Why study linguistics?

The major in Linguistics offers students the opportunity to approach human language as an object of scientific investigation. It offers a program of studies that leads toward an understanding of phonological (sounds), syntactic (grammar), and semantic (meaning) structure, and that exposes students to descriptive, experimental, and historical approaches to the study of language. 

The major offers the opportunity of applying a variety of methodologies to the study of language: fieldwork, introspection and analysis of native speakers’ judgments, experimental investigations of normal and impaired language processing, laboratory phonetic analysis, computational and mathematical modeling, and language description based on existing texts.

You can watch and listen to the class of 2013 majors explain why they were drawn to Linguistics and what they like about our department and major.

Who should take linguistics classes?

Given the range of questions that Linguistics allows students to explore, linguistics classes serve a variety of students. You should take linguistics classes if you are interested in any of the following questions:

  • what is the role of language in the human mind? what kind of mental representations underlie the knowledge of our native language?
  • what kinds of abstract, empirically testable representations allow us to model our knowledge of language, as part of cognitive science?
  • how can we study human language from a humanistic angle?
  • what are the similarities and differences attested across languages?
  • what is the origin and evolution of human language? how do languages change over time?
  • how can we apply experimental methodology to the study of language, in particular in the area of phonetics and semantics?
  • in what ways is language like a computational system? how can we use the formal tools of mathematics and computer science to characterize the patterns and restrictions found across the world’s languages and the process by which language is acquired and used?
  • how can linguistics be applied to language preservation and the documentation of endangered languages?

What career opportunities will I have with a Linguistics degree?

Our classes develop valuable skills that are applicable to many jobs, including problem-solving skills, attention to detail, argumentation, and clarity of expression. Some jobs that more specifically use linguistics skills are the following:

  • Work in the computer industry
  • Work in education
  • Teach English as a Second Language (ESL) 
  • Teach at the university level
  • Work as a translator or interpreter
  • Teach a foreign language
  • Work on language documentation or conduct fieldwork
  • Work in the publishing industry, as a technical writer, or as a journalist
  • Work for a testing agency
  • Work with dictionaries (lexicography)
  • Become a consultant on language in professions such as Law or Medicine
  • Work for an advertising company
  • Work for the government
  • Become an actor or train actors

(Want to learn more about these career options? Find out more from the source: Why Major in Linguistics (and what does a linguist do)?” [pdf pamphlet] by Monica Macaulay and Kristen Syrett.)

For more information about Linguistics as a profession, see the Linguistic Society of America website.

Director of Undergraduate Studies

Any questions about the undergraduate program can be directed to the DUS below.

Picture Name Contact
Jim Wood's picture
Jim Wood
Assistant Professor & DUS