Linguistics is a science, because the most popular and still the most satisfying definition of linguistics is “a scientific study of language.” In this definition the terms “scientific study” and “language” are significant. Linguistics applies the general methodology of science to study language. The methodology consists of:
(a) controlled observation
(b) analysis, generalization and prediction, i.e., formation of hypothesis
(c) testing by further observation, i.e., experiment and
(d) confirmation, modification or rejection of the generalization, yielding theory.
Science studies its subjects empirically. A scientist observes the phenomena of nature and forms a hypothesis about their occurrence. For a poet the sun, the moon, the stars and flowers in the spring season are all beautiful objects and he praises their beauty in his lyrics. For William Wordsworth a rainbow is a wonder of nature. A scientist will surely appreciate his feelings and share his joy when the poet says “My heart leaps up/ When I behold a rainbow in the sky” but will also try to know how it is formed. He will try to seek the answer to the question, why are there seven colours and how are they formed? Similarly an astronomer observes the sky at night, studies the heavenly bodies, examines the rays they emit, classifies them on the basis of the previous knowledge acquired and, if she/he finds a new star, she/he studies it more deeply to give a scientific description. In other words, the basic tools of science are observation and experiment and its aim is the formulation of a theory to explain the phenomena of nature.
Prediction is another important feature. Scientists, after observation, have determined the relative movements of the sun, the earth, the moon and the other heavenly bodies and now can confidently predict the occurrence of the eclipse, the visibility of a comet or the longest and shortest distances of the sun from the earth. Newton observed an apple falling. He wanted to know the cause of its coming down. After a long research he discovered the law of gravity. The main steps were observation of the phenomenon, enlargement of the observation, formulation of a hypothesis and after testing, its confirmation resulting in a theory.
Linguistics Is A Science, Because It Is Near To Principles of Science
The linguist collects the facts of language, the facts that can be empirically verified. She/He, then, analyses and classifies them and formulates a hypothesis which, after further tests may be accepted, modified or rejected. Since the main function of language is to communicate ideas, feelings and emotions, the linguist tries to find how a message is produced and communicated to the listener and in what way the semantic gap is enlarged or narrowed between the addresser and the addressee. As language is a code, any change, conscious or unconscious, in the signals may baffle the listener.
Language is a structure.
Its basic unit is the phoneme and its allophones. The next higher unit is morpheme which is a meaningful organization of phonemes. Sometimes a single phoneme can be a morpheme.* The third higher unit is the word. Words form phrases, phrases form clauses or sentences. The linguist, first, isolates the phonemes and their allophones. She/he also studies how they are combined to form morphemes and counts their allomorphs. Besides she/he classifies them into free and bound morphemes, studies how they form words. Finally she/he reaches the sentence where all the small units function meaningfully.
After analysing and interpreting the structure of a language the linguist forms a hypothesis to explain the system of that language. Once the hypothesis is confirmed, it becomes a theory. This structured description or theory is the grammar of that language. The general theory of language which is based upon the specific theories or grammars of languages is called linguistics. Structural linguistics and T.G. linguistics are theories of language.