Why study linguistics?

The major in Linguistics offers students the opportunity to approach human language as an object of scientific investigation. Linguistics is about how language works: what’s in our heads, how we use it to communicate, why there are so many different languages, and how it can be modeled computationally. Yale offers a program of studies that leads toward an understanding of phonological (sounds), syntactic (grammar), and semantic (meaning) structure, and that exposes students to descriptive, experimental, and historical approaches to the study of language. 

The major offers the opportunity of applying a variety of methodologies to the study of language: fieldwork, introspection and analysis of native speakers’ judgments, experimental investigations of normal and impaired language processing, laboratory phonetic analysis, computational and mathematical modeling, and language description based on existing texts.

In the video above, you can watch and listen to the class of 2013 majors explain why they were drawn to Linguistics and what they like about our department and major.

Who should take linguistics classes?

Given the range of questions that Linguistics allows students to explore, linguistics classes serve a variety of students. You should take linguistics classes if you are interested in any of the following questions:

  • What is the role of language in the human mind? What kind of mental representations underlie the knowledge of our native language?
  • What kinds of abstract, empirically testable representations allow us to model our knowledge of language, as part of cognitive science?
  • How can we study human language from a humanistic angle? 
  • How do languages differ across the world? What are the similarities and differences attested across languages?
  • Wow do languages change over time? Why do they change?
  • What is the origin and evolution of human language?
  • How can we apply experimental methodology to the study of language, in particular in the area of phonetics and semantics?
  • In what ways is language like a computational system? how can we use the formal tools of mathematics and computer science to characterize the patterns and restrictions found across the world’s languages and the process by which language is acquired and used?
  • How can linguistics be applied to language preservation and the documentation of endangered languages?

What career opportunities will I have with a Linguistics degree?

Our classes develop valuable skills that are applicable to many jobs, including problem-solving skills, attention to detail, argumentation, and clarity of expression. Some jobs that more specifically use skills from a linguistics degree are the following:

  • A knowledge of how language works is very useful for work in the Law
  • Work in tech
  • Work in education
  • Teach at the university level
  • Work as a translator or interpreter
  • Teach English as a Second Language (ESL) 
  • Teach a language other than English
  • Work on language documentation or conduct fieldwork
  • Work in the publishing industry (e.g. as an editor, technical writer or journalist)
  • Work for a testing agency
  • Work with dictionaries (lexicography)
  • Become a consultant on language in professions such as Law or Medicine
  • Work for an advertising company
  • Work for the government
  • Become an actor or train actors
  • Work in speech pathology

Want to learn more about these career options? Find out more from the source: “Why Major in Linguistics (and what does a linguist do)?” [pdf pamphlet] by Monica Macaulay and Kristen Syrett. Lauren Gawne also has a great list of interviews with people who majored in linguistics, detailing their careers and how they use linguistics in their jobs.

For more information about Linguistics as a profession, see the Linguistic Society of America website.

Director of Undergraduate Studies

Any questions about the undergraduate program can be directed to the DUS below.