Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

Another reader email answered here, this time from an enthusiastic young high-school student:

Hi, my name is [redacted] and I am a High School student. I want to major in Linguistics. I have always been interested in language, even as a child, and although I have only discovered linguistics recently, I have never had this strong sense of direction. Anyways I was wondering if there was any advice you could give me about studying linguistics.

Well, reader, thanks for sending me an email!

I’m delighted to hear that you’re interested in linguistics. As you point out here, for those for whom linguistics is truly a calling, it’s got quite a strong pull. Once you’ve found it and start looking more closely, it’s very easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole. If you’re anything like me, that pull might carry you through graduate school and beyond, so if you’re feeling that pull, well, hold on tight, you’re in for an awesome ride. Actually, though, that highlights what is the best advice I can give you at this point, both about studying linguistics and about life in general: Follow your passion.

Let’s face it, if you’re interested in studying linguistics, it’s not for money, power, fame, or prestige. It’s because you’re passionate about it, because you love the “work”, and because there’s some part of what it is that we do that appeals to you at a very deep level. My strongest advice is to take that appeal, that passion and harness it, and letting it guide you. As you start wading into the world of linguistics, you’ll realize that there are a great many subfields and areas of questioning, each of which has enough interesting questions for a hundred careers. Some of these fields will likely seem silly or boring to you. Some of them will feel pretty neutral. But sooner or later, you’re going to find a field within linguistics that you’re not only good at, but that you simply love. Although it’s good to know the basics of all the different subfields, and you’ll have to for most degree programs, it never hurts to put some extra time and energy into the fields you’re really passionate about.

So, if you find yourself fascinated by a topic, a sub-field, or even an individual question, take a related class and maybe write a paper about it. If you’re still fascinated by it after that, you may consider writing an honors thesis to explore the topic more deeply. If you’re still fascinated after all that, you’ve got yourself a Master’s Thesis. And if after all that, you’re still fascinated by the issue, well, that’s your dissertation topic right there. If that goes well, that might just be your niche, and maybe your career. All that, just for following your passion.

Pay attention as you’re reading for those questions that leap up and bite you. Pay attention when one particular topic puts you in your happy place. Know where you’re average, where you’re good, and where you’re incredible, and spend as much time as you can where you’re at your best.

People get into linguistics because they have a passion, and it’s vital that they keep a close eye on that passion and ride it for as long as they can. There are popular topics, lucrative topics, and interesting topics, but at the end of the day, you want to be studying something that you’re passionate about, something that keeps you up at night and wakes you up in the morning, and something that you can’t wait to find out more about.

So, reader, go forth, major in Linguistics and follow your passion from there, wherever it may lead you. You may not know where you’ll end up, but at the very least, you’ll know you’ll be enjoying yourself along the way.

Post Date: June 5, 2010
Categories: Reader Questions - Rants -

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