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私は(殆ど)毎週の土曜日に、うちの大学で和英会話サークルがあって、1時間が英語で、1時間が日本語の会話して、そうするとカナダ人も日本人も互いにいい勉強になりあいます。そして、自己紹介する時、私は仕方がなくて自分の専攻が「言語学」と言い出します。それからは問題です。言語学に関する者はもう詳しいだろうが、詳しくない方が必ず「じゃ、何語を勉強していますか?」と訊ねてくれます。

相手が言語学と語学の違いが解っても、何故か解らないけど、絶対に一つ言語しか勉強していないと思ってしまう。これが常識の問題か、日本と北米州の大学の違う構造か、私には解りません。(知っている方が是非教えて下さい!)

で、結局、言語学は何ですか?簡単に言えば、言語を解析する道具です。若しくは言語の科学です。そうみると、「何語の勉強ですか」は既に無意味になる。それはまるで、「専攻が音楽」と言った者に「じゃ、どの曲の勉強ですか」みたいな質問。確かに、音楽は専門的区別があるでしょう。ジャンル専門とか、作曲家専門とか、民族音楽専門とか。でも、本当は和声とか、楽章の順番とかの基礎で、一曲の勉強しているわけでもないですね。同様に、言語学は一つ言語の勉強じゃなくて、どんな言語でもある体制・構造の勉強です。[1]

それに、ある言語の語学専攻で言語学っぽい規則が教わっても、裏の原因と理由が教われなくて、現実の現象だけでしょう。一方、例の原因・裏面を解決・理解するための研究は言語学です。

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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