Exploring Linguistics As a Major or Minor
What the Heck is Linguistics?
Linguistics is the scientific study of languages and their structures. As opposed to a foreign language degree, which focuses on fluency of one or more specific languages, linguistics has a broader focus. Fluency in a language may or may not be pursued in full because the larger goal of a linguist is to grasp universal concepts of syntax, semantics, morphology, phonetics, and phonology between a variety of languages. Each of these concepts continue on into sub-fields of their own.
Linguistics touches an extraordinary number of different careers and fields of study. However, performing job searches using "linguist" as your only keyword will result in few, if any results. It's rare that a position will be described in such a specific manner. So it is important to develop a strong interest into specific sub-fields or other careers in conjunction with linguistics. The analytical skills that develop while studying the subject can be applied in every professional situation you'd ever find yourself in.
What Can Linguistics Do For Me?
Linguists have their hands in every aspect of our lives today. Does your smartphone or tablet have a voice search feature? Linguists assist in software design and other cutting-edge technologies for personal, business, government, and educational uses. They play a big role in perfecting human-machine communication.
Every time you drive by a billboard, read a magazine, or visit anywhere on the internet, you encounter the work of linguists. Many of the most successful marketing firms keep linguists on staff to help assure a new product name or catch phrase doesn't have an unintended meaning in a foreign tongue.
Linguistics is important to historical studies. To solve the puzzle of piecing together a dead language and bringing back to life for study, a person must have intimate knowledge about the way language evolves in general. They must know how consonant sounds change over time, and how two different cultures can take the same language into completely different directions. They need to be able to connect common traits in multiple languages to find that one source word from so very long ago.
The topic also benefits writers of all kinds. Whether you're interested in journalism, cinema, or writing books, linguistics will help you identify slanting and how to use it to evoke specific emotions and tones, or lack of bias altogether.
How Much Education Should I Pursue?
Computational linguistics, historical, anthropological, sociolinguistics, and neurolinguistics are all additional sub-fields that you may choose to pursue if moving on to graduate school. For the rest of us however, linguistics fits quite nicely into any other subject of interest. Linguistics compliments majors, double majors, and minors of all varieties.
Whether it's computer science, primary or secondary education, psychology, accounting, philosophy, hearing and speech, business, art, or any other program your school offers, it will be useful. Whatever program combination you choose, pinning yourself to linguistics exclusively will make your initial entrance into the professional world difficult. Exposure to different subjects and thought processes will make you more appealing to potential employers.
I'm Just Not Sure.
Linguistics is not popular in common thought. That is to say, most people don't give it a thought, so many don't know what it is or whether it's for them. There are many introductory books on the subject you can read to test your personal interest. Many students come into the subject with strange preconceptions of what the science of language is. It's key to understand that it is, indeed a science. Linguistics is not a philosophy, or an art. It is not a new form of creative writing. It is a topic that will take focus, but rewards you by honing your analytical, reasoning, and critical thinking skills.
Just because linguistics fits so nicely with any other subject you pursue doesn't mean it will fit you. So before you commit to it, do read a book. I recommend Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action for it's brevity and readability. It's a great introduction to the kinds of questions and connections involved in your studies.