Career outlook

What can I do with a degree in linguistics?

Linguists possess expertise in language, its structure, variation, change, acquisition, etc. A degree in linguistics prepares students for advanced work in language research, as well as for employment in:

  • Teaching English and foreign languages
  • Computer systems (especially natural language processing)
  • Broadcasting, mass media and journalism
  • Publishing and editing
  • Translation
  • International business
  • Intercultural communication and negotiation
  • Law
  • Any profession requiring the precise use or analysis of speech or writing

Transferable skills

A linguistics degree offers generalist skills in:

  • Ability to discern systems in seemingly chaotic phenomena
  • Ability to read complex literature
  • Attention to detail, patience, careful observation
  • Critical and analytical thinking
  • Cultural competence, including knowledge of languages other than English
  • Oral and written expression
  • Problem-solving
  • Understanding the building blocks of language and its structure
  • Writing: argumentation, large vocabularies

Careers in linguistics

Linguists must balance the need to be a specialist (depth of knowledge in a specific discipline) or a generalist (skills with broad application, transferrable across different areas).

Traditional careers

  • Dictionaries (lexicography)
  • Language analysts, interpreters, translators for government agencies or non-profits (with language proficiency in other languages), forensic linguistics
  • Teaching (e.g., English as a foreign language or other languages)
  • Testing services (for SAT, GRE, etc.) with an advanced degree (Ph.D.)

New applications

  • Data analytics (with quantitative data analysis skills)
  • Marketing, branding, linguistic consulting
  • Tech industry (with basic computer and/or programming skills)

Career insights by degree

Still want more information about what degree is right for you? Visit our career insights explorer tool to learn more.

Linguistics in the field

Here are some fields where linguists are in demand.

  • Tech industry
    • Information architect: Organizing and structuring information on a website or an app. This is a sub-discipline of user experience design (UX). How you structure the navigation or other content on a site will determine how your users experience and locate the content.
    • Content strategist: Constructing the "dialect" and vocabulary for a community to cultivate the experience you want users to have. Example: "At Facebook, content strategists are responsible for creating experiences that are clear, consistent and compassionate. We maintain simple, straightforward and human language to talk to our community across all of our products, and to do this we get involved early on in the product design¬†process."
    • Localization specialist: Adapting a product to a local market. For software, this usually includes language translation along with other cultural and regulatory requirements.
  • Entertainment industry
    • Conlanger: Creating fictional languages for film, e.g. Dothraki and High Valyrian
    • Dialect coach: Helping actors design the voice and speech of a character for films, commercials, stage plays, voice-overs and more
  • Government

    Cryptologic linguist (U.S. Army): Identifying foreign communications using signals equipment (their role is crucial as the nation's defense depends largely on information that comes from foreign languages).

  • Companies that hire linguists
  • Additional skills to make you very competitive on the job market
    • Programming languages: C/C++, Java, Perl, Python, XML, HTML
    • Knowledge of information technology, basics of information architecture, localization essentials, content creation, and corporate branding

Careers outside of academia

  • Lexicon Branding

    Focus

    Brand naming.

    Purpose

    • Create global brand names for high-tech, entertainment and consumer goods companies
    • Utilize specific methods and creates new methods to invent and identify names that have potential

    Types of linguistics work

    Creative

    • Individual or small group work
    • Applies linguistic knowledge to create words with potential
    • Works with morphology, phonology and metaphors in order to best represent a product

    Evaluative

    • Cross-linguistic and cross-cultural evaluation of names
    • Linguistic assets of potential names
    • Name testing with consumers

    Research

    • Conveys the stories a word can tell
    • Conveys what values the word holds
  • Nuance Communications

    Focus

    • Use of specific methods of dialogue and conversation to more easily interact with today's complex technology:
      • Speech recognition
      • Text to speech
      • Natural language understanding

    Types of linguistics work

    • Speech recognition and production
    • Corpus annotation
    • Grammar engineering (creates algorithms for syntax, semantics and pragmatics)
  • Google

    Focus

    • Understand the meanings of keywords
    • Enhance algorithms in machine learning to create better reasoning based on spoken words together with their meaning
    • Improve communication

    Types of linguistics work

    • Natural language processing
    • Text classification: computational linguistics knowledge
    • Speech analysis: phonetic annotation knowledge
    • Advertising department: linguists oversee algorithms in ad space: structured and unstructured data knowledge

    Recommended coursework

    • Linguistic theory
    • Corpus linguistics
    • Textual analysis
    • Lexicography
    • Programming (Java, Python, query languages)
    • Data analysis and basic statistics
    • Machine learning
    • Project management
  • Microsoft

    Focus

    • Language understanding (Natural Language Processing Group)
      • Deconstruct language into its parts
      • Classify and categorize to gather information
    • Language generation
      • Creates language from non-linguistic data and semantic representations using various data input methods
      • Creates descriptions of visible objects

    Types of linguistics work

    • Constituency parsing
    • Dependency parsing
    • Semantic role labeling
    • Named entity recognition
    • Sentiment analysis
    • Semantic analysis

    Required skills

    • Strong linguistic background
    • Crowdsourcing
    • Programming
    • Statistics
  • Ethnic Technologies

    Focus

    • Multicultural marketing
    • Language and ethnicity
    • Predicting ethnicity based on names and location

    Linguistic knowledge

    • Specific languages
    • Morphology and phonology
    • Hypothesis testing

    Supplementary skills

    • Statistics
    • Database experience
    • Basic programming
    • Analysis of large data sets

Graduate study

A linguistics degree also provides a solid foundation for graduate study in:

Notable people with a linguistics major

  • Noam Chomsky (linguist, cognitive scientist)
  • Mary Haas (linguist, anthropologist)
  • Daniel Jurafsky (linguist, computer scientist)
  • Paul Watson (environmental activist)
  • James Gleick (journalist, author)