Introduction to Levels of Language/Linguistics


Language has levels at which it is studied. There are five such levels that enhance both the teaching and the learning of a language.



Phonetics is seen as the study of science of the speech sounds of a language. It is the science that studies the character of human sound-making; especially those sounds used in speech, and provides a method for their description, classification, and transcription. Phonetics has three branches namely:

Articulatory phonetics: This is the study of how speech sounds are made or produced through the human speech organs as well as the identification and classification of individual sounds.

Acoustic phonetics: This is the study of the physical properties of speech sounds as sound waves, using such instruments as the sound spectrograph with which different properties of sounds such as pitch, amplitude, frequencies, etc., can be recorded and analyzed.

Auditory phonetics: This is the study of speech sounds, as perceived by the hearer.


Phonology is the study of how speech sounds are used in a particular language, the relationship between the sounds, and how they are used to give meanings. It is the study of sound system and sound patterns in a language.

There is segmental and supra-segmental phonology. Segmental phonology involves the study of unit sounds, i.e. consonants and vowels while supra-segmental phonology describes phonological systems that are discrete such as assimilation, deletion, elision, contraction, etc.

There are also prosodic features such as syllables, stress, rhythm, pitch, and intonation.


Morphology can be regarded as the study of word formation, the internal structures of words, and the rules governing their formation. We study morphological processes in morphology.

Morphological processes: The morphological process of the English Language is varied. They can derived from affixation, compounding, blending, clipping, invention methods, acronyms, etc.

Affixation: Affixation is a process of adding a prefix or a suffix to the root word to form a new word and a new meaning. The process of affixation can be divided into prefixation (prefix) and suffixation (suffix).

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A prefix is a group of letters added to the front of a root word that changes its meaning and so builds a new word and new meaning. For example:

Prefix (dis-) Root word (agree) = disagree

Prefix (pre) Root word (Degree) = pre-degree

A suffix is a group of letters added to the end of a word that changes its meaning and so builds a new word and meaning. For example:

Root word (faith) +  suffix (-ful) = faithful

Root word (manage) + suffix (-ment) = management

Compounding: Compounding is another word-formation process wherein two words are joined by a hyphen. In most cases, two nouns are joined together. With words newly formed, the hyphen is retained, but in those that have become common, the hyphen is usually dropped. Examples of compound words are as follows: market-place, cover-cloth, ceiling-fan, wrist-watch, garden-egg, coffee-pot, sugar-daddy, bride-price, etc.

Blending: Blending is another word formation whereby parts of other words are joined together to become one. These kinds of words are known as portmanteau words. For example:

Electric and execute = Electrocute

Motor and hotel = Motel

Nigerian and Telecommunication = NITEL

International and police = Interpol

Radio and gramophone = Radiogram

Clipping: Clipping is a method wherein a part of a word is used to represent the whole. For example:

Cousin = Coz

Brother = Bro.

Magazine = Mag.

Mathematics –Maths

Professor = Prof.

Advertisement = Advert.

Reduplication: Reduplication is the invention method or repetition of words. For example:




Acronym: Acronyms is a method of picking the initial letters of words to mean one. For example:

WAEC = West African Examinations Council

UNO = United Nations Organisation

USA = United States of America


Semantics can be described as the study of meanings in a language. We the study the meanings of every word, phrase, clause, sentence, paragraph, and passage.

This is a very important level of language as it concerns itself with meanings attached to linguistic units and their patterns.

Semantics also studies the relationship existing among words such as synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, homophones, polysemy, hyponyms, ambiguity, etc.

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Also, the conceptual, associative, connotative, denotative, etc meanings of words are addressed in the study of semantics. Examples of those meanings of words are idioms, proverbs, phrasal verbs, figures of speech, etc.


This is the study of the order of words in sentences. It is the study of how utterances are permissible and constructed. In short, we can say syntax is the study of sentence formation.

The syntax is concerned with how words can be combined to form phrases, clauses, and sentences. The syntax is the branch of grammar that deals with the relationship of words when they are used in sentences.

Syntactic structure: In all languages, sentences are formed in certain specific ways. The concept of syntactic structure is the study of grammar in which particular words or sentences are arranged in linear order. It also involves knowing the rules which govern the correct usage of the language.

Syntactic Illustrations: Let us assume that sentences are amply unstructured strings of words. That is sentences are nothing more than words strung out in linear order, one after the other.

We mean that words in a language are just joined together anyhow without considering a specific order based on specific rules of the language. Consider the following examples:

  • Some boys here are indolent.
  • *Boys some here are indolent.
  • Are you serious?
  • * Serious are you?

According to the syntactic rule, sentences 1 and 3 are well formed and structurally correct. However, to those who understand the language very well, sentences 2 and 4 are not well-formed because they do not follow the syntactic rule, which is not arranged in linear order.

Syntactic Analysis:  In sentence 2, the determiner ‘some’ cannot post-modify the noun ‘boys’. It can only pre-modify it as ‘some boys’ not *boys some’. In answering the question in sentence 4, the adjective ‘serious’ cannot have the position of an operator or ‘Wh-word’.

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Instead, the operator ‘are’ should first occur at the beginning of the sentence (question) as in ‘Are you serious’ not ‘serious are you’

Also, certain sentences may be syntactically well-formed but be semantically (meaning) different.

Consider the following examples: in English, the meaning of ‘Bade killed a snake’ is different from ‘A snake killed Bade’. Both sentences have the same syntactic structure SVO but they have different meanings.

Sentence 1 means that ‘It was Bade who killed a snake’ but sentence 2 means that it was a snake here that killed Bade’.

Author: Deola Adelakun

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