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 conversation.
  • this same type of knowledge of the voice can also be used by police forces and government agencies. It's called `forensic linguistics'.
  • actors: it helps them to speak very clearly and to mimic different dialects (many drama schools teach phonetics!).
  • professional singers who sing in foreign languages: it can help them pronounce the sounds in these languages correctly.
  • 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 doing!
  • 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 through.
  • 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.


Department of Linguistics

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000