Linguistics is the scientific study of language. Such study has, broadly speaking, three aspects: language form, language meaning, and language in context. The earliest known activities in the description of language have been attributed[by whom?] to Pāṇini (fl. 4th century BCE), with his analysis of Sanskrit in Ashtadhyayi.
Linguistics analyzes human language as a system for relating sounds (or signed gestures) and meaning. Phonetics studies acoustic and articulatory properties of the production and perception of speech sounds and non-speech sounds. The study of language meaning, on the other hand, deals with how languages encode relations between entities, properties, and other aspects of the world to convey, process, and assign meaning, as well as to manage and resolve ambiguity. While the study of semantics typically concerns itself with truth conditions, pragmatics deals with how context influences meanings.
Grammar comprises the system of rules which governs the form of the utterances in a given language. It encompasses both sound and meaning, and includes phonology (how sounds function and pattern together), morphology (the formation and composition of words), and syntax (the formation and composition of phrases and sentences from these words).
In the early 20th century Ferdinand de Saussure distinguished between the notions of langue and parole in his formulation of structural linguistics. According to him, parole is the specific utterance of speech, whereas langue refers to an abstract phenomenon that theoretically defines the principles and system of rules that govern a language. This distinction resembles the one made by Noam Chomsky between competence and performance, where competence is individual's ideal knowledge of a language, while performance is the specific way in which it is used.
The formal study of language has led to the growth of fields like psycholinguistics, which explores the representation and function of language in the mind; neurolinguistics, which studies language processing in the brain; and language acquisition, which investigates how children and adults acquire a particular language.
Linguistics also includes nonformal[clarification needed] approaches to the study of other aspects of human language, such as social, cultural, historical and political factors. The study of cultural discourses and dialects is the domain of sociolinguistics, which looks at the relation between linguistic variation and social structures, as well as that of discourse analysis, which examines the structure of texts and conversations. Research on language through historical and evolutionary linguistics focuses on how languages change, and on the origin and growth of languages, particularly over an extended period of time.
Corpus linguistics takes naturally occurring texts as its primary object of analysis, and studies the variation of grammatical and other features based on such corpora. Stylistics involves the study of patterns of style: within written as well as within spoken discourse. Language documentation combines anthropological inquiry with linguistic inquiry to describe languages and their grammars. Lexicography covers the study and construction of dictionaries. Computational linguistics applies computer technology to address questions in theoretical linguistics, as well as to create applications for use in parsing, data retrieval, machine translation, and other areas. People can apply actual knowledge of a language in translation and interpreting, as well as in language education - the teaching of a second or foreign language. Policy makers work with governments to implement new plans in education and teaching which are based on linguistic research.
Areas of study related to linguistics include semiotics (the study of signs and symbols both within language and without), literary criticism, translation, and speech-language pathology.