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Literature vs Linguistics: What are the Differences?

Time:2021-02-23 18:06:19


Literature and linguistics

Language; it’s all around us.

We use it to communicate with one another, to share ideas, to tell stories.

It is a vital part of what makes us ‘human’, allowing us to connect with one another and the ability to communicate complicated ideas in a way no other species does. Language has the power to build up societies, develop technologies and spread cultures, but it also has the power to destroy them as well.

Human languages are quite complex and diverse. You will need to consider what part of it interests you when thinking about studying a language-related degree.

Is it how language is used in novels, books and poetry?

Or is it the science behind how the human mind learns and uses language?

At university, the general study of human language can usually be split into two areas: Literature and Linguistics. These two areas focus on very different aspects of language studies, one on its artistic side and the other on its scientific side.

In this article, we will be breaking down the differences between these two areas and what you can expect to learn from each at a university level.



Literature studies (or in this case, English literature) focuses on the use of language as a medium for artistic expression, story-telling and sharing of ideas through the written word.

Literature comes in many forms. From poetry to short stories, news articles to novels, persuasive writing to creative writing. Literature takes on many forms, each with their own style and literary techniques. They can also be classed into different ‘genres’ which you may have heard before, such as fiction, narrative, poetry, novel, prose, fantasy, thriller, mystery, horror and more.

As a literature student at a UK university, you will be mainly be studying English literature from different eras, but you could also touch on literature from other nations depending on the curriculum. You will learn how to analyse texts (including prose and poetry), different styles of writing and how to express ideas through written compositions.

Because of its diverse range, literature courses will often differ from one another. Universities will offer a variety of optional modules which focus on different aspects and styles of literature. Be sure to look through the course modules to see which one catches your interest or will help you reach your goals.

Furthermore, the multidisciplinary nature of literature will expose you to other academic areas, such as languages, history, politics, philosophy and even economics and maths.

When you graduate, the transferrable skills you build up can be useful in a variety of industries. Graduates who are good with writing are in big demand in the media industry, such as becoming journalists for news-stations or magazines. These skills can also be applied to a career in the marketing industry, where copywriters will be needed to create written content for clients.

You may also consider a career in teaching as well, as English is a core language subject taught in most schools and education centres globally.

If you have a knack for creative writing, becoming a full-time or part-time writer can help you develop your skills further and may even allow you to get your works published. You will have the freedom to create original works of literature in your own style, whether it be novels, stage-plays, screen-writing, poetry and more. The possibilities are endless!

In summary, a literature degree focuses on how language is used as an art-form to communicate meaning through written words. It will expose you to different styles of writing and equip you with the skills you need to become writers yourselves.

To learn more about the universities mentioned above, click here to speak with an education counsellor!


If you have watched the movie 'Arrival (2016)', you might get a glimpse of what a linguist does. In broad terms, linguistics is the scientific study of language, analysing the forms, meaning and context in which language appears, as well as socio-cultural and socio-political factors that influence the use of language.

Human languages are made up of complex structures. Unlike literature, which looks at language as an art-form, linguistics uses scientific methods to research language structures and the different elements that make it up.

As linguistics is a science-based subject, the course content mostly focuses on the theoretical and practical aspects of language formation. You will learn about the different elements that make up the structure of languages, including:

- Phonetics, the study of different letters in an alphabet which are combined to make words.

- Phonology, the study of sounds and sound-patterns in a language.

- Morphology, the study of words, how they are formed, and how they relate to other words in a language.

- Syntax, the study of the rules that govern how sentences are structured in a language.

- Semantics, the study of how words are given meaning within a language.

You will also learn scientific concepts about how the mind works when it comes to using and learning languages. This can include bilingualism (being able to speak in two languages), the process of learning a foreign language, how languages are used in different settings, how language evolves and more.

In your linguistics degree, you will touch on a range of other study-disciplines. On top of foreign languages, you would also be learning about various aspects of psychology, neurobiology, history, global cultures and other subject areas that play a role in shaping languages into what they are. You may also find some linguistics degrees which allow you to specialise in one of the areas mentioned above.

As a graduate, your skills will open you up to many areas of work. If you have the passion to learn more about the science behind languages, you can choose to go into further research in linguistics, either at a university or a research centre.

Alternatively, you may also choose to go into other lines of work where the use of language is key, such as in the media and publishing industry. Other job roles can also involve working with foreign languages, such as becoming a translator or foreign languages teacher.

However, it is important to note that studying linguistics will not limit your job scopes solely to working with languages. Other industries where your skills will be useful can include education, law, marketing, IT, business, human resources and more.

To summarise, the study of linguistics focuses on studying languages from a scientific angle. You will learn how languages, spoken and written, are formed and learned. The transferrable skills you pick up from this area will open you up to different career paths and give you a better understanding of how languages are used.

Click here to get in touch with an education counsellor and learn more about the universities mentioned above!



The bottom line

While literature and linguistics both deal with human languages, what they focus on can be quite different.

Literature is concerned with using language as a form of expression to tell stories and share messages. Linguistics is the scientific study of language itself, how it’s formed, how it evolves and how people learn it. In a sense, you can see the two subjects as the ‘arts’ and ‘sciences’ equivalent of studying human languages.

Which one you decide to study will ultimately be up to you and which area you have more interest in. However, some universities do also offer the option to study both in a single degree. These courses will give you a good balance between the two areas and can open you up to even more career paths.

You may also come across courses which combine linguistics/literature with a foreign language. Courses like these can help you understand the language in greater depth, widening the range of career pathways that you can go into.

As you can see, language is more than just what we use to talk to each other. It helps us express ourselves in different ways and communicate ideas with each other. When you learn about languages, whether in its art form or its science form, you play a role in the universal development of human expression through words and unlocking the secrets to the complexities of the human mind.


If you would like to know more about studying literature or linguistics at a university level, get in touch with us today!