What is linguistics? What is it good for?

Johanna Rubba jrubba at calpoly.edu
Thu Sep 8 17:35:11 UTC 2011

My take:

Linguists strive to understand the thing that enables all of human  
culture: language. Without language, we could not work together. We  
could not plan. We could not refer to the past, the future, the  
hypothetical, or the abstract. We could not describe in detail our  
individual thoughts, emotions, needs, beliefs, or desires. In other  
words, we would live like other primates.

So one thing linguistics is good for is a detailed understanding of  
how this amazing system works. And that is good for advancing the  
understanding of human nature.

Linguistics is good for collecting the data (descriptions of as many  
of the world's languages as possible) we use to develop that  

Linguistics is also good for a large number of practical  
applications: assessing children's language development; teaching  
native and non-native languages; correcting popular myths about  
language that cause social harm or ill-conceived policies and  
practices; working with computer science to develop software that can  
use language as humans do; detecting ideological and social  
assumptions as revealed through language; developing literacy and  
language-preservation programs for non-literate cultures and  
threatened cultures; aiding in the detection, diagnosis, and  
treatment of congenital or acquired language disorders; working with  
developers of computer-mediated translation; helping solve crimes  
through forensic linguistics, etc., etc.

Don't know if anyone would want to hear a long list, but, since a lot  
of people don't know what linguistics is or what it's good for, it  
could be informative.

Dr. Johanna Rubba, Ph. D.					"Justice is what love looks like
Professor, Linguistics							in public."  Cornel West
Linguistics Minor Advisor
English Dept.
Cal Poly State University San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407
Ofc. tel. : 805-756-2184
Dept. tel.: 805-756-2596
Dept. fax: 805-756-6374
E-mail: jrubba at calpoly.edu
URL: http://cla.calpoly.edu/~jrubba

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