Do You Think About Linguistics When You Read? | Discussion

wilberry-9

This past semester I took my first ever linguistics class in college and it opened my eyes to this exciting and interesting field of study. Previously I had always made the distinction between linguistics and the study of literature, mostly because I had never explored linguistics in a classroom setting before. However, there is actually a close and valuable connection between these two different branches.

[ling-gwis-tiks] 
noun, ( used with a singular verb
1. the science of language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and historical linguistics.

The suggestion that we can use linguistics to help us better understand literature (such as why Holden Caulfield evokes certain emotions in us) made me realize that this specific focus on words has always been something that has interested me. Whenever I’m asked to analyze a text, be it a novel, poem, or other work, I tend to first gravitate towards the language itself. For example, the first English paper I ever wrote in college was about Daniel Defoe’s use of language in Robinson Crusoe to denote the conflict between savagery and civilization on the island. In order to present an image of sophistication to the reader– and perhaps even to stay sane while attempting to survive on the island– Crusoe seems to make a conscious effort to portray himself as a civilized man, as though he were still living in what he considers to be human society. Crusoe constantly describes physical aspects of himself using language with European connotations, thus reproducing himself as more sophisticated and civilized.

Though I didn’t delve into the specific etymology of Crusoe’s vocabulary, I now realize that this paper was edging towards a more linguistic approach to analyzing literature. It is all too easy to become tangled in grand symbolic meanings, representations, and implications while interpreting literature that the actual language of the text is often forgotten. It’s safe to say that writers do not meticulously comb through their lexicons looking for the most etymologically correct or appropriate word to use every single time they write, but that does not mean that language is meaningless beyond what it conveys when it is read as a complete text. To ignore the particular descriptive words and meaning behind names of characters and places would be to discount much of what the writer might have wanted to convey.

After having taken this class, I find myself being much more aware of the specific language being used in texts. Do you think about linguistics when you read? Have you ever taken a linguistics class or learned about the subject in general? Do you think it’s useful or valuable? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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15 thoughts on “Do You Think About Linguistics When You Read? | Discussion

  1. Great post! It’s such an interesting topic because we’re often too focused on plot or characters when we’re reading to consider the language that’s being used. If I’m reading for academic purposes then I always consider the linguistic choices of the author but most of the time when I’m reading for pleasure I don’t. Maybe I should in the future 🙂

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  2. Yes yes Yes! I had Linguistics last year at college and that opened my eyes for so many things while reading! Now, as reader and (aspiring) writer, I tend to analyze the discourse, the words used by characters in order to identify their social position and such. Even my morphological studies have changed the way I read/write! I’m glad our generation is interested in more than simply reading for fun 😁

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  3. I’ve never taken a linguistics class but I do think about word choice and the way those words are used as part of the writing style. It’s a very interesting area of literature. How we use our words.

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  4. Yes!! It was only after studying linguistics that I began to think about the words used in the books I love the most. Before, I had always viewed the study as incredibly daunting. This was a great post! 🙂

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  5. great post! I’ve never taken a linguistics class but I do see the importance in it. Etymology has always interested me and given the chance, I think I would take a class. I find that the books that I end up loving the most, or that will continue to echo in my mind, often seem to meticulously choose their words to convey a specific emotion or image in the reader.

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  6. I actually don’t think about the language that much, maybe because even though I mostly read in English, that’s not my first language? :/ I remember having some trouble with a couple of words in Pride and Prejudice, and last year I read a book by a Portuguese author and I noticed a lot of mistakes. So maybe I only care about it when it annoys me haha
    Great post!! 😀

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  7. For me, it depends on what book I’m reading and what mood I’m in! I am interested in linguistics and should probably make more of an effort to study really. There’s always the chance that you’ll never be able to enjoy certain books int he same way again after studying them so closely! But I think it also opens up a whole new world to discover.

    Thanks for the great post!

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  8. I can’t help it, I do. It’s a curse sometimes. My Master’s thesis was in Pragmatics and I wanted it to be ,,Presuposition and Implication in Vladimir Nabokov’s desriptions of women”. Then I switched to ,,Gricean theories and Humour in the television show The Big Bang Theory”, and then I did Discourse Analysis on the Irony on Twitter. As you see, metalinguistic awareness is everywhere: literature, TV, internet…..:/

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  9. Holly,
    I quite enjoy this post as I have been wondering these same things too. Currently, I am reading “Zen and the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance,” and some similar concepts were introduced. The most striking to me was the idea of reading a passage the way that the author wrote it. This sounds kind of confusing, but the explanation that the book gave talked about how most classical literature was written in a very slow and thoughtful manner, thus it should slowly and thoughtfully. Just curious, but you mention the effect words can have on emotions. Why do you think that this occurs? Do you think it is caused by association with other images? Past experience? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
    -Jon DeVries

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