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Linguistics Major Overview

Although language is something we use every single day, rarely do we consider its deeper meaning. That’s where linguistics comes into play. The job of linguists is to study how language influences daily life and to dissect the nitty gritty of topics like grammar, word meaning, and sentence structure. If you pursue a linguistics major, you’ll learn about why certain words are pronounced the way they are and why languages differ from one another the way they do. Read on to learn everything you need to know about majoring in linguistics. 

Related: Top 15 college majors for the future

What is a linguistics major?

Linguistics majors engage in the scientific study of language. While that sounds like a fairly straightforward definition, linguistics is a nuanced subject that explores how language is intertwined in various aspects of society. The field is often equated to foreign language study (and while it’s true that linguistics students are sometimes proficient in multiple languages) the study of linguistics encompasses much more than this. 

Linguistics majors study the structure of language and its role in society. This means they learn about how children acquire language, how languages affect the way we interact with each other, and the unconscious knowledge that humans have about language. They also study the technical parts of language such as phonetics (sounds), syntax (sentence structure), semantics (word meaning), and grammar (how words function in a sentence).

Also read: Top majors and careers for introverts

Coursework to expect 

Coursework for linguistics majors tends to vary widely among different institutions and programs. However, most departments emphasize coursework in linguistic theory and analysis, phonology, historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, and language acquisition. Because linguistics is an interdisciplinary subject, students also have the opportunity to take courses that cross over into other fields such as psychology, computer science, anthropology, philosophy, foreign language, and English. Students may also learn one or more foreign languages as part of their coursework.

Below are a few examples of courses you may encounter as a linguistics major:

  • Philosophy of Language
  • Grammar and Syntax 
  • Semantics and Phonetics 
  • Structure of Western Languages 
  • American Sign Language 
  • Theory of Linguistics
  • Computational Linguistics   

Also read: How to pick a major

Opportunities after graduation 

A degree in linguistics provides an excellent foundation to pursue a variety of career paths and post-graduate opportunities. For instance, some graduates go on to teach English abroad through programs such as Fulbright. Others may pursue careers in publishing and become writers or editors. Yet another option is to work as an interpreter or translator. The bottom line is that linguistics is a versatile degree that can translate to a multitude of rewarding professions. 

Jobs you can get with a linguistics degree

Below we’ve outlined just a few examples of career paths that are possible with a background in linguistics. These are by no means the only options, but they are some of the most popular careers among linguists. 

1. Speech pathologist 

These professionals help patients overcome communication disorders such as stuttering and other forms of speech impediments. Pathologists work with patients of all ages, oftentimes specializing in specific age groups such as children or the elderly. 

2020 Median Pay: $80,480 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 29% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. ESL teacher

ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers help students learn how to read, write, and speak English. They work with students whose native language is not English. Teachers must be comfortable teaching students from different countries and cultural backgrounds. ESL teachers can work either in the U.S. or abroad. 

2020 Median Pay: $55,350 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): -5% (Decline)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Interpreters and translators

Simply put, interpreters and translators convert information from one language into another. They often work in schools, hospitals, courtrooms, or for individual companies or private clients. They must have native-level proficiency in English and at least one other language.  If this interests you, check out our list of scholarships for foreign languages!

2020 Median Pay: $52,330 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 24% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Technical writer

Technical writers compose instruction manuals, help sections of websites, and other documentation regarding the use of products and services. They use precise language to make complex topics easier to understand. As such, a background in linguistics can prove extremely useful. 

2020 Median Pay: $74,650 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 12% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

5. University professor 

A graduate degree in linguistics opens the door to teaching the subject at the university level. Linguistics professors may also be able to teach in a number of related departments such as philosophy, psychology, communication sciences, English, and anthropology.

2020 Median Pay: $80,560 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 12% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How do I know if this major is right for me?

If you’re considering a major in linguistics, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do you value clear communication? 
  • Are you curious about the role that language plays in society?
  • Are you interested in learning foreign languages? 
  • Do you do well when it comes to things like grammar, pronunciation, and sentence structure? 

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then a linguistics major could be right for you!

Related: How to choose a college