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Why study Linguistics?

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Linguistics

 

Every time we utter a word, no matter how mundane, we engage in a remarkable and, to the best of our knowledge, uniquely human behavior. The ability to use language is something that should amaze us, given the fact that language represents the most complex system of communication that we know of.

Linguistics is the study of this system—what its pieces are, how they combine, and how we acquire the system they form, as well as how we use it to express who we are socially and culturally. In contrast to other scholars of language, linguists are more interested in how we communicate than in what we communicate. Linguists ask questions of the following sort:

  • What sounds do human languages use, and how can we describe them?
  • What processes can be used to form words, and what sorts of rules combine words into phrases?
  • How many languages are there in the world and what similarities and differences are there between them?
  • Why and how do languages change over time?
  • What is a dialect? In what ways do dialects differ? Why are some dialects looked down on?
  • Why is it so easy to acquire a language as a baby, but so much harder as an adult?

As linguists, we may be prejudiced, but we feel that linguistics is the perfect discipline for study at a liberal arts college because of its highly interdisciplinary nature. Since language is part of everything we do, it’s hard to find a discipline that can’t benefit from a linguistic perspective:

  • As a social science, linguistics offers valuable insights to students of psychology (language and human cognition), sociology (language and gender, ethnicity, social class), anthropology (language and culture), and social work (minority languages and language policy).
  • Students of English and classical and foreign languages also find knowledge about the structure, learning, and cross-cultural variation of language extremely helpful.
  • Political science and business students benefit from insights on the politics of language, computer science students study how to get computers to talk, and physics students explore the acoustic properties of speech sound.

The possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination!

The Linguistics Program at Luther is relatively new, and we are not yet able to offer a major or a minor. However, given the interdisciplinary nature of the field, students with an interest in linguistics can easily combine this with another discipline (or disciplines) in an Individualized Interdisciplinary Major; the Linguistics Program (linguistics@luther.edu) will be glad to provide information on how to do this.

We offer a fairly wide variety of courses that change on a regular basis; please see the links above on the left for more information on courses and for updates on developments in the Linguistics Program.