What Is Linguistics?

Linguistics is the study of language — not so much a specific language, but of the system of language and the way in which humans communicate. Topics integral to linguistics include the physiology of language (the ways in which humans produce and perceive language), its physical properties (the nature of speech sounds), the roles that it plays in determining cultural and social categories, the relationship between language and thought, the underlying manner in which sentences are structured (syntax), the way language conveys meaning (semantics), and the manner in which other systems may imitate natural languages (such as artificial intelligence).

Thus linguistics examines a broad range of phenomena from such disciplines as philosophy (especially logic, epistemology, and the philosophy of science), psychology (specifically cognitive science), anthropology, sociology, literary theory, neuroscience, computing, and both modern and ancient languages. Problems studied by linguists range from the history and relationship of languages to the nature of metaphor and the adequacy of artificial language to convey human thought. As is evident from this handful of examples, linguistics is both an independent discipline and an important area of specialization.

The Study of Linguistics at Dartmouth

Linguistics programs by their very nature are interdisciplinary, in that they include courses from the sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences. An undergraduate major in linguistics usually involves an introduction to the discipline itself, followed by "core" courses that introduce students to key theoretical issues, as well as by a series of related courses in other disciplines. At Dartmouth the introductory course is Linguistics 1, while the core courses deal with historical linguistics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, typology and sociolinguistics. The related courses can be found in several departments, and each student chooses a set of such courses tailored to that individual's particular interests.

The Linguistics Program at Dartmouth

The Linguistics Program at Dartmouth has a particular strength in the empirical investigation of lesser studied languages.