The Multidisciplinary Nature of Linguistics

The Multidisciplinary Nature of Linguistics

Language is the common thread running through all human enterprise. Without a doubt the most significant invention of humanity, language makes possible the safeguarding of history, the transmission of literature and drama, and the encapsulation of philosophy. It is through language that the visual and performance arts, as well as mathematics, are analyzed, and language shares with these the quality of symbolic expression. Cultural and political organization, as well as commerce, cooperative labor, architecture, and social planning, are made possible through the manipulation of oral and written language forms. Language also allows us to peek into the psyche and is the primary vehicle of both education and propaganda. In addition, as the realization of multiple sophisticated physiological and cerebral processes, language represents the crowning achievement of human biological evolution.

Because of the primacy of language in all aspects of human life, linguistics is of necessity a multidisciplinary pursuit. Although a core group of theoretical linguists work on exhaustive analyses of the internal syntactic, morphological, and phonological structures of particular languages, an even larger group of scholars approach language from a multitude of cross-disciplinary perspectives. Among these are linguistic anthropologists, sociolinguists, psycholinguists, philosophers of language, neurolinguists, and historical and comparative linguists. Linguistics has a vibrant applied arm that directs its attention to such matters as translation and interpretation, first and second language pedagogy, literacy, language planning and policymaking, discourse analysis, cognitive processing, cross-cultural communication, and speech pathology.

Unfortunately, despite the centrality of language, linguistics as a discipline is relatively unknown to the general public. Erroneous perceptions of linguists as polyglots or grammarians linger in the public consciousness. Even at the post-secondary level, linguistics is only explored by a limited population, perhaps because people tend to take language for granted.

At the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras (like many other universities), there are numerous linguistics courses available within the English Department (at the B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. levels) and in the Graduate Program in Linguistics. In addition, courses on linguistic issues are offered in Education, Philosophy, Hispanic Studies, Psychology, and Anthropology. The motivated student has many opportunities to become exposed to linguistics, although relatively few do.

What is needed is a serious consideration of the ways in which linguistics can be made more attractive and palatable to students who may be scared off by arcane symbols and abstruse theory. Linguistic concepts and language awareness should be incorporated (in age-appropriate forms) into primary and secondary curricula, thus preparing students to encounter the field with curiosity and without fear at the college level. Given that language is the universal property of humanity, linguistics should be promoted as a vital tool for understanding the human essence in all its manifestations, the ultimate multidisciplinary endeavor.