What is linguistics?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Linguistics is the scientific study of language. Although certain elements of linguistics were found in the grammarians of ancient Greece and India, especially the study of syntax and morphology, linguistics proper is usually considered to have originated in the later eighteenth century in a discipline that in its own period was called "comparative philology". 

The main impetus behind the study of comparative philology was the European conquest of India. English and German scholars who knew classical Greek and Latin immediately realized that Sanskrit had major similarities to those languages. This led to the "Indo-European hypothesis", the theory that Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and their descendants all originated in a single language, which we now call "proto-Indo-European." Much of the focus of linguistics in the nineteenth century was the study of written records to decipher unknown early languages and to understand the history of language and classify language groups.

Twentieth-century linguistics adds to this synchronic studies, including studies of dialects and syntax within languages and sociological patterns of language use (for example how people of different socioeconomic classes or different genders use language differently). Recording technology has also allowed linguists to preserve and study oral discourse.

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