The Science of Linguistics

Linguistics is by definition the scientific study of language, but it’s been long debated whether it is a “soft” science. Science is the systematic study of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment, and hard sciences are generally perceived as more rigorous and accurate—i.e., natural, physical and computing sciences. “Soft” sciences are usually social, but linguistics seems to blur the line between the two—language is a social construct, but it’s also a complex, ever-evolving natural phenomenon, made up of dozens of sounds that combine to create thousands of words in thousands of different languages. Linguists study the use of language almost like animal behaviour is studied, and in recent years, modern linguistics has gravitated towards a “hard” science approach, focusing on accuracy, objectivity, and empirical data. Its many specialised subfields help enforce the rigour, such as phonology (the study of sound), syntax (the study of sentences), and semantics (the study of meaning), and linguistics also crosses disciplines to study the psychology, the neuroscience, and even the computer science of languageenabling the creation of language databases to analyse written and spoken patterns. However, hard sciences also have the capability to draw strong conclusions and make accurate predictions, and linguistics often deals with too many non-quantifiable variables to achieve either of these. For now, linguistics remains a soft science—but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. After all, without language, we wouldn’t be able to communicate scientific ideas at all.

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I only have some historical background knowledge on linguistics, mostly on how it shows human migrations, but the entire field seems fantastically interesting.