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Descriptive Linguistics

The primary objective of descriptive linguistics is to identify the linguistic properties of the world’s natural languages. Roughly 7,000 distinct languages are actively spoken around the world. Descriptive linguistics seeks to characterize the sound systems, word formation mechanisms, sentence structures, and interpretations of meaning across languages—that is, crosslinguistically.

This entry discusses five basic strata, which can be investigated to some degree independently, characteristic of all languages: (1) phonetic units (the sounds that occur in the language), (2) a phonological system (rules determining how sounds interact with one another), (3) a morphological system (word formation rules), (4) a syntactic system (sentence formation rules), and (5) semantics (a mapping of structure to meaning). Each of the five sections that follow correspond to one of these fundamental strata; each ...

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