Chapter 1: Thinking Like a Linguist

In this chapter, we begin to consider the ways that linguists think about language, especially the idea that linguists strive to make systematic observations of human language behaviour. Linguists don’t spend time prescribing how people should or shouldn’t use their language!

One of the challenges of observing how humans use language is that a lot of what we do with language happens in our minds. Of course, it’s relatively simple to observe the words that we speak or write, but it’s much harder to observe the processes that unfold in someone’s mind when they’re listening to someone speaking, understanding them, and thinking up a reply. Part of learning to do linguistics is learning some of the techniques linguists have for drawing conclusions about these mental processes.

In Chapter 1 we also discuss the fundamental attributes of human language and discover the five core components that make up the grammar of every human language.

When you’ve completed this chapter, you will be able to:

  • differentiate between prescriptive and descriptive ways of thinking about language,
  • identify five components of mental grammar,
  • recognize common misconceptions about language.

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Chapter 1: Thinking Like a Linguist by Catherine Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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