Subfields of Linguistics

Because language pervades most aspects of human behaviour, Linguistics inevitably overlaps with a broad range of subject areas in the Arts, Humanities and Sciences ranging from Languages and Cultures to Psychology, Philosophy, Geography and Sociology, to Computer Science, Cognitive Science, Speech Therapy and others. Within Linguistics, a number of different branches of linguistics are recognized. They include:


Phonetics explores how the linguistically relevant sounds in the languages of the world are produced, and how these sounds are perceived using experimental and computational tools.


Phonology examines how sounds pattern in languages, how sounds are combined to make words, how sounds near each other affect each other and how sounds are affected by where in the word/phrase they occur.


Semantics studies the meanings of words and sentences independently of any context. We are all aware of the meaning of the words and phrases we use and are quite clear about what they mean. Semantics seeks to explain how it is that we come to have such a clear understanding of the
language we use.


Pragmatics explores how the meanings of utterances can be altered by the social or physical context in which they are uttered. The use of irony, sarcasm or metaphor can lead to our utterances communicating something quite different to their literal meaning.


Morphology examines the structure of words and the principles that govern the form of words. Words in language are dynamic. As we use words we can add other elements to them, such as when we add the plural marker or the possessive marker. Words can also be made up of a number of units, the word ‘unhappiness’ involves three elements (or morphemes) un-, -happy- and –ness. Morphology deals with how languages add morphemes together.


Syntax investigates the structure of sentences and the principles that govern it. An essential skill in any language is the ability to combine words in phrases and sentences. Syntax seeks to show the common principles that determine how phrases and sentences are built up from words. It also explores the way that languages vary in their application of these common principles by looking at the variation across languages.


Sociolinguistics explores the many ways in which society impacts on language and language practices, how language and language practices influence society and social identities, and how speakers actively craft language for their own interactional ends.

Applied Linguistics:

Applied Linguistics is concerned with the application of linguistic theories, models and findings to understand and address language problems which have arisen in other areas of experience such as language learning and teaching, the management of bilingualism and multilingualism and language revival within a society or one or more of its institutions.

Computational Linguistics:

Computational linguistics involves modeling language from a computational point of view. It involves both how computers can help us understand language, and how language can make computers easier to interact with.


Psycholinguistics explores the interaction between linguistic behaviour and psychological processes such as memory and perception. When we produce or understand language, we are using non-linguistic factors such as our short-term working memory. We also rely heavily on our perceptual abilities in order to compensate for poor transmission of language, such as when we speak to the phone or chat in a noisy environment.