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Posted by on Jul 12, 2015 in English Literature | 15 comments

Some Major Concepts in Linguistics

Some Major Concepts in Linguistics

             Some Major Concepts in Linguistics

Before proceeding to what are some major concepts of linguistics, it is important to get answer to the questions: Who is called a linguist? What is Linguistics? What is Language? Linguist is a person who studies linguistics.
Concerning the definition of linguistics, it is the scientific study of science. Some linguists also define linguistics as the systematic study of speech sound and the systems of language.
Just hold on. Do you know the definition of language? Well, it is a highly developed and sophisticated means of communication that can be both vocal and written and it is particular to humans. But do animals also communicate? Surely, they have. But animal communication is much different from human communication. They make use of other means of communication, such as chemical signals.

What Is Meant by Some Major Concepts In Linguistics?

The themes in linguistics can also be regarded as:

  • Some Major Concepts in Linguistics
  • Terminology in Linguistics or Linguistic Terminologies
  • Modern Linguistic Terms or Modern Terms in Linguistics
  • Vital Linguistic Features or Characteristics of Linguistics

List of Topics Covered

Most Frequently Occurring Concepts in Linguistics.


  1. What is Synchrony and Diachrony?
  2. What is Langue and Parole?
  3. What is Substance and Form?
  4. What is Syntagm and Paradigm?
  5. What is Signifier and Signified?
  6. What is Bilingualism and Multilingualism?
  7. What is Lingua Franka?
  8. What is Pidgin and Creole?
  9. What is Dialect and Accent?
  10. What is Standard English?
  11. What is Diglossia?
  12. What is Register?
  13. What is Corpus?
  14. What is Glossogenetics?
  15. Summarized Review and Conclusion



  1. What is Synchrony? What is Diachrony?

Concerning “What is Synchrony?” and “What is Diachrony?”, these refer to the time-based distinction in linguistic studies. These two branches of linguistics represent the basic themes in linguistics. They have their own set boundaries and areas of study. But they often they come into contact with each other and interfere with each other’s domain.

What is Synchrony?

Synchrony is also called synchronic linguistics or descriptive linguistics. It can be defined as the study of language at a particular time period.

What is Diachrony?

Diachrony is also called diachronic linguistics or historical linguistics. It can be defined as the study of language and language change through time.

Relationship Between Synchrony And Diachrony:

On one hand, synchrony and diachrony present two opposing views, but, on the other hand, they are interrelated and mutually dependent. They are opposing in the sense that synchrony is static while diachrony is mobile or moving. Ferdinand de Saussure, explained it through a diagram:

Mutual Relationship

Here synchrony is taken along the static x-axis (synchronous axis) as AB. Diachrony is taken along the moving y-axis (diachronic axis) as CD.

Synchrony and diachrony are mutually interrelated in the sense that for the study of diachrony, the knowledge of synchrony is necessary. This is because without having description of language at particular time periods, you cannot observe language change. As a result, you cannot compare languages and understand their evolutionary history.

Historical Background of Synchrony and Diachrony:

Until the beginning of 20th century, synchrony was a part of diachronic linguistics. Ferdinand de Saussure was the first to make sharp distinction between synchronic linguistics and diachronic linguistics. Now synchrony is one of the major disciplines of linguistics.


So after all this discussion, we reach the conclusion that synchrony and diachrony are two important branches of linguistics. They lay foundation for further linguistic studies.

  1. What is Langue? What is Parole?


What is Langue?

Langue is the entire body of the knowledge about a language. It is the storehouse of a language.

What is Parole?

Parole is the whole body of physical utterances of langue. It is the concrete realization and application of langue.


Relationship between Langue and Parole:

Ferdinand de Saussure made sharp distinction among three main terms, i.e. langage, langue and parole. His explanation can be visualized with the help of following diagram:

    LANGUE AND PAROLE                                 

 Comparison of Langue and Parole:

Parole is the actual concrete act of speaking on the part of an individual which exists at a particular time and place and in particular situation in speech. The langue of a community can be arrived at only by the consideration of a large number of paroles.

Contrast of Langue and Parole:

Parole is the set of all utterances that have actually been produced. On the other hand, langue is the set of all possible grammatical sentence in the language.

Differences between Langue and Parole:

Stephen Ullmann explained the difference between langue and parole as follows:

  1. Code vs. Encoding

Langue is the code while parole is the encoding of message.

  1. Language vs. Speech:

Language is the language while parole is the speech.

  • Potential vs. Actualization:

Language is the potential while parole is the actualization of that potential.

  1. Social vs. Individual:

Langue is a social phenomenon while parole is an individual activity.

  1. Fixed vs. Free:

Langue refers to something fixed while parole is considered to be free.

  1. Slow-Moving vs. Ephemeral:

Langue is slow moving while parole is ephemeral or short-lived or temporary.

  • Psychological vs. Psycho-Physical:

Langue is concerned with psychology while parole has both psychological and physical aspects.


Langue and parole are the terms of primary concern in linguistics. Langue and parole can be equated to competence and performance, respectively. They are not only mutually interrelated but also have a considerable difference with each other. For proper understanding of linguistics, langue and parole are pre-requisite.

  1. What is Substance? What is Form?


The study of langue and parole is to be followed by the dichotomous relationship between substance and form.

What is Substance?

Substance is the linguistic material used to communicate. It consists of all the distinct sounds produced by human speech organs and scripts produced by human hands.

What is Form?

The linguistic form is the shape linguistic substance assumes when it is practically applied. It is the organization of linguistic substance into language.

In other words, just as wood and cotton are raw material for the production of furniture and cloth, respectively, so substance is the raw material and form is the finished product of language.

Composition of Substance and Form. Kinds of Substance and Form.

Substance is both vocal and written, i.e. phonic Substance and visual Substance. Phonic substance consists of the concrete physical utterances that we produce. Visual substance consists of the written scripts.

Form of a language consists of grammar and lexis.

Levels of Analysis of Substance and Form:

Substance and form of a language can be analyzed at two different levels:

  1. Level of Expression
  2. Level of Content
  1. Level of Expression:

On the expression plane, linguistics deals with the form or shape of linguistic elements without necessarily taking their meaning into account. It means, words (substance) and order (form) should be accurate. From the point of view of “Expression”, the sentence: “The bachelor gave birth to a baby” is a well formed utterance.

  1. Level of Content:

The content plane deals with semantics, the study of meaning. From the point of view of “Content”, the sentence: “The bachelor gave birth to a baby” is nonsense.

So, when both “Expression” and “Content” levels are satisfied, the correct sentence would be, “sentence: “The mother gave birth to a baby”.

Differences between Substance and Form:

The major differences between the substance and form can be explained as:

  1. Linguistic Data vs. System of Language:

Substance refers to the linguistic data while form is the system of language.

  1. Actual Utterance vs. Theory:

Substance of language consists of actual utterances while for is the theoretical representation of linguistic utterances.

  • Components vs. Their Study:

Substance refers to linguistic units, like phonemes, morphemes, graphemes, etc. while form is the study of these units, like phonology, morphology, grammar and syntax, etc. respectively.

  1. Linguistic Units vs. Abstract Rules:

Substance consists of linguistic units while form is the body of abstract rules.

  1. Examples:

The units, like “/b/, un-, faith, full, John, is” come under the domain of substance while form organizes them into a complete meaningful thought, i.e. “John is unfaithful”.


Substance and Form are the two complimentary components of language. They are inter-related and dependant on each other. The study of substance is followed by the study of form. Proper study of substance and form is essential for the real understanding of linguistics.

  1. What is Syntagm? What is Paradigm?

Some major concepts in linguistics also involve the complex terms, like syntagm and paradigm. According to Saussure, the structure of the language can be segmented into two kinds of relationships, i.e. syntagmatic relationship and paradigmatic relationship.

“The combinations of words into sentences supported by linearity are called syntagms.”

“Vertical combinations of words are termed as paradigms.”

Study in Depth

Syntagmatic Relationship:

Syntagmatic relationship is the combinatorial or chain relationship. For example, “We can come tomorrow”. In this sentence, the arrangement of words is linear, i.e.

“Pronoun + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb + Temporal Adverb”

This relationship is restricted in certain order. So, the sentence can’t be written as, “Come can tomorrow we”. 

Paradigmatic Relationship:

Paradigmatic relationships are “choice” relationships. Words that have something in common, are associated in the memory which can be substituted for one another. For example:  

Syntagmatic Relationship 

Differences between Syntagm and Paradigm:

The major differences between the syntagmatic relationship and paradigmatic relationship can be explained as:

  1. Combinatorial vs. Associative:

Syntagm is combinatorial while paradigm is associate relationship.

        Linear vs. Non-Linear:

Syntagm is the linear while paradigm is the non-linear arrangement of words or other linguistic units.

      Inside vs. Outside:

The coordinates of syntagm lie within the discourse while that of paradigm lie outside the discourse.

     Presentia vs. Absentia:

Syntagm is the relationship in presentia while paradigm is the relationship in absentia.

     Horizontal vs. Vertical:

Syntagm runs in horizontal direction while paradigm runs in vertical direction.

Application of Syntagm and Paradigm:

            These two disciplines of linguistic structure, i.e. syntagm & paradigm can be applied to phonology, vocabulary, and other aspects of language.


Syntagm and paradigm are the basic linguistic phenomena which provide us rules for structuring and bringing Variety in Sentences.


  1. What is Signifier? What is Signified?

These terms refer to the practical and utilitarian aspect of language, i.e. the extraction of meaning from linguistic signs.

Signifier and signified are also known as referent and referend, respectively. Signifier or referent is the sign, word or name, whereas signified or referend is the sense, image, meaning or thing that it refers to. For example, room is the name for a cubical structure having walls, roof, flour, windows, doors and ventilators.

Analysis of Linguistic Sign:

Language system is made up of signs. Saussure says, “Sign is the central fact of language”. A sign is a physical marker which carries some information. The study of signs is termed as semiotics. Linguistics has been influenced by semiotics to an extent that words are sometimes described as linguistic signs. The most prominent linguist associated with the concept of linguistic sign is Ferdinand de Saussure.

A linguistic sign consists of two parts: signifier and signified. The study of relationship between signifier and signified is the concern of Semantics. In general terms, words are comprised of two elements:

  1. Signifier: sound, image or pronunciation
  2. Signified; sense, meaning, concept, idea, and thing.

Relationship between Signifier and Signified:

The relationship between signifier and signified is not eternal, essential or natural one. It is conventional. If the relationship were eternal or natural, the word “tree” must be having same meaning in all the languages of the world. But it is not so. So the meaning is mostly conventional as the word “tree” indicates “treeness” only in English. The same word might be having different meaning in other languages.


Though relationship between signifier and signified is complex and hard to understand, their study provides the core and practical application or communicative aim of language.


  1. What is Bilingualism? What is Multilingualism?

Bilingualism and multilingualism, along with monolingualism, are the terms of sociolinguistics. Living is a social group, we often have to encounter such situations.

Monolingualism is the situation being competent in one language only. Bilingualism is the condition of being equally competent in two languages. Multilingualism is the condition of being equally competent in more than two languages.


Comparison and Analysis of Bilingualism and Multilingualism:

Monolingualism is mostly an individual phenomenon in which a person has communicative competence in one language only.

Bilingualism is mostly and individual or may also be a social phenomenon. Multilingualism may both be an individual as well as social phenomenon.

Bilingual Individual:

Bilingual individual is one who can speak two languages with almost the same competency.

Bilingual Society:

A bilingual society is the one whose members are competent in speaking two languages.

Multilingual Individual:

A multilingual individual is the one who is competent in speaking more than two languages.

Multilingual Society:

A society is called multilingual society when its members are able to communicate in more than two languages.

Prevailing Social Trends

Multilingualism is a natural way of life for hundreds of millions of all over the world. There are no official statistics, but there are around 6,000 to 7,000 languages co-existing in about 200 countries of the world. This co-existence of languages shows that an enormous amount of language contact is taking place. The inevitable result of many languages in contact is multilingualism. Even in countries that have single language used by the majority of the population (e.g. US, UK, France, Germany, Japan), there exist sizable groups that use other languages. In the USA, around 10% of the population regularly speaks a language other than English. In Britain, over 100 minority languages are in routine use.

Historical Background of Bilingualism and Multilingualism:

Historically multilingual communities evolve in a number of ways:

  1. The result of migration which is the voluntary or involuntary movement of people speaking one language into the territory of people speaking another.
  2. Migration from countryside or small towns to the large metropolitan cities that have grown everywhere in the 20th century, is another major cause of multilingual communities.
  • Multilingualism has also historically been created by conquest.
  1. Colonial policies also led to multilingual states.


Monolingualism, bilingualism and multilingualism co-exist in societies and are prerequisite to the efficient performance of various social tasks of advancing speech communities. Bilingualism and multilingualism are universal phenomena and can be witnessed almost everywhere in the world.

  1. What is Lingua Franca?

It is one of the most frequently used terms in the study of speech communities.

It is also called working language, bridge language or vehicular language. It can be defined as:

“A lingua Franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular, when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.


The term lingua franca originated from Arabic and Greek Words, i.e. “Franks or Franji” and “Phrankoi” respectively. It dates back to the Middle Ages and before the Crusades during the time of the late Roman Empire when western Europeans were called with these names. It was first recorded in English in 1678.

Functional Importance of Lingua Franca:

“Lingua franca” is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic history or structure of the language. Though pidgins and creoles often function as lingua francas, many such languages are neither pidgins nor creoles. Whereas a vernacular language is used as a native language in a single speaker community, a lingua franca goes beyond the boundaries of its original community, and is used as a second language between communities.

Examples of Lingua Franca:

Examples of lingua franca are numerous, and exist on every continent. The most obvious example of lingua franca is English. English is a vernacular in the UK but is used as a vehicular language in Philippines, India, Pakistan, etc. There are many other lingua francas centralized on particular regions, such as Chinese, Arabic, Russian, French and Spanish.

Surprising Fact about English:

Some 380 million people speak it as their first language. About 250 million people speak it as their second language. About a billion people are learning it. About 2.5 billion people are exposed to it. It is predicted that half of the world population will be more or less proficient in it till 2050.


To sum up, English, like other lingua francas of the past, is often used as a second language to affect communication for a specific purpose, such as diplomacy, between people for whom the lingua franca is not their first language.

  1. What is Pidgin? What is Creole?

What is Pidgin?

Pidgin is a variety of a language which is developed for some practical purposes, such as trading among groups of people who did not know each others’ languages. A pidgin is a native language of none. Pidgins are formed by two speech communities attempting to communicate. A pidgin language is thus a lingua franca which has no native speakers, which is often influenced by language spoken by people who travelled and colonized extensively, such as English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Dutch.

What is Creole?

Creole refers to a pidgin language which has become the mother tongue of a speech community. Unlike pidgins, Creole languages have a large number of native speakers. Creoles developed in ex-colonial eras. Creole and pidgin tend to be regarded as merely inferior, corrupt versions of donor languages.

  1. What is Accent? What is Dialect?

What is Dialect?

While getting acquaintance with some major concepts in linguistics, lets now turn to dialect. Dialect refers to varieties differentiated by grammar and vocabulary. Dialect is a geographical based language variety with distinct syntactic form and vocabulary items. Many dialects are regional in origin and belong to particular area.

In addition to regional and urban dialects, there are national and international varieties, such as Scottish, American. Standard English is unique among dialects, however, is not being paired with particular accent. It is possible to speak it with any kind of accent, Geordie (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), Cockney (East End of London), Welsh, etc. But the same is not true for dialect.

What is Accent?

In contrast to dialect, accent is concerned solely with auditory effects or pronunciation. Most accents are regional or national, like Scottish, American or Australian accents. Some are social accents and relate to the cultural and educational background of the speaker. In Britain, the best example of accent is Received Pronunciation (RP).

  1. What is Standard English?

Standard English is the 10th item on the list of some major concepts in linguistics. When we describe the sounds, words and sentences of English, we are, in fact, concentrating on the features of only one variety, usually labeled Standard English. This is a variety which forms the basis of printed English in newspapers and books, which is used in the mass media and which is taught in schools.

It is the variety we normally try to teach to those who want to learn English as a second language. It is also the variety which some people consider to be the only type of “correct” English and, as such, should be kept “pure”.

Historically speaking, the basis of the Standard English was the local dialect of the region bounded by Oxford, Cambridge, and London. Standard English is unique among dialect, however, is not being paired with particular accent. It is possible to speak it with any kind of accent.

  1. What is Diglossia?

Diglossia has got an important place on the list of some major concepts in linguistics. The term diglossia was first introduced into English by Ferguson to refer to “one particular kind of standardization where two varieties of a language exist side by side throughout the community, with each having definite role to play. In the Arabic speaking world, there is the contrast between the classical language and regional dialect.

  1. What is Register?

The term “Register” refers to a variety of language defined according to its use in social situation. Taking the example of English, this language is used differently in different fields, like law, religion, science, sport, etc. In each of these areas, there is a specific vocabulary and manner of use of English, which defines the legal language, religious language, scientific language, sports language, etc.

  1. What is Corpus?

Coming next on the list of some major concepts in linguistics is corpus.

It can be defined in two different ways:

Corpus Linguistic Approach:

In corpus linguistics, corpus is the collection of linguistics data; either written texts or a transcription of recorded speech, which can be used as a starting point of linguistic description or as a means of verifying hypothesis about language. Corpus linguistics is the branch of linguistics with is concerned with the verification of hypothesis about a language while using corpus.

Sociolinguistic Approach:

In sociolinguistics, the term “corpus” refers to one of the two major types of language planning:

  1. Corpus Planning
  2. Status Linguistics

Corpus planning deals with the way norms are chosen and codified. In contrast to corpus planning, status linguistics deals with the standing of one language with relation to others.

Importance of Corpus Data:

In recent years, corpus data has been acknowledged as a source that provides descriptive insights that are relevant to how people use language. It is considered a tool that can directly affect learning and teaching processes.

  1. What is Glossogenetics?

It is a term sometimes used in linguistics to refer to the study of the origins and development of language, both in the child and in the human race. It involves a wide range of contributing sciences, including biology, anthropology, psychology, semiotics, neurology and primatology, as well as linguistics.

  1. Summary and Conclusion

There are a number of major themes in linguistics. As you would have seen, some major concepts in linguistics occur in pairs having dichotomous relationship with each other, like synchrony vs. diachrony, langue vs. parole, substance vs. form, syntagm vs. paradigm and signifier vs. signified. Many of these terms have been proposed and explained by a Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure.

Request to Readers:

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