What is linguistics? Good question. Ask any high school student and they
might be stumped for the answer. The reason is simple, according to Brian
Joseph. He's a linguistics professor at Ohio State University.
"It's not like molecular biology where one is likely to know about going
into it directly from high school," says Joseph. "The way a student enters
the linguistics profession is usually through a graduate degree. Most students
learn about linguistics once they get into college. While we do have a few
advanced high school students who learn about the field, linguistics isn't
something that is generally taught in high school."
John Colarusso says other factors come into play for linguistic's low profile.
He's a linguistics professor. "Grammar is no longer taught at the high school
level and grammar would lead into linguistics," he says.
Linguistics is the study of spoken and written language. It isn't typically
taught in high schools.
Linguistics professors agree that once a student discovers the field, the
sky is the limit.
"These are highly motivated and self-directed students," Joseph says. In
fact, many of the students he speaks to about the field speak more than one
language, and some speak several. "Very few majors muddle by with Cs. Most
get B-pluses or As."
Colarusso sees typical traits in a linguistics student. "A good linguist
is analytical, prone to abstract thought and sensitive to languages. The first
two features might be found in someone bound toward math, but the allure of
language would be a distinctive trait."
He adds that a student must realize that linguistics isn't just about learning
a language, but about understanding the conversational aspect of it and also
the meaning behind the language. Often a student becomes interested in linguistics
after taking it as an elective during the first year of university.
"After being introduced to the exciting world of linguistics through taking
an elective course, students can take more specialized and challenging courses
in linguistics," says Trude Heift. She is a linguistics professor. She adds
that the linguistics program where she teaches offers a variety of courses
ranging from those dealing with sounds to those that deal with the meaning
"We also have courses devoted to language learning and teaching, computational
linguistics, neurolinguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, universals
and typology, language and the law, and First Nations languages."
Many graduates of a linguistics program go on to graduate school and then
specialize in related disciplines, such as psychology, anthropology or law,
says Joseph. In fact, a linguistics degree alone is not always enough for
a lot of employment prospects, he says, unless one wishes, and has the necessary
skills, to teach languages.
Linguistics graduates often work at jobs that require high degrees of competence
in spoken and written language. That's according to Heift. She says a student
with a bachelor of arts degree in linguistics is well-prepared to become a
language teacher, an education policy researcher, an editor or publisher,
an immigration officer, a speech language assistant, or a researcher in a
private research lab.
Linguistics graduates can also go on to careers in information technology
and international development agencies. With further education, a student
can become an audiologist, a translator, a speech therapist/pathologist, librarian,
a lawyer or a journalist. A student can also receive graduate training in
linguistics to become a professional linguist with a career in education and
The field offers many opportunities to study and teach abroad, says Joseph.
But there are also many opportunities at home, he says, including opportunities
to teach English as a second language. There are also opportunities for software
development in areas of speech recognition and medical transcription. Other
students have entered the field of computational linguistics, he says, particularly
those with a PhD.
For those with even just a minor in linguistics there are opportunities
in the documentation of endangered languages, Joseph explains.
While university is never cheap, there are usually no additional costs
involved in a linguistics program. If a student takes a course that requires
special equipment, it is generally part of the course and is provided in its
language laboratories, says Heift. She says the price of course books in linguistics
is comparable to other courses.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: English
Language and Literature Teachers
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