College of Arts and Sciences

What is Linguistics and Why Should Anyone Care?

First Mondays Series

Shannon Bischoff, assistant professor of linguistics

Shannon Bischoff, English & LinguisticsNovember 7, 2011

Shannon Bischoff explored various subfields of linguistics and our current understanding of language in all its complexity in order to better define what linguistics is. He also discussed some of the applications linguistic understanding lends itself to, such as faster search engines and making sense of complex political and social phenomena.

Language, like living organisms, is as a meso-object (a whole with many parts), and thus linguistics is a meso-science with its various subfields, much akin to biology. In biology you can focus on micro-biology, botany, mammalogy, and so forth, but you cannot understand living organisms in their totality by simply studying one subfield. In the same way linguists work in the various subfields of linguistics with the ultimate goal of understanding language in its totality. This talk explores some of the subfields of linguistics and our current understanding of language in all its complexity. It concludes with some of the ways in which this understanding is applied in such ways as the following: to build faster search engines; better understand cognition, the brain, and mind; settle legal disputes; explore issues in mathematics and philosophy; make sense of complex political and social phenomena; and improve learning.

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