Linguists study and explore written and spoken language. They may examine
the evolution of languages, the combination of words to create meaning, the
meaning, sound and origin of words and the sounds used in a language's vocabulary.
The study of language is a huge topic, so over the years linguistics has
been divided into a number of categories.
Theoretical linguistics is the most general discipline of this
field. People involved in this area basically examine how languages work.
Historical linguistics looks at the development of languages and
how languages got to be the way they are today.
Sociolinguistics focuses on language and how it influences and
is affected by the structures of societies.
Psycholinguists are people who study how language is implemented
in the brain. Occasionally, psycholinguists may work for advertising firms,
using their knowledge of language to write texts for various kinds of ads
or for hospitals, helping patients who have language disorders.
Applied linguists use their knowledge of the mechanics of language
to teach and translate foreign languages. Applied linguistics specialists
may contract their services as translators, either for person-to-person translation
or for translating literature.
One of the newest disciplines of linguistics is computational linguistics,
which studies computer processing of human languages.
These specialists may work for computer or software companies, creating
computer languages and designing programs such as those used in voice recognition
software and real-time transcription in courts.
No matter which area of linguistics they specialize in, odds are people
in this field will be employed in a university or college, teaching linguistics
and doing research projects. In fact, more linguists are employed in educational
institutions than in all other employment situations combined.
Although they're experts at language, linguists aren't necessarily multilingual.
"When I tell people I'm a linguist, they usually assume I can speak a dozen
languages, which I don't," says California linguist Anca Nemoianu. "Some linguists
do, but it's not a requirement for all disciplines of this field."
Linguistics professor Ed Burstynsky agrees. "Noam Chomsky, perhaps the
most famous of linguists, only speaks one language," he says.
The nature of linguistics research requires that people interested in this
field be precise and patient.
"[Conducting a linguistics study] is very fussy, long-term work," says
Linda McNab, a linguist. "You have to be absolutely accurate with your data
and not expect immediate results."
Most linguists work 35 to 40 hours per week, with those who teach averaging
about 12 hours per week in the classroom. The number of work hours for linguists
can increase, depending on how much time they spend on independent research.
There are no physical requirements for this job. Those with hearing difficulties
may find work and especially research in the area of speech and language sounds
Research and study languages