You Might Be a Linguist If…

The Linguistics Certificate at K-State is turning two!!

We’re pretty proud of our inaugural certificate earners, many of whom are now going on to Masters degrees in fields like TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and speech pathology.

Still, if you are like I was as an undergrad, you may not be entirely clear what linguists do.

In recognition of this milestone, I’d like to celebrate the many things linguistics students can go on to study:


 

1. Why does my three year old niece say “I broomed the floor!!” to mean sweep? Language acquisition linguists study the systematic ways kids acquire languages, helping us diagnose and treat learning disorders while also revealing the really cool ways the human mind works!


2. Why is it so hard to learn prepositions in my foreign language class? Applied linguists study how adults learn language which can help make foreign language instruction more efficient and less difficult.


3. How does my phone predict what I’m going to type next? Computational linguists use large datasets of language to figure out common patterns, using this information to solve technological challenges.


4. How do you pronounce that nsfw Cardi B song title? This is an actual conversation topic I’ve lifted from linguists on Twitter. Linguists love studying how slang moves through communities and so we’re always looking at what’s new in pop culture.


5. Why do some people say y’all and others say you guys? And is y’all really gender inclusive? This question gets at the ways social, regional, and linguistic patterns work over time, all of which are topics sociolinguists love to study. We’ll also dig up questions like how long has singular “they” existed? (Hint: Jane Austen was using it back in 1813 and she was by no means the first!)


6. Who was the Unabomber? If you like true crime cases, you’ll love forensic linguistics. People who work in this field use language patterns to solve crime.


7. Why do we pronounce knight and night the same when they’re spelled differently? Historical linguistics shows us how language patterns drift over time. Because English spelling is based on historical precedent, this language drift leaves many homonyms where once these same words were pronounced differently!


8. What is a dangling participle and is it so bad? Syntacticians study how languages order utterances to figure out what patterns are acceptable to humans. While studying these patterns teaches you a lot about grammar, linguists don’t think of grammar in terms of correct and incorrect. Those conventions tend to reflect social expectations rather than the underlying structures that make language tic. 


9. Is everyone equally likely to have their testimony heard fairly by a jury in the US? Linguists also study issues like accent bias to examine how systemic patterns in culture influence the ways we listen and whether we believe a speaker.


10. What’s the difference between a butt dial and a booty call? People who study pragmatics examine how social interactions influence not only our language choices but also how we interpret phrases. These lessons can be vitally important to those studying a foreign language!


Linguists study language patterns using tools from across the humanities, social sciences, and hard sciences. Learning to look for these patterns can make you a better English major, pre-law student, Modern Languages student, or pre-health student. Anyone who works with language benefits from knowing a little more about linguistics!

If these topics sound fun to you, consider taking a linguistics course at K-State or sign up to complete the Linguistics Certificate! And, of course, send me questions and/or language-related memes as you find them!

Mary Kohn, Associate Professor and Director of the Chapman Center for Rural Studies

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