Research Methodology in Linguistics


Linguistic research methodology describes the structure used in the work done by linguists worldwide. The methods span all languages and allow researchers to compare features within a language as well as across many languages. It follows basic scientific principles to maintain consistency and guarantee thorough results from data sets.


  • An interest in linguistic concepts has roots as far back as the ancients. Plato and Aristotle brought language into their philosophical debates. However, it wasn't until the twentieth century that Noam Chomsky brought a revolutionary approach to linguistics. He believed that language users utilize underlying grammatical generators, rather than simply repeating or responding to outside influences. This has led to modern linguistics searching for these underlying characteristics, instead of only describing the outcomes.


  • Linguistic research is a broad field, including the small language sound to whole conversations and texts. Phonological research involves the sounds, or parts of each word, while morphology is the study of those words. Syntax research looks at sentence structures. Semantics, pragmatics and sociolinguistics all research the meaning and use of language. All these areas are researched in a similar manner, comparing language data against other data.


  • When conducting linguistic research, linguists analyze related bits of data. For instance, when looking at phonology of a language, a linguist will compare one or more sounds, in a particular part of a word, to others. It's important to maintain consistent environments, or placements in a word or otherwise, among the data so as to eliminate any extraneous factors. In analyzing the data, linguists look for patterns and inconsistencies to discover underlying rules.


  • In order to conduct research, linguists require data sets. If they are familiar with the language, they could of course produce their own data. However, they would be limited to their own knowledge and experiences. Recording natural conversation among native speakers is a common technique. For specific words or statements, linguists may conduct interviews. There are also online sources such as BYU's database at


  • Although Chomsky's theories have transformed modern linguistics, dozens of other theories have refined linguistics research. For instance, the X-bar theory, a syntactic method, maintains that certain sentence features are consistent across languages. As such, it assigns symbols to each feature, such as an "x" or "n." This allows linguists to compare sentence structures among different languages. On the other hand, realistic grammar, in backlash to Chomsky's revolutionary ideas, maintains that psychological factors play a strong role in language usage.

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