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Ling and Lang

Who wants to work for the CSIS? Anyone? Anyone?
Who wants to work for the CSIS? Anyone? Anyone?

Or something like that

Article: Destiny Kaus – A&C Writer

Linguistics. Sorry, what? Not going to lie, before writing this article, I had no idea what Linguistics was and no clue what you could do with a Linguistics degree.

Upon delving into the lives and experiences of various Linguistics students and one Linguistics professor, I have concluded that Linguistics is pretty cool, and there are tons of stuff you can do with a Linguistics degree besides work for the CIA or CSIS (which would, in my opinion, be the coolest job ever). Who would’ve thought?

Anyway, before I continue with my babbling, let me deal with this question: what the heck is Linguistics?

In his article, Dr. Jan van Eijk, a Linguistics professor at Regina’s First Nations University (FNUniv), says, “Linguistics is the study of human language in all its aspects.”

Cool. Now that I know Linguistics deals with human language and not animal language I’m golden. But, I still have no idea what “all its aspects” includes. This is why people who are smarter than I am exist on this earth.

According to Dr. van Eijk, Linguistics consists of phonetics and phonology (the production, perception, and transmission of human speech sounds), morphology (the structure of words), syntax (how words are ordered in a sentence), semantics (the meaning of words, phrases, and sentences), and pragmatics (how language is used in conversation).

Please excuse me while I take a huge breath after that extensive phrase.

“We also study how languages change over time, how children or adults learn a first or second language, where language is located in the brain, and how strokes and other forms of trauma can affect speech,” Dr. van Eijk says.

Interesting. Thus, Linguistics degrees can lead to a variety of job opportunities. Huzzah!

Dr. van Eijk says, “With a BA in Linguistics, the most popular choice is speech pathology and audiology.”

Dang, too bad Saskatchewan doesn’t offer speech pathology anywhere. If good ol’ Sask did, maybe it wouldn’t lose students to schools like the University of Alberta, Minot, or the University of B.C. where speech pathology programs are offered.

Nevertheless, with a speech pathology degree, you’re pretty much set after graduation.

“When you come out of that, you basically have a job guaranteed for life,” says Dr. van Eijk.

How cool would that be to have a guaranteed job after graduation? I wouldn’t know ‘cause I’m in English and Education.

Interestingly enough, though, some Linguistics take a much different “career path” than speech pathology or audiology.

Dr. van Eijk says, “most of our students actually are female, so they got married and then settled down, had kids, [and] followed a different career path.”

Such champs. Whatever makes you happy I guess.

Ultimately, in conjunction with the University of Regina, FNU offers an Honours Program, a Major, a Minor, and an individual MA Program in Linguistics. Goodness gracious, the opportunities are endless.

However, this individual MA Program is only offered if the Linguistics professors have the expertise to help students in whatever area of Linguistics they want to master in.

“So, if you come to us and say, ‘Well, I’m interested in 18th century Japanese phonology,’” says Dr. van Eijk. “No, we can’t do that. But, ‘I’m interested in this particular verbal paradigm in Cree.’ Yes, we can do that.”

Ah snap. My dreams of getting an MA in 18th century Japanese phonology just got crushed.

But, in all seriousness, this individual MA Program does make sense. I mean, if you don’t have the expertise, what’s wrong with pointing students in the right direction so they can accomplish their dreams? Nothing!

In fact, to my surprise, the Linguistics program here is pretty dang popular.

“It’s usually quite popular,” Dr. van Eijk says. “A few people were let go in 2010 because of financial crisis, so then we took a hit in our students.”

I’m sure other programs took a hit as well. And heck, that was 2010 (AKA: the past).

Dr. Van Eijk says, “The enrollment is coming back again.”

Huzzah! Yay for comebacks! *applauds with glee* I mean, how can you stay away from a subject that’s so ridiculously captivating?

“It’s a fascinating field of the study of human behaviour,” says Dr. van Eijk. “You learn so much about how people think through their language, how they look at reality, [and] how they look at the world through the lenses of their language.”

That was a beautiful statement, simply because it brings into perspective how different languages can give you insight into different cultures.

Now it’s time for a little student perspective. Out of the five Linguistics students I talked to, all five of them said that when they told people they were in Linguistics, they got asked a question along the lines of “how many languages do you speak?”

In response to this misguided assumption, Benjamin Woolhead, a Linguistics and English major at the University of Regina, says, “The common misconception is that I am studying ‘languages’ as in learning them. What Linguistics really is, is how languages work below the surface.”

Boom. Hopefully now people will stop automatically assuming that the entire point of Linguists is to learn as many languages as you can.

As for Woolhead, once he came to the U of R, he got hooked on Linguistics. Imagine that.

“I never really knew about Linguistics as a field until I decided to come to the U of R,” says Woolhead. “I was looking for something that would interest me, and I honestly think I just stumbled upon it.”

Who knew such a stumble could lead to such a sick interest and passion. Maybe if I took a Linguistics class, I’d get so hooked I’d leave my current faculty and work for the CIA or CSIS. Hmmm…

Evidently, when I asked these five Linguistics students if you could actually work for the CIA (in Canada’s case CSIS) with a Linguistics degree, one did not answer (I wonder why…), one straight up said yes, and three said statements similar to “I could tell you…but then I’d have to…well you know…”

One of these students, Christina Mickleborough, an MA student getting a degree in Applied Linguistics, says, “Yes, a graduate from the program a few years ago became a spy.”

Oh. My. Gosh. This is so unbelievably cool I cannot even handle it.

So, besides working for the CIA or CSIS, what other cool stuff can you do with a Linguistics degree?

Falene Karey-McKenna, a fourth year BA Honours Linguistics student at the University of Regina, says, “some of the jobs that are available for linguists include dialect trainer for T.V. or film, editor, researcher, EFL [English as a Foreign Language] teacher, professor, speech language pathology, translating, transcription work, cryptographer, job with NASA analysing Alien Language (like Uhura from Star Trek), etc.”

I honestly cannot tell whether or not Karey-McKenna is joking when she mentions analysing an Alien Language…perhaps if I was into Linguistics I’d be able to analyze her language and figure it out.

In addition to these job ops, the University of Toronto: Missasauga lists other Linguistics careers including translator, professor, and lexicographer (a dictionary writer).

Honestly, considering my love for dictionaries, becoming a lexicographer actually slightly appeals to me. I know. I’m odd.

Ultimately, though, getting a job in Linguistics takes more than a solid degree.

Karey-McKenna says, “hard work and true dedication can get you anything…except winning the lottery…but I am sure that you could win at one point if you bought +100 tickets a day.”

I concur. No matter what the subject, if you don’t actually work your butt off to get your dream job, you’re practically screwed.

Finally, I will close with Linguist Noam Chomsky’s words: “Human language appears to be a unique phenomenon, without significant analogue in the animal world.”

Thus, language sets humans apart from animals, and Linguistics allows humans to set themselves apart from other humans. Chew on that.

Image: Emily Wright

About Destiny Kaus

Former carillon production manager/arts editor/arts writer.