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What is General Linguistics?

General Linguistics examines the diversity of language structures and use in the languages of the world – in other words, we examine and develop linguistic theory on a comparative basis. This includes both the search for common features (language universals) and probing the limits of variation in natural languages (linguistic typology). We assume that typology and research into universals is not limited to the structure of sounds, words, and sentences, but also extends into the level of meaning (semantics/pragmatics), the lexicon, and discourse structures.

We aim to study typology and universals on a broad and solid empirical base. We stress attention to primary data (audio and video recordings, written texts, experimental data). Because little is known about most of the over 7000 languages spoken in the world today, this includes language description and documentation (linguistic fieldwork), i.e. the compilation of an extensive corpus of varied primary data of a given idiom.

It is essential that the theories of language and grammar we work with be of use for language description and comparison. Particularly, structural properties found in a given language should be appraised as part of the language’s system and not simply with reference to a theoretical model, so as not to suffer from euro-centric bias. Linguistic theory must also be able to address the cognitive and social roots of language-based thinking and acting, which means considering language structure and use as being part of communicative behavior as a whole.

Language comparison is not limited to contrasting language structures and types of language use from different parts of the world, but also includes studying the chronological development of historical stages of one and the same language (language change). The study of language change not only examines and systemizes diversity, but also tries to answer the question of the mechanisms of linguistic diversification and of why languages are different and constantly changing in the first place.