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Why are Linguistics and Law considered as part of the "sciences" rather than "non-science" academic disciplines like say philosophy, history or engineering?

Seeing how both Linguistics and Law only study what has been created by mankind to begin with, or how there is virtually no room for scientists to actually test out various theories and models, it would seem, to me, that both of these fields fail to meet the criteria for being a "science", which is enlarging humanities pool of verified/easily-testable knowledge.

Or to perhaps phrase the question in a less abstract way, how do the Linguists' methods for reaching consensus differ from the methods of historians, which basically is "just" some majority of people agreeing on something based, ultimately, on their intuition. (In contrast to something like math where one can provide formal proofs, or sociology where one can run experiments and tests that meet certain criteria for validity and significance). Similarly, isn't Law "merely" applying the knowledge provided by sociology (and others) and thus more of an engineering discipline rather than a science?

Or is it perhaps like with Computer Science (and various other examples) where the field is just called a science for practical (political/economical/etc.) reasons, but actually fails to formally meet the criteria upon closer examination?

I hope no one is be offended by this. It is a serious question and I'm genuinely interested in objective answers.

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Do many people actually classify law as a science? Maybe this varies between universities, but I've never seen that. By contrast, linguistics seems to me to be one of the most clearly scientific fields among the social sciences (and I can't imagine excluding it as a science if you include mathematics and sociology). I'm not sure what you're looking for. Is this a question about what linguists or lawyers do that might be considered scientific (in which case it's a reasonable question but would be a better fit elsewhere), or what academia considers to be a science (which might fit here)? –  Anonymous Mathematician Apr 21 at 2:47
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linguistics can analyze patterns within words and across languages. There is a good amount of work that overlaps set theory and discrete math with linguistics. –  user1938107 Apr 21 at 3:09
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Signal processing and physiology are also important in modern linguistics research. –  aeismail Apr 21 at 4:54
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What is your evidence for the claim that 'linguistics and law are viewed as science' –  Suresh Apr 21 at 6:10
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Can you give an example of a place where law is considered to be a science? I've never seen one. If you've seen a university where the law department is a part of the faculty of science then that may have just been an administrative convenience for that particular university, rather than a statement of where law fits in the grand scheme of things. –  David Richerby Aug 20 at 12:30

4 Answers 4

I disagree with several of the assertions in your question regarding linguistics specifically, as well as more generally.

Firstly, there is no universally agreed upon criteria for something to be classified as a science. The division between science and non-science is a false dichotomy whose only purpose is to elevate some fields and denigrate others as less 'worthy'. This is a cultural distinction. Source: degree in history and philosophy of science.

Secondly, linguistics does in fact display the classic hallmarks that many would say are indicative of science-hood. When you document an otherwise undescribed language, you have to demonstrate correspondences that are repeatable, e.g., a noun phrase in language X consists of a determiner phrase followed by an adjectival phrase, followed by a noun, and this generalisation should hold across the phrase structure of the language. If you find a counterexample, you need to account for it by modifying your theory or disregarding it as an aberrant case. Moreover, your results are repeatable in that if someone goes back and asks for the same sentences, they should get the same, or comparable, responses.

Then you start deriving hypotheses about things like the structure of the language, on the basis of empirical data; a corpus of collected examples. These are subject to peer review and criticism, and if you survive something that this language does that others do not, or that current theory does not predict then you have to back up your claims with extensive empirical data.

This is a short description of the workflow of just one field of linguistics, and does not even encroach upon phonetics, which even has numbers and graphs! Source: a bachelors and a masters in linguistics.

Finally I would disagree that something is not a 'science' (or is less sciency) if it studies something that is a human invention. Language, yes, is a human invention, but each language is a system, and has its own rules that can be teased out by induction and deduction from the data. People don't just decide 'let's start using plural inflection'; its part of the independently testable system. Just like a game of pool is similarly invented by humans, but is analysable as a system. In fact game theory is a perfect analogue to language sciences in this respect; invented by humans, but analysable as a system.

Can't speak about law, however.

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So the method of deciding upon what is and isn't a science isn't a scientific one itself. That's fine, it may mean that the distinction is an arbitrary one, but it doesn't (necessarily) mean that its a false dichotomy. This isn't about looking down on non-science fields - I'm not questioning their validity as academic disciplines. This is about research results of sciences having been validated by some method that goes beyond "just" the collective researchers' intuitions in that field agreeing with one-another, and how Linguistics and Law achieve this. –  Dexter Apr 21 at 14:23

Or is it perhaps like with Computer Science (and various other examples) where the field is just called a science for practical (political/economical/etc.) reasons, but actually fails to formally meet the criteria upon closer examination?

Computer science is a science by any reasonable definition. Academic computer science is not about learning how to program. It is the theoretical study of computation as a mathematical subject.

In contrast to something like math where one can provide formal proofs,[...]

Formal proofs are extremely common in computer science.

Seeing how both Linguistics and Law only study what has been created by mankind to begin with[...]

Sciences are generally divided into the natural sciences and the social sciences. The latter includes fields like sociology and economics. Just because societies and economies are human-created, that doesn't mean that these fields aren't sciences.

Also, although languages are created by humans, many of the phenomena of language are naturally occurring. For example, certain combinations of sounds are easier to articulate than others, which is a physiological fact. Certain aspects of grammar are hard-wired into the human brain; for example, it is possible to construct artificial grammars that a linguist can tell could never have occurred naturally.

there is virtually no room for scientists to actually test out various theories and models

This is completely untrue for both computer science and linguistics.

Law is completely different. I have never heard of law being referred to as a science. However, the academic study of law may draw upon evidence from the social sciences.

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Since most people understand "science" as "good" and "not science" as "a system of mystical thinking akin to Zoroastrianism", just questioning whether something that's called a science is "really" science is guaranteed to offend the people who practice it, contrary to your hope that no one will be offended by your question.

I somewhat sense that you don't know much about linguistics, and your image is of prescriptive linguistics, i.e. a bunch of guys sitting in an ivory tower and making pronouncements forbidding prepositions at the ends of sentences. This is not what linguists do; that sort of thing is usually found in English and modern languages departments. You similarly misunderstood computer science, as Ben Crowell addresses in his answer. If you look into things a little, you'll find that modern linguistics is "scientific" in lots of ways.

Many linguists do field research. This involves living among the speakers of unrecorded languages, learning and describing these languages, and helping to analyze the impact these languages have on currently held theories. This is fully as scientific as what cultural anthropologists, sociologists, and behaviorists of all kinds do.

But where do linguistic theories come from? Linguistic theories, for the most part, are either psychological theories, attempting to make sense of human language as an activity of the human mind, or mathematical theories, developing formalisms that describe the structure of language. Noam Chomsky's formal language hierarchy and generative grammar are mathematical formalisms that are also used in computer science, which you also malign as not a science. More recent theories, like lexical-functional grammar, are even more mathematical in character. These mathematical formalisms describe the syntax of human language, and books on them contain proofs, as do most books on computer science per se, and not programming. Set theory is also used in some corners of semantics.

Statistics is frequently applied in linguistics; see for example this paper. The answer to your question "how do linguists' methods for reaching consensus differ from historians'?" is that linguists make use of statistical data, try to explain things within existing theories, and apply mathematical formalisms, similar to the way economists and physicists reach consensus. And linguistics continues to get more mathematical, by incorporating statistics, probability, and computer science into its theory and practice.

Finally, have a look at historical linguistics and comparative linguistics. Modern linguists' painstaking reconstruction of the Proto-Indo European language, the common ancestor of languages as widely sundered as English, Latin, Armenian, Persian, and Hindi, cannot, in my opinion, be called anything other than a work of science. There were judgment calls; there were ambiguities to resolve; there are competing models; and there are some things we'll probably never know. But that's also true of paleontology, geology, and astronomy, and no one disputes that those are sciences.

As Jangari says, there is no sharp dividing line between "science" and "system of mystical thinking". Entire books have been written on this question. You can read them, and decide for yourself on the question of law. But if you believe that a field's methods and intentions make it scientific, and if you accept that cultural anthropology, economics, sociology, statistics, mathematics, computer science, paleontology, geology, wildlife biology, and physics are sciences, then linguistics is a science.

(I tried not to be offended, but as a computer science major / linguistics minor who considered law school, your apparent ignorance of computer science and linguistics touched a nerve.)

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Seeing how both Linguistics and Law only study what has been created by mankind to begin with,

History, big part of philosophy, engineering, large part of chemistry deals with artificial/men created events and items

how there is virtually no room for scientists to actually test out various theories and models

Not less than in history, astronomy, many parts of biology, archeology, anthropology, literary sciences..

Or to perhaps phrase the question in a less abstract way, how do the Linguists' methods for reaching consensus differ from the methods of historians, which basically is "just" some majority of people agreeing on something based, ultimately, on their intuition.

Historians and linguists are actually creating models based on their intuitions and discuss the findings, proof or disproof, argue and counter argue, just like other scientists.

In contrast to something like math where one can provide formal proofs, Such formal proofs exist only in mathematics and related subjects (CS and such), but not in sciences like Physics or Chemistry. Proof in "natural sciences" are different in nature from Mathematics.

Or is it perhaps like with Computer Science (and various other examples) where the field is just called a science for practical (political/economical/etc.) reasons

This remark, being rather belittling and offensive is not based on actual argument or knowledge about CS. Real CS is pretty much mathematics in most part.

I hope no one is be offended by this. It is a serious question and I'm genuinely interested in objective answers.

Unloaded questions and actual knowledge about the subjects could greatly improve the quality of this discussion.

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