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In the
study of language Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo ...

study of language
, description or descriptive linguistics is the work of objectively analyzing and describing how
language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the ...

language
is actually used (or how it was used in the past) by a
speech community A speech community is a group of people who share a set of linguistic norms and expectations regarding the use of language. It is a concept mostly associated with sociolinguistics Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any ...
. François & Ponsonnet (2013). All academic research in
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo ...

linguistics
is descriptive; like all other scientific disciplines, it seeks to describe reality, without the bias of preconceived ideas about how it ought to be. Modern descriptive linguistics is based on a
structural approach Structural approach is a method used in examining language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languages have a wr ...
to language, as exemplified in the work of
Leonard Bloomfield Leonard Bloomfield (April 1, 1887 – April 18, 1949) was an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is ...
and others. This type of linguistics utilizes different methods in order to describe a language such as basic data collection, and different types of elicitation methods.


Descriptive vs. prescriptive linguistics

Linguistic description is often contrasted with
linguistic prescription Linguistic prescription, or prescriptive grammar, is the establishment of rules defining preferred usage The usage of a language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestur ...
, — entry for "Descriptivism and prescriptivism" quotation: "Contrasting terms in linguistics." (p.286) which is found especially in
education Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, value (ethics), values, morals, beliefs, habits, and personal development. Educational methods include teaching, training, storytelling, discussion ...

education
and in
publishing Publishing is the activity of making information, literature, music, software and other content available to the public for sale or for free. Traditionally, the term refers to the creation and distribution of printed works, such as book A ...
. As English-linguist Larry Andrews describes it, descriptive grammar is the linguistic approach which studies what a language is like, as opposed to prescriptive, which declares what a language should be like. In other words, descriptive grammarians focus analysis on how all kinds of people in all sorts of environments, usually in more casual, everyday settings, communicate, whereas prescriptive grammarians focus on the grammatical rules and structures predetermined by linguistic registers and figures of power. An example that Andrews uses in his book is ''fewer than'' vs ''less than''. A descriptive grammarian would state that both statements are equally valid, as long as the meaning behind the statement can be understood. A prescriptive grammarian would analyze the rules and conventions behind both statements to determine which statement is correct or otherwise preferable. Andrews also believes that, although most linguists would be descriptive grammarians, most public school teachers tend to be prescriptive.


History of the discipline

The earliest known descriptive linguistic work took place in a
Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominalization, nominally , , ) is a classical language of South Asia that belongs to the Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor langua ...

Sanskrit
community in northern India; the most well-known scholar of that linguistic tradition was
Pāṇini (Devanagari: पाणिनि, ) was a Sanskrit Philology, philologist, grammarian, and revered scholar in ancient India, variously dated between the 6th and 4th century BCE. Since the discovery and publication of his work by European scholar ...
, whose works are commonly dated to around the . Philological traditions later arose around the description of
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...
,
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
,
Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in . It is the world's , with a of more than 1.4 billion. China spans five geographical and 14 different count ...
,
Tamil Tamil may refer to: * Tamils The Tamil people, also known as Tamilar ( ta, தமிழர், Tamiḻar, translit-std=ISO, in the singular or ta, தமிழர்கள், Tamiḻarkaḷ, translit-std=ISO, label=none, in the plural), o ...

Tamil
,
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...
, and
Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

Arabic
. The description of modern European languages did not begin before the
Renaissance The Renaissance ( , ) , from , with the same meanings. is a period Period may refer to: Common uses * Era, a length or span of time * Full stop (or period), a punctuation mark Arts, entertainment, and media * Period (music), a concept in ...

Renaissance
– e.g.
Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Canada * Spanish River (disambiguation), the name of several ...

Spanish
in
1492 Year 1492 ( MCDXCII) was a leap year starting on Sunday A leap year starting on Sunday is any year with 366 days (i.e. it includes 29 February) that begins on Sunday, 1 January, and ends on Monday, 31 December. Its dominical letters hence are AG. ...
,
French French (french: français(e), link=no) may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a transcontinental country This is a list of co ...

French
in
1532 Year 1532 ( MDXXXII) was a leap year starting on Monday A leap year starting on Monday is any year with 366 days (i.e. it includes 29 February) that begins on Monday Monday is the between and . According to the 's standard, it is th ...
,
English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language is a structured system of communication use ...

English
in
1586 1586 ( MDLXXXVI) was a common year starting on Wednesday A common year starting on Wednesday is any non-leap year (a year with 365 days) that begins on Wednesday, 1 January, and ends on Wednesday, 31 December. Its dominical letter hence is E. ...
; the same period saw the first grammatical descriptions of
Nahuatl Nahuatl (; ),The Classical Nahuatl word (noun stem ''nāhua'', + absolutive ''-tl'' ) is thought to mean "a good, clear sound" This language name has several spellings, among them náhuatl (the standard spelling in the Spanish language),() Nao ...

Nahuatl
(
1547 Year 1547 ( MDXLVII) was a common year starting on Saturday A common year starting on Saturday is any non-leap year A leap year (also known as an intercalary year or wikt:bissextile, bissextile year) is a calendar year that contains an add ...
) or
Quechua Quechua may refer to: *Quechua people, several indigenous ethnic groups in South America, especially in Peru *Quechuan languages, a Native South American language family spoken primarily in the Andes, derived from a common ancestral language **Sou ...
(
1560 Year 1560 (Roman numerals, MDLX) was a leap year starting on Monday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar. Events January–June * January 7 – In the Kingdom of Scotland, Kingdom of France, French troo ...
) in the
New World The "New World" is a term for the majority of Earth's Western Hemisphere, specifically the Americas."America." ''The Oxford Companion to the English Language'' (). McArthur, Tom, ed., 1992. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 33: "
Even_though_more_and_more_languages_were_discovered,_the_full_diversity_of_language_was_not_yet_fully_recognized._For_centuries,_language_descriptions_tended_to_use_grammatical_categories_that_existed_for_languages_considered_to_be_more_prestigious,_like_Latin_ Latin_(,__or_,_)_is_a_classical_language_belonging_to_the_Italic_languages,_Italic_branch_of_the_Indo-European_languages._Latin_was_originally_spoken_in_the_area_around_Rome,_known_as_Latium._Through_the_power_of_the_Roman_Republic,_it_became__...

. Linguistic_description_as_a_discipline_really_took_off_at_the_end_of_the_19th_century,_with_the_Structural_linguistics#History.html" "title="6c: from ...
, followed by numerous others. Even though more and more languages were discovered, the full diversity of language was not yet fully recognized. For centuries, language descriptions tended to use grammatical categories that existed for languages considered to be more prestigious, like
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
. Linguistic description as a discipline really took off at the end of the 19th century, with the Structural linguistics#History">Structuralist revolution
Structuralist revolution
(from Ferdinand de Saussure to
Leonard Bloomfield Leonard Bloomfield (April 1, 1887 – April 18, 1949) was an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is ...
), and the notion that every language forms a unique symbolic system, different from other languages, worthy of being described “in its own terms”.


Methods

The first critical step of language description is to collect data. To do this a researcher does field work in an
speech community A speech community is a group of people who share a set of linguistic norms and expectations regarding the use of language. It is a concept mostly associated with sociolinguistics Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any ...
of their choice, and they record samples from different speakers. The data they collect often comes from different kind of speech genres that include
narratives A narrative, story or tale is any account of a series of related events or experiences, whether nonfiction Nonfiction (also spelled non-fiction) is any document or content (media), media content that intends, in good faith, to present only trut ...

narratives
, daily conversations,
poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its popula ...

poetry
,
songs A song is a musical composition Musical composition can refer to an Originality, original piece or work of music, either Human voice, vocal or Musical instrument, instrumental, the musical form, structure of a musical piece or to the p ...

songs
and many others. While speech that comes naturally is preferred, researchers use elicitation, by asking speakers for translations, grammar rules, pronunciation, or by testing sentences using substitution frames. Substitution frames are pre-made sentences put together by the researcher that are like fill in the blanks. They do this with
nouns A noun () is a word In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) ...

nouns
and
verbs A verb () is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning. In many ...
to see how the structure of the sentence might change or how the noun and verb might change in structure. There are different types of elicitation used in the field work for linguistic description. These include schedule controlled elicitation, and analysis controlled elicitation, each with their own sub branches. Schedule controlled elicitation is when the researcher has a questionnaire of material to elicit to individuals and asks the questions in a certain order according to a schedule. These types of schedules and questionnaires usually focus on
language families A language family is a group of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European ...
, and are typically flexible and are able to be changed if need be. The other type of elicitation is analysis controlled elicitation which is elicitation that is not under a schedule. The analysis of the language here in fact controls the elicitation. There are many sub types of analysis controlled elicitation, such as target language interrogation elicitation, stimulus driven elicitation, and many other types of elicitation. Target language interrogation elicitation is when the researcher asks individuals questions in the target language, and the researcher records all the different answers from all the individuals and compares them. Stimulus driven elicitation is when a researcher provides pictures, objects or video clips to the language speakers and asks them to describe the items presented to them. These types of elicitation help the researcher build a
vocabulary A vocabulary is a set of familiar words In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed la ...
, and basic grammatical structures. This process is long and tedious and spans over several years. This long process ends with a corpus, which is a body of reference materials, that can be used to test
hypothesis A hypothesis (plural hypotheses) is a proposed explanation An explanation is a set of statements usually constructed to describe a set of facts which clarifies the causes, context Context may refer to: * Context (language use), the rel ...
regarding the language in question.


Challenges

Almost all linguistic theory has its origin in practical problems of descriptive linguistics.
Phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of lan ...

Phonology
(and its theoretical developments, such as the
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlan ...
) deals with the function and interpretation of sound in language.
Syntax In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the ...

Syntax
has developed to describe how words relate to each other in order to form sentences.
Lexicology Lexicology is the branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the ...
collects words as well as their derivations and transformations: it has not given rise to much generalized theory. Linguistics description might aim to achieve one or more of the following goals: # A description of the
phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of lan ...

phonology
of the language in question. # A description of the
morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines *Morphology (archaeology) In archaeology, morphology is the study of the shape of Artifact (archaeology), artefacts and ecofacts. Morphology is a major consid ...
of words belonging to that language. # A description of the
syntax In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the ...

syntax
of well-formed sentences of that language. # A description of lexical derivation. # A documentation of the
vocabulary A vocabulary is a set of familiar words In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed la ...
, including at least one thousand entries. # A reproduction of a few genuine texts.


See also

*
Mondegreen A mondegreen is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase in a way that gives it a new meaning. Mondegreens are most often created by a person listening to a poem or a song; the listener, being unable to hear a lyric clearly, substitutes words ...
*
GOLD (ontology) Linguistic categories include * Lexical category, a part of speech such as ''noun'', ''preposition'', etc. * Syntactic category, a similar concept which can also include phrasal categories * Grammatical category, a grammatical feature such as ''ten ...
*
Grammatical gender In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langua ...
*
Text linguistics Text linguistics is a branch of linguistics that deals with Textuality, texts as communication systems. Its original aims lay in uncovering and describing text grammars. The application of text linguistics has, however, evolved from this approach t ...
*
Language documentation Language documentation (also: documentary linguistics) is a subfield of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) ...
*
Linguistic relativity The hypothesis of linguistic relativity, also known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis , the Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, is a principle suggesting that the structure of a language A language is a structured system of communication ...
*
Linguistic typology Linguistic typology (or language typology) is a field of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses t ...


References


Bibliography

* * * Haviland, William A. (2005)
''Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge''
Thomson Wadsworth. * Renouf, Antoinette & Andrew Kehoe (2006)
''The Changing Face of Corpus Linguistics''
408 pp. p. 377. * Rossiter, Andrew (2020)

207 pp. {{ISBN, 979-8645611750 Linguistics Analysis