Often even well-educated people are unsure about what linguistics is. Some think that it's about learning to speak many languages, or that it's about teaching foreign languages, or that it's about how to speak and write "correctly." Actually, linguistics is just the scientific study of language. Linguists study language in the same way that physicists study matter and energy. Most people don't think about the fact that they are made up of atoms, but physicists do. Likewise, most people don't think about the language they use every day, but linguists do. Linguists want to understand everything about language: how languages are structured, how people use language, how the human brain processes language, how babies start to talk and understand language, and how languages have changed over time.

The core of modern linguistics is the study of grammar: the system of a language that describes its sounds, words and sentences. The study of grammar consists of five parts:

Phonetics: the study of the physical sounds of language.
Phonology: the study of the sound system of language.
Morphology: the study of the structure of words.
Syntax: the study of the structure of sentences.
Semantics: the study of the meaning of words and sentences.

Other branches of linguistics relate these core studies to other fields:

Sociolinguistics: the study of language in society.
Historical linguistics: the study of language change.
Psycholinguistics: the study of the psychology of language.
Language acquisition: the study of how babies acquire language.
Neurolinguistics: the study of language and the brain.
Computational linguistics: the study of language and computers.

Like physics or other sciences, linguistics has many practical applications, which include the following:

Understanding "human nature"
Improving one's writing abilities
Improving one's second-language abilities
Developing a writing system for a language
Preserving dying languages
Helping children with speech problems
Helping brain-damaged patients
Improving human-computer interfaces
Improving relations in society
Understanding history

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