Linguistics fields can be divided into core and interdisciplinary. Core linguistics are pure linguistics. In this article, I will be explaining some of the interdisciplinary fields of linguistics. Basically, interdisciplinary fields of linguistics draw from linguistics and another field of knowledge. These fields include computational linguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, lexicography, clinical linguistics and forensic linguistics. In what follows, a brief definition of each field will be given.
Computational linguistics is the study of making use of computers in generating and understanding of human languages. Generating language precedes the understanding of language. Computational linguistics draws from several fields such as computer science, mathematics, logic, artificial intelligence and natural language processing. As a field of knowledge, it started as early as the 1960s, but achievements began to show up only in the mid-1990s when statistics was intensively used in designing the algorithms. Click here to join our free course in introduction to natural language processing.
Psycholinguistics is the study of language in relation to psychology. The key objective of psycholinguistics is to investigate how language influences memory, cognition, perception, learning, processing, attention and retention, among others. The typical method is priming effects. In priming experiments, a word is shown to the subject (human participant in modern terms), and the time is measured during which the human subject utters the related word. For example, if the priming word is “teacher”, then the related words may be “student”, “school”, “book”, etc. Words which are more associated will be uttered faster than those which are not related. These experiments are extensively used in establishing the semantics fields of words.
The study of the language in relation to the human brain. Neurolinguistics intersects with neurology. Neurolinguistics is interested in defining the language areas in the human brain. It also investigates several language disorders such as aphasia. Two critical language areas are identified: Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Broca’s area is in the frontal lobe and it is responsible for grammar. A patient with Broca’s aphasia finds it difficult to speak and his speech is not grammatically correct, and mostly with stuttering. Wernicke’s area is in the left hemisphere of the brain and it is responsible for semantic processing and lexical stocks. A patient with Wernicke’s aphasia is fluent in speech but their speech is hardly meaningful.
Sociolinguistics is the study of language in relation to society. That is, how societies and social classes use the language to express themselves. Higher class would always use a different dialect from that of the lower class. Different registers of language are examined by sociolinguistics and dialectology, for example, profession registers such as academic and technical jargon, merchants, lawyers, farmers, etc. A key influential scholar is William Labov who studied how an individual attempt to hide or reveal his identity through language. For instance, an individual from a lower class may attempt to speak a dialect used by the higher class or the vice versa. The same thing applies to speakers from different geographical areas. Dialectology is in the heart of sociolinguistics.
Historical linguistics studies the history of languages. Interesting questions include how languages evolve and die. The grouping of languages into language families is another key area of historical linguistics. Historical linguists attempt to group the languages of the world into families and examine the genetic similarities and differences between each family and languages in a single family, too. The largest language family is the Indo-European which comprises more than 200 languages. Semitic language family include more than 25 languages some of which are Arabic and Hebrew. Sound change and spelling-pronunciation mismatch are accounted for by historical linguistics. The etymology of a word is of interest to the historical linguist and lexicographer.
Lexicography is the study of making dictionaries. Lexicography attempts to capture the semantic meaning of the entire lexical stock of a given language. The theoretical issues of dictionary-making are not part of lexicography __ these are examined by lexicology. Lexicography examines the practical issues of dictionary-making. These issues include defining the dictionary meaning of words, and semantic relations between words, such as synonymy, antonymy, hyponymy, meronymy … etc. Other issues include the layout of dictionary, scope of dictionary and how many words it should include. You can find general dictionaries such as Oxford English Dictionary, and you may find specific dictionaries such as dictionaries of medical terms. Lexicography is related to semantics and historical linguistics.
Clinical linguistics is the application of linguistic theories in the medical settings in relation to language problems such as speech and hearing disorders. A clinical linguist investigates speech disorders, mostly in infants. If a baby reaches the age of five years while he/she is not able to speak, then they must be shown to a speech pathologist. Today, it is typical to invite a linguist to hospitals to aid in diagnosing several problems in speech and hearing.
Forensic linguistics is the study of language’s role in crimes and criminology. Linguistics is of big help in investigating the confessions of suspects, how they use their lexical items, and how they answer the questions of the detectives. Forensic linguistics is of critical help in identifying sounds of people in crime scenes, and in audio tapes. Lip reading is used to transcribe the language of suspects in video tapes where audio is not available.