At its simplest, linguistics is the study of language as a communicative and meaningful system of signs, articulated through speech, gesture, or by written means. With its roots in philosophy, linguistics, especially since the late 19th century, has had a profound impact on the social sciences, humanities, and the arts.

Behind its deceptively simple façade, however, lie a myriad of perspectives and insights, critical trajectories, and staunch dogmatisms. While within the realm of linguistics, one will find a diversity of viewpoints, including intense debate concerned with what is to be considered the object of its study, most linguistics straddle, to varying degrees, one or more of four principle approaches, cutting across three primary areas of interest. This entry begins by outlining those four approaches, followed by ...

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