Career Profile: Linguist
People work with all kinds of materials. Sometimes they build bridges or put casts on broken bones. Sometimes they sew clothes or paint pictures, and sometimes they work with words. Linguists are people who study what words mean and how people use them. They use this knowledge in many different areas of life, including crime detection, language teaching, psychology, and in other professions where words are important.
You might think that linguists are people who speak a lot of languages. It can be true, and these types of linguists often work as translators or find jobs in different countries. However, the main point of linguistics is not learning languages but analyzing them. Linguists might learn other languages in the process, but that is not normally the focus of their work.
Analyzing a language involves working in areas like phonetics (the sounds of words), grammar, word origins, and the relationship between culture and language. Linguists try to find out why people use words the way they do and how the structure or vocabulary of a language reflects what people think.
How does a linguist’s field of study relate to everyday life and work? Linguists can become English as a Second Language teachers or professors in fields like language, history, or anthropology (the study of human cultures). They can work as speech therapists to help people speak more clearly. They can even become crime fighters, becoming forensic linguists. This field is still quite new, but it has already helped solve many crimes.
Forensic linguists analyze many different aspects of the language used in crimes. Sometimes, they look at the words used in ransom notes or other documents. Each person has a slightly different way of using words, and linguists can help find these differences. At other times, forensic linguists try to identify people’s accents or find out where they’re from based on their word usage. They might be able to help people who have lost their memory to find their way home again or discover the origin of a criminal’s accent. Anything that relates to language can be part of a forensic linguist’s work.
Working as a linguist can involve a lot of hard work and study. Developing an interest in language is probably the most important way to start. If you don’t enjoy looking in dictionaries or playing word games, linguistics might not be the right field for you.
If you decide that you enjoy language enough to work with it all day long, you’ll probably need to get an education. A general Bachelor’s degree with some courses in linguistics is probably a good start, but you might want to continue your education further. Because requirements vary, it might be a good idea to talk to an adviser at the university before you get very far in your studies. Choosing to study linguistics might not give you a clear career path, but it can be a rewarding field.
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International Association of Forensic Linguistics. “Forensic Linguistics.” http://www.iafl.org/.
Jitt, Jack. “Words on Trial: Can Linguists Solve Crimes That Stump the Police?” New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/07/23/120723fa_fact_hitt
Language Translation, Inc. “What Do Linguists Do for a Living? http://blog.languagetranslation.com/public/blog/136455
Memorial University, Department of Linguistics. “Careers in Linguistics.” http://www.mun.ca/linguistics/home/career.php.
World Wide Learn. “Guide to College Majors in Linguistics.” http://www.worldwidelearn.com/online-education-guide/social-science/linguistics-major.htm.