Why linguistics?

The Linguistic Society of America offers an extensive response the question Why Major in Linguistics?

Here, our own Linguistics alumni and senior students share why they chose to major in linguistics.

Austin German, Class of 2018

I came to UCSD knowing that I wanted to major in linguistics. What first captured my interest in linguistics was the sheer diversity of all the languages of the world. When I learned that language is not only spoken but also signed, I took Psycholinguistics of Sign Language with Professor Rachel Mayberry and Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities with Professor Peggy Lott. These remain two of my favorite courses because they equipped me with a solid grounding in sign language research from two very different perspectives. With these under my belt, I began to work under Professor John Haviland of the Anthropology department, who was researching a sign language of southern Mexico called “Z sign”. As his research assistant, I got my first experience dealing with real linguistic data, and I became curious about the languages of Latin America.

Following this curiosity, I took Indigenous Languages of the Americas, a course taught by Professor Gabriela Caballero with the explicit goal of "preparing students for possible future research". The professor invited a speaker of Kumeyaay, the native language of San Diego, to teach our class bits of her language and give us an idea of what linguistic fieldwork might be like. From this experience I knew I had to get involved. I took on another research assistant position under Prof.​ Caballero​ working on Choguita Rarámuri, a spoken language of northern Mexico, and even though I've graduated I still work with her on the project.

During my senior year, I wrote an honors thesis on Z sign under the joint supervision of Professors Haviland and Caballero. I couldn't have had better preparation for graduate school, where I am pursuing a career in documentary linguistics and continuing my work on Z sign. At UCSD, I had the privilege of taking courses from experts in linguistics (and related fields!), and I had opportunities to work closely with faculty to gain hands-on experience in linguistic research.

K. Michael Brooks, Class of 2013

I majored in linguistics because the most incredible feat I have or ever will accomplish, I did before I started kindergarten: I learned a language from scratch. I took it for granted, though, until I took an introductory linguistics class in community college. After seeing the surface scratched into the depth of complexity in a linguistic system, I knew what I wanted to major in when I transferred.

Arriving at UCSD, I found the Linguistics Department to be everything I’d hoped for. Phonology! Rules and constraints governing and influencing why we say ‘foxes’ like ‘foxez’ instead of ‘foxess’! Morphology, where, from a handful of pieces, all kinds of words can be created! Semantics, without which nothing has any meaning! Incredibly complex interactions and straightforward tendencies, and though undergraduate students sometimes struggle with the concepts, we all internalized it as toddlers!

It was also my good fortune to be able to take a course early on in which we read and looked critically at scientific articles: Second Language Acquistion Research with Professor Robert Kluender. This opened up a whole new world for me, which included an honors thesis that I presented at the 87th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, as well as course credit and summer jobs as a research assistant. It also ultimately led me to graduate school and to a job as a researcher.

At UCSD, I found the faculty incredibly supportive (I ended up with no fewer than three mentors) and downright friendly. As a Linguistics student, the world of language opens up, taking you beyond learning how to speak (or sign!) a language, into the whats and the whys that lie beneath.

Cody McCormack, Class of 2014

I've been in love with language for as long as I remember. I distinctly recall pestering my mom to explain why some people didn't speak English when I met a Spanish speaker in preschool, and even as a young kid I became obsessed with the idea that humans could communicate in ways so different from my own.

When I was 14 I saw an awful sci-fi movie called Alien Hunter (seriously, don't watch it), where James Spader played a linguistics professor, and I knew from then on that I wanted to study linguistics.

My experience at UCSD was amazing, and I would definitely not have taken the path I have in life were it not for what I learned there. Although I loved every class I took, there were two courses that made a particularly big impact on me:

Learning about how language was used in advertising opened my eyes to the possibilities of using linguistics outside of the academic world, and led me to pursue a career in marketing. And my linguistics training has helped me a ton as a marketer.

I've regularly used my knowledge of dialects when marketing in different regions, and I've even been able to give presentations to my colleagues on how to write more effective ad copy using sociolinguistics as a guide when marketing to diverse demographics.

I know that I wouldn't be as effective in the business world if I hadn't studied linguistics. From learning how to interpret data in Phonetics, to learning how language shapes our world Language and Gender in Society, I frequently fall back on my UCSD education, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

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