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Linguistics major

drudkhdrudkh Posts: 95Registered User Junior Member
edited December 2008 in Other College Majors
I'm almost positive that I want to major in linguistics, it seems to fit me perfectly. I have a few questions though, regarding requirements and opportunities.

Is fluency in a foreign language required to declare linguistics as your major?
I'm very interested in foreign languages, but unfortunately, I'm still a monolingual. I've studied French briefly and German quite a bit, but I'm not advanced in either. I'd love to learn Russian, but I don't know how I would become fluent in it. Maybe a double major, or Rosetta Stone?

Do linguists get to study abroad?
I would love to travel, and I've heard that it's not uncommon with linguistics. But wouldn't this require adequate knowledge of a foreign language? Or could I still do it and get by without any?

What sort of career prospects are there for graduates of linguistics?
I've heard computational linguistics is a good choice, as well as translating or government work, but again, that would involve fluency in a foreign language. Would I have to double major in computer science and linguistics to get into computational linguistics? How does one go about this? I wouldn't mind attaining a PhD and teaching it either, I think being a professor would be very rewarding. I can't plan on that yet though until I know for sure whether or not linguistics is for me. Are there any other career options?

All information and advice is welcome, thank you.
Post edited by drudkh on

Replies to: Linguistics major

  • PseudonymPseudonym Posts: 649Registered User Member
    No, you don't have to be fluent in another language to study linguistics. It's useful, but not required. At my school, English majors have a more extensive language requirement than linguistics majors!

    Linguistics is the study of how languages work, not necessarily the study of particular languages. Knowledge of specific languages is used to illuminate more general principles--from a linguistics POV it's really more useful to have a working knowledge of how the genitive of negation works in Russian than know enough Russian to go to the grocery store. Knowledge is good, fluency is just a bonus--to make useful judgments you'll always have to consult a native speaker informant anyway, but more extensive knowledge of a particular language might make it easier to form ideas of what's interesting and what questions to ask.

    Are you asking linguistics professors go abroad or whether linguistics students do? Linguistics majors can definitely go abroad, depending on how flexible their school's requirements and credit policies are. If you're interested in linguistics and Russian, check out The New York-St Petersburg Institute of Cognitive and Cultural Studies It's a fantastic summer study abroad program in St. Petersburg with an interdisciplinary focus and a lot of great linguistics seminars. Linguistics professors often go abroad for fieldwork purposes, depending on what their focus is.

    There aren't a huge number of linguistics-specific career options outside of being a professor or going into computational linguistics if that's your expertise. Some people do speech pathology or audiology, since some courses of a ling major are relevant to that; others find their linguistics background useful for being a teacher of English to speakers of other languages. In both of those cases a separate degree or certification is required. Other than that, all of the typical "liberal arts" careers are available.

    I'd say the most important thing for you at this point is to make sure you know what a linguistics major really entails. Lots of people love learning languages, but many of the courses for a linguistics major will have more in common with formal logic than a language class. I'm a linguistics major, and I've seen many people come into ling courses because they want to learn tons of languages, and end up frustrated with syntax trees and spectrograms.
  • drudkhdrudkh Posts: 95Registered User Junior Member
    Very informative and helpful answer, thank you. But I'd still like a few more opinions...anyone?
  • yourfire_escapeyourfire_escape Posts: 289Registered User Junior Member
  • drudkhdrudkh Posts: 95Registered User Junior Member
    Thank you for the reply. It seems like going into computational linguistics would be the best choice then. Would I have to double major in computer science and linguistics? Or could I do a minor/graduate study in one?
  • kyledavid80kyledavid80 Posts: 8,093Registered User Senior Member
    As said, you don't need fluency in another language for linguistics (though some programs require it), nor do you need it for computational linguistics. I've never heard of any major requiring you to know any knowledge of a foreign language before you declare, but some require you to become proficient on at least one other language as a degree requirement. Remember, though, that linguistics is not about the study of any one particular language or languages, but about the science of language: the structure behind it, what makes it work, how it changes, how languages relate to one another, how language is integrated into society and into the mind, etc. Because it's a science, there is formalism; of all the social sciences and the humanities (different universities classify linguistics differently), it's probably the most "techy," but you can get around much of the "techiness" if you'd like (i.e. taking more sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, etc. courses).

    Linguists do study abroad, though I'm not sure whether they do more so than other majors. I can tell you that linguistic fieldwork is pertinent these days (nearly half of today's languages will be gone by the end of the century), and that does require significant traveling.

    Here's a good article on why one would major in linguistics and what one can do with it:

    LSA: About Linguistics

    Check out linguistlist.org to get some insight into the community behind linguistics; it's very active, and has lots of job listings, conference calls, papers, books, etc.
    Would I have to double major in computer science and linguistics to get into computational linguistics?

    No. You could major in one and take a bunch of courses in the other. CL is a flexible field.

    I had originally (for a few years) intended on majoring in linguistics and computer science for the goal of computational linguistics, and while that goal has not changed, I'm not majoring in either, but instead in a field (symbolic systems) that combines the two with lots of math and logic, as well as psychology and philosophy. And majors in this area do plenty of work in CL.
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