Linguistics is the scientific study of language. The use of language is one of the defining characteristics of human beings, and it is the basic element for the process of communication that holds society together. Linguistics is a field that relates to many other human activities that are heavily dependent on language. One of the best ways to find out about Linguistics is to look at some of the questions that linguists are exploring.

  • How are languages put together? How do they work? How are they alike and how are they different? Which language systems and structures are found in all languages and which are specific to just some?
  • How do children learn their first language? How do we learn other languages?
  • Can we teach or program computers to understand language? Are these machine languages the same or different from human language?
  • How are other communication systems (e.g. dolphin, chimpanzee, gorilla) related to and different from human communication?
  • Do biological or innate factors contribute to the form of human languages? Do these factors affect how we learn a first or second language?
  • How and why does language change through time?
  • How do we learn the meanings of words individually and in sentences? What about idioms?
  • What regional, social and occupational factors bring about dialects or variation in language? Are men and women's varieties of a language the same or different?
  • How is language represented and processed by the human brain?
  • How do human beings use nonverbal communication such as facial expressions and gestures? Are these the same or different in various cultures and societies?
  • Are the sign languages of the deaf the same or different from spoken languages?
  • How does injury or disease affect our ability to use language? What does this tell us about the way language is represented in the brain?
  • What is the relationship between language and thought, language and society, and language and culture?

In order to work toward answers for these and other questions, linguistics majors study the structure of language, focusing on the following three areas in particular: the system of meaningful sounds (phonology); the system for combining sequences into larger units such as sentences (syntax); and the system for determining the meaning of language sequences (semantics). Linguistics looks at the structure of a wide variety of languages, not to learn these languages, but to learn about them in order to understand the universal properties of human language.

Additional information about the department, its programs, current and former students may be obtained at the Linguistics Department Web site.

Program Overview

The linguistics program at SDSU is both broad and deep, including theory, description, and applications. A recently added specialty, computational linguistics, focuses on the representation and understanding of language by machines. Another specialty is applied linguistics, the application of linguistic theory to areas such as teaching English as a second language, foreign language teaching, and bilingual education.

Preparatory course work for the major requires the completion of an introductory course in linguistics. Competency in a foreign language equivalent to that which is normally attained through three college semesters with a "B" average is required of linguistics majors.

Linguistics majors are required to complete a minor in another field approved by the advisor in linguistics. Recommended fields include anthropology, communicative disorders, ethnic studies, a foreign language, history, journalism, literature, philosophy, psychology, public administration and urban studies, sociology, and speech communication.

Special Features

The unique course features of the linguistics major include:

  • Experimental Topics in Linguistics, which offers specialized study of a selected topic in linguistics such as language issues in the classroom, language and law, or language and gender.
  • Directed Language Study, a course that allows students to gain basic competency in reading, writing, and the analysis of grammar in a number of uncommonly taught languages.
  • Special Study, which offers individual study programs in which a student works one-on-one with a faculty member on a research project.

Basic Certificate and Advanced Certificates in Teaching English as a Second language

The Linguistics Department offers two specialized training programs for teachers of English as a second language (ESL). The Basic Certificate provides basic courses in linguistics and related areas, and applies relevant concepts from these courses to the teaching of ESL. The Advanced Certificate requires the Basic Certificate (or equivalent) as a prerequisite, and offers advanced training in applied linguistics with a focus on ESL teaching. All courses in both programs are part of the regular departmental curriculum of the SDSU Department of Linguistics, and are taught by Linguistics Department faculty, which includes internationally known leaders in applied linguistics and ESL.

Career Opportunities

The main employment opportunities for linguistics majors are in fields that require writing or language analysis, such as newsletters for corporations, the conversion of technical language into language that is more comprehensible for beginners to a field, or in software development.

Many of our former students have found themselves involved in the teaching of English as a second language to immigrant and refugee population groups in various locales throughout the southwestern United States. Students also may pursue ESL teaching abroad in Latin America, the Far East, or other areas outside the United States and continental Europe. Linguistics training can also be used as a valuable skill in conjunction with a California Teaching Credential in another field to teach within the public school system.

In general, however, a trained linguist can enter almost any field because skill in the analysis and use of language is valuable in itself.

By combining the linguistics major with courses in accounting, business administration, or related fields, there are jobs available with multinational corporations, particularly those that emphasize trade among the Pacific Rim nations.

With a master's or doctoral degree, linguistics majors may find teaching positions at community colleges or universities or in companies that perform language related research.

Finally, linguists are hired in such fields as computer science, government, advertising, communication media, public relations, and curriculum development.

To further explore career options in this field, visit the Career Services Web site for more information.

General Catalog

You can view more complete information regarding the Linguistics program in the General Catalog. All students are responsible for reading and knowing the information pertinent to their areas of study available in the General Catalog. It contains requirements for all academic majors, course descriptions, policies, and regulations governing progress at the university. Catalogs are distributed at all New Student Orientation programs. To order a General Catalog, call (619) 594-7535.