For a second, exit the realm of language and think about your grade school math days.
Among Milwaukee renters, over 1 in 5 black women report having been evicted in their adult life, compared with 1 in 12 Hispanic women and 1 in 15 white women.
-Matthew Desmond, Evicted
The 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted, an investigative work by the sociologist Matthew Desmond, uncovered much of the lives of those living in the worst economic conditions in the United States. At first, you might not see the connections between evictions and language, but the association is tight-knit and direct.
“It just seems to me that being able to demonstrate that certain things are possible seems to be the first step that might actually encourage other individuals to want to do something similar with respect to some performance that they are passionate [about] or interested in improving.” -K Anders Ericsson
One of the most powerful effects of learning linguistics is to show you that something that you see, at the outset, as impossibly complex and unrelentingly difficult ends up being something that you can master. Not the person who was born speaking the language, not the person who lived for 2 years in France, but you yourself. You yourself can learn a language. Any language. And with the help of linguistics, you will no longer be stabbing in the dark, trying to learn by mere exposure, but rather approaching the language systematically – a language is, after all, a system – and figuring it out from the ground up, and with the help of professional scaffolding. Linguistics is powerful, and it will be powerful for you.
Who can say they’ve perfected their skill in a language? Have I perfected my ability in English? I mean, I was born into an English-speaking culture, and I learned that language first, and it was the only language I understood until I was in my teens (if knowing what ¿cómo estás? means can be considered understanding Spanish). Even today, there are English words I don’t know; on top of that, there are English dialects I don’t understand very well, accents that I can’t compute without some thought. Can anyone ever truly complete their study of a language? And if not of your first, how much less of your second, third, and so on! But this shouldn’t discourage us in the least; in fact, it should be an energizing revelation.
Learning a language is hard. You have to consider thousands of new words, countless new grammatical relations, and then derivations and inflections of words based on where they are in a sentence or how they’re used. Simply put, it is a complex task. For those who enjoy learning new languages, that’s part of the thrill. In a lot of ways, it’s like building a puzzle or solving a math problem, and the exhilaration that comes from the experience is well worth it. But there is one part of the equation that does not have to be as difficult as it sometimes seems: pronunciation.
Linguistics as a discipline is split into many parts. Like in any science, there are focuses within the study that represent branchings off of the discipline into sub-fields; all of these sub-fields come together to reveal insights about human language and how it relates to other pieces of the world around us. Here, we’re going to review just a few, to whet your proverbial whistle for linguistics and what we can learn from it.
Linguistics is fascinating.
More specifically, linguistics is the study of the science of language. By this I mean that linguistics focuses on describing the systems of language use in humans – by definition, humans are the only species to possess language. Following is a summary of the field, short but sweet.