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What Is Linguistic Analysis?

By Jane Lapham
Updated: May 23, 2024

Linguistic analysis refers to the scientific analysis of a language sample. It involves at least one of the five main branches of linguistics, which are phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Linguistic analysis can be used to describe the unconscious rules and processes that speakers of a language use to create spoken or written language, and this can be useful to those who want to learn a language or translate from one language to another. Some argue that it can also provide insight into the minds of the speakers of a given language, although this idea is controversial.

The discipline of linguistics is defined as the scientific study of language. People who have an education in linguistics and practice linguistic analysis are called linguists. The drive behind linguistic analysis is to understand and describe the knowledge that underlies the ability to speak a given language, and to understand how the human mind processes and creates language.

The five main branches of linguistics are phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. An extended language analysis may cover all five of the branches, or it may focus on only one aspect of the language being analyzed. Each of the five branches focuses on a single area of language.

Phonology refers to the study of the sounds of a language. Every language has its own inventory of sounds and logical rules for combining those sounds to create words. The phonology of a language essentially refers to its sound system and the processes used to combine sounds in spoken language.

Morphology refers to the study of the internal structure of the words of a language. In any given language, there are many words to which a speaker can add a suffix, prefix, or infix to create a new word. In some languages, these processes are more productive than others. The morphology of a language refers to the word-building rules speakers use to create new words or alter the meaning of existing words in their language.

Syntax is the study of sentence structure. Every language has its own rules for combining words to create sentences. Syntactic analysis attempts to define and describe the rules that speakers use to put words together to create meaningful phrases and sentences.

Semantics is the study of meaning in language. Linguists attempt to identify not only how speakers of a language discern the meanings of words in their language, but also how the logical rules speakers apply to determine the meaning of phrases, sentences, and entire paragraphs. The meaning of a given word can depend on the context in which it is used, and the definition of a word may vary slightly from speaker to speaker.

Pragmatics is the study of the social use of language. All speakers of a language use different registers, or different conversational styles, depending on the company in which they find themselves. A linguistic analysis that focuses on pragmatics may describe the social aspects of the language sample being analyzed, such as how the status of the individuals involved in the speech act could affect the meaning of a given utterance.

Linguistic analysis has been used to determine historical relationships between languages and people from different regions of the world. Some governmental agencies have used linguistic analysis to confirm or deny individuals' claims of citizenship. This use of linguistic analysis remains controversial, because language use can vary greatly across geographical regions and social class, which makes it difficult to accurately define and describe the language spoken by the citizens of a particular country.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon345774 — On Aug 22, 2013

Which theoretical framework combines these linguistic levels (morphology, phonology,etc.) for a stylistic analysis?

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