What is Linguistics?

Generally speaking, linguistics is the study of how languages work, where they come from, how they are used in society, how they change over time and how they are learned.  Interested in any of these areas?  The SJU Linguistics Program offers one major and two minors.

What Linguists Ask

  • How do children learn to talk?
  • When someone has a stroke why does it affect his or her language ability?
  • Why do I make mistakes when I’m speaking that I don’t make when I’m writing?
  • Are words like “ain’t” and phrases like “He be jammin’” ungrammatical?
  • Don’t TV and movies ruin the quality of modern English?
  • Why are some languages spoken more quickly than others?
  • Do I have to say “may I” or is “can I” okay, too?
  • If you don’t learn a second language before you are 10 is it still possible?
  • People from the South have a heavy accent.  Why don’t I have an accent?
  • Should everyone who comes to the United States learn English?
  • Do I have to go to another country to learn a second language fluently?
  • Why can’t computers understand human languages better?
  • Why are online translators so terrible?
  • Do animals speak their own language?
  • Why do judges sometimes consult linguists when evaluating a case?

What Linguists Do


  • work as translators and interpreters;
  • carry out linguistic research in areas such as discourse analysis, literacy, bilingualism, language cognition and speech pathology;
  • serve as expert witnesses in legal cases involving language-related issues;
  • create computer programs that comprehend and/or produce human language;
  • teach at colleges and universities
  • teach English or other languages in the U.S. or other countries;
  • apply research to concrete situations, such as second language learning, language disorders and speech therapy;
  • work on language planning and policy issues

What Linguists Study

Applied Linguistics The application of knowledge about language and its acquisition to practical uses such as language teaching, language planning, or translation
First Language Acquisition The study of the order, means, and rate in which a
person learns, or acquires, a first language
Historical Linguistics The study of how languages change, what kinds of changes occur, and why they occur
Morphology The study of how words are created from smaller
components called morphemes
Phonetics The study of speech sounds and their physical aspects, how they are produced and how they are perceived
Phonology The study of the inventory of sounds in a language as
well as the rules for combining and pronouncing them
Pragmatics The study of how context and situation affect meaning
Psycholinguistics The study of the relationships between psychological
and linguistic behavior
Second Language Acquisition The study of the order, means, and rate in which a
person learns, or acquires, a second language
Semantics The study of the meaning of morphemes, words,
phrases, and sentences
Sociolinguistics The study of language and society, including factors
that affect language usage, dialectal differences, and language variation and change
Syntax The study of the mental grammar that represents speakers’ knowledge about the rules of sentence formation and structure

Explorations in Linguistics Journal

An Online Journal of Undergraduate Research