elicitation, asking speakers for translations, grammatical rules, pronunciation, or testing sentences using substitution frames. Substitution frames are prefabricated sentences put together by the researcher, which are like feeling in the blanks. They do this with nouns and verbs to see how the sentence structure can change or how the noun and verb can change structure. There are different types of elicitation used in fieldwork for linguistic description. These include schedule-driven elicitation and analysis-driven elicitation, each with their own child branches. Schedule-controlled elicitation is when the researcher has a questionnaire of material to elicit from the individuals and asks the questions in a certain order according to a schedule. These types of schedules and questionnaires tend to focus on language families and are often flexible and can be changed if necessary. The other type of taunt is the analysis-driven taunt, which is the taunt that is not scheduled. The parsing of language here, in fact, controls elicitation. There are many subtypes of analysis-controlled elicitation, such as target-language interrogation elicitation, stimulus-driven elicitation, and many other types of elicitation. Obtaining target language interrogations is when the researcher asks individuals questions in the target language, and the researcher records all the different answers from all the individuals and compares them. Stimulus-driven provocation is when a researcher provides images, objects, or video clips to speakers of the language and asks them to describe the items presented to them. These types of elicitation help the researcher to build basic vocabulary and grammatical structures.This process is long and tedious and takes several years. This long process ends with a corpus, which is a body of reference materials, which can be used to test hypotheses about the language in question.

Almost all linguistic theory has its origin in practical problems of descriptive linguistics. Phonology (and its theoretical developments, such as phoneme) deals with the function and interpretation of sound in language. Syntax has been developed to describe how words are related to each other to form sentences. Lexicology collects both words and their derivations and transformations: it has not given rise to a very generalized theory. Linguistic description may aim to achieve one or more of the following goals:

  1. A description of the phonology of the language in question.
  2. A description of the morphology of the words belonging to that language.
  3. A description of the well-formed sentence syntax of that language.
  4. A description of lexical derivation.
  5. A vocabulary documentation, including at least a thousand entries.
  6. A reproduction of some genuine texts.

Lesson summary

Descriptive linguistics is the study of how language is constructed. Within this field of study, the words phonology, morphology, and syntax are often used.

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.

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