nLab linguistics




Linguistics is the (scientific) study of natural human language. See a reasonably good page at Wikipedia. It aims to develop a toolbox for description of concrete languages (applied linguistics, descriptive grammar), their classification (language families, language typology) as well as to understand how language functions (e.g. relations to cognition and social constraints) and changes (historical and comparative linguistics). The description of a concrete language includes organizational principles called grammar and distinguished constants called lexic. The grammar is described at several hierarchical levels (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax).

There is an opposition between

  • individual expressions (Franc. parole) and abstract system of the language (Franc. langage)
  • snapshot of a system in time (synchronic) and its development (diachronic)
  • knowledge of a language (ability to speak) and knowledge about a language (theoretical description)

Linguistics sign has also a dichotomy between its meaning and its expression.

Linguistic systems are often also at several levels from personal idiom/idiolect, through social sociolects, regional dialects to languages and language families. There is no fundamental agreement of entirely consistent boundary of what is a boundary level of a language as opposed to dialects or language groups. Also there is no universal criterium of what a boundary of a word is, that is what a word is.


Syntax is a description of how a received (valid) phrase or sentence is made out of its constituent parts and discipline studying syntax in that sense.

Grammar of formal languages

Linguists may deploy formal methods to analyse the syntax (linguistics) of natural language (see also syntax in the sense of logics).

Formal grammars characterize which strings of words are considered grammatical, they come in many different flavours:

These different frameworks come in a hierarchy of expressive power, see Chomsky hierarchy.


Formal theories of meaning are based on the principle of compositionality: the semantics of a sentence is a function of the meanings of its words, and of its grammatical structure.


Pragmatics is concerned with the meaning of language in context.


Linguistics per se

  • diverse materials and corpora can be found at extensive web site The Linguist List

  • Wikipedia linguistics, philology, phonetics, morphology (linguistics), syntax, semantics, pragmatics, semiotics, linguistic typology, historical linguistics, comparative linguistics

  • LaTeX for linguists

  • F. de Saussure, Cours de linguistique générale

  • André Martinet, Éléments de linguistique générale, (Engl. transl.: Elements of General Linguistics)

  • Adrian Akmajian, Richard A. Demers, Ann K. Farmer, Robert M. Harnish, Linguistics, an introduction to language and communication

  • John Lyons, Semantics; Linguistics semantics

  • Bernard Comrie, Language universals and linguistic typology, syntax and morphology, 1981, 1989

  • Peter Ladefoged, Keith Johnson, A course in phonetics

  • Steven Pinker, The language instinct, 1994

  • Winfred P. Lehmann, Historical linguistics: an introduction

  • George Lakoff, Women, fire and dangerous things, 1987

  • Ronald Langacker, Foundations of cognitive grammar, vol. 1, 1987, vol. 2, 1991

  • Pieter A. M. Seuren, The logic of language, vol. II of Language from within; (vol. I: Language in cognition) Oxford University Press 2010

  • David Mumford, Grammar isn’t merely part of language, 2016 blog

  • M. Tallerman, Understanding syntax (1st ed, 1998, 5th ed. 2020)

  • Umberto Eco, Semiotics and the philosophy of language, Indiana University Press 1984

Category theory and linguistics

category: philosophy

Last revised on December 23, 2022 at 17:29:40. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.