Skip to Content

Search: {{$root.lsaSearchQuery.q}}, Page {{$}}

What Is Linguistics?

Language is one of the defining characteristics of human beings and its use lies at the center of most human activities and interactions. Linguistics is the scientific study of language in all of its complexity. Much of linguistic study is centered around three broad questions:

Why Study Linguistics?

Many students take their first linguistics course because they have studied one or more languages other than their native language(s), and they find that they are intrigued by the languages themselves or perhaps by the difficulties encountered in learning new languages. Whatever their initial motivation, students who pursue linguistics are usually drawn by the excitement of learning about, and contributing to, a science that is still in its infancy but undergoing rapid development. Linguistics students not only explore questions about language, but receive broad training that cuts across traditional boundaries between disciplines. By virtue of the central role of language in human interactions and activities, Linguistics is situated at the intellectual intersection of the humanities, and social, biological, and behavioral sciences, and is an important component of a liberal education.

Linguistics takes an analytical approach to the study of language, and Linguistics concentrators develop skills in data analysis, problem solving, and logical thinking that can be applied to many fields. For example, graduates with a B.A. in linguistics have a firm foundation (sometimes in combination with training in another specialization) from which they can pursue careers in such areas as the publishing and communication industries, translating and interpreting, computational fields, foreign language teaching, and the teaching of English as a second language. For more information, see this Career Guide for Linguistics.

Many students with a linguistics B.A. choose to undertake graduate study in this area, or in the related disciplines of psychology, speech and hearing sciences, anthropology, philosophy, or computer science; Linguistics also provides excellent preparation for law school. Recipients of U-M linguistics B.A. degrees are regularly accepted into top graduate programs in linguistics and other disciplines.