Applied linguistics

Language acquisition is “the greatest intellectual feat any of us is ever required to perform” (Bloomfield, 1933, p. 29).

Dear All,
The previous two posts have defined linguistics (L.) and discussed briefly its structure. This post focuses on one of the branches of L. called “applied L.”

Applied a conglomeration of linguistic sub-disciplines and interdisciplinary areas that use linguistic methods.

Unlike theoretical L., applied L. is directed towards solving language-related practical questions; although it can also help to answer certain theoretical questions.

Applied L. includes the following branches (these are subbranches=sub-disciplines in relation to L. in general):

  • Stylistics – developed from rhetoric and the interpretation of literature – it looks at texts from the perspective of its style (e.g. formal, informal, scientific, poetic, etc.).
  • Language acquisition – examines the ways in which people get (acquire) the ability to speak and to understand language as well as how these ways can be enhanced.

The quote above by Bloomfield underlines the complexity of the process and the importance of this gift bestowed on human beings.

  • Second language* acquisition (SLA) – focused on the processes involved in learning (acquiring) a second, third and so on language and the ways in which learning and teaching of a foreign language can be enhanced.

Have you ever used a book devoted to studying a foreign language? This book is a product of work of one or more SLA linguists.

  • Language education (= pedagogy) – instructs future instructors of languages (either first or second language) how to instruct their students about languages efficiently and effectively.
  • Language assessment (= language testing) – devoted to development of methods and supporting materials to help instructors and institutions to check language skills.

Language assessment helps pedagogues to test (assess) the level of knowledge and the ability to use a language and to adjust teaching methods on this basis to ensure that students’ language education is efficient and effective. It is also useful in showing to students some of their strengths and the areas which may require some help or additional work. CELPIP is an example of language assessment system.

  • Computational L. – has to do with statistical or rule-based modelling of language from a computational perspective.

Online Web services (e.g. Google Translate), computer translation software, and spell checkers (e.g. Speckie) are some of the fruits of the work of people working within the framework of computational L.

  • Forensic L. – application of the linguistic knowledge to the sphere of law. Forensic L. studies terminology and other features of the language applied to the context of law.
  • Internet L. – studies the ways in which language-based communication takes place through the Internet, the Web, and via other modern technology.

This is is a new area of L. which is associated with the name of D. Crystal who suggested that with the development of New Media and new ways to communicate (e.g. brief phrases, abbreviated words, and smileys in Short Message Services (SMS or mobile phone text messages), online chats, etc.) there should be a separate linguistic sub-field to study these innovative ways of communication.

  • Language documentation – aims at creating as full description of a language as possible for the purpose of preserving this language or further studying it in detail.

Creating a vocabulary of a language, detailed description of its phonetic system, and creation of a language map showing where this language is used geographically are some of the methods used by language documentation linguists.

  • Language planning – uses various linguistic tools and methodologies to influence the structure, function or acquisition of a particular language or languages within a speech community.
  • Linguistic anthropology – studies how language influences social life.
  • Contrastive analysis compares two or more languages trying to reveal their similarities and differences which helps to identify how these languages are related to one another (e.g. both belong to the Germanic family of languages) or to understand better some features which are common to all or a certain group of languages.
  • Sociolinguistics – studies language in its social context.

In my view, one of the greatest achievements of scholars working within the framework of sociolinguistics is further revealing language as a system, in particular that the lowest (phonetic) level is dependent on the highest (social) level. A well-known in linguistic circles example of sociolinguistic research is “The Social Stratification of English in New York City“, a book written by Labov.

  • Psycholinguistics (= psychology of language) – “(i)nterdisciplinary area of research concerned with the processes of language production, language comprehension, and language acquisition, in which neurolinguistics, discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, cognitive psychology, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence are closely allied” (Bussmann, 2006, pp. 965-966).

One of the areas that psycholinguistics is interested in is nonverbal communication.

  • Neurolinguistics – focuses on the structures in the brain that underlie grammar and communication.

In brief, this post has addressed some of the sub-fields of L. and interdisciplinary areas functioning within the framework of applied L. This post is not a complete list of applied L. sub-fields, but rather a discussion of some of the areas that modern L. is interested in. As a living discipline L. continues to grow and this blog continues to study different language-related questions and to admire the varied field of L.

The following post is going to discuss theoretical L.

* “Second language” is the classical term used to refer to a second, third, etc. language that an individual learns. Another term that is frequently used in this case is an “additional language” – this term underlines the fact that this language is learned “on top of” the native language without specifying whether it is second, third etc. language to avoid confusion.

More similar posts:
What is linguistics?
Structure of linguistics
Applied linguistics
Descriptive linguistics
Comparative linguistics
What is language

Bloomfield, L. (1933). Language. New York: Henry Holt.
Bussmann, H. (Ed.). (1998). Routledge dictionary of language and linguistics; translated and edited by Gregory Trauth and Kerstin Kazzazi. London: Routledge.



  1. Nice breakdown, thanks for writing it. I was wondering, do you know if there are any branch of linguistics that focuses on programming languages? Maybe similar to language planning, contrastive analysis, sociolinguistics or psycholinguistics? Or if there exist any relatively deep and thorough studies on the subject?

    • Hi Tuukka:
      Would you mind providing an example or two of programming languages please?

      It looks like the topic that you are inquiring about would falls under the research interest realm of applied linguistics and more specifically internet and computational linguistics.

      Here is a linguistic study of websites (free download), which may be of interest to you:

      What is interesting about this study is that this is a linguistic model which allows analyzing communicative efficiency of websites from user interface through content to navigation. Again all this is possible using linguistic tools.


      • I’ll try to pick some very different looking languages or families of languages.

        Quite common one is C#, where word order most of the time is SVO. Here you most of the time describe algorithms as step by step instructions how to do something (do this, then this and finally this).

        There’s lisp, with word order (usually) VSO. It describes algorithms in the same way as C# (at least on a high level, I’m sure differences can be discovered with more nuanced analysis). What I find interesting here is emphasis on building languages that are more suited to solving the problem at hand. It’s (only half-jokingly) said that lisp is terrible language for any general problem, but very good for writing language that can solve a specific problem.

        Then there’s miniKanren, which isn’t about declaring actual algorithms as much as describing the problem as sum of it’s parts and their relations and letting the computer to figure out if there are solutions. Language elements has structure (mostly) of ( ).

        Language designed for a very specific type of problems is Inform 7, that is solely aimed at writing text adventure games and pretty much nothing else (although you can write other things with it, but it’s hard, cumbersome and error prone.). Here programming language looks just like a little blunt prose. In fact, the whole program is often laid out like a book with chapters, sections and such (see for example of a chapter written in the language).

        I don’t know how much it affects or changes focus of the analysis that all (at least that I know) programming languages are artificial and very formal. They often have constructs that don’t really exist in natural languages and often lack elements that are common in natural languages.

        Thank you for the link. I’ll download and read that. Sounds quite interesting actually.


      • Hi Tuukka,
        This is really interesting. The best place to search for linguistic articles on the topic is, in my opinion, Proquest Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts:

        If you are a university student or instructor you should have access to this database through your institution through the library. Alternatively ask your local public library for access to the database.


      • Sadly our local university has discontinued their proquest subscription as the usage has been declining and at the same time funding has been scaled down. But I’ll ask in the local library if they can arrange access somehow. Thanks for the tip.

      • You are welcome!


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  5. What is linguistics? | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
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  8. Descriptive linguistics | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS

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