Studying Japanese, I finally broke the mindset of trying to turn Japanese phrases into English phrases. Doing this has made the study of Japanese much easier for me. Then I got to thinking, usually I think of linguistics as the study of various sentence structures,and grammar. Now I think that the definition should be the study of how different cultures convey the same idea. Would this be an valid assessment?

  • Linguistics is the study of human language. Pretty straight forward to me.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 21, 2015 at 6:48
  • The idea that different languages just express the same set of universal concepts/meanings in just formally different ways was proved to be naïve, and wrong, by Saussure a century ago. Broad functional/pragmatic equivalence between what different languages say in broadly similar situations by no means entails identity between what those languages actually 'say' in each case. Dictionaries may 'translate' English "Hello" or "It's nothing/Don't mention it" into Chinese as "Ni hao" and "Bu yong xie", but E. and Ch. are not expressing 'the same idea' at all. Your conclusion is invalid, I'm afraid.
    – user6814
    Mar 22, 2015 at 10:30

3 Answers 3


It's valid insofar as linguistics studies both. The two issues are closely related. To express "I have seen him" one can use four words (as in English) or one word. Morphology, syntax, and lexical relations vary greatly across languages. One can study one language (synchronically or diachronically) or one can learn 10 or 20 languages and focus on comparative linguistics, typology, or formal grammar theories.


No, it's not a fair assessment, because it incorporates your own theoretical idea into a discipline followed by people with various ideas and approaches. What about someone who doesn't believe that different cultures do ever "convey the same idea"? Does that mean he can't be a linguist, because he disagrees with you?


"The study of how different cultures convey the same idea" sounds to me like a description of cultural anthropology. Cultures convey ideas through ritual behavior such as table manners and bowing, through music, painting, sculpture, use of incense, architecture, food, clothing and on and on. Apart from being too narrow in excluding the usual activities of linguists, such as describing the structure of a language and investigating the nature of grammar, your definition is too broad in encompassing areas that have never been considered to be linguistics. So from a descriptive point of view, it doesn't describe what linguists do, and from a prescriptive point of view as a statement about what linguists should do, I don't see a reason for me to switch to the activities of ethnomusicologists.

I think "convey the same idea" needs to be tightened up.

  • "Similar" then?
    – Chris
    Mar 24, 2015 at 2:00

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