Why do we need to study linguistics, when there are languages being studied at various level of educational attainment? There also misconception and conflict in differentiating linguistics from language study.

It is necessary to start by defining what linguistics is all about. Linguistic is the scientific study of language whose goal is to describe and explain the unconscious knowledge the speakers have of their language.

John Lyons (1968) contends that by scientific study of language is meant its investigations by means of controlled and empirical verifiable observations and with reference to some general theory of language structure. It is a field that deals with the scientific description and analysis of language.

Linguistics according to one of the Nigeria’s applied linguist, Dr. A.A. Olaoye is the scientific study of grammatical system of a language and their interrelationship with the rest of human activities. Linguistics studies the form and their meaning in social context of any language. The form in this sense indicates the grammatical functions—- the syntax and the meaning—- the semantics.

To maintain the adequate and proper description and analysis of language, linguists divided language into various components. These include: Phonetics, the scientific study of speech sounds; Phonology, the study of sounds with their meanings; Syntax, the study of grammatical functions of language; Semantics, the study of meaning of grammatical functions of a language according to its social context; and Morphology which is the study of the internal structure of words.

Through these components of language the linguists have been able to carry the scientific descriptions analyses of language. For instance, with phonetics component, linguists design for many languages of the world their orthographies both in consonants and vowels. These can be seen in many of Nigeria languages like Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba language orthographies etc. In designing orthography for a language, linguists transcribe the vowels and represent them on a cardinal vowels chart. Cardinal vowels chart as defined by a German phonetician, Daniel Jones is the set reference chart used to describe the vowel sound of a language. With this the linguists have been able to describe how the vowels sounds of a language are being articulated. And consonants in the other hand on the consonants chart, is designed by the International Phonetics Association [I.P.A]

Both the cardinal vowels chart and the consonants chart have contributed enormously to the second language learning and teaching by helping the second language learning students to know those sounds contained in a language in order to articulate them well. It also helps language teachers to solve teaching problems that may be encountered by students in the formal walls. Its often being argued by the language scholars that to get the best way of teaching language, the teacher must firstly study critically the cardinal vowels and consonants charts of the language spoken by the students and compare them to those of the second language learning in the classroom. Through this the teacher shall discover the similarities and the contrasts between the cardinal vowels and the consonants charts which the students have of their language and to those contained in the language learning. And also the teacher shall discover new strategies and techniques to the best way the language students can understand in the formal walls. And as it was contended by Lado [1957] “the teacher who has made a comparison of foreign language with the native language of the students will know better what the real problems are and can provide for teaching them”.

This is based on the assumption that a student who comes in contact with a foreign language will find some features of it extremely difficult. Phonetics has therefore made it quite easy for such a foreign language to be leant by the student. It also contributes immensely in area of speech rehabilitation by helping the speech pathologist to evaluate those diseases said to affect human speech or linguistics behavior. Through it the linguists have been able to bring together the area of divergence that arises in speech production which varies from one language to the other. It is also the channel through which difference sounds are brought together to form a meaningful unit.
The phonological component of language is that through which the linguists link with ordinary sounds.

With the syntactic component, the linguists show the distinct between prescriptive and descriptive grammar which the former in technical sense often referred to as tradition grammar and latter as transformational generative grammar by Noam Chomsky [1975]. Through the syntax the linguists draw for a language the basic regularities and adequate systematic descriptions for a language in which they are concerned.

Using the semantic component, the linguists derive the meaning of grammatical system of a language according to the social context. Morphology is also that component through which the linguists form new word for a language. They can do this using many processes like clipping, coinage, borrowing, blending process etc.

Linguistics also can be classified into two major branches according to language scholars. These are: Theoretical linguistics which deals with the components of language [i.e. phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics and morphology]; Applied linguistics which is the application of linguistics theories to evaluate the language problems arisen from other professions like sociology and linguistics called sociolinguistics, linguistics and psychology called psycholinguistics, linguistics and ethnography called ethno-linguistics, linguistics and geography called geolinguistics, linguistics and neurology called neurolinguistics, linguistics and anthropology called anthropolinguistics, linguistic and biology called biolinguistics, linguistics and history called historicalinguistics, linguistics and philosophy called philosophical linguistics, linguistics and computer called computational linguistics, linguistics and statistics called statistical linguistics.

Linguistics is scientific study due to the fact that linguists conduct their scientific investigation by means of controlled and empirically verifiable observations and with reference to some general theory of language structure.

John Lyons [1968]. The scientific terms adopt by the linguists in conducting adequate descriptions and analysis of a language includes: Observation; the linguists observe the unconscious knowledge and other language facts the speakers have of their language. They do this using direct observation. That is, the language observation using the human natural speech organs like, tongue, lips [i.e. upper and lower], pharynx, diaphragms, wind pipe, soft and hard palates, uvular. And indirect observation using language machines like spectrograph and others. Data collection; by this linguists are able to gather the necessary facts on what has been previously observed. Hypothesis formulation; the linguists draw the hypothesis on language using what is known of language to justify what is unknown of a language. Experimentation; the linguists carry out an experiment on the results of their findings. This is done so that the linguists will arrive at proper and rational justified conclusion. This also said to be done before communicating results of the language findings to the public. Theory formation; linguists also form theories or laws on their discoveries.

Therefore, many students and even academicians find linguistics to be a much challenged discipline because of its wide scope. Yes, it’s a much challenged discipline and also it should be widely agreed that linguistics play a vital role in language development for the fact that it has brought together the area s of divergence in speech production that varies from one language to the other, enhances language teaching and learning with the provision of adequate descriptions and analysis of sounds, the grammatical structures and the meanings in social context of a language. Linguistics also helps in orthography design for a language, thereby bringing language to the world, in professional broadcasting, in speech construction and rehabilitation by providing so called the speech pathologists adequate supports in evaluating and describing those diseases said to affect human speech. It also helps in machine language constructions for human use especially with the use of computational linguistics, and construction of generative grammar for a language. With these roles it can be widely acceptable that study of linguistics has sustained many languages from extinction.

Abubakar Jimoh writes from:
Department of linguistics,
University of Abuja


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