Actually I'm not totally sure what is and isn't theoretical linguistics myself, I assumed it would be stuff like X-bar theory and generative grammar and anything with really difficult to read research papers (-:

But it has come up a couple of times that this site didn't have enough of it or that this site is really specifically for it.

So is the site just for theoretical linguistics, and if it is what does that mean as far as what would be on- and off-topic?

4 Answers 4


Personally, I feel that only going on one area of Linguistics will be limiting the scope too much.

This SE site is about Linguistics, not only a part of it. Plus, if we don't do it, who will?

I vote to keep the scope open to all Linguistics fields.

If we only go for the Theoretical, then the questions about Language acquisition, second language acquisition, computational linguistics, language development, comparative linguistics, even phonetics, just to name a few, will be inevitably off topic.

  • I know we've had questions about computational linguistics and phonetics without it being complained that those are off topic. Can you elaborate on the idea that the domains of inquiry you listed are not theoretical/that it is proposed to it's just that exclude these questions? I'm not trying to be confrontational; a definition of theoretical linguistics that excludes those topics is not one I'm familiar with and not the one I am trying to invoke.
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 6:59
  • As far as I know, part of those I listed belong to Applied Linguistics, not theoretical. If it was for me, I wouldn't care in this case, I mean, my point is that whether they belong to one or the other, we should consider them as on topic. This is Linguistics SE, not Theoretical Linguistics SE... That's my point. Don't worry, I know you're not being confrontational, if I got what you mean. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 7:11
  • What does "applied linguistics" mean? To me, that is translation studies and (adult) second language education. But I think we come from very different academic traditions, with different taxonomies of subfields. If that is the case, then we may not be arguing for different conclusions. What do you think of the questions I listed as off topic in my answer?
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 7:41
  • I replied under your answer. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 10:37
  • I share Alenanno's intuitions. I think it's because we're thinking 'Theoretical' vs 'Experimental', not 'Theoretical' vs 'Applied'. Chompsky's stuff is prime example of theoretical. Of course, there is going to be some overlap, but the divide is intuitive, I think.
    – Nathan
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 16:08

The site is for "professional linguists and others with an interest in linguistic research and theory," according to the FAQ. Presumably "professional linguists (etc.)" are interested in topics other than theoretical linguistics, like etymology and translation (and knitting and computer programming...) but the unifying trait of that group is theoretical linguistics Q&A. The "if not us, who?" argument is unavailing, both in principle and given the existence of this proposal on Area 51, which can absorb most if not all of the off-topic questions I have seen proposed.

There are theoretical aspects of "language acquisition, second language acquisition, computational linguistics, language development, comparative linguistics, [and] phonetics" (from Alenanno's answer). I don't know why it is believed that anyone has proposed to exclude questions on these topics.

I wrote a fairly extensive answer to this question, which also touches on these issues. I think that it was rightly decided there that questions don't need to be "research level" in order to be welcome here, but I what we are discussing now is whether they need to have some inherent connection to (a certain) linguistic theory.

For concreteness, the only questions which I judged to be clearly off topic so far have been:

This one on the "linguistics wars" was on topic but poorly framed.

For concreteness, can others who weigh in say why they might consider the above questions on topic, and/or mention other questions whose topicality they wish to discuss?

  • I'll reply here. I agree on that off topic list, the one on the albanian is potentially a good one, but to me it's simply too localized, because it's too specific. Treated differently it might have been better. About the applied Linguistics... In my course of Applied Linguistics we talked about Mixed languages, Pidgins, Creoles, Sign languages, loanwords, linguistic interference, calques, etc... All of these I listed are on topic, right? I mean, do you agree?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 10:25
  • All three are off topic for me, but in various states of possibility of 'rehabilitation'. Re: Albanian, it's a question specifically about Albanian, and it's unlikely there is going to be an Albanian.SE, and obscure languages are usually studied by linguists, and so possibly answerable here (but still it's worded too locally). Re Arabic could be worded to be more cross- and or sociolinguistic. Re: 'aspect' - way too general and not about the technical term 'aspect.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 13:26

Let me quote Robert's answer in another meta question

Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Questions about working, applied linguistics would seem to be perfectly appropriate.

But that doesn't exclude questions about linguistic theory. If you feel that there are not enough reach-level questions being ask on this site, ask your questions. The questions that appear on the front page will define what this site is about.

Asking the First Questions

Helping define the site is what being a founding member of a beta site is about.

I think this is the right attitude. This is a generic linguistics Q&A site, limiting it to theoretical linguistic will exclude a myriad of other topics and will greatly reduce the appeal and benefits of this site to a lot of people. If you feel that there are not enough of theoretical linguistic questions, ask them! (and invite other people who can ask good questions and post good answers)


No, I shouldn't think so. "Theoretical linguistics" to me stands in a kind of opposition to (at least) psycholinguistics, language acquisition, linguistic typology, pragmatics, and phonetics; when I hear people use the phrase I assume they are referring only to (pen-and-paper) syntax, morphology, semantics, or phonology. Depending on the kind of research one is talking about, all of the above are subdisciplines of linguistics or at least have a non-empty intersection with linguistics. I certainly would not want to exclude Q&A from any of these areas.

  • 1
    Agreed. It would be incredibly bizarre to me if the site only hosted questions that fit with my understanding of 'theoretical linguistics'. Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 11:03

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