24 Jun, 2021 12:39 PM


I'm 15 and in high school and I've been wondering if I should study Linguistics in college. More specifically, pragmatics and semantics, particularly pragmatics. I'd like to hear from anyone who knows anything about the field in general. I'd like to know anything from what linguists do, what kind of specialties there are, how many people become linguists, how useful they are/ a degree/ phd is in linguistics is, where good programs are/ university/ college level (anywhere, U.S. and abroad) linguistics as well anything else useful.

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24 Jun, 2021 12:40 PM

Linguistics is a very interesting field.  It has so many categories:  Historical linguistics (how language changes)phonetics (how your throat makes the sounds), phonology (sound changes and "rules" of sounds--this is fun), morphology (how words are made of smaller parts), syntax (the inherent grammar and rules of ALL languages-- kind of like logic or math), semantics (how sentences get their meaning), pragmatics (how we get meaning across that isn't from semantics-- that is, how people know what we mean when we say something that literally means something else-- very fun!), linguistic anthropology (how language is sued in different cultures), and sociolinguistics (how language is used in the real world in things like politics, what you speak with your friends vs what you speak with a teacher, etc-- loads of fun!).  Those are the ones I have studied, though there are a few more, such as studying computer languages, partly in order to make new ones.

Linguistics used to mean speaking a lot of languages, but that's not true anymore.  Though I think it is a bad idea, a linguist can actually not know any foreign languages at all, because what is studied is often written down in a code that works with all languages.  I personally think a linguist should speak at least three languages, for a feel of the differences, and preferably three very different languages (English, Spanish/French/Italian/German, and something exotic like Russian, Chinese, Japanese, American Sign Language (ASL).  That's right, ASL is a langauge just as complex and logical and perfect as any spoken languages!!  And other countries have other sign languages too.).

The topic that runs across most Linguistic topics is no longer 'languages' as in knowing a lot, but 'language'; that is, what do all languages have in common?  What does every language have (the sounds ah, oo, and ee; numbers; a word for 'and') and what does no language have (say, a special word for 'grandma and second cousin'; a special word meaning '0.35792468').

If you followed a child around with a tape recorder for the first five years of her life, and put all the language input in a smart computer, the computer COULD NOT produce anything the language that the five-year-old child speaks so well!  Thus there must be something INSIDE every child's brain that helps her to learn language.  For instance, when she learns the English plurals dogs, boats, slippers, cups, rabbits, and a hundred other regular plurals, her inside grammar tells her there is a grammatical 'rule' which says, put an 's' on a noun to make it plural (in English).  Of course she learns the exceptions later as well.  

This "Language Acquisition Device" (LAD) is how children learn all languages so fast.  Any child can learn any language no matter what their genetic makeup is.  Adults are slower at learning languages because they no longer have the LAD so they must use their own cognitive skills to figure it out.  A child has this 'LAD', or, the ability to learn languages easily and fluently, until about age 11-13.  This is why it is SO CRUCIAL for school systems to teach languages early!!  If you learn a second language as a child, your LAD will work later than normal.  The best and most wonderful thing for a child is to grow up speaking three languages fluently!!  But it must be the right circumstances.

As for employment possibilities:  Certainly becoming a Professor of Linguistics is a noble option.  You can also use different foreign languages in a job, having a better background to understand how to use them.  An expert in sociolinguistics can be crucial in a situation such as that the Japanese find the word 'no' to be very rude, so they will say 'yes' sometimes when they disagree. This can cause problems even at the level of the president and foreign relations!  An expert can also advise companies on how to train their workers to relocate to different countries, which happens more and more often these days. A linguist can also write popular books which make language fun for everyone to read.

I have found that being a linguist is a great party asset.  Almost everyone is interested in some kind of language issue.  When you say you are a linguist, they may have an immediate question for you; or they may be very interested in learning what linguisitcs is.  They will ask if there are reaally 50 words for 'snow' in Eskimo (NO!  The first linguistic anthropologists made a mistake!  They thought entire many word descriptions were one word.  Actually the Eskimos have two word for snow.  We have more than that:  snow, snowflake, and slush.  Probably they don't have a word for slush because it is too cold for that to ever happen!).

And where to go.  Not all schools have an undergraduate linguistics department.  Where I went I had to take graduate classes.  but any school that does is probably pretty good.  For graduate work, two of the very top schools in the world are MIT and the University of Connecticut.  Japan also has many good linguistics schools.  If you go to Japan, you will also have to learn how to write a paper (different cultures value very different styles of writing-- which is why, with fluent German, I failed a University German grammar course-- twice!!)  You will also find that in your linguistic department there will be many different cultures represented.  That's a lot of fun.

Yes!  be a linguist!!  Wahoooooooooo!!!

Source(s): One BA and two MAs in Linguistics! (no PhD: I hate writing long papers!)