Linguistics is the study of language. This is a huge topic, though, and different parts of it can be studied in different ways for different reasons. Some kinds of linguistics help foreign-language teachers draw connections between their students' native and learned languages, while other kinds of linguistics help anthropologists understand human cultures, help cognitive scientists explain the human mind or help computer programmers reshape how we interact with technology.

Applied Linguistics

Applied linguistics uses linguistic theory to solve real-world problems, most often in the field of language education. For example, linguists can apply what they know about how children and adults learn languages to design educational materials and lessons for teaching second languages and to design effective methods of testing student progress. Educators can use what they know about how people actually use language to make sure their classes prepare students for the kinds of exchanges they are most likely to encounter.


Sociolinguistics is a kind of linguistics closely tied to sociology, the study of groups of people. Sociolinguists investigate how languages function within populations -- in terms of both how language affects the population and how the population affects the language. Sociolinguists study how your time and place of origin and the social groups you belong to affect the words you use and how you pronounce them.


Psycholinguistics, closely tied to cognitive science, studies the relationship between language and the mind. Psycholinguists are interested in how the mind acquires and processes language, both physically -- how words and syntax are stored and how and why they are called upon -- and conceptually. Conceptual study is most common. Psycholinguists study such topics as how the mind acquires grammar, how language and thought are related, how language creates conceptual groups and how metaphors affect understanding.

Computational Linguistics

Computational linguistics uses computers to build models of languages. These models can be used to explain subtle patterns in a language's structure. The models are also used extensively in the computer industry to improve how we interact with technology by essentially teaching computers human languages. This allows them to read and reply to what we type and to hear us when we speak and to speak back. Computational linguistics is a driving force behind search engines, voice recognition, text-to-speech and artificial intelligence.