The possession of language is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. But what is language? What distinguishing properties does language have, and how do we understand those properties in the context of human cognition? How much diversity is there across languages, and how can we understand that diversity in light of the fact that languages do not vary without limit?
Linguistics is the scientific study of language and all its properties. Some of the core aspects of language that linguists study include:
- The physical manifestations of language as sounds/signs (Phonetics)
- The systematic patterns in those physical manifestations (Phonology)
- The construct of the “word” and its sub-parts (Morphology)
- The structural organization of words into phrases and sentences (Syntax)
- The logical meanings and interpretations of linguistic expressions (Semantics, Pragmatics)
Students at Princeton develop the skills of a linguist through hands-on engagement with gathering and interpreting data from many different languages, the employment of diverse methodologies, and the investigation of language through a variety of lenses, including:
- Working with native speakers of an unfamiliar language (Field Methods)
- Engaging with descriptive grammars and large-scale statistical correlations to investigate similarities and differences across languages (Linguistic Typology)
- Analyzing extant texts to discover and elucidate how language changes over time (Historical Linguistics)
- Modeling linguistic differences across dialects and other social contexts (Sociolinguistics)
- Measuring linguistic behaviors in controlled experimental contexts (Psycholinguistics)
- Observing how languages develop/coexist within speakers (Language Acquisition, Bilingualism, Machine Translation)
Beyond the scope of linguistic knowledge mastered through such coursework, students of linguistics will gain a number of invaluable skills that extend to nearly every domain, including: applying logical problem solving skills to new problems, gathering/organizing large sets of data, pattern recognition, making and testing hypotheses, and identifying problems in and benefits to particular interpretations and analyses.