Linguistics Encyclopedia

Linguistics Encyclopedia

If you would like to prepare for school subjects or simply increase your general knowledge, then enjoy our linguistics encyclopedia. We tried to focus only on very important terms and definitions. We also kept our terminology very brief so that you absorb the concept more quickly and easily.

Linguistics Glossary (Page 1)


ABSOLUTE CONSTRUCTION: A noun phrase involving a non-finite form of the verb (present or past participle) which carries the meaning of a full clause, e.g. Terminada la sesión = cuando se terminó la sesión. In Latin, such constructions were marked by the use of the ablative case.
ACCENT: 1) Strictly speaking this refers to the pronunciation of a dialect, i.e. It is a reference to the collection of phonetic features which allow a speaker to be identified regionally or socially. It is frequently used to indicate that a given speaker does not speak the standard form of a language. The term is used in German to refer to grammatical features as well. 2) The stress placed on a syllable of a word or the type of stress used by a language (pressure or pitch).
ACCURACY: Producing language with few errors.
ACCUSATIVE: In an inflectional language the formal marking of the direct object of a verb. A similar marking may be used after prepositions. As a term from traditional Latin grammar the term is inappropriate to modern English as the latter does not have any corresponding inflection.
ACHIEVEMENT TEST: A test to measure what students have learned or achieved from a program of study; should be part of every language program and be specific to the goals and objectives of a specific language course. These tests must be flexible to respond to the particular goals and needs of the students in a language program.
ACQUISITION: The process whereby a child takes in linguistic information unconsciously and internalises it, using it later when he/she wishes to speak the language in question - his/her native language. This narrower, linguistic definition restricts acquisition to the period of childhood. Acquisition is unconscious, largely unguided and shows a high degree of completeness compared to second language learning.
ACROLECT: See decreolisation.
ACTIVATE: The phase in a lesson where students have the opportunity to practice language forms. See "controlled practice", "guided practice", and "free practice".
ACTIVE: A reference to a type of sentence in which the semantic subject is also the formal subject; contrasts with passive in which this is not the case. This type is generally taken as more basic than a passive sentence.
ACTIVE LISTENING: A technique whereby the listener repeats (often in other words) what the speaker has said to demonstrate his or her understanding. Active listening is an especially useful alternative to directly correcting a student error. Compare active listening.
ACTIVE VOCABULARY: Vocabulary that students actually use in speaking and writing.
ADDITIVE BILINGUALISM: L2 learning that adds to the learner's capabilities (Lambert). See subtractive.
ADJACENCY PAIR: A pair of discourse moves that often go together, e.g. Question and answer.
ADJECTIVE: A word class which generally qualifies a noun. Because of this adjectives are found either before (in SVO languages) or after (in VSO languages) the noun they refer to. Adjectives in this position are termed 'attributive' while those placed after a copula are called 'predicative' as in The snow is very dry. Adjectives can themselves be qualified by adverbs (as in the example just given).
ADSTRATE: Pertaining to the language of a culture which is equal in status: English loanwords in Spanish may be said to be an instance of adstrate influence.
ADVERB: A word class which encompasses those elements which qualify verbs/verb phrases (She smiled slyly) or nouns/noun phrases (A remarkably good linguist). The category is somewhat fuzzy and tends to be used as a bin for elements which cannot be assigned unequivocably to another word class. Some adverbs can qualify a clause or an entire sentence as in Surprisingly, John left for home.
ADVERSATIVE: Expressing opposition or contrast.
AFFECTIVE: Used of suffixes in Spanish which express an attitude, such as affection or disparagement.
AFFIX: A general term for a bound morpheme. An affix may be word-initial (prefix), e.g. Desafortunado, word-internal (infix), e.g. Cantaría, or word-final (suffix), e.g. Fácilmente.
AFFRICATE: A phonetic segment which consists of a stop followed immediately by a fricative. Affricates act as units phonologically and are synchronically indivisible, e.g. /tʃ/ in church /tʃɜ:tʃ/ or judge /dʒʌdʒ/.
AGENT: The performer of a verbal action: in an active sentence, the agent is typically the subject of the sentence; in a passive sentence, the agent (the subject of the corresponding active sentence) is usually introduced by by in English and by por in Spanish.
AGREEMENT: Agreement consists of a change of form in one element of a sentence caused by a second element, to show their common number, gender etc, for example Subject Verb Agreement of number in English One swallow DOESN'T make a summer/Two swallows DON'T make a summer.
AGUDA: An oxytone (q.v.).
ALLATIVE: A case-function expressing the notion of 'motion towards'.
ALLOMORPH: A non-distinctive variant of a morpheme, e.g. -keit and -heit in German (Heiterkeit, Schönheit) which vary according to the final consonant of the base to which they are suffixed but share the same grammatical function of nominal derivation.
ALLOPHONE: The realisation of a phoneme. Each segment has different realisations which are only partly distinguishable for speakers. A phoneme can have different allophones, frequently depending on position in the word or on a preceding vowel, e.g. [l] and [ɫ] in English (at the beginning and end of a word respectively) or [ç] and [x] in German (depending on whether the preceding vowel is front or not). Allophones are written in square brackets.
ALPHABET: A system of letters intended to represent the sounds of a language in writing. For all west European languages the Latin alphabet has been the outset for their writing systems. However, because each language has a different sound system different combinations of letters have arisen and letters have come to be written with additional symbols attached to them.
ALPHABETIC PRINCIPLE: The writing system in which written symbols correspond to spoken sounds, contrasted with the LOGOGRAPHIC and ORTHOGRAPHIC principles.
ALVEOLAR: A classification of sounds which are formed at the alveolar ridge (the bone plate behind the upper teeth). Alveolar sounds are formed with the tip or the blade of the tongue. Examples are /t,d,s,z,l,n/ in English or German.
ALVEOLO-PALATAL: A classification of sounds which are formed with the hard palate as passive articulator and the blade of the tongue as active articulator. Examples are the two English fricatives [ʃ] and [ʒ].
ALVEOLUM: See alveolar.
AMBI-DENTAL: A description of the manner of articulation of the Modern English fricatives /θ/ and /ð/. It is preferred to inter-dental as the tongue is not usually positioned between the teeth for these sounds.
AMELIORATION: The development of a more favourable meaning, e.g. Lat. Casa 'hut' > Sp. Casa 'house'.
ANALOGY: Parallel development of a form. Analogy is particularly apparent when an irregular form regularizes, ie, develops in parallel with the regular (productive) forms of the language, e.g. Vencer now has the past participle vencido rather than the medieval vençudo. However, analogy can sometimes result in the irregularising of a regular form: andar has developed the irregular Preterite form anduve, presumably by analogy with other irregular Preterites in -u-e (tuve, supe, etc).
ANALYTIC: A term used for a language which tends to use free morphemes to indicate grammatical categories. Examples are Modern English and French to a certain extent. Other languages, such as Chinese or Vietnamese, are very clearly analytic and approach a relationship of one word per morpheme.
ANAPHORIC: Reference back to an element in the preceding discourse. See also cataphoric.
ANTECEDENT: See relative clause.
ANTONYM: An opposite: bueno and malo are antonyms.
APHASIA: Aphasia is in general the impairment of the ability to use language, particularly grammar and vocabulary, usually caused by some form of damage to the brain, sometimes accompanied by other forms of impairment, consisting of types such as Broca's and Wernicke's aphasias.
APHERESIS: Removal, or fall (of a sound), e.g. Lat. Apotheca > Sp. Bodega.
APICAL: Pertaining to the tip of the tongue. The [s] of standard Spanish is an apico-alveolar sound. The tongue is often very slightly curved back ('retroflex').
APOCOPE: The loss of final sounds. Primer is an apocopated form of primero.
APODOSIS: The part of a conditional sentence which expresses the consequence: si tengo dinero compraré el libro. See also protasis.
APPLIED LINGUISTICS: The application of insights from theoretical linguistics to practical matters such as language teaching, remedial linguistic therapy, language planning or whatever.
APPOSITION: The juxtaposition of two nouns or noun-phrases which have the same syntactic function, e.g. Valladolid, lugar de nacimiento de Felipe II.
APTITUDE: The rate at which a student can learn a language, based on raw talent. Aptitude does not seem to be related to attitude; a gifted student can have a poor attitude.
ARBITRARINESS: An essential notion in structural linguistics which denies any necessary relationship between linguistic signs and their referents, e.g. Objects in the outside world.
ARCHIPHONEME: Oppositions between phonemes are neutralized in certain phonetic environments, e.g. The opposition of /n/ and /m/ before /p/. In such circumstances an archiphoneme is said to occur.
AREAS OF LINGUISTICS: Any of a number of areas of study in which linguistic insights have been brought to bear, for instance sociolinguistics in which scholars study society and the way language is used in it. Other examples are psycholinguistics which is concerned with the psychological and linguistic development of the child.
ARTICLE: A grammatical word - or affix - used to specify a noun as definite or indefinite. It may vary for gender and case in languages with gender distinctions and a formal case system such as German.
ARTICULATORY LOOP: In Working Memory theory the means by which information is kept in working memory by being audibly or silently articulated.
ARTICULATORY PHONETICS: One of three standard divisions of phonetics which concerns itself with the production of sounds (compare acoustic and auditive phonetics).
ASPECT: Impressionistically, relating to the way in which an action or state is viewed: continuous, repeated, within fixed limits, etc. The difference between the Imperfect and Preterite tenses in Spanish is usually thought of as an aspectual difference, though several other verb-forms, and especially the periphrastic verb-forms, have aspectual values.
ASPIRATE: A sound chiefly consisting of the exhalation of breath, e.g. [h].
ASSIBILATION: Articulated as a sibilant: /r/ is so articulated (approximating to [z]) in a number of dialects.
ASSIMILATION: Making similar: sounds in close proximity often assimilate features of one another, and this can be an important factor in sound change. /n/ before /p/ is usually realised as [m] because it assimilates the labial features of the following consonant.
ASSIMILATIONIST TEACHING: Teaching that expects people to give up their native languages and to become speakers of the majority language of the country. See transitional teaching, submersion teaching.
ASSOCIATION: Relatedness of meaning.
ASSONANCE: A rhyme based on correspondence of vowels alone, and characteristic of Spanish poetry (thus lado and llano assonate, with the vowel pattern a-o).
ATELIC: See telic.
ATONIC: Unstressed.
ATTENUATION: A weakening (of meaning). Lat. Teneo 'to hold' weakens to become the general verb of possession tener in Spanish.
ATTITUDE: A complex mental state involving beliefs, feelings, values and dispositions to act in certain ways. Attitude affects a student's ability to learn, but is unrelated to aptitude.
ATTRIBUTIVE: An adjective which is placed before a noun and specifies a quality as in His beautiful wife. Some adjectives can only occur in this role, e.g. German vorder in Ein vorderer Vokal which cannot occur as a predicative adjective: *Dieser Vokal ist vorder.
AUDIOLINGUALISM: A form of language learning based on behaviourist psychology. It stresses the following: listening and speaking before reading and writing; activities such as dialogues and drills, formation of good habits and automatic language use through much repetition; use of target language only in the classroom.
AUDIO-VISUAL AIDS: Teaching aids such as audio, video, overhead projection, posters,pictures and graphics.
AUDITORY PHONETICS: One of the three standard divisions of phonetics which is concerned with the perception of sounds.
AUGMENTATIVE: A form which indicates largeness (e.g. The Spanish suffix -ón).
AURAL: Related to listening.
AUTHENTIC SPEECH: 'An authentic text is a text that was created to fulfil some social purpose in the language community in which it was produced' (Little et al., 1988).
AUTHENTIC TEXT: Natural or real teaching material; often this material is taken from newspapers, magazines, radio, TV or podcasts.
AUTOMATICITY: A learner's ability to recover a word automatically, without straining to fetch it from memory.
AUXILIARY: A verb used with another, non-finite, form of a verb to form a periphrasis.
BACK VOWEL: A vowel articulated by the raising of the tongue towards the velum.
BACK-FORMATION: The exploitation of a morphemic component not previously used in isolation. The ocast. Adjective prieto is a back-formation from the verb apretar.
BASE: A free lexical word to which one or more endings can be added. A base can itself consist of more than one morpheme whereas a root contains only one.
BASILECT: See decreolisation.
BEHAVIOURAL PSYCHOLOGY: Also called behaviourism, the belief that learning should be based on psychological study of observable and measurable psychology only; psychological theory based on stimulus-response influenced audiolingualism.
BEHAVIOURISM: One of the main schools of thought in 20th century psychology which maintains that language acquisition proceeds by imitation. It contrasts with nativism which assumes that knowledge of language is innate, the view behind the generative grammar view of language acquisition.
BILABIAL: Any sound produced using both lips, e.g. [p] oder [m].
BILINGUALISM: The ability to speak two languages with native-like competence. In every individual case one language will be dominant. Lay people often use the term if someone can simply speak a second language well.
BINARY: See opposition.
BINDING: The relationship between a pronoun such as she and its antecedent noun such as Jane as in Jane helped herself, Helen said Jane helped her, etc, is called binding-a complex area of the Universal Grammar theory.
BORROWING: The act of adopting some aspect of one language into another. It may be lexical (the most obvious and common type of borrowing) but also syntactic, morphological or phonological. The latter types of borrowing require that some section of the population be in direct contact with the second language. Lexical borrowing can be due to written influence as with the English loanwords in Modern German yielding so-called 'cultural borrowings'. Borrowing is one of the chief means of expanding the vocabulary of a language.
BOTTOM-UP INFORMATION PROCESSING: Students learn partially through bottom-up information processing, or processing based on information present in the language presented. For example, in reading bottom-up processing involves understanding letters, words, and sentence structure rather than making use of the students' previous knowledge.
BOUND: In a general sense any form which cannot occur on its own. Both lexical and grammatical morphemes may be bound, but the number of the former is very limited, e.g. The first part of raspberry in English which does not occur independently.
BRAINSTORMING: A group activity where students freely contribute their ideas to a topic to generate ideas.
BROAD: A kind of phonetic transcription which gives only minimal phonetic detail.
BROCA’S APHASIA: A type of aphasia characterised by loss of ability to produce but not to comprehend speech, associated with injury to Broca's area in the front left hemisphere of the brain (left frontal lobe).
BURN-OUT: Fatigue usually based on either the stress of overwork or boredom with the same task.
CAESURA: A pause made in a line of verse.
CALQUE: Use of a native element to model a word or expression taken from a foreign language. Sp. Rascacielos is a calque of Eng. Skyscraper.
CANONICAL ORDER: The canonical order of the sentence is the most usual order of the main sentence elements, Subject (S), Verb (V) and Object (O), in a language, for example VSO in Arabic or SVO in English. See also Word Order.
CARDINAL VOWELS: A system of 8 rounded and 8 unrounded vowels which was originally developed by the English phonetician Daniel Jones and which is intended as a system of reference for the unambiguous classification of vowel values in a language. The cardinal vowels are represented in a quadrangle with vowels at each corner and two closed mid and open mid vowels, a pair in the front and a pair in the back of the quadrangle.
CASE: An inflection which indicates the relationship of a noun to other elements in a sentence, e.g. The dative in German which broadly indicates the beneficiary of an action: Sie hat ihm versprochen, nach Hause zu kommen. There are, however, many instances in which case requirements are not semantically motivated, e.g. Gratulieren, imponieren with the dative as opposed to beglückwünschen, beeindrucken with the accusative.
CATAPHORIC: Referring forwards to an element in the following discourse. See anaphoric.
CAUSATIVE: Expressing the notion of causation.
CECEO: Neutralization of the opposition between /s/ and /[theta]/ and its realisation as /[theta]/.
CHARACTER: The name for a single symbol of a writing system such as Chinese, i.e. 人 ('person') is a character. The term is also used in computing for any distinct symbol such as the letter , number <6> or other form <@>.
CHOMSKY, NOAM: The ideas of the American linguistic theorist Noam Chomsky can be very abstract, in contrast to the very practical process of communicative language teaching. Chomsky's theories of knowledge of language and language acquisition relate as much to the study of human nature as to language teaching. As Steven Pinker explains[citation needed], Chomsky's claim that…all humans speak a single language is based on the hypothesis that the same symbol-manipulating machinery, without exception, underlies the world's languages. Linguists have long known that the basic design features of language are found everywhere… A common grammatical code, neutral between production and comprehension, allows speakers to produce any linguistic message they can understand, and vice versa. Words have stable meanings, linked to them by arbitrary convention….Languages can convey meanings that are abstract and remote in time or space from the speaker, (and) linguistic forms are infinite in number.

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