Descriptive linguistics and language documentation
The emphasis on linguistic description and documentation has since become more important outside of North America as well, as the documentation of rapidly dying indigenous languages has become a primary focus in many of the worlds’ linguistics programs. Language description is a work intensive endeavour usually requiring years of field work for the linguist to learn a language sufficiently well to write a reference grammar of it. The further task of language documentation requires the linguist to collect a preferably large corpus of texts and recordings of sound and video in the language, and to arrange for its storage in accessible formats in open repositories where it may be of the best use for further research by other researchers.
Main article: Applied linguistics
Linguists are largely concerned with finding and describing the generalities and varieties both within particular languages and among all language. Applied linguistics takes the result of those findings and “applies” them to other areas. The term “applied linguistics” is often used to refer to the use of linguistic research in language teaching only, but results of linguistic research are used in many other areas as well, such as lexicography and translation. “Applied linguistics” has been argued to be something of a misnomer[who?], since applied linguists focus on making sense of and engineering solutions for real-world linguistic problems, not simply “applying” existing technical knowledge from linguistics; moreover, they commonly apply technical knowledge from multiple sources, such as sociology (e.g. conversation analysis) and anthropology.
Today, computers are widely used in many areas of applied linguistics. Speech synthesis and speech recognition use phonetic and phonemic knowledge to provide voice interfaces to computers. Applications of computational linguistics in machine translation, computer-assisted translation, and natural language processing are areas of applied linguistics which have come to the forefront. Their influence has had an effect on theories of syntax and semantics, as modeling syntactic and semantic theories on computers constraints.
Linguistic analysis is a subdiscipline of applied linguistics used by many governments to verify the claimed nationality of people seeking asylum who do not hold the necessary documentation to prove their claim. This often takes the form of an interview by personnel in an immigration department. Depending on the country, this interview is conducted in either the asylum seeker’s native language through an interpreter, or in an international lingua franca like English. Australia uses the former method, while Germany employs the latter; the Netherlands uses either method depending on the languages involved. Tape recordings of the interview then undergo language analysis, which can be done by either private contractors or within a department of the government. In this analysis, linguistic features of the asylum seeker are used by analysts to make a determination about the speaker’s nationality. The reported findings of the linguistic analysis can play a critical role in the government’s decision on the refugee status of the asylum seeker.
Description and prescription
Main articles: Descriptive linguistics, Linguistic prescription
Linguistics is descriptive; linguists describe and explain features of language without making subjective judgments on whether a particular feature is “right” or “wrong”. This is analogous to practice in other sciences: a zoologist studies the animal kingdom without making subjective judgments on whether a particular animal is better or worse than another.
Prescription, on the other hand, is an attempt to promote particular linguistic usages over others, often favouring a particular dialect or “acrolect”. This may have the aim of establishing a linguistic standard, which can aid communication over large geographical areas. It may also, however, be an attempt by speakers of one language or dialect to exert influence over speakers of other languages or dialects (see Linguistic imperialism). An extreme version of prescriptivism can be found among censors, who attempt to eradicate words and structures which they consider to be destructive to society.
Speech and writing
Most contemporary linguists work under the assumption that spoken (or signed) language is more fundamental than written language. This is because:
* Speech appears to be universal to all human beings capable of producing and hearing it, while there have been many cultures and speech communities that lack written communication;
* Speech evolved before human beings invented writing;
* People learn to speak and process spoken languages more easily and much earlier than writing;
Linguists nonetheless agree that the study of written language can be worthwhile and valuable. For research that relies on corpus linguistics and computational linguistics, written language is often much more convenient for processing large amounts of linguistic data. Large corpora of spoken language are difficult to create and hard to find, and are typically transcribed and written. Additionally, linguists have turned to text-based discourse occurring in various formats of computer-mediated communication as a viable site for linguistic inquiry.
The study of writing systems themselves is in any case considered a branch of