Linguistics is not a big subject if we measure the size by people who have studied it. This may be the reason why many people get wrong what linguistics is about and what linguists (can) do. Whether you are a prospective linguistics student or a recruiter who wants to know more about linguists, continue reading. We will dispel the most frequent myths.
- Linguists are polyglots.
Erm, not necessarily. Although it’s true there are linguists who know multiple languages, it’s not a prerequisite for linguistics generally. For example, if you are a linguist that researches how children learn English as their native tongue, you will get by with English only. However, if you are a historical linguist that researches the roots of English, you will need to know something about the languages that have interacted with English throughout the years: Latin, French, and Germanic languages. This doesn’t mean that such linguist will have to be able to write essays in French or order beer in German though; many linguists that work with multiple languages know their structures, but are not necessarily conversational in them.
- Linguistics is not a science.
If we take a research discipline working with hypotheses as science, then linguistics will partly fall there, too. Why? Some branches of linguistics are definitely based on trials which test hypotheses, such as psycholinguistics. Others, like historical linguistics, do not make use of hypotheses. This means that linguistics is a very varied discipline.
- Linguists are unemployable.
Because of the varied skills that linguistics teach, linguists are actually very employable graduates. Computational linguists are very sought after and so are psycholinguists. But even linguists specialising in other areas can bring something to table - for example, historical linguists can work with sources written in unknown languages (see number 1) and sociolinguists can create questionnaires and run focus groups. These are skills valued in the working world.
- Linguists are here to tell the differences between right or wrong language use.
Although some linguists will become professional proofreaders, the scope of a linguistics degree is not to teach students about a “correct” language, but rather to realise what makes (some) people think something about a language is incorrect. Linguistics encompasses the study of language policy, meaning how languages are regulated, who has a say on what is “correct” or not and how it influences their speakers.
We hope you have learnt something new and that it makes you appreciate the study of linguistics even more - after all, many Engramo staff members are linguists!