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Clinical Linguistics  

Louise Cummings

Clinical linguistics is the branch of linguistics that applies linguistic concepts and theories to the study of language disorders. As the name suggests, clinical linguistics is a dual-facing discipline. Although the conceptual roots of this field are in linguistics, its domain of application is the vast array of clinical disorders that may compromise the use and understanding of language. Both dimensions of clinical linguistics can be addressed through an examination of specific linguistic deficits in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders, craniofacial anomalies, adult-onset neurological impairments, psychiatric disorders, and neurodegenerative disorders. Clinical linguists are interested in the full range of linguistic deficits in these conditions, including phonetic deficits of children with cleft lip and palate, morphosyntactic errors in children with specific language impairment, and pragmatic language impairments in adults with schizophrenia. Like many applied disciplines in linguistics, clinical linguistics sits at the intersection of a number of areas. The relationship of clinical linguistics to the study of communication disorders and to speech-language pathology (speech and language therapy in the United Kingdom) are two particularly important points of intersection. Speech-language pathology is the area of clinical practice that assesses and treats children and adults with communication disorders. All language disorders restrict an individual’s ability to communicate freely with others in a range of contexts and settings. So language disorders are first and foremost communication disorders. To understand language disorders, it is useful to think of them in terms of points of breakdown on a communication cycle that tracks the progress of a linguistic utterance from its conception in the mind of a speaker to its comprehension by a hearer. This cycle permits the introduction of a number of important distinctions in language pathology, such as the distinction between a receptive and an expressive language disorder, and between a developmental and an acquired language disorder. The cycle is also a useful model with which to conceptualize a range of communication disorders other than language disorders. These other disorders, which include hearing, voice, and fluency disorders, are also relevant to clinical linguistics. Clinical linguistics draws on the conceptual resources of the full range of linguistic disciplines to describe and explain language disorders. These disciplines include phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and discourse. Each of these linguistic disciplines contributes concepts and theories that can shed light on the nature of language disorder. A wide range of tools and approaches are used by clinical linguists and speech-language pathologists to assess, diagnose, and treat language disorders. They include the use of standardized and norm-referenced tests, communication checklists and profiles (some administered by clinicians, others by parents, teachers, and caregivers), and qualitative methods such as conversation analysis and discourse analysis. Finally, clinical linguists can contribute to debates about the nosology of language disorders. In order to do so, however, they must have an understanding of the place of language disorders in internationally recognized classification systems such as the 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association.

Article

Morphological and Syntactic Variation and Change in European Spanish  

María José Serrano

Since the 1990s, there have been major developments in the variationist approach to morphological and syntactic variation and change in European Spanish. This research area has garnered increasing interest because of the various morphosyntactic phenomena available for study. A significant amount of work on morphological and syntactic variation and change has been devoted to analyzing the linguistic differences among variants and the social and stylistic communicative settings in which they are used. The main phenomena studied in European Spanish are classified in three main groups: variation of personal pronouns, variation of verbal forms, and variation of syntactic constructions. Morphological and syntactic variants are linguistic choices constructed in a meaningful way that reveal speakers’ perceptions of real-world events and are projected stylistically onto the domain of discourse and interaction. Effective engagement with these choices requires the adoption of a broad, multifaceted notion of meaning to overcome earlier methodological controversies about studying variation at the morphological and syntactic levels because of the meaning that variants convey. In recent years, variation theory has benefited greatly from research in cognitive linguistics, a field whose basic tenet is that grammatical structures reflect the human perception of events. In fact, the most modern theoretical approach to morphosyntactic variation is based on the study of the cognitive meanings underlying variants, which is at the core of the empirical concerns of cognitive sociolinguistics. From a cognitive viewpoint, language is not a separate ability within the realm of human cognition; rather, it is developed along with all other cognitive skills. Studies of morphosyntactic variation address the social contexts in which variation takes place to adequately explain linguistic variation phenomena. The analysis of the communicative and cognitive backgrounds of morphological and syntactic variation challenges the traditional, structural, and behavioral concepts of linguistic variability and change. Thus, the study of these changes reflects the diversity and evolution of ways of thinking.

Article

Theme  

Eva Hajičová

In the linguistic literature, the term theme has several interpretations, one of which relates to discourse analysis and two others to sentence structure. In a more general (or global) sense, one may speak about the theme or topic (or topics) of a text (or discourse), that is, to analyze relations going beyond the sentence boundary and try to identify some characteristic subject(s) for the text (discourse) as a whole. This analysis is mostly a matter of the domain of information retrieval and only partially takes into account linguistically based considerations. The main linguistically based usage of the term theme concerns relations within the sentence. Theme is understood to be one of the (syntactico-) semantic relations and is used as the label of one of the arguments of the verb; the whole network of these relations is called thematic relations or roles (or, in the terminology of Chomskyan generative theory, theta roles and theta grids). Alternatively, from the point of view of the communicative function of the language reflected in the information structure of the sentence, the theme (or topic) of a sentence is distinguished from the rest of it (rheme, or focus, as the case may be) and attention is paid to the semantic consequences of the dichotomy (especially in relation to presuppositions and negation) and its realization (morphological, syntactic, prosodic) in the surface shape of the sentence. In some approaches to morphosyntactic analysis the term theme is also used referring to the part of the word to which inflections are added, especially composed of the root and an added vowel.

Article

Unspecified Human Subjects in the Romance Languages  

Pekka Posio

The term unspecified human subjects refers to syntactic constructions profiling a human subject participant whose identity is either not specified at all or is left underspecified, for instance by limiting the scope of potential referents either by choice of verb (e.g., They have raised taxes again) or by a locative expression (e.g., In Spain they eat late). Such constructions include human impersonal pronouns grammaticalized from nouns meaning ‘man’ or ‘person’ (e.g., French on, Portuguese a pessoa) or based on the numeral ‘one’ (e.g., Spanish uno), as well as impersonal (i.e., unspecified, generic, or arbitrary, depending on the theoretical framework) uses of personal pronouns and verb forms, in particular the second-person singular and the third-person plural. Unspecified human subjects present functional overlap with other human impersonal constructions such as the periphrastic passive and reflexive-based passives and impersonals (i.e., Romance se/si constructions), however differing from them in that the unspecified human argument is not the syntactic subject in these latter constructions. While it has been argued that man-impersonal constructions are either restricted or more frequent in languages with obligatory subject expression (e.g., French) and pronoun-based human impersonals are more frequent in so-called null subject languages (e.g., Italian, Spanish), some Romance languages and language varieties display both types, thus providing interesting data for the study of variation.