Wednesday, 22 March 2017

What I Wish I'd Known: Linguistics at Lancaster


A completely non-biased report on why Linguistics is the best degree subject in the world.



Let me start by smashing one misconception right at the off. A linguist is not somebody who is fluent in several languages. It’s much more exciting than that! A linguist is someone who understands language as a concept in itself. So, for example, if you go to university to study linguistics, you’ll be asking questions such as…
  • How did language come about in the first place?
  • Are there any shared grammatical rules across the world’s languages?
  • Does our language affect the way we think? Or vice versa?
  • What can we learn from analysing the sounds of language?



See what I mean? Much more interesting!


For a long time, I thought I was going to study Spanish at university. Maybe even Spanish and German. But as I continued through my A Levels, I realised that I didn’t want my life to revolve around being fluent in another language. I wanted more options than to be a language teacher or a translator. When I realised that, I also realised that I actually had no idea what I wanted to do as a job for the rest of my life! So I decided that even if I didn’t know what my career would be in, I should follow what interests me and see where it leads. A friend mentioned that her brother was studying linguistics, I read into it a bit and thought “Yeah! That’s sounds fascinating!”.
So, what are the career prospects from a degree in linguistics?
It turns out that linguistics can lead you in lots of different directions. Now that I’ve graduated, I’m looking to find work in Marketing and PR because my studies mean that I know how to use language to be most effective. That’s actually one of the (arguably) less interesting options though. One of my course-mates is pursuing a career in speech therapy because of our knowledge of the throat and vocal systems. Another friend is trying to get into speech technology so that voice recognition systems can finally understand the Scottish accent. There’s also forensic linguistics where you can identify a criminal from the sound of their voice or determine whether a suicide note really was written by the person who died! There’s so much you can do with a degree in linguistics, it’s unreal!






What were the good bits?
My absolute favourite aspect of studying linguistics was phonetics and learning how to use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). No, that’s not the whole “alpha, bravo, Charlie, delta…” thing (that’s actually called the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet).  Understanding the IPA means that you can read sentences like this…



[lɪŋwɪstɪks ɪz̥ ðə bɛst sʊbdʒɛkt ɛvɚ an̪d juː ʃʊd ɔːl stʊdiː ɪ̈t] (translation at the end)



This is an alphabet where every sound has its own, unique symbol. So, you know how frustrating English can be because the same spelling can be used to create different pronunciations and you’re just like; “Why do we have a language where things are not spelt like they sound?!?!”. The IPA doesn’t have that problem.
I also loved finding out cool facts about other cultures and their languages. For instance, did you know that Russians have two different words for blue and they see these different shades as distinctly as English people see blue and green. They have a whole extra colour in their lives because of their language!
What were the not so good bits?
Linguistics is VERY scientific. You have to have your smarty-pants brain on for some topics and there will be times when you go home desperately trying to find one part of the lecture that you understood. So much so that I would argue Linguistics is not a Bachelor of Arts, it could easily be a Bachelor of Science (and that’s definitely not because I wanted my graduation robe to have a little gold stripe on like all my housemates’). In fact, some universities do count it as a Bachelor of Science so there you go.
However, all university subjects are hard. That’s a given no matter what degree you choose. I loved my time at university and if I were to do it all again I would definitely still choose linguistics
I’ll end with the translation for those of you who couldn’t read the sentence in IPA earlier; Linguistics is the best subject ever and you should all study it!



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