It is often said that the thing that separates humanity from animals – other than cooked food – is language. Being able to communicate with language is one of the reasons why humanity has become so powerful.
Language is a complex thing though. Not only is learning a new language time-consuming and difficult, think about how difficult it would be to actually create a new language from scratch, one as complex and derivative as the one you currently speak.
The study of linguistics exists in order to help us understand, in a scientific way, the abstract noises and shapes which we use to communicate with each other, the differences between them and what they mean, the rules which govern them, and how we understand them.
What to expect from a linguistics degree
The vast scope of linguistics degrees means that you will learn about language through a wide range of diverse disciplines, in an attempt to understand how language works.
You may call upon humanities disciplines such as modern languages to analyze differences and relations between related and unrelated languages, history to map out the evolution of language over time, or philosophy to get to grips with the concepts of meaning. Social sciences also come into play, with subjects like psychology and sociology exploring how we actually put language to its main use of interacting with each other.
To study linguistics then, you will need to have a multidisciplinary brain and be open to learning new things in varied ways. If you do decide to study linguistics, once you graduate, a wide range of specialized careers will be open to you.
In the first year of an undergraduate linguistics degree, you will cover a number of core elements of the subject, including semantics and phonetics. These core areas are often taught largely via lectures as a series of introductory modules, saving later years of study to specialize in areas of individual interest.
You are likely to be assessed through written exams and coursework, but the weighting will vary from institution to institution. (At King’s College London, for example, the program has a weighting of 75% coursework, 25% written exams). Linguistics coursework is more than just essay writing, however, with some universities challenging students to produce reports, data analysis, presentations, group and individual projects, research and dissertation work.
For more practical work, your studies may involve the use of laboratory equipment and the exploration of real scientific methods in order to understand how we physically make sounds and to understand how the brain processes language.
Entry requirements for linguistics degrees vary, but for leading universities in the UK you may be expected to have a minimum of two As at A-level, with an A in English (literature or language or both). Good grades in related topics are also looked favorably upon. Examples of related topics include other modern languages (for instance French, Spanish, German or other), sociology, psychology, history, mathematics and philosophy.
If you study linguistics at undergraduate level, you will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or, in some cases, a Bachelor of Science (BSc). Linguistics degrees usually take three or four years to complete depending on the country, or if you choose to study linguistics alongside a modern language, you may get the opportunity to undertake a longer course with one year spent studying abroad.
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