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About Linguistics

What is Linguistics?

Linguistics is the study of the structure of language.

Often students are first drawn to study linguistics because of the rich connections of linguistics with other disciplines, and with everyday life.  For example, students of anthropology, psychology, and even computer science often find that their course of study touches on language in a significant way. On a more personal level, sometimes it is a not-so-academic interest that excites a person’s curiosity about linguistics. For example, a student with an interest in exotic travel may decide to learn more about why languages are so different across the globe, or a student who follows current events and debates about “proper” English or English-only laws may want to learn about language and grammar to better understand the issues related to these topics.

Why study Linguistics?

Linguists study language because they find it interesting in its own right. Language is a complex cognitive and social phenomenon. It is a product of the human mind, yet it requires rich social input in order to be learned properly. Understanding one’s own language is effortless but understanding a foreign language that you’ve never heard before is impossible. How is it that the human mind can turn particular strings of sounds into such a rich stream of information? Why are languages around the world so different, but yet upon closer inspection turn out to have so much in common? Why is it easy to learn a language as a baby, but hard to learn it as an adult? These are just some of the questions that linguistics seeks to answer.

It turns out that the study of language, like other fields of empirical research, yields dividends beyond its own domain. Modern work in linguistics has had a profound impact on many fields where language is central: psychology, cognitive science, computer science, philosophy, the study of individual languages, literary theory, and anthropology. Students of linguistics can focus closely on language and its empirical phenomena through the study of syntax, semantics, or phonology, and they can also explore the many cross-disciplinary connections between linguistics and other fields.

Careers in Linguistics

For information about the careers that a major or minor in linguistics can prepare you for, see the Linguistic Society of America's FAQ, co-authored by Prof. Kristen Syrett.

There are numerous career paths a linguistics major might pursue. University Career Services has an informative webpage with more information. Some core areas are

  • Basic research at universities like Rutgers and at research centers such as the Center for Cognitive Science (RUCCS)
  • Computer science and industry: Apply computer-related skills to language, write programs that automatically translate and check grammar, design software, build machines that can understand human and produce speech, or use computational tools to analysis corpus data and/or big data online. 
  • Psychology and Neuroscience: Merge Linguistics and Psychology to design psycholinguistic expeirments that investigate how we acquire, process, and store language in the brain. 
  • Speech Pathology and Audiology: Connect theory to practice by studying typical and atypical language and behavior. Work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, and communication disorders.
  • Foreign language teaching and translation: Deploy knowledge of the structure of language and knowledge of multiple languages to teach languages in schools and other programs, and/or work as a translator.
  • Language in education: Design educational materials for language instruction, study the role of language in different educational, social, and cultural contexts, investigate the role of language in learning and teaching, and incorporate topics and lessons relevant to language into curricula.
  • Forensic Linguistics (language and the law): study the langauge of the written law, language used in judicial processes, and the use of linguistic evidence in court proceedings.

The skills developed in the study of linguistics (attention to detail, developing hypotheses and testing them, analytic reasoning) serve as good foundation for various fields including law, teaching, publishing, technical writing, library science, editing and others.

Information about current career opportunities can be found at the Jobs section of The Linguist List or the Linguistic Society of America.

Major or Minor in Linguistics at Rutgers

If you are interesting in becoming a Major or Minor in Linguistics, please find out more about our options at Rutgers by visiting the Major/Minor page

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