I’m currently finishing up the last three weeks of coursework to get my undergraduate degree in Applied Linguistics from a university in the United States. I wanted to write a little blurb about my classes and my experiences to give you a view of what kind of classes linguistics majors take, for those of you that are interested.
*Please don’t forget that all of these experiences are personal to me, that these are my opinions and courses offered and required, along with professors and degree curriculums vary from university to university.
I just wanted to start off by saying that the courses required for my degree were very flexible. I majored in applied linguistics but many of my courses were listed in the (regular) linguistics department. On another note, the linguistics department at my school offers a variety of degrees including (regular) linguistics, linguistics and [insert popular language here], linguistics and psychology, linguistics and computer science, and many other interdisciplinary degrees. When I say “other linguistics majors,” I’m referring to everything but applied linguistics.
Introduction to Linguistics (req.)
Every linguistics major (requirement) and beyond (fulfills GE) takes this course. This gives you a few weeks of morphology, phonetics, phonology, syntax and really lets you know whether you want to study this for the rest of your college career. The one at my school is a weeder class and you have to get above a certain grade to be able to continue on with the major.
To be honest, I was more lost in intro to ling than I was in individualized courses like phonetics or syntax. Intro to ling goes by quickly since there are only a couple weeks dedicated to each discipline, which makes it harder to learn the concepts and practice each one in depth.
Intro to Applied Linguistics (req.)
Intro to app ling was the deal maker for me! I was in between deciding to major in app ling or linguistics and anthropology, but I enrolled in intro to app ling just to see what it was like, and many times throughout the quarter I kept thinking that I picked the right class (and major!). Intro to app ling was, let’s say….less intensive that intro to ling. In my class, we basically had guest lecturers (professors and graduate students were a majority) come in and talk about their specialized field within linguistics. One of our final papers had to be research-based somewhere within the realm of what we learned, and I compared corpora of pop songs in American and Brazilian culture (which was super cool and learned how to do in class).
Foreign Language (req.)
Applied linguistics majors at my school only had a language requirement of one foreign language studied for 2 years. Other linguistics majors had a requirement of one foreign language studied for 2 years, and another non-Romance, non-Germanic, non-Slavic foreign language studied for 1 year. There were placement tests offered for multiple languages, so you could test out of taking a few quarters or semesters. I cleared this requirement by traveling abroad in Brazil and taking the advanced Portuguese course (that had the corresponding class to have completed the requirement).
I really enjoyed phonetics, but maybe because I just really like the IPA. Phonetics studies speech sounds.
We learned about the different parts of our oral and nasal cavities and which parts produce which sounds, we learned about some really technical stuff like spectrograms and formants, as well as some applied things like jobs available in the field, phonetics in regard to second language learning, and even phonetics in singing.
*There were two versions of phonetics, one for more theoretical ling majors and one for applied. Essentially the more theoretical class teaches you how to transcribe phonemes for parachuting into the jungle and language documentation.
Syntax…you love it or you hate it; syntax studies sentence structure. I feel as if syntax is a very analytical and theoretical subfield of linguistics. From the beginning, syntax felt really simple, but continued to get more complicated as the course went on. I was basically drawing a lot of trees an learning a lot about sentence structure and parts of speech. If you have a good professor who teaches you well, grasping the concepts should be easier.
Phonology is a very interesting field and is based off of phonetics. By this, I mean that phonetics is (or should be) a prerequisite to this class, as it was for me. Phonology studies the relationship of speech sounds within a language, which was really cool and I don’t really have an opinion on this class. Oh, and if you really like puzzles and finding patterns, this might be a really cool class for you.
Syntactic Typology and Universals
This class showed us a large variety of syntactic structures found in languages across the world, and this class literally changed my life. It opened my eyes to how many different kinds of structures there could possibly be in the world’s languages, especially in lesser-known languages and languages that I hadn’t heard of before. This class focused on morphosyntax elements of languages, as opposed to phonology.
Translation and Interpretation
This course looked at theories of translation, various problems within translation (e.g. humor!), and very applied topics of translation such as subtitling vs. dubbing, localization (in advertising), language brokering, job of the interpreter, etc. It was really cool to see how these things worked, especially when I never thought about it twice while watching a movie with subtitles on them. This class did not teach us how to interpret or translate, but would recommend this class to future interpreters and translators.
This class was more technical than I thought it would be. We learned how language tests are made and what goes into making a language assessment. Excuse my previous ignorance but I was surprised with how much structure there was with formulating questions and types of assessments!
One of the best classes that I took. I was interested in sociolinguistics before I took the class, and this class confirmed how much I really do love it. Sociolinguistics looks at language in society and how people use language to accomplish certain things. We didn’t have a textbook, and instead read studies, which gave everyone in the class a surprisingly very hands-on experience with the field and types of research you could do. A+ (not talking about my grade, but the grade I’m giving the course).
Second Language Acquisition
SLA is a really great class that I’m really enjoying it. We’re looking at theories of SLA, differences between early and late bilinguals, children vs. adults, as well as heritage speakers vs. native speakers and/or second language speakers. This is a subfield that is close to my heart because I am not only learning about heritage language learning but also looking at a sort of behind-the-scenes of my own language learning experiences.
Language in Culture
Dual course listing within linguistics & anthropology. I’m finding a lot of similarities between this course and with sociolinguistics, but I get the feeling that they’re slightly different. We look at language and how it functions in culture from a very anthropological perspective; topics like multilingualism, gender, socialization, performance, language standardization–a variety of different topics. Though, the professor is in the anthro department and I feel as if the course is more anthro heavy.
Development of Spanish and Portuguese
This class looked at Latin and how it developed into both Spanish and Portuguese from a phonological perspective. It was basically a historical linguistics class where we looked at all the rules and sound change from Latin -> Spanish or Latin -> Portuguese, which really actually really interesting cool to see how and where the two super related languages diverged. There was also a little bit of history sprinkled in, if you like that kind of stuff.
Classes I would have liked to take:
More language classes (lol)
Something to Know:
Linguistics has a LOT of subfields, not only theoretically (syntax, phonetics, phonology, etc.), but linguistics can be looked at from a variety of angles in conjunction with other areas of study such as anthropology, sociology, classics, history, education, [insert name of language], politics, I am not joking when I say the list goes on!
This leads me to say that everyone within linguistics has subfields that they really like and subfields that they really don’t enjoy. If you could tell which subfields I didn’t enjoy, don’t let that scare you out of taking a certain class because you might find that that is your strongest area. Also, don’t have high expectations for a course just because I liked it.
That being said, there are also a lot of linguistic theories out there that clash with each other. My school predominantly focuses on linguistics that is more theoretical, but I prefer the type of linguistics that has a context.
Something to Consider:
Look at classes in other departments! Depending on your school, you might be surprised how many other departments offer language or linguistics-related courses. Look under departments like classics, communications, anthropology, sociology, neuroscience, languages, psychology, philosophy, etc. Depending on your interests, it’s possible that you could find other cool courses that aren’t listed under linguistics.
Based off of personal experience: Professors and TA within linguistics seem to really love what they do. I kid you not, they openly nerd out about how cool certain things are (some more openly than others) and it’s really refreshing to see that kind of passion within education.