Linguistics Department

Human Health Building, Room 1024
433 Meadow Brook Road
Rochester, MI 48309-4452
(location map)
(248) 370-2175
Fax: (248) 370-3144

Field of Linguistics

What is
Linguistics?

One of the most remarkable aspects of the human mind is the ability to acquire and use the rich and complex system of knowledge that is language. At an age when tying one's shoelaces still presents a major challenge, virtually all children are already quite competent in the language of their environment. These observations have led to two of the primary questions confronting linguists: "What is it that humans know when they know a language?" and "How do humans acquire that knowledge?" As we begin to answer these and related questions, we find fascinating insights into the nature of human cognition.

Two central areas within linguistic study are theoretical linguistics and historical linguistics. There is also a tremendous variety of interdisciplinary work between linguistics and other fields.

Theoretical Linguistics

Theoretical linguists seek to describe and explain the complexities of the human linguistic system. They have determined that, in spite of the many superficial differences across languages, all human languages have the same fundamental structure and, at the deepest levels, work in the same way. Typically, the field is broken down into three sub-fields: syntax (sentence structure); phonology (sound structure); and morphology (word structure).

Historical Linguistics

Historical linguists examine the ways in which languages change over time and also how languages are related to one another. This often involves looking at many different types of historical records, from rock inscriptions such as the Karkemish inscription above to birch-bark manuscripts. Using a variety of methods, historical linguists are also able to reconstruct what languages were like in earlier historical periods.

Interdisciplinary Areas

Neurolinguistics, Sociolinguistics, Biolinguistics, Anthropological Linguistics, Psycholinguistics

Careers in
Linguistics
A linguistics degree is an extremely marketable degree, whether your goal is to pursue further education in graduate school or to join the workforce immediately. Alumni Careers shows you the type of careers that graduates of our program now work in. The skills that the study of linguistics enhances are particularly sought after by today's employers, starting with the general benefits of a liberal arts degree.

Those who are also interested in training to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) can take advantage of a very unusual opportunity for undergraduates, that of teaching their own ESL class for an entire semester in our ESL Practicum. With this valuable teaching experience and the methods classes that prepare students for it, graduates can take advantage of the many opportunities to teach English in different countries abroad as well as in the U.S.

Additional Information about Careers in Linguistics: