UMass Sesquicentennial


What is Linguistics?

Linguistics is the systematic study of human language. Linguists are interested in language for its own sake, as a complex product of the human mind. They are also interested in how language develops in children, how it changes over time, and how it is used in human society.


There are many different reasons why people are first attracted to the field of linguistics:


Some have always enjoyed studying foreign languages, finding the intricacies of unfamiliar pronunciation and grammar to be interesting challenges.


Some are speakers of languages that have been discriminated against, such as African-American English or American Sign Language. For them, the field of linguistics has an important message about the equality of all human languages.


Some like word games and puzzles, and so they are drawn into solving the ultimate puzzle: how is language stored and computed in the human mind?


Some have studied logic or mathematics and are looking for a field where these disciplines can be applied to problems of human behavior.


Some are intrigued by the similarities and differences among related languages, and so they find the study of historical linguistics to be a source of many of the answers they seek.


The field of linguistics is all of these things, and more. It is continually evolving as it advances our study of human language. It is connected simultaneously with the humanities, the natural sciences, and the behavioral sciences.


The Linguistic Society of America is a professional organization that many linguists belong to. At the LSA's website, you can find information about fields of linguistics, career opportunities in linguistics, and graduate programs in linguistics.