What is linguistics?
Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It investigates several aspects of language such as structure, sounds, words, meaning and hidden meaning. Linguistics studies the relation between language and mind, or language and thought.
All civilizations studied their language. Starting with Ancient Indians, the Sanskrit scholars authored sophisticated books in describing Sanskrit language. The most famous scholar is Panini, who authored the Ashṭādhyāyī - a description of Sanskrit grammar, sounds and other components in the form of verses or lines of poetry. Panini approach is still so influential in the present day. Many research works center around Panini approach to the description of language.
In the medieval times, the Arab paid much attention to Arabic. Hundreds of books and monographs were authored in description of Arabic. the most well-known work is called Alfiyat by Ibn Malik. Alfiyat is the descritpin of Arabic grammar, and structure in the form of verse or line of poetry. There are a thousand lines in this Alfiyat.
It has to be noticed that the ancients descriptions of language were prescriptive. That is, they laid out rules for the correct use of their language. As such, we cannot claim that the ancient descriptions of language is linguistics proper.
It was in the 19th century when linguistics emerged as a branch of knowledge in the modern sense of linguistics. It was Ferdinand de Saussure who delved to the nature of language and naming. He coined the terms: signifier and signified. The signifier is the word, e.g. “dog” and the signified is the entity or animal with four legs. The book “Course in General Linguistics” was not written by him directly. Rather, his students gathered his lecture notes and produced it in the form of a book.
In the 20th century, Noam Chomsky emerged as a very powerful and insightful scholar who changed our views to language. He viewed language is generative in nature, and hence Generative Linguistics. In 1957, he published his first book “Syntactic Structure” in which he attached Skinner for explaining language as stimulus and response, award and punishment.