Ask a Major: Linguistics

Carla Elias Nava, College ’14

 

What exactly is the Linguistics major?

The Linguistics major provides the opportunity to study language in all of its contexts, observing and creating human language while attempting to understand what it really is — or as the Emory Linguistics program describes it, “The study of language from the perspectives of physiology, cognition, meaning, society and culture.”

 

Why are you majoring in Linguistics?

Before arriving at Emory, I had taken a high school summer course in linguistics and instantly fell in love with the discipline. I bought myself some books and continued reading about it for fun — as a hobby, if you will. When I got to Emory, I originally wanted to try something new, but by the end of my freshman year, I couldn’t stay away anymore. Now I do it for fun AND for a degree.

 

What has been your favorite class within the major and why?

I’m not exactly sure. I think I thrived the most in my History of Judaic Languages course taught by Dr. Benny Hary. I had never studied Jewish languages but I identified a lot with the creation and expression of identity through minority languages. However, I also really enjoyed the “Meaning in Human Language: Semantics and Pragmatics” class that I took with Dr. Marjorie Pak. This course was much more structural and a bit more challenging for me, but I loved studying the logic and order that semantic scholars find in meaning.

 

What has been the coolest thing you’ve done as a Linguistics major?

This is so nerdy, but definitely my research! I have thoroughly enjoyed every research project and paper that I have completed for my Linguistics classes. I can happily hole myself up in the fifth floor stacks for days on end if I have a good Linguistics project to work on.

 

What is the hardest part of being a Linguistics major?

Probably dealing with all the questions we get from people who have no idea what linguistics is. My favorite is probably, “Oh! So how many languages do you speak?” Most Ling majors I know have learned to just answer the question and ignore its irrelevance.

 

What are you looking to do, in terms of a career, with your major?

You could really do anything with linguistics — as humans, we use language every day, so it really can’t hurt any career to have some knowledge of what that is. I plan to go to law school next year and will hopefully be an attorney three years after that!

 

Does study abroad play a big part in the major? Do most majors study abroad?

I’m honestly not sure. I know the program has a couple of great study abroad opportunities, the most popular being the semester programs in Amsterdam. I actually studied abroad with the Italian Studies department, but I know a few Linguistics majors who went to Amsterdam and absolutely loved it!

 

If you could create your own class within the major, what would it be? Why?

I would probably create a class that explores the connection between language and ethnicity/ethnic identity. I think a class on this could be conducted from several perspectives, though I would try to focus on how language affects self-identity vs. perceived identity, and how that sometimes promotes and creates “otherness.”

 

If you had to give advice to someone considering the Linguistics major, what would you tell them?

DO IT! It is by far the best thing I have done at Emory, and I would recommend everyone I know to take at least one Linguistics class before graduating. Completing the whole major would be even better!

 

What is your favorite thing about languages?

Oh my. About languages? That there are so many I don’t know (and probably never will). About language itself? That there is so much that we still don’t know (and probably never will).

 

What’s one thing all Linguistics majors know?

We can probably all recite Dr. Tamasi’s definition of language on command. And by the time we complete the major, we all know how true that definition isn’t. (But don’t worry — she’d be the first to tell you that!)

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