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What is Linguistics?

Language is central and probably unique to human experience, and interest in its study has existed through history. Consequently, questions about language, and particularly the nature of its structure, use and development, have engaged scholars from a wide range of disciplines. Linguistics is the discipline that addresses these and other related questions directly.


Linguistics comprises different areas of specialisation:

phonetics - the study of speech sounds
phonology - the study of sound systems
morphology - the study of word structure
syntax - the study of how words are combined into sentences
semantics - the study of meaning
pragmatics - the study of meaning in relation to the way that language is used
sociolinguistics - the study of language in its social context
historical linguistics - the study of language change
linguistic typology - the study of language universals and differences


Why study Linguistics?

Linguistics is a useful and rewarding subject for anyone who is interested in languages and in the teaching and learning of second/foreign languages. Linguistics may be usefully combined with the study of a wide range of other disciplines, such as anthropology, literature, education, philosophy, psychology, mass communication, speech therapy, computer science and information science.

While Linguistics does not provide specific vocational training, you will be trained to use analytic, evaluative and argumentative skills which are widely applicable in the modern world. Linguistics may be used to help train language teachers, interpreters/translators, copy writers, editors, school teachers, speech therapists, computer language programmers and so on. In fact, the skills that you will acquire in linguistics can be put to use in diverse kinds of employment once you have graduated.

In the Linguistics Programme at Otago, you will be taught how to identify and provide analyses of linguistic phenomena and also how to construct and justify arguments for particular analyses. Although students of Linguistics are strongly recommended to study another language, the Linguistics Programme at Otago University does not assume any prior knowledge of linguistics or of any languages other than English.