Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated October 2010
Linguistics is the scientific study of language and its structure, and linguistics courses focus on the discovery of the universal aspects of languages. The field can be exciting and invigorating, as it is a branch of social science along with subjects such as anthropology, archaeology and psychology. Linguistics curriculums involve the description and explanation of language, as well as its origins and evolution. While the field has traditionally influenced communications and education, during the past few years it has made significant contributions to computer science and technology, and can help bridge the gap between countries, creating a more interconnected world.
Students who enroll in linguistics graduate curriculums learn to view language as a structured system and social phenomenon, and they explore how society and identity dictate how people speak. Linguistics courses engage students in the study of language in relation to ethnicity, social class, culture, gender and race. Through their studies, they will enhance their interpretative, analytical, critical thinking, written, oral and foreign language skills.
While linguistics curriculums involve the study of language in general rather than the study of foreign language, students are encouraged to develop mastery of at least one foreign language. Some linguistics courses explore why people from different countries speak the way they do. Linguistics has become quite important in terms of the globalization of the economy and society.
Students enrolled in graduate linguistics curriculums can choose from the five major linguistics concentrations to study: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics. Students of phonetics study the physical aspects of language and the sounds of language, while those who focus on phonology study the function of sound in specific languages or dialects. Morphology involves the study of the units of language, or "morphemes." Students of syntax study sentence structure, or how words combine to form sentences. Those who focus on semantics study the meaning involved in language.
Linguistics graduate students can also choose linguistics concentrations in several topics within linguistics, such as sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, applied linguistics, neurolinguistics, pragmatics, anthropological linguistics and historical linguistics. Sociolinguistics involves studying the relationships between language and social structure and linguistic variation. The relationship between linguistic and psychological behavior is the focus of psycholinguistics.
Applied linguistics courses focus on how to apply language acquisition theory to language-teaching methodologies. Pragmatics involves studying language meaning in context, while anthropological linguistics explores how language and culture interact. Meanwhile, historical linguistics courses involve the study of how languages change and relate to one another.
Students enrolled in graduate linguistics curriculums can expect to study the physiology of language, diachronic linguistics, contextual linguistics and grammatical theory. Linguistics courses may include language teaching, language disorders, speech synthesis and recognition, and endangered languages. Other linguistics courses may include topics such as intonation, linguistic processing, second-language acquisition and language variation.
Linguistic analysis, pedagogical phonology, computational linguistics and the principles of literacy are important topics in curriculums in linguistics. Students will learn about complex systems of speech recognition and pattern analysis. Regardless of the linguistics concentration students choose, they can expect to engage in the study of research design and statistics.
Linguistics Masters and PhD degree holders have options for linguistics careers in many different fields, such as education, anthropology, market research, and communications. Linguistics majors are also in high demand by technology companies to develop websites and voice recognition software. Some students may enter linguistics careers in which they are working with scientists to develop artificial intelligence systems, or with national security agencies to translate and decipher codes.
There are also linguistics careers that focus on using scientific techniques to work with the meanings, sounds and origins of written and spoken words. Graduates with a Masters or PhD degree can find linguistics careers in areas such as lexicography, etymology and computer-assisted instruction. Those who have earned a Masters or PhD degrees in linguistics can become ecolinguists, teachers of English as a second language (TESL), speech and language therapists and ontologists.
General linguists earn an average annual salary of $50,000, while speech-language pathologists can expect to earn about the same. Speech therapists can command average annual salaries of $43,000, while ontologists may earn an average of $55,000 per year. Meanwhile, teachers of English as a second language (ESL) can earn an average annual salary of $40,000. Translators can expect an annual salary of around $40,000, while data analysts can earn $47,000 on average each year.
Students who decide to earn a doctorate in linguistics will command higher salaries and can also become linguistics professors on a college level. Those with a Masters or PhD degree in linguistics have many choices when it comes to employment, and the field’s career outlook is a positive one. Linguistics careers are excellent for those who are passionate about and intrigued by language and its role in culture, learning and society.