Linguists are not only scholars who are concerned with the study of language. In many other fields, an understanding of language is highly important.
In studying language, educators, philosophers, psychologists, anthropologists, and students of literature all find important insights into their own areas of specialization.
In foreign language teaching, it is not enough to provide students with examples of the foreign language.
The teacher must be aware of the rules and forms that make up the language system, and, if students are ever to achieve complete command of the foreign language, the teacher must understand the kind of linguistic knowledge possessed by native speakers of that language.
The philosopher finds in language one of the chief factors that distinguishes man from other animals.
What language is and how it contributes to man’s special place in the universe are matters of important philosophical concern. Furthermore, the philosopher is interested in determining relationships between language and logic and between language and thought. To do so requires a sophisticated understanding of language.
For the psychologist, language provides a wealth of material for the investigation of learning. Any theory of how people learn must be able to account for the acquisition of language since all human beings, except for those with serious mental or physical problems, do learn their native language completely and perfectly during childhood. Indeed, the learning of our first language is generally considered to be our most complex intellectual achievement.
Linguists and psychologists share so many interests in the study of language that a new interdisciplinary study–psycholinguistics– evolved during the 1960s. In the past decade, psycholinguistic research has involved such issues as the relationship between language and cognition, the development of language in children, and the interpretation of meaning in sentences.
Anthropology and linguistics have long been closely related fields in the United States. Much of the work in linguistics during the early part of this century was carried out by anthropologists investigating the language and culture of various American Indian communities.
Even today, the anthropologist must deal with language as an integral part of the culture of any society. For the sociologist, an understanding of language is also important, especially insofar as particular varieties of language are associated with particular social groups.
Another interdisciplinary field –sociolinguistics– reflects the interrelationship between sociology and linguistics. Extensive recent work in sociolinguistics has treated the matter of social dialects –differences in language and language use that correlate with differences in social class.
Of all of the modern concerns regarding language, only those of the linguist deal directly and immediately with language itself. Other scholars are interested in the relationship between language and other aspects of man or the world.
But before such scholars can develop adequate theories and explanations of language in relation to other factors, it is necessary that they understand the nature of language. Linguistics provides this understanding and thus serves as a basic source of information for the development of theories, explanations, and methods in many other fields of inquiry.
Julia S. Falk