Dr. Pradeep Kumar Das, HUFS, South Korea 30th Sept'2008


Why one should study linguistics? What will linguistics bring to you?



There has been a genuine worry for students doing linguistics. They always go to their teachers, seniors and friends to get answers to their queries. I too have been asked to give some satisfactory answer for such queries time and again. Therefore, I thought to write about it in general. I think this is one of our responsibilities to tell our students what they could do after they finish their MA and in what way(s) they are fortunate ones to be the part of the discipline! I hope that I make sense to all of you. I, of course, have googled to gather the information. Having evaluated the information carefully and after editing and modification, I decided to post this write-up. I am open to suggestions and advices for every point that I have listed here.

What does Linguistics give you?

If students remember we start our orientation in linguistics telling them that linguistics is a 'scientific study of human language'. Having agreed to this on the face value, a discipline which uses the scientific methods to find out a solution is bound to imbibe the methodical and systematic procedures in establishing any such probable solution. This helps (in some cases forces) us in acquiring a comprehensive understanding of abstract theory of syntax and semantics, makes us capable of data analysis (in morphology, field-methods), and sharpens our skills in analysis of sound systems such as in phonetics and phonology. Other branches of linguistics makes us capable in discerning the grammatical patterns and their applications without knowing the actual language. Don't you think that this is beyond the imagination to have you got to learn in any other discipline (at least in Arts)?


What can you do after  you have a degree in Linguistics?

I feel little hesitant in writing on this point. The reason is not that I do not know what to write here, rather this is not what we,Indians in general, do in academics. However, if people abroad can market their stuff what can be wrong when we do the same, and I am not marketing, rather making the discipline to earn its due respect. So, let me see if I can justify myself in what I want to say.

Well an MA in linguistics usually promises you a variety of career opportunities in teaching (I hope you know that Google hires linguistics students to teach online ),  professional editors (Thomson Press, India) linguistic analysis of the text (H-5 Mumbai), psychology (Prof. Ansum Gupta and her team), anthropology, neurology, speech recognitions and recreation (HP Lab, Bangalore hires professionals with a package of 20 to 25 lakhs PA), communications and technical writing (many of our students teaching at Engineering Colleges), philosophy, and artificial intelligence ( again many of our students working at IIIT, Hyderabad) etc.

Skills that linguistics will impart in you:

  • Strong analytical skills. In order to handle the abstract concepts of language structure that can be universally applicable, linguists train their brain to operate at a very high efficiency level. Initially this comes as a headache to the students but gradually it becomes a habit and once its a habit, this operates at other spheres of life as well and makes us a successful person in life. In other words, this skill extends to other areas of analytical thinking, allowing the linguists to analyze a range of possible outcomes for any problem at any level. I request you to be conscious of this and if you have not started doing it, just get going and help yourself. Many top business and political leaders have spent at least part of their academic careers studying linguistics to gain some of these powerful advantages ( I mean it, believe me, I am not chaffing at all). 


  • Critical thinking skills. In many core areas of linguistics studies, linguists are trained to make accurate decisions in urgent situations. Therefore, linguists get to develop a profound ability to solve problems. This kind of quick, critical thinking that allows a linguist to interpret speech or text also allows them to play out multiple scenarios in their head at a go. This is not a repetition of earlier point here. This is specially for the teaching purposes and for the people who work in professional places like Google, H-5 and Thomson Press etc. 


  • Efficiency in written and oral presentations. Students with linguistics degree rely on their skills to understand the meanings and the intentions of speakers and writers. In the same way, they develop powerful communications skills that allow them to express ideas in clear, precise and coherent ways. Many linguists love to use their dense vocabularies to build effective written and oral presentations. This is the skill that students of linguistics are blessed with just by being the part of the discipline and thus can enjoy the precious possession.


  • Language interpretation skills. While most of us learn to understand one or two languages in an effortless fashion, students doing linguistics develop the vital ability to process and analyze the structure of many languages in the same effortless way. As students become familiar with the structure of many languages, they can quickly translate the required concept from an unknown language to their mother tongue or vice versa. This covertly prepares a unique translator in every student doing linguistics because a famous translator is one who is capable of translating concepts from one language to another quickly and efficiently. This makes them indispensable in a variety of legal, political, and business settings.


  • Techniques for teaching English as a second language. If none of the above explanations appeal or suit you, I can guarantee you that students with linguistics degree can go back to the classroom to help eager foreign students and workers understand English or any foreign language in much better way and make them learn it faster. In today's global marketplace, where English is called the world's language, linguistic interpretation, command and fluency in English can open up significant job opportunities for professionals who work overseas. Students with linguistics degree often develop powerful classroom skills that allow them to teach new languages effectively. They can also rely on their talents to communicate effectively with students in their native languages when necessary. This is what I am doing in a rough way at present in South Korea. 


Career options for students with linguistics:


Employment in India is anyway a big issue and specially if you are a mediocre. If you have no interest and you love to sit on the last bench, I don't think even a discipline like computer science or any so called the most job fetching discipline can guarantee a job in present time. However, if disciplines like History, Political Science, Hindi and Sanskrit provide jobs to the hard working and sincere students, it can not be the case the you won't get a job or anything good to do with a degree in linguistics if you are dedicated and sincere to the discipline. However, I would again like to emphasize on the levels of  motivation and persuasion. Be a good student and we promise you will not be left out with nothing to do.

Anyway, I will enumerate the fields and work places where students with a degree in linguistics have been getting jobs and these fields are international affairs, consultation, research, technology, education, and translation.


  • University Faculty: Many linguists like us still pursue the traditional full time permanent job of university teaching and research. Persons like us often find it convenient to continue the research and work that we might have started during our undergraduate or graduate degrees. Another motivation for such jobs is that we get to do your own research work besides teaching at the University with almost no barriers and constraints. Though faculty positions tend to grow less rapidly than other job opportunities for linguists, however, good researchers and motivated professionals that distinguish themselves by publishing innovative findings can create a demand for their work.


  • Teaching English as a Second Language: Many people who hold a degree in linguistics pursue their career in language teaching. The booming market for teachers of English and other Indian languages as a second language provides opportunities for linguistics students to apply their skills that they learn during their studies and get jobs in language teaching. Linguists not only help students understand the language but also help them to tackle problems of socio-cultural nature of countries and communities speaking that language. Many linguistics professionals enjoy opportunities to travel around the world, teaching English and other languages to professionals in foreign law firms, manufacturing sectors, and customer service centers.

  • Teaching Hindi, Urdu and Bangla as Foreign Languages in US Universities: After four years constant try, request and struggle with Fulbright house at USIEF, it has been possible to make MA in linguistics count as equivalent to MA in English to get the opportunity to apply for FLTA program. The students with MA in linguistics have regularly been selected as the Fulbright fellows to go and teach one of above mentioned languages in US Universities since 2006. This is indeed a great opportunity for all of us. Those who have gone to US for higher studies on their own effort would know how expensive and difficult it could be to apply for Graduate programs in various universities. USIEF makes this so easy for us if we get selected. We are given the chance to take TOEFL on Fulbright’s cost and the stipend money that one gets is so handy for giving the application fee for several Universities and also for GRE. Besides all, one gets a nine months’ time to stay in US and develop the rapport with eminent teachers in various Universities. I urge the students to apply for FLTA and make full use of this opportunity to get higher education in USA. 

  • Technology Development: The gradual succession of our nation's reliance on computers would further create many exciting new job opportunities for linguistics students. Students with foreign or domestic degree in linguistics  can find themselves working with development-teams on projects that improve speech recognition for customer service systems or even for home computers. Students with specialization in linguistics can also work on revisions of spell checking and grammar checking software applications. Some linguists even help in programming new artificial intelligence systems that learn to aid humans by learning their specific speech patterns.


  • Technical Writing: Many new products are developed by multi-national company, who often produce documents that even they might find confusing. Students with linguistics background can work with these companies to overhaul complex instructions into manuals and documents that can be easily understood by consumers in the target countries. By helping customers to grasp the procedure of installing or enjoying new devices without a mess for the users, linguists can help companies to improve their business.


  • Market Research: Market researchers rely on trained linguists to help frame up questions and conversations for research subjects. For instance, an interviewer asking a respondent questions by telephone might unknowingly offend or confuse that respondent by using regional dialects and phrasing. Likewise, interviewers can face the problem of etiquettes that undermines the quality of their data by offending respondents with slang, jargon, or poor pronunciation. By properly accounting for regional varieties and speech patterns, linguists can prevent researchers from asking inappropriate questions or misinterpreting verbal responses.


  • Neuroscience: Linguists have been helping doctors and therapists who work with patients suffering from strokes or who exhibit signs of communications disorders. Many of these patients suffer needlessly when their injuries or illnesses prevent them from speaking clearly, although the rest of their mental processes remain intact. By examining the unique speech patterns of these patients, linguists can decode malformed language to provide vital links to patients as they learn to communicate more effectively.

  • Law: A degree in linguistics is an excellent choice for a person on a career path to pursue a law degree. Many law firms seek associates and partners who can understand multiple languages and work in a variety of cultural environments. Foreign firms who want to do business in the United States enjoy working with attorneys who respect and understand their country's traditions and mannerisms. A degree in linguistics also has application within a law firm or legal environment. A linguist would utilize both their research and interpretation skills in dissecting the complex language that typically exists in legal contracts and documents.


  • Anthropology: Many anthropologists require strong linguistic ability and skills to aid their study of human cultures. Anthropologists with linguistics degrees can quickly decode writing and other artifacts from ancient cultures. They can also discern the distinctions between regional varieties when studying modern societies.


  • English Coaching: Many business executives who are in a foreign land cannot fully understand their clients, co-workers and the peers. In many occasions, these executives require coaching or lessons in practical conversation and the students with linguistics degree can help these executives in a number of ways. Research studies have shown that professionals who effectively mirror the language and behavior of their targets can do wonders in their jobs and earn more promotions. Linguists can help these executives overcome these obstacles by teaching them how to adjust their language and mannerisms to fit professional situations.


I hope I am able to bring some points to you that make you stick to, and more importantly loyal to the discipline i.e. LINGUISTICS.


LINGUISTICS Long live!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!