Linguists as a Science


The word Linguistic has been derived from the Latin word Lingua and Istics.  Lingua means Tongue and Istics means knowledge and science. It is not only a study of one particular language but of human language in general. It attempts to describe and analyze languages. Linguistics also studies other animals’ language for the sake of describing and analyzing human language perfectly.

Modern linguists approach with a scientific perspective and methods what used to be thought of as a purely cultural academic discipline in the humanities. Contrary to previous belief, linguistics is multidisciplinary. It overlaps each of the human sciences including psychology, neurology, anthropology, and sociology. Linguists conduct formal studies of sound structure, grammar and meaning; investigate the history of language families; and research language acquisition. And as other scientists, they formulate hypotheses, catalog observations, and work to support explanatory theories.

Linguistics is a tool that has obtained a great deal of light from the rest of sciences. Linguistics is not a fixed study rather a continuous and progressive study. Linguistics has ties up with anthropology, culture, history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and more remotely with physics and physiology.

According to Noam Chomsky; Human language is Innate. There is critical stage of language acquisition. The study of language has brought these information in the focus of study. There are many hypotheses on human language acquisition process. Many researches and study were applied to prove these. Other sciences need linguistic study to experiment their particular area.

Definition of linguistics

The science of language or, alternatively as the study of scientific study of language. Linguistic is a science which studies the origin, organization, and natural development of language. It can formulate general rules and regulations of grammar.

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. There are three aspects to this study: language form, language meaning, and language in context.

Linguistics analyzes human language as a system for relating sounds (or signs in signed languages) and meaning.  Phoneticsstudies acoustic and articulatory properties of the production and perception of speech sounds and non-speech sounds. The study of language meaning, on the other hand, deals with how languages encode relations between entities, properties, and other aspects of the world to convey, process, and assign meaning, as well as to manage and resolve ambiguity. While the study of semantics typically concerns itself with truth conditions, pragmatics deals with how context influences meanings.

Scientific Methodology in linguistics

As we know that linguistics is scientific study of language. The approach and methodology of linguistics are scientific. Like a scientist a linguistic observes his data. Linguist uses by observing simple listening and phonetic transcriptions and uses various instruments like Oscilograph, endoscope, laryngoscope etc. A linguist has his own language laboratory too. Like a scientist a linguist develops hypothesis makes generalized statement in the favor of fact of language. When a linguist makes his statement about language he makes it on the basis of observation. First he observes linguistics events he finds some similarities and contrast on the basis of which he makes sounds. Like any scientific discipline linguistic too is not static. Viewpoints and theoretical method in the field change even in fundamental ways from time to time.

7 Scientific Methods

Research is based on scientific method in any field of science. The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the scientific method as “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

It comprises on following steps:


MARSHALL and ROSSMAN (1989) define observation as “the systematic description of events, behaviors, and artifacts in the social setting chosen for study” (p.79). Observations enable the researcher to describe existing situations using the five senses, providing a “written photograph” of the situation under study (ERLANDSON, HARRIS, SKIPPER, & ALLEN, 1993). DeMUNCK and SOBO (1998) describe participant observation as the primary method used by anthropologists doing fieldwork.

Linguistic research also starts through observation. Any research work of linguistic has the systemic description of the event, behaviors and artifacts in the social setting. For example: Noam Chomsky’s child language acquisition theory had to observe to prove it.  Some supporting of this theory are:

  • Children learning to speak never make grammatical errors such as getting their subjects, verbs and objects in the wrong order.
  • If an adult deliberately said a grammatically incorrect sentence, the child would notice.
  • Children often say things that are ungrammatical such as ‘mama ball’, which they cannot have learnt passively.

To bring these into theory the researchers must observe the activities of children. They may observe the dialogue of the children. They may observe the conversation between children and their parents.

For example:

Parent and Child (3 years old)

Parent: What did you do today?

Child: Me drawed a cat. (applies –ed suffix rule but gets wrong)

Parent: You drew a cat?

Child: Yeah. (understands correction)

Parent: Who did you play with at breaktime?

Child: Me played with Sarah and Helen. (wrong pronoun – not learnt passively)

Parent: That sound fun. Now what do you want for tea?

Child: Dunno. What you having?


To establish any linguistic theory researchers observe these sorts of observations.  That is why linguistics is a scientific study.


According to National Science Teachers Association; a scientific hypothesis is the initial building block in the scientific method. Many describe it as an “educated guess,” based on prior knowledge and observation. While this is true, the definition can be expanded. A hypothesis also includes an explanation of why the guess may be correct.

There are many hypothesis in linguistics. For example; The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the innateness hypothesis and many more. Linguists of all over the world try to prove these theories on the basis of scientific methods. Many linguistic hypothesis got the prestige of theories through scientific methods.


Experimental linguistics is about studying theories of linguistic representations based on quantitative evidence. This evidence can be experimental in its strict sense or derived from text corpora. In any case, the validity of the hypotheses has to be tested using inferential statistics in order to draw general conclusions from a random sample of participants or linguistic expressions, or both. While an experimental approach has been more or less standard in phonetics, and a little more recently in phonology, it is now proving to be more and more useful in morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Experimental linguistics evidently overlaps strongly with psycholinguistics in approaching linguistic phenomena with experimental methods, and a considerable amount of the research that has been published in psycholinguistics is central to the research questions expressed in experimental linguistics.


This involves determining what the results of the experiment show and deciding on the next actions to take. The predictions of the hypothesis are compared to those of the null hypothesis, to determine which is better able to explain the data. In cases where an experiment is repeated many times, a statistical analysis such as a chi-squared test may be required. If the evidence has falsified the hypothesis, a new hypothesis is required; if the experiment supports the hypothesis but the evidence is not strong enough for high confidence, other predictions from the hypothesis must be tested. Once a hypothesis is strongly supported by evidence, a new question can be asked to provide further insight on the same topic. Evidence from other scientists and experience are frequently incorporated at any stage in the process. Depending on the complexity of the experiment, many iterations may be required to gather sufficient evidence to answer a question with confidence, or to build up many answers to highly specific questions in order to answer a single broader question.

All the linguistic theories are analyzed according to linguistic process.  In analyzing linguistic data other scientific theory is also applied. For example to analyze the innate language anthropology, psychology, physiology and many other scientific studies needed to apply. Innate language involved with the human nature. It deals with the human behaviorism. Innate language says; every human has Language Acquisition Device. Human being possess language by birth. To prove this theory many aspects of anthropology, psychology, physiology are applied and analyzed.


If an experiment cannot be repeated to produce the same results, this implies that the original results might have been in error. As a result, it is common for a single experiment to be performed multiple times, especially when there are uncontrolled variables or other indications of experimental error. For significant or surprising results, other scientists may also attempt to replicate the results for themselves, especially if those results would be important to their own work.

This method is also found in linguistics. For example; we can say about Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. This hypothesis has two versions. One is strong version that says; language determines human thought where weaker version says; language has influence on human thought. This theory is examined by different linguists and in different ways. There are lots of controversy regarding this theories. Linguist like Noam Chomsky and many other have their theories to support this theories and some conflicts with this. These all proves that linguistics is a scientific study.

Verification of Results

The process of peer review involves evaluation of the experiment by experts, who typically give their opinions anonymously. Some journals request that the experimenter provide lists of possible peer reviewers, especially if the field is highly specialized. Peer review does not certify correctness of the results only that, in the opinion of the reviewer, the experiments themselves were sound (based on the description supplied by the experimenter). If the work passes peer review, which occasionally may require new experiments requested by the reviewers, it will be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The specific journal that publishes the results indicates the perceived quality of the work.

Yes, linguistic theories have to pass this method also. Now a days, there are lots of established hypothesis and theories of linguistics. A Hypothesis is not a theory. The Hypothesis that is proved after the analysis of data has got the prestige of theory. For example; Universal grammar, Innate language, Traditional Grammar, Language Acquisition Devices etc. There are also many hypothesis like   The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis etc. are waiting to be verified.


Scientists typically are careful in recording their data, a requirement promoted by Ludwik Fleck (1896–1961) and others. Though not typically required, they might be requested to supply this data to other scientists who wish to replicate their original results (or parts of their original results), extending to the sharing of any experimental samples that may be difficult to obtain.

There are many linguistics theories. All the theories got establishments through these scientific research method. This methods are obvious in linguistic research.


Scientific Approaches of Linguistics

Linguistic is discipline as scientific study of language so there are some scientific and nonscientific way of doing things. Linguistics scientific approaches are Objectivity, Empiricism, Rationalism, Exhaustiveness, Consistency, and Economy. These are discussed below.




Objectivity is that, “it considers all languages to be equal”. For a linguist, there are no primitive, pure, beautiful, cultural and sophisticated languages. Objectivity is difficult to attain because language is so familiar to us that we can hardly dissociate ourselves from it. The objective study of language is hindered by various cultural, social and historical misconception about certain languages.


Linguistics is basically an empirical, not a speculative or intuitive, discipline in the sense that it examines the specific data (e.g. speech and writing), and proceeds by variables and justifiable .It relies on observation and experiments, and uses formalized principles and the theory capable of formulation. It aims to analyze the data and make generalization about the regularities encountered in linguistics phenomenon under study.


It emphasize the role that mind plays in the acquisition of knowledge.


Linguistics deals with all relevant data, it analyzes all the facts of languages that fall within its scope and studies systematically every linguistic element from all angles.




It allows no contradictory statements and requires that all parts of analysis be consistent with the whole.


Repetition is not allowed ether, and more economic statements containingfewer concepts or symbols are preferred.



Principles of Linguistics

There are two principles that prove linguistics as science. Verification principle and Reductionism.

Verification principle

The principle that no statement is meaningful unless it could by verified by observation standard scientific methods applied to the data provided by observation.


Reductionism refers to several related but different philosophical positions regarding the connections between phenomena, or theories, “reducing” one to another, usually considered “simpler” or more “basic”.


The principle that, of the sciences, some one more basic than others and that in the grand synthesis of unified science the concept and propositions of the less basic sciences were to be reduced.


Relation of Linguistics to Natural and Social Sciences

Closeness of linguistics with other natural sciences like biology, physiology, anatomy, etc. it is another proof of its scientific nature. Linguistics is getting more and more technical and sophisticated day by day. Yet it is not a pure science its position is between the natural science and social sciences. In case of natural science it is impossible to produce language withoutuse of internal and external structures of the human mouth.Theirphysiology isalso included in phonetics, so it is related to natural sciences.And in case of relation with social sciences, languages usually depictsthe behavioral aspects of a language, the values, and social interactionswith different societies.


Linguistics has all the characteristics of scientific study. Linguistics is the foundation of other scientific studies in another sense.  By discussing the scientific and methodological approaches that are used inlinguistics along with certain principles and theories it is believed that linguisticsis a branch of science. Now a days it is progressing day by day and students oflinguistics are much more concerned about understanding the deep physiologyand method by which sounds are uttered instead of just uttering sound.Linguistics is now become vast subjects both technically and academically.


  1. Chomsky, N. (1986).Knowledge of language: Its origin, nature and use. Westport: Greenwood
  2. Chomsky, N. (2000).New horizons in the study of the mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  3. Sapir, Edward (1929), “The status of linguistics as a science”,Language 5 (4): 207,doi:2307/409588
  4. Whorf, B. L. “The relation of habitual thought and behavior to language” in Carroll (ed.) 1956
  5. Whorf, Benjamin(1956), John B. Carroll (ed.), ed., Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, MIT Press
  6. Sapir, Edward(1921), Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech, Harcourt, Brace
  7. Crystal, David (1990). Linguistics. Penguin Books. ISBN
  8. Jump up Halliday, Michael A.K.; Jonathan Webster (2006). On Language and Linguistics. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. vii. ISBN 0-8264-8824-2.
  9. Wendy Doniger, ed. (1999). “Reductionism”.Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions. Merriam-Webster. p. 911. ISBN 9780877790440.
  10. deMunck, Victor C. &Sobo, Elisa J. (Eds) (1998).Using methods in the field: a practical introduction and casebook. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
  11. Erlandson, David A.; Harris, Edward L.; Skipper, Barbara L. & Allen, Steve D. (1993).Doing naturalistic inquiry: a guide to methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  12. Marshall, Catherine &Rossman, Gretchen B. (1989).Designing qualitative research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  14. Eddington, David, ed. 2009.Quantitative and Experimental Linguistics. Munich: Lincom.