Many questions get closed under the rubric "Language-specific grammar and usage questions are off-topic unless primarily concerned with linguistics rather than usage." My understanding of this close reason has always been that it should apply to questions related to what is correct or good usage, i.e. questions taking a prescriptive perspective.

In practice, I find it is applied far more liberally, such as for this recent question. This is a question a well-known phonetician has written a blog entry about. Any English linguistic could write a paper assessing the frequency, social conditioning and phonological analysis of this phenomenon.

Linguistics isn't only about general linguistics but also analysing single languages and their systems. A lot of research in linguistics is conducted in university departments dedicated to specific languages, i.e. English/French/Spanish/German departments.

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  • (I have come to meta a long time after) the question you were concerned about, was edited and brought back by me. It's not self praise, but showing that the people who can vote close have earned their place and have studied a lot for it, they don't just "liberally" apply rubrics to close questions on whims, check the question in its original form if it didn't look like a language specific question initially and we still don't know if it was intended for a broader sense. Anyways, it could be only changed to a more "Linguistics" question after closing it and editing it. Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 11:13
  • And please bring to light the "many" questions which have been closed due to the reason according to you on meta with a good reason so that people who can, would consider reopening it Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 11:15

2 Answers 2


I'd like to add a general note about this whole "single word/language" issue.

For the record, questions about a single language or word are on topic, as long as they are "linguistic" in nature, so to speak, so when closing a questions that's not what I'm considering or what we should consider.

The important point I think should be whether the question is looking for a linguistic-based answer.

If a question asks about sound changes in a single language/word, I consider that a valid linguistic question. Besides, it doesn't prevent answers from mentioning other languages while providing some context, etc.

If it was about multiple languages but focusing on usage/grammar/etc, then it'd be off topic anyways and should be either closed or migrated to the appropriate site.

A final note: overlap of scope is not a good reason to migrate. If a question fits here and another site (e.g. EL&U), then it should not be migrated, rather it should be fixed if necessary to fit this site better (and it could be asked separately with an appropriate wording on the other site). If it fits here, it stays here.

  • I'm not sure I can agree. Too many questions are about quirks of history. If someone asks why "shirt" and "skirt" developed differently, I wouldn't call that a real linguistic question. That's why I've suggested before the criteria of systematicity - if you can show that a phenomenon fits into a system of language, then it's on-topic. Maybe there needs to be a Philology site for the other questions.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 7:21
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    @curiousdannii the example you showed in your comment is not really a valid linguistic question, so we agree on that. I was thinking something more along the lines of someone asking clarifications on sound changes for a word, for example. Asking "why is it this way?" for arbitrary words is not really what I had in mind. Besides no one says we need to be that rigid. We can still judge case by case, but I think that generally forbidding questions just because they ask about a single term only precludes us from having potentially good questions.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 9:31

There can be disagreement about the close reason, and as I recall my reason was that this is an opinion question (I may be mistaken about the button I clicked). But I expect that the dominant reason was "language-specific". There remains the problem that new users won't know that questions about a single language may be seen as off-topic, and may be misled into thinking that is it is allowed as a question about "a single word in relation to multiple languages or a single word/single language".

Apart from the "advertising" problem, I am not certain that there is an actual problem, with linguistics questions being closed because 5 people see it as being "language-specific", though there are cases where a non-trivial number reach that conclusion. Non-usage language-information questions could reasonably be closed (hypothetical example: "What is the accusative plural of 'cow' in Ukranian?"). Perhaps the closure you're referring to should just be considered a minor error w.r.t. the part of "language specific" that we want retained. Or maybe there is something about that kind of language-specific question (minus the added reference to Croatian) that distinguishes the question from other acceptable questions that don't include a "not all languages do this" disclaimer, which others could comment on.

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