Modern linguistics emerged as a distinct field in the 19th century. A growing and exciting realm, it has links to diverse fields including psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, computer science, artificial intelligence, sociology, anthropology, and education. A master’s degree is a standard qualification for many linguistic careers. However, because of the diversity of career paths in the field, requirements to become a linguist vary considerably.
The word linguistics is derived from the Latin word lingua which means language. Etymologically, therefore, linguistics is the scientific study of the way in which language works. Modern linguistics emerged as a distinct field in the 19th century. A growing and exciting realm, it has links to diverse fields including psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, computer science, artificial intelligence, sociology, anthropology, and education. Linguistics is a key component of the emerging field of cognitive science, the study of the structure and functioning of the human mind and mental processes.
Within linguistics, there are masters and doctoral degrees focusing on theoretical linguistics, applied linguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, and computational linguistics. Students pursuing post-graduate degrees in theoretical linguistics are likely to find jobs working at universities or research labs. Master’s degrees in applied linguistics can lead to jobs in education like teaching colloquial, English and foreign languages. Or, it may lead to jobs in other areas, such as translation, research, documentation of endangered languages and dialects, publishing, or development of grammar books and teaching materials. In a psycholinguistics programme, students may focus on the processing, development, acquisition, or extinction of a language, among other things.
Neurolinguistics focusses on language in the brain, and post-graduates in the field usually work in a university or hospital setting, like working with ‘aphasia’ patients (those who have lost the ability to understand or express speech due to brain damage), and/or conducting experiments using the latest technologies in medical electronics. Computational linguists work in high-tech firms, developing and testing models for improving or creating new software in areas such as speech recognition, dictionary development, grammar verification, and so on.
Linguistics Courses in India
Probably being a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual nation and the birthplace of Sanskrit, considered as the mother of all languages, interest in linguistics has been deep-rooted in India. The Linguistics Society of India (LSI) was founded way back in 1928 and there are a large number of institutions in the country today offering bachelors, masters and doctoral programmes in linguistics. Prominent among them are the EFL
University-Hyderabad (set up in 1958 as ‘Central Institute of English’ and now designated as a Central University); the Centre for Linguistics and Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies of JNU, New Delhi; and the Departments of Humanities AND Social Sciences of IIT-Bombay and IIT-Kanpur. The CIIL-Mysore, a 32-year old institution entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating the development of Indian languages, organizes Summer/ Winter Schools in linguistics.
A master’s degree is a standard qualification for many linguistic careers. However, because of the diversity of career paths in the field, requirements to become a linguist vary considerably. Many linguists have at least a bachelor's degree, though a post-graduate education might be required for positions in research and academia. Academic and advanced research careers usually require a PhD. For interpreters and translators, a professional certificate or other specialized training may be enough. For academic or industrial research and analysis careers, qualifications in linguistics and/or a closely related field (such as anthropology, computer science or cognitive neuroscience) may be required.
For interpreters and translators working in technical fields like healthcare or law, a graduate degree related to a particular specialized area may be needed. For other types of interpreters and translators, linguistics, colloquial, English or foreign languages and literature may be especially valuable, depending on the domain of their choice. Excellent English language skills are needed in all fields. Translators and interpreters must have native-level fluency in more than one language. Interpreters need sharp listening and speaking skills.
Translators need to be strong writers in more than one language. Sign language interpreters need manual dexterity. Computational linguists generally should know various tools and techniques of natural language processing such as programming languages, algorithms, machine learning and data mining.
Success Tips for Aspiring Linguists
- Try and achieve proficiency in at least two or three languages by attending colloquial, English and foreign language classes as early as at the secondary and higher secondary levels.
- Try and acquire sufficient grounding in related disciplines like education, language and literature, sociology, anthropology, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology or computer science, if necessary even through an additional degree, to enhance options and prospects in the job market.
- Those preparing for a career in translation or interpretation, in particular, should make it a point to read widely, keep abreast of current events, take advantage of opportunities to work as volunteers, apprentices or trainees, and also obtain specialized professional certifications from appropriate authorities, if available.
- Boost career prospects and possibly save time with professional masters or doctoral programme.
- Embark on life-long learning and continuing education opportunities to stay abreast of developments in the field.