The Branches of Linguistics - (2023)

In its most basic form, linguistics is the scientific study of language.

The field of linguistics is typically broken down into different sub-branches that cover everything from the origin and evolution of language to the way our brains process sound.

What’s more, these branches are constantly evolving in response to new discoveries about how humans interact, learn or what goes on inside our minds.

The importance of linguistics is often underestimated, after all, language is what we use to transmit and accumulate knowledge. Linguistics has increasingly important implications on other social studies, such as psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology and artificial intelligence, to name a few.

What is Linguistics and What Does it Do?

The job of a linguist typically involves answering one or several of the following questions:

Phonetics – how do humans produce and perceive acoustic or visual signals?
Phonology – how are acoustic signals organised in spoken languages or dialects?
Morphology – how are words formed?
Syntax – how are sentences formed?
Semantics – what do linguistic expressions or signals mean?
Pragmatics – how does meaning depend on context?

It is not uncommon for these subtopics to be paired together, typically as Phonetics and Phonology, Morphology and Syntax, and Semantics and Pragmatics.

The Branches of Linguistics - (1)


Phonetics is the study of how sounds are produced and perceived.

This subtopic can be broken down even further, looking into three aspects – how humans produce speech, how different vocal movements affect the resulting sound and how humans convert the resulting sounds into information.

Modern phonetics have three main branches of study:

  • Articulatory phonetics – the study of sounds made with the articulators
  • Acoustic phonetics – the study of acoustic results of different articulations
  • Auditory phonetics – the study of how listeners perceive and understand linguistic signals


Although similar to phonetics, phonology deals with how the signals of a language or dialect are systematically organised.

For example, phonetics might investigate how a specific sound is made and how slight variations occur when we make the same sound, whereas phonology studies how this sound relates to other sounds of the same language.

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Morphology – the study of words – understands how words work as ‘units’ and how they can have different meanings on their own, and when bound with other units.

Take the example:

Free morpheme: free

Bound morpheme: – ly

Word: freely

One aspect associated with morphology are affixes; elements including prefixes, suffixes and circumfixes.


Syntax is the study of how we put words together to form sentences.

Although there are thousands of words for us to choose from, the way that words are put together is rather particular, in order for them to make sense.

Slight changes in syntax can often mean significant changes in interpretation, which is why syntax remains of such high importance in traditional linguistics.


Semantics is the study of the meaning of words from an “objective” perspective. Although meaning often depends on context (pragmatics), we have a sense that words map directly onto reality.

The idea that words can have definite meanings is rooted in religious tradition and our symbolic culture. This is why semantics overlaps with philosophy.

An important distinction in semantics is that between sense and reference. For example, the expressions “Charlie” and “the little rascal” might have the same referent (e.g. a child) but they have a different sense because of how they relate to other expressions.

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Pragmatics deals with how context contributes to the meaning of expressions.

For example, a single word may have a different connotation each time it is used as part of a phrase, sentence or paragraph. And just because one person uses and understands the meaning of one word, does not mean that others will use it and interpret it in the same way

Rather than understanding a word or phrase based on the exact meaning of the individual words, semantics takes the perspective of the speaker, the people involved and the environment that they are in.

Other Branches of Linguistics

The beginning of this article has addressed the different subtopics of linguistics.

However, looking into the actual application of linguistics in real life scenarios, there can be an additional seven subfields – or branches to be considered:

  1. Sociolinguistics – the study of the relationship between language and society
  2. Applied Linguistics – the study of identifying and applying solutions to language-related life problems
  3. Computational Linguistics – the study of understanding written and spoken language from a computational perspective
  4. Psycholinguistics – the study of mental aspects of language and speech
  5. Stylistics – the study and interpretation of language in regard to their tonal style
  6. Historical Linguistics – the study of the history of linguistics and how languages change and how they are related to each other
  7. Comparative Linguistics – the study of historical relationships between two or more languages and determining similarities they may possess.

If you are interested in a future career in linguistics, these are some of the branches you may want to consider investigating further.

However, below, is an expanded introduction to each:


As a field concerned with how language is affected by society, sociolinguists investigate how example factors such as gender, ethnicity, age, or social class determine the use and interpretation of language.

This is not to be confused with the sociology of language, which looks at the effect of language on society.

Applied Linguistics

Applied linguistics deals with how language is applied to every-day life problems.

Simple examples of where applied linguistics may be studied and used within resolution, include cyber-bullying and trolling or finding alternative ways to communicate with people that can’t use speaking or listening like the majority of the population, sign language for example.

Computational Linguistics

Without realising it, you may interact with examples of computational linguistics more than you think.

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This field of study investigates characterising languages in a way that computers and artificial intelligence can understand the principles and properties of language and syntax.

Think about computational linguistics next time you ask Siri or Alexa to complete your vocal command!


Psycholinguistics looks at the mental aspects of linguistics,; the cognitive abilitiesknowledge required for us to produce and understand language.

It involves the study and investigation into the mental processes behind words and sentences and how they are deployed when communicating.

Psycholinguistics is a branch of cognitive science that works closely with other fields of linguistics, particularly when it comes to the way language is acquired by developing children.


Stylistics is the study of how language style is used in texts, particularly of literary works.

An example of this is how literary students are often tasked with dissecting and understanding the words, and sentence structure that Shakespeare used in many of his famed plays.

However, it is not reserved for ancient literary works.

A case of stylistic linguistics in recent years was depicted in Netflix’s documentary of the Unabomber, in which written letters by the perpetrator were connected and used as evidence for his crime.

Historical Linguistics

Historical linguistics studies the history of languages; how they have changed over time and how they are related to one another.

It looks further into how and why languages change over time; often reconstructing them back to the past form of a language.

Historical linguistics is also very similar to the field of comparative linguistics.

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Comparative Linguistics

Often related to historical linguistics just mentioned, this is about investigating where words have been ‘borrowed’ between languages, but where words can be related to a single, often ancient, language and how their uses and meanings have evolved.

It refers back to ‘comparing’ different languages and how they have evolved from a single parent language.

Challenging Traditional Linguistic Concepts

Of course, everything about linguistics revolves around the concept of language. We can legitimately study “language” as we know it, because we have an intuitive grasp of it as animals that can use it.

However, it turns out scientists don’t have a clear definition of language especially as compared to the communication systems of other animals. There is still a debate about what language is and how it evolved, and this lack of consistency with biology does not help the scientific status of linguistics.

At we have proposed a solution to this conundrum. It uses the concept of animal signals.

Basically, language is a way of producing signals that is in many ways similar to what birds do when they sing, or what chimpanzees do when they gesture.

However, language differs most fundamentally in the way human beings try to make the receivers of those signals respond. Because no other animal does this, it is important to review our understanding of linguistics in view of these facts.


Linguistics can best be described as the scientific study of language.

However, language is a complex subject, it is not only about how we read, write or speak, but also about how our actions and environment can impact our language, just as much as our skills or education.

In this article, we hope to have introduced you to some of the traditional concepts of linguistics, and how there are distinct differences as well as obvious overlaps between the different fields.

At, we introduce a new approach to the study of language. We focus on concepts that are demonstrably more fundamental than those traditional ones, such as the concepts of animal signal and the linguistic universal of human kinship.

If you want to read what we have to say then please check out our article ‘Why science needs to understand language’. Or visit our journal to read our original research papers.

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If you wish to get involved with us further, or even help contribute to our project, then please get in touch with Jose and the team via our contact page.



Which is a branch of linguistics answer? ›

Here are the major branches of linguistics: Phonology: The sounds in a speech in cognitive terms. Phonetics: The study of sounds in a speech in physical terms. Syntax: The study of the formation and structure of sentences.

What are the different branches of linguistics? ›

Important subfields of linguistics include:

Phonology - the study of sound patterns and changes. Morphology - the study of word structure. Syntax - the study of sentence structure. Semantics - the study of linguistic meaning.

What branches of linguistics is an interdisciplinary field of linguistics that identifies investigates and offers solutions to language related real life problems? ›

Applied linguistics is an interdisciplinary field that identifies, investigates, and offers solutions to language-related real-life problems. Some of the academic fields related to applied linguistics are education, psychology, communication research, anthropology, and sociology.

What are the three 3 branches of linguistics as discussed in the lecture? ›

Morphology - the study of the formation of words. Syntax - the study of the formation of sentences. Semantics - the study of meaning.

What does branch mean in linguistics? ›

In linguistics, branching refers to the shape of the parse trees that represent the structure of sentences.

Is grammar a branch of linguistics? ›

An informal and broad definition of grammar is that grammar is a branch of linguistics that studies the form and structure of words (morphology) and the way in which the units of sentence structure are combined in sentences (syntax).

What are the 7 branches of linguistics? ›

Branches of Linguistics
  • Literary Linguistics.
  • Conversation Analysis.
  • Dialectology.
  • Historical Linguistics.
  • Language Acquisition.
  • Morphology.
  • Phonetics.
  • Phonology.

What are the 5 systems of linguistics? ›

Linguists have identified five basic components (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) found across languages.

Why is linguistics divided into branches? ›

Because of the complex nature of languages, the study of linguistics is divided into multiple branches. In this article, we take a brief look at the structure of language and the broader interdisciplinary branches of linguistics that anyone interested in the study of languages needs to know about.

What branch of linguistics deals with a problem solving in language and to provide better real life issues related to the language? ›

Applied Linguistics: Applied Linguistics is the branch that deals with a problem-solving way in language and to provide better real-life issues related to the language. It is a combined knowledge field that gains knowledge from other branches, including psychology, sociology, anthropology.

What is the relationship between semantics and other branches of linguistics? ›

Semantics is a sub-discipline of Linguistics which focuses on the study of meaning. Semantics tries to understand what meaning is as an element of language and how it is constructed by language as well as interpreted, obscured and negotiated by speakers and listeners of language.

What are the 4 disciplines related to linguistics explain? ›

These categories give us the four disciplines of most languages – listening, reading, speaking and writing.
The 4 disciplines of language learning.

How many main categories does linguistics have? ›

There are two kinds of classification of languages practiced in linguistics: genetic (or genealogical) and typological.

How many branches of linguistics do we have? ›

Phonology is related to other branches of linguistics like phonetics, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. Phonology is different from phonetics. Phonetics analyses the production or articulation of speech sounds irrespective of the language, but phonology analyses the sound patterns of a particular language.

What are the three major linguistic groups? ›

Indo-European (583 languages) Sino-Tibetan (501 languages) Afro-Asiatic (379 languages)

What is another word for branch of linguistics? ›

Some use "lexicology" as a synonym for theoretical lexicography; others use it to mean a branch of linguistics pertaining to the inventory of words in a particular language.

What is a branch language called? ›

Updated on November 01, 2019. A language family is a set of languages deriving from a common ancestor or "parent." Languages with a significant number of common features in phonology, morphology, and syntax are said to belong to the same language family. Subdivisions of a language family are called "branches."

What is semantics in linguistics? ›

Semantics is the study of the meaning of words and sentences. It uses the relations of linguistic forms to non-linguistic concepts and mental representations to explain how sentences are understood by native speakers.

What is study of words called? ›

Etymology is the study of the origins of words.

What is the major concept of linguistics? ›

Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It tries: first, to observe languages and to describe them accurately, • then, to find generalizations within what has been described, • finally, to draw conclusions about the general nature of human language.

Why is linguistics important? ›

Linguistics helps us understand our world

Apart from simply understanding the intricacies of world languages, this knowledge can be applied to improving communication between people, contributing to translation activities, assisting in literacy efforts, and treating speech disorders.

What is an example of linguistics? ›

Linguistics looks at: The general phenomenon of human language. Different families of languages (example: Germanic, including English, German, Dutch and Scandinavian, among others). Specific languages (example: Arabic, Mandarin and French).

What is the difference between language and linguistics? ›

Language and Linguistics are two different words that have to be used differently. A language is a mode of expression of thought by means of articulate sounds. But linguistics is a branch of study that deals with languages. It is a comparative study of languages.

What are the 8 structure of language? ›

There are eight parts of speech in the English language: noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.

What are the 4 linguistic elements? ›

There are four basic aspects of language that have been studied: phonology, syn- tax, semantics, and pragmatics.

What are the 7 function of language in linguistics? ›

Michael Halliday (2003:80) stated a set of seven initial functions, as follows: Regulatory, Interactional, Representational, Personal, Imaginative, Instrumental and Heuristic. The Regulatory Function of language is language used to influence the behavior of others.

What are the six levels of linguistic analysis? ›

Most theoretical orientations, notwithstanding some terminological dif- ferences and disagreements in matters of detail, distinguish the following components of language, which correspond to various levels of analysis: phonetic/phonological, morphological, syntactic, lexical, semantic and pragmatic.

Which branch of linguistics deals with the meanings and effects which come from the use of language in particular situations? ›

Pragmatics is the branch of linguistics that deals with the meanings and effect which come from the use of language in particular situations. And pragmatics analysis is one of the approaches or tools to study language's relation to contextual background.

What do you called the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning? ›

Lexical semantics is the branch of linguistics which is concerned with the systematic study of word meanings.

What branch of linguistic is revealed that deals with how languages change what kinds of change what kinds of changes occur and why they occur? ›

Types of language change include sound changes, lexical changes, semantic changes, and syntactic changes. The branch of linguistics that is expressly concerned with changes in a language (or in languages) over time is historical linguistics (also known as diachronic linguistics).

Which branch of linguistics focuses on using language to understand relationships between people? ›

Introduction. Linguistic anthropology (LA) is an approach to the study of language that focuses on the relation between language, society, and culture. It is considered by some to be a branch of general linguistics, by others a branch of anthropology, and by still others as an autonomous discipline.

Which branch of linguistics is concerned with the interaction between language and computers? ›

Natural language processing (NLP) is an interdisciplinary subfield of linguistics, computer science, and artificial intelligence concerned with the interactions between computers and human language, in particular how to program computers to process and analyze large amounts of natural language data.

What is the relationship between pragmatics and other branches of linguistics? ›

Pragmatics is another branch of linguistics. Similar to semantics, pragmatics also studies the meanings of words, but it pays emphasis on their context. In other words, pragmatics is “the study of the use of linguistic signs, words, and sentences, in actual situations.”

What are the 4 key concepts of language? ›

The key concepts contributed by the study of language and literature are communication, connections, creativity and perspective.

What are the basic forms of language? ›

Language form, or the structure of language, involves three linguistic systems: pho- nology, morphology, and syntax. We introduced the concept of phonology when we discussed writing about the sounds of speech.

What are the three main linguistic functions list and explain? ›

In the 1930s, Bühler listed the representational or referential function to represent the real world, the expressive function to express the speaker's feelings, and the appellative or conative function to appeal to or influence the hearer.

What are the different linguistic groups? ›

The three major language groups are: Semitic, Indo-Iranian, and Ural-Altaic.

What are called linguistic groups? ›

Social groups categorised on the basis of spoken and written language are called linguistic groups. The term 'linguistic' is derived from the word 'language'. Any linguistic group is a group of related languages that have descended from a common ancestor which is called the proto-language of the family.

What is 1 lexicology as the branch of linguistics? ›

Lexicology (from Gr lexis “word” and logos “learning”) is a part of linguistics dealing with the vocabulary of a language and the properties of words as the main units of the language. It also studies all kinds of semantic grouping and semantic relations: synonymy, antonymy, hyponymy, semantic fields, etc.

What branch of linguistics that the structure of language influences how its speakers perceive the world around them? ›

The hypothesis of linguistic relativity, also known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis /səˌpɪər ˈwɔːrf/, the Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, is a principle suggesting that the structure of a language influences its speakers' worldview or cognition, and thus people's perceptions are relative to their spoken language.

What is the branch of linguistics which studies of the relationship between language and the brain called? ›

Psycholinguistics is the study of the mental aspects of language and speech. It is primarily concerned with the ways in which language is represented and processed in the brain.

What is a branch of linguistics which studies all aspects of the relationship between language and society called? ›

Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any or all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and society's effect on language.

Is lexicology a branch? ›

Lexicology is the branch of linguistics that analyzes the lexicon of a specific language.

How many branches of lexicology are there? ›

Special Lexicology is further subdivided into Diachronic/Historical and Synchronic/Descriptive.

Why pragmatics is called as a branch of linguistics? ›

Pragmatics is a field of linguistics concerned with what a speaker implies and a listener infers based on contributing factors like the situational context, the individuals' mental states, the preceding dialogue, and other elements.

Which branch of linguistics is devoted to the study of human sound making in language? ›

Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that studies how humans produce and perceive sounds, or in the case of sign languages, the equivalent aspects of sign. Linguists who specialize in studying the physical properties of speech are phoneticians.

How is language represented in the brain? ›

Recent studies have shown that in around 97% of people, language is represented in the left hemisphere. However, in about 19% of left-handed people, the areas responsible for language are in the right hemisphere and as many as 68% of them have some language abilities in both the left and the right hemispheres.

Which is the most powerful language in the world? ›

1. English. It is the most widely used language around the world and is known as the language of the times and the language of technology, and it is used and spoken by more than a billion and a half speakers, as a native language or as a secondary language.

What is the importance of linguistics? ›

Linguistics helps us understand our world

Apart from simply understanding the intricacies of world languages, this knowledge can be applied to improving communication between people, contributing to translation activities, assisting in literacy efforts, and treating speech disorders.

What is the scope of linguistics and its major branches? ›

The scope of Linguistics is vast as it is an expansive and complex field of study which includes various aspects of a language such as phonetics, semantics, syntax, morphology, and stylistics, amongst others.


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