What are the different levels of linguistic analysis? Determine the relationship between linguistics and other disciplines.
There are six levels of linguistic analysis. They range in depth between the specifics of the sounds we make to form language to the context surrounding speech events. They are (from most specific to the broadest) phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.
Phonetics studies individual speech sounds (phonemes) and how we produce them. This is the most basic level of analysis because we use these specific sounds to make up words. Certain languages use certain sounds to convey meaning that others don’t, so establishing a standard symbol system (i.e., the International Phonetic Alphabet) allows phoneticians to analyze basic levels of speech in various languages without barriers of understanding. Phonetics also touches on the physiology behind creating speech sounds.
Phonology seeks to understand the way phonemes are organized in a language or dialect. It examines what sort of rules a language follows to determine how certain words should be pronounced. We can understand clearly why a native Spanish speaker would pronounce English words like “street” or “stop” as “eh-street” or “eh-stop” when learning the language if we understand phonology.
Morphology deals with the formations of words when we put these sound segments together. This field of study can help explain why we can understand some words that we’ve never heard before. The word “embiggens” from the show The Simpsons is a great example. Though this word was made up by the show, the morphemes (em + big + ens) are familiar to English speakers and operating in ways similar to how many of our other words work. We can understand these features separately, so when they are put together, it is relatively easy to determine the meaning of this made-up word.
Syntax works similarly to morphology but refers to sentence structure. This field studies the rules speakers follow in order to organize their words into coherent sentences. Through studying syntax, we can understand why the sentences “I have to go to the bathroom” and “the bathroom I have to go to” have different meanings, despite being made up of the exact same words.
Semantics is where these concepts begin to get more external. This level of analysis focuses on studying the meanings of words. It is the interface between our words and the world. Understanding what certain words or phrases point to in our lives is to understand the meaning behind these words. Semantics addresses the various things to which a single word can point and how this can create ambiguity in meaning—and thus, misunderstandings.
Pragmatics is similar to semantics but with words, phrases, and utterances being studied in context rather than independently. For example, without context, the phrase “I’m going to drop off the keys” seems to have a very clear meaning. However, consider a context in which this was uttered in a phone conversation between two individuals exchanging money for an illegal service. If they are both aware the transaction is taking place, but want to avoid suspicious language, “keys” may refer to either the money or the illegal good being exchanged. Pragmatics analyzes how words and phrases operate within their context and what the goals of each utterance are.
These levels of linguistic analysis can be very useful in other disciplines. Communication is an absolutely necessary basis for a functioning society. If we could not communicate and understand each other, our daily lives would be completely isolated and extremely difficult. Studying how such a fundamental aspect of our life operates is a key to understanding much of the world around you.
Fields like criminology and psychology can benefit greatly from a heightened understanding of meaning and intent in spoken and written language. Fields like computer programming are based around linguistic rules to an incredible degree, and understanding the rules to spoken languages can help immensely when learning to code. Understandings of fields like phonetics and phonology are of great help to speech-language pathologists in assisting others to communicate clearly and gain control over the physical features involved in speech.
Forensic linguistics uses all of these levels of analysis to study language in criminal contexts, such as threats, bribes, confessions, ransom notes, etc. One large function of this field is to conduct authorship analysis by studying how a certain author uses all of these features. Each person has their own specific speech and writing patterns (or idiolect), much like a language fingerprint. By comparing certain writings of known authorship to ones of unknown authorship, linguists can often remove the veil of anonymity.
Linguistics is extremely useful in many fields, but it can also be helpful in simply making you a better listener, speaker, writer, conversationalist, or analyst.
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