Linguistics and Language Science

The Study of Language

Language is what makes humans unique among all species on earth. The study of language, as Noam Chomsky once wrote, is the study of the human essence; the distinctive qualities of our mind. We live in a world of language, where people communicate in different speaker constellations, via different channels and across geographical borders. The fact that the use of language as a communication system is so pervasive in how we act and what we think, in short our lives, calls for an examination of what language is, how it has evolved over time and how it is used as a means of communication.

The scientific study of language — also known as linguistics — seeks to investigate the range and complexity of linguistic phenomena within as well as across languages. English linguistics, in particular, focuses on the properties and use of the English language or, rather, languages, as spoken by many (native) speakers around the world. Our interests lie in the English language as a system as well as its use as means of communication. This includes English spoken in the United Kingdom and the United States, but also other forms of English spoken by native and non-native speakers around the globe.

Linguistics branches into various subfields, depending on a linguist's focus. Language can be investigated at any given point in time (synchronic linguistics), or it can be studied with regard to changes across time (diachronic or historical linguistics). Any language such as English consists of different sounds and sound patterns, which constitute the basic building blocks of a language (Phonetics and Phonology). The study of the structure or forms of words is known as Morphology, and the study of rules which govern the combination of words in sentences is referred to as Syntax. But knowing a language means more than knowing its sounds and the rules which apply to utter a well-formed sentence. It also involves the knowledge that certain sequences of sounds signify certain concepts or meanings (Semantics). The study of meaning in context (Pragmatics) is the study of language from the point of view of the users, the choices they make and the constraints they encounter when communicating with each other. Apart from these major building blocks, there are further areas of study with an interdisciplinary character. Psycholinguistics, for example, studies the psychological and neurological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, and understand language. Sociolinguistics studies and addresses issues of the effect of all aspects of society on the way language is used (including cultural norms, social variables, geographical and social background).

Linguistics in Oldenburg is represented by two professorial posts. One is held by Professor Cornelia Hamann, who has her specialty in Applied Linguistics and First and Second Language Acquisition (with a focus on syntax). The other chair, held by Professor Ronald Geluykens, has its main focus on Pragmatics, Sociolinguistics, and Historical Linguistics. Both professors and their assistants offer a variety of courses to Bachelor and Master Students from the field of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. These courses address both future teachers as well as students who seek other professions. We attempt to be up-to-date with the research in our field, take part in ongoing discussions and exchanges of our research results, and make use of a variety of resources to help students cope with linguistic topics.