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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Descriptive linguistics and the written word

When in an English class, they usually place a special emphasis on spelling and punctuation; writing is the cornerstone of pedagogical language instruction. In linguistics, however, this is absolutely not the case. We study writing systems and spelling conventions to understand historical connections (using a corpus) and to determine possible pronunciations, but the written word is not terribly interesting to us, and here's why:



  • Speech appears to be universal to all human beings capable of producing and hearing it, while there have been many cultures and speech communities that lack written communication;
  • Speech evolved before human beings invented writing;
  • People learn to speak and process spoken languages more easily and much earlier than writing

There are, on the other hand, orthographers who study written systems specifically. Orthography, though, is a rather unpopular subset of linguistics currently; most research is going into things like syntax and language acquisition and less focus is being put on things that are more philological in nature.

In short, I don't pay attention to how people write all that much as a linguist. Ultimately writing is a data-poor fossil of how people wish they could speak. We want data about the type of communication that happens on a split-second basis outside the realm of the grammarian's conventions.

21 comments:

  1. Following and supporting!

    http://the-state-of-human-intelligence.blogspot.com/

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  2. Yooooooo
    http://kadams133.blogspot.com/

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  3. Do you enjoy being a linguist?

    http://superloloftheday.blogspot.com/

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  4. i iz not understanding
    but i try, thanks for info

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  5. oh god english /facepalm
    just kill me now, none of this makes sense :(

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  6. My English sucks. Just let you know.

    <3
    Sillyoldbum

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  7. One of my favorite blogs, looking forward to your next post.

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  8. There is an orphanage in Africa, I believe, that is specifically for deaf children. Within three generations the children of that orphanage had created their own form of sign language complete with grammar rules. No one taught them this. It was passed down from the older children to the younger children and became more and more complex as time went on. I always found this interesting. Even when robbed of the ability to hear, humans will still find a way to bring themselves out of the silence.

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  9. Orthography, is hard. It's hard being a linguist in general. I prefer to let my actions do my talking in irl. :3

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  10. Thanks dude!
    You have many as well!
    All is well!

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  12. Disembodied Giggles, yeah that orphanage was in Nicaragua I think. It's pretty cool how the human compulsion to communicate can create non-verbal systems seemingly out of thin air.

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  13. This isn't really a comment directed to the article but for you.

    What is your opinion on the Voynich manuscript? I'd love to see a blog post about that.

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  14. Do you have a degree in linguistics?

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  15. I just learned something new today

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  16. I agree man, writing is getting to be way too formal. We don't talk like that anymore really. I think we should change the English language again.

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  17. You always have such interesting facts. Half of the stuff you post I never knew before. Educating the world one blogger at a time, eh? ;p

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  18. @Roy: I've just finished my application for graduation, so I'm not too far off.

    @David Davidson: Sure, I'll make a future post about it. I'm actually interested in John Dee as a person so I've got a bit to say.

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