Why learn linguistics?

Why learn linguistics?  To have the concepts to describe language and to see its patterns. Knowledge sets you free to generate your own sentences.

Linguistics is a much broader field than grammar. Only linguistics is comprehensive enough to reveal the underlying framework of language, the “skeletal structure” which holds it together.  

–  Dr Stephen West, Linguistics for Educators


  • Making the distinctive sounds  (Phonology)
  • Word formation and building vocabulary (Morphology)
  • Understanding meaning (Semantics)
  • Correct formation of sentences (Syntax)

If you do not understand the building blocks of language, it will be difficult to keep up with the more advanced material.

Something I want to understand is syntactic tree diagrams in Korean.   By observing a sentence which has been “broken down” into its constituents by means of a syntactic tree, we can see how each part acts on the others to fit together as a meaningful sentence.

In fact, the process Koreans use when they are figuring out sentences is something I want to learn.  I’ve had glimpses that Koreans analyze their sentences differently than English. They seem to start with the verb, then seek the subject and object, using the particles to tell them the function.  There is some meaning derived from this information that can convey subtle differences of emphasis, tone, politeness, etc.

Philip Johnson of Gyeongsang National University, Seoul, South Korea wrote a paper   “Syntax – Using a Syntactic Tree Diagram in English-Korean Translation.”  The paper’s purpose is to help English speakers learning Korean.  Tree diagrams are a tool to help bridge the gap between two languages of dissimilar syntax rules.  Tree diagrams can be used to compare English and Korean sentences.

Philip Johnson explains diagramming provides students with “a useful metacognitive skill to aid sentence construction in Korean. Hopefully, use of this visual aid will over time promote a much better understanding of the deep structure of the Korean language.”

Here is an example:

I   saw  the  woman  who  was exercising.

   운동 하      여자      보았다

(I)       (exercising)   (woman)  (saw).

Color key:  명사  대명사  동사  형용사  부사  주사

Note the Adjective Phrase, which was a relative clause in the English sentence. The noun for exercise – undong (운동) – is matched with it’s auxiliary verb ‘hada’(하다 – to do) and suffixed with the participle ‘neun’(는) to modify the noun ‘yeoja’(여자 – woman). Again, the ‘neun’(는) attached to the pronoun ‘na’(나) is a nominative particle showing the subject of the main verb.

I have to laugh at myself.  I am such a computer programmer.  I think in syntax diagrams (railroad diagrams).  Ask me what a digit is, and I would answer

digit = "0" | "1" | "2" | "3" | "4" | "5" | "6" | "7" | "8" | "9"

Resisting the urge to follow Linguistic News on Twitter



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2 Responses to Why learn linguistics?

  1. This post reminds me of my linguistics professor. She said that the knowledge you have of your native language will aid you to learn a new language and the holes you keep in your own will reflect themselves in the other. She always make a lot of emphasis in having a deep understanding of your native language.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jreidy17 says:

      Ah! I couldn’t conjugate in native English or tell you the names of the different tenses. I can just “do it” because it “sounds right”.

      I never mastered understanding of conjugation in Spanish either. Hmm … I see a pattern here.


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