Careers in Linguistics
What is it good for? Lots of stuff! A knowledge of linguistics
is useful for the following careers. Also check out the Linguistic
Enterprises website for more ideas.
- professional linguists: Linguists can do
things like collect information on languages that have never had a
writing system. Then they can analyze how the speakers of this
language use sounds and words, so as to come up with the best
alphabet for writing this language that has never been written
before. To become a professional linguist, you need a Ph.D.
- speech language pathologists (formerly known
as speech therapists): many students who are planning to do a
Masters degree in Speech Language Pathology first do a major or
minor in linguistics to get the necessary background preparation.
Speech language pathologists work with adults or children who have
reading and/or writing disabilities, problems with pronunciation,
or adults who are recovering from strokes.
- psychiatrists and other therapists: with
linguistics training they can observe the quality of voice used by
a patient or client. This gives clues them to the personality and
emotional state of person. Their knowledge of what is the normal
tempo, volume, and pitch of the voice is helpful in noticing when
these are peculiar or atypical. In addition, if they know how
conversations are normally structured, therapists can identify
abnormalities in the way that their client is carrying on the
- this same type of knowledge of the voice can also be used by
police forces and government agencies. It's called
- actors: it helps them to speak very clearly
and to mimic different dialects (many drama schools teach
- professional singers who sing in foreign
languages: it can help them pronounce the sounds in these languages
- learning a foreign language. Without
linguistics, learning another language can be like groping in the
dark. Once you know a certain amount of linguistics, it's like
someone turned on the light, and now you can see what you are
- prospective teachers of foreign languages. In
fact, if you don't know the linguistic structure of the language
you're teaching, you're groping in the dark yourself!
- interpreters/translators: For example, there
are interpreters/translators working for the Canadian Government
(for instance: in Parliament, at the Canadian Security Intelligence
Service), and at the United Nations.
- teachers of English (as a second language): if
you are interested in going to Korea, Japan, or another foreign
country to teach English, a knowledge of the linguistic structure
of English is a major help, particularly for teaching pronunciation
and grammar. * people interested in teaching literacy: it can help
you to teach people how to express their thoughts in writing; it
can give you an understanding of certain kinds of spelling
mistakes, for example, individuals who spell/write exactly as they
speak, etc. * communications engineers: engineers working on
perfecting the abilities of telephones, etc. need to know the range
and pitch of the human voice. They can use this knowledge to help
them design communications equipment for recognizing and
synthesizing human speech.
- computer speech production and recognition: a
lot of progress has been made in this area. You can now get
programs that let you give spoken commands to your computer, but
it's still not possible to talk to your computer as if it were a
human being, the way they do on Star Trek; human language is just
too complicated. Linguistics is helping overcome the problems.
- sociolinguists: study the relationships
between language and society. For example, they ponder questions
like: Why do women throughout the world use more prestigious
characteristics of speech than men do? Do children who speak
non-standard dialects (or languages) do better in school when they
are taught in their native dialect/language rather than the
majority or standard version?
- neurolinguists: they study what happens when
the language centres in brain are damaged, specifically what kinds
of damage causes what kinds of symptoms.
- psycholinguists: they study how children learn
their first language, and the linguistic stages they go
- lexicographers (people who write
dictionaries). Language is always changing. Nobody now uses words
exactly the way they were used when Queen Victoria was alive, so
dictionaries are updated constantly to reflect these changes.
Lexicographers collect up-to-date information on the way that a
language is used currently.