Why Major in Linguistics?
If you are considering becoming a linguistics major, you probably know something about the field of linguistics already. However, you may find it hard to answer people who ask you, “What exactly is linguistics, and what does a linguist do?” They might assume that it means you speak a lot of languages. And they may be right: you may, in fact, be a polyglot! But while many linguists do speak multiple languages — or at least know a fair bit about multiple languages — the study of linguistics means much more than this.
Linguistics is the scientific study of language. Many topics fall under this umbrella. At the heart of linguistics is an understanding of:
- the unconscious knowledge that humans have about language
- how children acquire language
- the structure of language in general and of particular languages
- how languages vary
- how language influences the way in which we interact with each other and think about the world
What exactly do we mean by this?
When you were born, you were not able to communicate with the adults around you by using language. But by the time you were five or six, you were able to produce sentences, make jokes, ask questions, and so on. In short, you had become a fluent native speaker. During those first few years of your life, you accumulated a wide range of knowledge about at least one language, probably with very little conscious effort. If you studied a foreign language later on, it’s likely that you discovered that it was not nearly as easy.
English as example
Speakers of all languages know a lot about their languages, usually without knowing that they know it. For example, as a speaker of English, you possess knowledge about English word order. Perhaps without even knowing it. You know that when you ask a yes-no question, you may reverse the order of words at the beginning of the sentence and that the pitch of your voice goes up at the end of the sentence (for example, in Are you going ?).
What about other languages?
However, if you speak French, you might add est-ce que at the beginning, and if you know American Sign Language, you probably raise your eyebrows during the question. In addition, you understand that asking a wh-question (who, what, where, etc.) calls for a somewhat different strategy (compare the rising intonation in the question above to the falling intonation in Where are you going? ). You also possess knowledge about the sounds of your language, for example, which consonants can go together in a word, and how they go together. You know that slint could be an English word, while sbint and lsint could not be. And you most likely know something about the role of language in your interactions with others. You know that certain words are “taboo” or controversial, that certain contexts might require more formal or less formal language, and that certain expressions or ways of speaking draw upon shared knowledge between speakers.
但是，如果你说的是法语，则可以在开头加上 est-ce que ，如果你懂美式的肢体语言，你可能会在提问时扬起眉毛。此外，你明白问一个wh问题（谁，什么，在哪里，等等）需要一种稍微不同的策略（比较上面例子中的升调和“你要去哪里”中的降调）。你还拥有有关语音的知识，例如，哪些辅音可以在一个单词中组合在一起，以及它们如何组合在一起。你知道 slint 可能是英语单词，而 sbint 和 lsint 可能不是。你可能还对语言在与他人交流中的作用有所了解。你知道某些单词是“禁忌”或有争议的，某些语境可能需要更正式或不太正式的语言，某些表达或说话方式需要说话者之间有共同的信息背景。
Yes, linguistics is a science!
Linguists investigate how people acquire their knowledge about language, how this knowledge interacts with other cognitive processes, how it varies across speakers and geographic regions, and how to model this knowledge computationally. They study how to represent the structure of the various aspects of language (such as sounds or meaning), how to account for different linguistic patterns theoretically, and how the different components of language interact with each other. Linguists develop and test scientific hypotheses. Many linguists appeal to statistical analysis, mathematics, and logical formalism to account for the patterns they observe.