A Working Glossary of Linguistics

The field of linguistics uses a lot of words that can be intimidating if you haven't studied the subject seriously before. I'll be updating this list now and then, so you might want to bookmark this page. Keep in mind that these are my definitions for how I'll be using the words on this site. If it's really important, you might want a second opinion.

allophone:
a phone considered with regard to the phoneme it occupies.
apical:
a type of consonant sound formed with the tip (or apex) of the tongue.
approximant:
a type of speech sound with the smooth, flowing characteristics of a vowel but the constriction and typically short duration of a consonant.
articulated:
spoken, signed, whistled, hummed, or otherwise produced for real-time, direct communication.
articulation:
the physical process of producing articulated language.
chunk:
a meaningful unit of language that may or may not be given special status in the language's orthography; usually a word or phrase.
construction:
a form with respect to its schematic, flexible nature.
coronal:
a type of consonant sound formed with the front part of the tongue, either the tip or the blade.
dialect:
a distinct form of a given language used by a particular group of people.
discourse:
(1) a system of patterns governing the combination of sentences into larger units.
(2) the branch of linguistics that deals with such systems.
distinctive feature:
the most basic unit of structure in segmental phonology; a component of a phone.
eir:
(1) the possessive determiner form of "em"; used instead of "his or her".
(2) an exclusively singular form of "their".
eirs:
(1) the possessive form of "em"; used instead of "his or hers".
(2) an exclusively singular form of "theirs".
em:
(1) used to refer to an already-mentioned person of unspecified gender; used instead of "him or her".
(2) an exclusively singular form of "them".
emself:
the reflexive form of "em"; used instead of "himself or herself".
(2) a singular form of "themselves".
eng:
a velar nasal; an NG sound.
ey:
(1) the subject form of "em"; used instead of "he or she".
(2) an exclusively singular form of "they".
foot:
a phonological unit spanning from the beginning of a word to the next stressed syllable or word boundary; a metrical foot further divided at word boundaries.
form:
a unit of language ranging from the phoneme (with virtually no meaning) to the word (with a fairly general meaning) to the utterance (with a more specific meaning).
glide:
an approximant; a liquid or semivowel.
grapheme:
the smallest unit of written language; a letter or character.
guttural:
a type of speech sound formed in the back of the mouth or the throat; velar, uvular, pharyngeal, or glottal.
labial:
a type of speech sound formed with one or both of the lips.
laminal:
a type of consonant sound formed with the blade of the tongue (the flat part behind the tip).
linguistics:
the scientific study of language.
liquid:
an approximant; an R or L sound.
lexicon:
the complete set of signs in a given language.
manner of articulation:
the particular method used to create a given phone.
morpheme:
a form that cannot be divided into smaller units that still retain meaning.
morphology:
(1) a system of patterns governing the combination of very simple forms into larger units designated as words.
(2) the branch of linguistics that deals with such systems.
orthography:
(1) a conventional system used to represent a given language with a limited set of symbolic elements (visual or tactile).
(2) the branch of linguistics that deals with such systems.
palatal:
a type of speech sound formed at the hard palate.
pattern:
a generalization extracted by analogy from a set of linguistic data.
phone:
the smallest segment of articulated language considered without regard to its phonemic status in a given language; a speech sound.
phoneme:
a range of phones considered equal by the phonology of a given language.
phonemic inventory:
the complete set of phonemes for a given language.
phonology:
(1) a system of patterns governing the combination of virtually meaningless units of language (vocal or manual) into forms large enough to carry meaning.
(2) the branch of linguistics that deals with such systems.
phonotactics:
a system of patterns governing the combination of phonemes.
place of articulation:
the place where a given phone gains its most distinctive qualities, typically the inactive articulator.
pragmatics:
the branch of linguistics that deals with how people use forms to influence others.
rule:
a generalization describing how two or more bits of linguistic data can be combined.
schwa:
a stressless vowel sound reduced in length and detail to something more like a glide.
segment:
a unit of articulated language considered without regard to its meaning; a string of one or more phones.
semantics:
the branch of linguistics that deals with the relationship between forms and their meanings.
semivowel:
an approximant; a Y or W sound.
sentence:
a string of one or more words felt to be grammatically complete enough to require some sort of end-punctuation in the language's orthography.
sign:
a form large enough to carry a significant meaning; usually a morpheme or word.
syntax:
(1) a system of patterns governing the combination of forms into larger units designated as sentences.
(2) the branch of linguistics that deals with such systems.
utterance:
an uninterrupted stream of language production.
velar:
a type of speech sound formed at the soft palate (or velum).
vocabulary:
(1) the complete set of signs for a given speaker.
(2) a subset of a given language's lexicon used for educational purposes.
word:
(1) a form given special status in the language's orthography.
(2) a form showing productivity in the grammar and behaving as a unit phonologically.
yod:
a palatal glide; a Y sound.

If you see any problems with my definitions or want me to explain a term that's not listed here, please post a comment, and I'll try to get to it speedily.

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