What is theoretical linguistics?

Theoretical Linguistics is into developing theoretical models for linguistic knowledge. There are four sub-fields which comprise the essence of theoretical linguistics – syntax, phonology, morphology and semantics.


Syntax is the study of the structure of language and sentence formation. It analyses association and links between words at various levels. Simply using native language intuition, how are sentences formed to make up a certain language; How does the relationship between structural elements of a sentence assist in its final interpretation; these are some of the questions that are studied under the subject of syntax. Principles of logic and Set Theory are used and applied to illustrate the composition of a sentence from its various elements. Order of elements in a sentence is crucial to its correct formation. Without the right order, a sentence cannot be formed properly and thereby the sentence is mis-interpreted.


Phonology is the study of the sound of language. Subfields in this vast subject are phonetics and phonemics.

Phonetics describes the sound heard. It gets into the details of language sounds. There are three kinds of phonetics – acoustic, auditory and articulatory. Acoustic phonetics studies the physical nature of the sound produce; how and what kind of sound is being produced. Auditory phonetics studies how sound is perceived; what does the person hearing the sound thinks he is hearing and why. Articulatory phonetics or descriptive phonetics studies the sound of speech; the compostion, nature and characteristics of the actual sound produced.

Phonemics is the study of the application of sound. It studies how sound is perceived in language; how it is differentiated and prioritized according to the given language. Phoneme is the analytical unit of phonemics. It is a particular sound which helps in differentiating words in a given language. For example, how we distinguish the English word ‘sit’ from the word ‘hit’. The words are differentiated by ‘s’ and ‘h’ which sound different.


Morpheme refers to the smallest semantically useful unit in a given language. Simply put, morphology is the study of form and structure of different units of language. It identifies, analyses and describes the structure of a given language’s linguistics units and their implied context. Language can be classified depending on how morphemes are applied – analytical (usage of isolated morphemes), agglutinative (morphemes are stuck together) and fusional (usage of bound morphemes having affixes and complicated polysynthetic where individual morphemes are joined together into single words)

For example, the sentences – “The girl sings” / “The girls sing”. By an additional affix – s, “sings” and “girls” is different from their base form of “sing” and “girl”. By simply adding this suffix to a word, it becomes plural and changes the context of the sentence itself depending on where the plural suffix is added.e Different languages have different structures. Languages have developed, changed and morphed with time due to various reasons


Semantics simply put is the study of meaning. Linguistic semantics studies how language relates and results in human expression. It involves the understanding of the meanings of words, phrases and sentences. Philosophy plays an important role in linguistic semantics, where logic is applied to discern meanings of words and sentences.