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When you get down to it, any field of study can be considered “lumpy” — there will always be those weird outliers of the field that merge in from a different category, and Linguistics is no different. Contrary to popular ignorance though, Linguistics is NOT the mere study of different languages. That’s kinda like saying that Computer Science is just learning to use different computers. Which, while true to an extent, barely scratches the surface of the matter.

Simply put, linguistics is the study of the mechanics of language. And while data sets of different languages do come into play to help illustrate these mechanics, they’re not the end goal. But as it so happens, I have a passion for both linguistics and learning languages, which perhaps conflates the confusion with my friends. (Or at least, the friends I haven’t yet initiated with my rant about what linguistics is.)

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As an amateur linguist who often finds himself in linguistical situations, I often get asked the question “How? How do YOU (personally) learn language?” at which point I immediately avoid the pedantic temptation to point out the difference between learning a language, and acquiring one. But since it remains a popular topic with the kind of people I meet, I thought it might make for a good first post for this blog.

So, how did I get from knowing no Japanese at all, to being able to muddle my way through a relatively high-level conversation on history, politics, or religion in Japanese? For some strange reason, language learners tend to think that there’s one best way of learning a language. Or more specifically, that there’s one aspect of language from which all others would naturally follow. The top two naturally being Grammar, and Vocabulary. Unfortunately, you’ll actually need both. And what’s more, you also need a heavy dose of acculturation/pragmatics. So what follows is basically a broad introduction to linguistics, with a sharp focus on language acquisition (as an adult).

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Glossary

COCA - Corpus of Contemporary American English
L1/L2/... - Primary/Secondary Language
NNS - Non-Native Speaker
NS - Native Speaker