Opportunities in Linguistics
After spending nearly nine years practicing law in the state of Texas in the 1980s, I made a big career switch and went for a Ph.D. in linguistics. I had always been interested in linguistics, but there were a number of reasons that I did not pursue it immediately after getting my B.A. in foreign languages:
(1) I'd taken an introductory linguistics course as an undergraduate, and I found that I disagreed with many of the tenets of modern linguistics.
(2) I was encouraged by my father to choose something that would be useful to other people in the free market, and linguistics seemed like an academic discipline that didn't produce any useful results,
(3) I had the notion that I could help fight for some of my beliefs through the legal system, as I believed in the common law and the principle of stare decisis,
(4) I wanted to write fiction, and I thought that observing the lives of other people through an active law practice would enrich my writing.
Well, I didn't get to do much appellate law, and those cases that I did take to the appeals court never made it into the law books. I didn't set any precedent. I got my fill of observing other people, though. Most of my cases were family law, and I got to see marriages break up and people squabbling over possessions and tearing their children apart in lengthy custody disputes, and finally I'd had enough. I wanted to make a difference, but my contribution to the well-being of my clients was minimal, and observing their lives from close up was really, really depressing.
So I went back to grad school. I got a Ph.D. in linguistics. I made new friends and broadened my horizons, and then I went on with my life. Grad school was a refreshing, hopeful time for me, perhaps partly because I already had some life experience behind me when I went. Getting that Ph.D. in linguistics did not solve all my problems or make all my dreams come true, but it did make me happy for the duration of the program, and that in itself is nothing to scoff at!
If you have a similar history and an interest in language, you might want to do the same. In this hub, I will show you how.
Because Linguistics is Not a Profession or a Trade, Linguistics Programs Pay You for Going to Grad School
This seems counterintuitive somehow, but going to grad school will not cost you a thing. They will pay you to go. If a program offers you admission, but requires you to pay tuition or fails to provide you with financial support, you shouldn't accept. Not only should you not have to pay tuition; they should pay your living expenses.
This is completely different from going to law school or medical school. The law and medicine are professions where people earn a lot of money. Paying for professional training is seen as an investment by the student, and that's why professional schools can afford to charge heavy fees.
Precisely because linguistics is not particularly useful to anyone, linguistics graduate programs have to pay people to attend. Instead of your investing in your future by paying fees, the program invests in you.
In order to be able to take advantage of this opportunity, you must be debt free, unencumbered and capable of living on a small income. The stipends are intended to support students. You can't support an entire family on this kind of income.
The student life is one in which you are afforded the opportunity to concentrate on learning something radically new -- possibly something that no one else has discovered before. It is not a good way to make money, and you have to be motivated to embrace a frugal lifestyle.
The Rice University Linguistics Department
- MIT Department of Linguistics
The MIT Linguistics Group aims to discover the rules and representations underlying the structures of languages. The program covers the subfields of linguistics (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and psycholinguistics) as well as i
What is Linguistics?
What is linguistics? It is the study of how language works, how language develops in children, how language originated in mankind, and it is the study of how language evolves and changes over time. If you study linguistics, you can learn about language sounds in phonetics and phonology, about grammar and grammatical components in morphology and syntax, about how people use language in cognitive linguistics, about language and the brain in neurolinguistics, about language and society in sociolingusitics, and about language and culture in anthropological linguistics.
There are different schools of linguistics that approach language from different philosophical perspectives. Formal linguistics is represented by the MIT school. Many linguistics departments across the world follow the teachings of the formal approach to linguistics that was developed at MIT.
I myself belong to the functionalist school, of which the Rice University department of linguistics, which I atended, is a representative.
You can visit the websites of these departments to get a feel for how their programs are different.
The Speculative Grammarian
Sense of Humor
One of the reasons I found going to grad school so enjoyable was the fellowship of other linguistics students. From my experience attending Baylor Law School in Waco, Texas, law students don't really sit around discussing the law. They cram for exams and they try to land coveted clerkships or to engage in activities that will enhance their chances of getting a job. But in grad school I finally met people who cared about ideas and would sit for hours discussing them.
What's more, these people had a sense of humor. Check out the Speculative Grammarian website. Many of the editors are ex-Rice linguistics department graduates. It's the best satirical work on linguistics available world-wide.
The Pursuit of Knowledge
These are the questions that I am pursuing as a linguist:
- What is language?
- How is language acquired?
- Is language unique to humans or do other animals also have it?
- How do languages change?
- How do they stay the same despite the changes?
- What do all languages have in common?
- Was there only one original language from which all languages derive, or have people rediscovered the principles of language over and over again independently of each other?
- Do all people use language the same way?
If you find these questions interesting, then maybe a linguistics education would be a good thing for you, too. Linguistics doesn't pay unless you really care about these issues. It is not necessarily a way to earn a living. It is, however, a way of life.
(c) 2008 Aya Katz