Linguistics Major

I’m going to take a few linguistics courses in college and possibly declare a major in it. I would be interested in some kind of theoretical linguistics but not sure what I want to do with that. I could maybe pursue a PhD but what if I don’t even end up liking research?

There is not a whole lot that seems interesting to me outside of linguistics and a few different foreign languages that I want to study as well. It doesn’t seem like foreign languages would really be all that helpful with the linguistics, but I just really like them. I’ve spoken to someone at my school who majors in linguistics and cognitive science, which seems like a way better combination, except that foreign languages are more enjoyable for me.

I know I am thinking ahead (will be a freshman this year) but I just don’t want to waste the whole college thing on something that won’t help me in the future.

Any advice would be appreciated, especially from people who have majored in linguistics and done something with it career-wise.

I just graduated with a degree in computational linguistics from USC. I haven’t gotten to the job part yet as I’m considering going for my masters in computational linguistics - if I don’t get in anywhere, I’ll probably try to work somewhere.

I’d definitely recommend taking the introductory linguistics course to see if you’d like the major. I knew a girl that was a double major in psychology and linguistics, but she switched to pure psychology after two lectures of an upper division syntax class. A major in linguistics/cognitive science is definitely interesting and at my school, linguistics courses are actually suggested as elective courses for the cognitive science major, so there is definitely some overlap. In fact, my professor for my introductory linguistics stated that if she could do things all over again, she would want to major in cognitive science or neuroscience.

The foreign language thing can actually be a bit helpful in some linguistics courses and will definitely benefit you in job hunting. A lot of linguistics-related jobs actively seek applicants that know languages such as Arabic, Japanese, etc. If you check out Linguist List, a lot of positions are like this - requiring knowledge of a language other than English.

Overall, there were some parts of linguistics that I didn’t care for. Phonology and phonetics got on my nerves sometimes. However, I fell in love with syntax and even opted to take advanced syntax. The computational linguistics courses I took were also stellar. We had a guest lecturer that worked for Disney doing something related to sentiment analysis, so you never know where you can actually end up working with a degree in linguistics.

If you have any other questions or anything, feel free to ask. I love talking about linguistics and will attack with walls of text :stuck_out_tongue: :slight_smile:

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@zettasyntax Thank you so much for your response! Sorry for the delayed reply; It’s been a hectic couple of weeks (I leave for college in 2 days!)

Would you mind explaining what computational linguistics actually is? I’ve heard of it but didn’t look further because of the “comp” part… I’m really bad at technology/computer type stuff.

Also, thanks for mentioning “Linguist List.” I had never heard of it before :slight_smile:

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@soontobecolleger No worries. I understand how hectic college stuff is :slight_smile:

I think some people make generalizations about computational linguistics. A family friend that got his masters in Hispanic Linguistics likes to say that computational linguistics is really just computer science and that the data being focused happens to be language-based. In fact, he said the data might as well be medical records because he sees computational linguistics as having nothing to do with linguistics. To be fair, he hasn’t really explored this area of linguistics, so I’m writing off his view as a misconception :stuck_out_tongue:

I had the opportunity to take a graduate course in computational linguistics. In the course, we were each assigned a language - mine was Polish. We used some simple Python scripts to explore the language that we had been given. For example, we ran a straightforward frequency analysis and were able to determine that the majority of the most common words were of the functional category (prepositions, articles, etc.). We then ran other scripts to perform bigram analyses to aid in determining how similar one word was to another. This produced relatively disastrous results (from a linguistics perspective). A computer scientist would likely not have cared about the results and deemed that they were “good enough”, but it was quite depressing to see which words were shown to be highly similar. On the other side of things, I got to take a course that basically had to do with speech recognition. It went over the history of speech recognition and how we’re currently at a point in which statistics is mainly used to figure out what a user is trying to say, but of course, this isn’t good enough. We need to teach such systems how humans communicate (how the tongue functions and what sounds are produced), but this is obviously something very difficult and time consuming to teach a computer (and there’s the possibility that we don’t even know how to approach this), so the statistics based method wins out when the results are decent enough.

Overall, computational linguistics is basically looking at vast amount of language data and trying to teach a computer something based off of the patterns that can be gleamed from the data. I was also really interested in the speech recognition stuff, but my college only had the one course in that subject area. The programming stuff wasn’t that bad. It was mainly Python and Matlab, which are relatively easy languages for most students to pick up. Python especially has nice and easy syntax to remember.

Linguist List is pretty awesome! I’m not sure how I stumbled upon it myself, but I like it :stuck_out_tongue:

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@zettasyntax Did you know you wanted computational linguistics going into college? What if after the intro courses I still don’t know which subfield I want to focus on? Also, for grad school admissions, how early on in the undergrad career do they have expect you to have done some kind of research? I can’t imagine doing anything freshman year because I don’t know anything yet (no linguistics courses offered in high school and I didn’t hear of linguistics until this past school year)

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@soontobecolleger Not at all. I was actually a community college student majoring in computer science and had taken a fair number of programming courses. Then I saw that UCLA had a major called linguistics and computer science while USC had just created a new computational linguistics major. I really had no focus on what I wanted to do with computer science, so I found my way to computational linguistics as a transfer student and really enjoyed it. Most (if not all) programs will likely require you to take a phonology course and a syntax course after the introductory course. It’s hard to say if you’ll find the subfield that interests you have the intro course, but hopefully something will jump out at you so you’ll know which of the two you’d like to explore. I just loved syntax and it really reminded me of computer science - how sentences are recursive and can basically be infinite. I wouldn’t enjoy drawing such a large syntax tree though :stuck_out_tongue: From my experience, people seem to lean toward phonology. In the grad course I took, most of the grad students preferred to work on phonology-related topics. Phonology was harder for me to grasp than syntax, so it wasn’t necessarily my favorite. Phonetics is pretty cool when you have to do work with Praat.

I’d say research by your junior year would be best. I don’t think they would expect anything of a freshman because there’s no way you’d have the foundation to do the research. They’d likely be impressed if you managed to do something as a sophomore. One of the students in the computational linguistics grad course that I took happened to be a sophomore and did some research. I’m sure grad schools are going to love him. I don’t think it’s bad to even do research as a senior. A lot of the graduating seniors in the linguistics department had only done research in their senior year. One girl was doing something with constructed languages using the one from Game of Thrones and it was really impressive in my opinion :stuck_out_tongue: She wanted to see if people could perceive different levels of fluency in Dothraki - what makes one speaker sound native compared to another that is far from being a native speaker. Cool stuff.

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