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Education and Training: Bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Linguists study and explore all aspects of ancient and modern languages. They use scientific techniques to work with meanings, sounds, and origins of spoken and written words. Lexicographers compile definitions into dictionaries. Etymologists study the origin and evolution of words. Linguistic anthropologists study the relationships between written and spoken languages and the groups of people who use them, including those from rural cultures in developing nations or modern urban cultures in the West.

Linguists work with language in a variety of ways. Some may develop and promote artificial languages, such as Esperanto, which is an international language based on words common to the major European languages. In private companies, linguists may work with computer scientists to create new computer languages that are more like human languages. Linguists also look for ways to make computers respond to voice commands and give spoken answers, rather than printed responses on a screen or a printout. They develop ways to use computers to translate languages and methods to analyze documents to check the validity of their stated origin. For example, linguists may closely scrutinize a poem claimed to be the work of William Shakespeare. Linguists have also developed and refined American Sign Language (AMESLAN). They are now using it in their research and communication with animals.

Education and Training Requirements

Linguists work for universities, high-tech companies, research institutions, consulting firms, the government, and the military. Educational requirements for linguists vary depending on the types of jobs they wish to pursue. A bachelor's degree with a major in linguistics, English, or a foreign language is essential for entry-level work. A master's degree incorporating some practical linguistic applications will make you more employable. Those interested in teaching linguistics at the college level or doing advanced research will need a doctoral degree. During doctoral studies, graduates can often work as teaching assistants and gain useful experience while earning a stipend.

Getting the Job

Check for job openings on English department notice boards in colleges and universities and in the major scholarly journals. Interviews with prospective employers can be arranged at job desks set up during yearly conventions of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and other professional bodies. If your specialization is lexicography or etymology, check with the major dictionary publishers.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

The employment outlook for linguists is good. While the academic market for linguists remains fairly steady, there has been considerable growth in the area of computer-assisted language learning and online dictionaries and thesauruses. Once a linguist's work and publications have been recognized, consulting work may be available.

Working Conditions

Linguists in colleges and universities split their time between teaching and research. Most work thirty-five to forty hours a week. Etymologists and lexicographers spend most of these hours at their computers or in libraries conducting painstaking and detailed research.

Earnings and Benefits

Linguists' salaries depend largely on their area of expertise, their experience, and their education. In 2004 linguists with doctoral degrees working in hightech companies earned starting salaries of about $60,000, and those with master's degrees earned slightly less. Linguists who worked on the development of computer languages earned higher salaries. Researchers and university professors earned lower salaries, as did linguists with only undergraduate degrees. Linguists working in corporate or academic environments usually receive retirement plans, health insurance, and vacation benefits.

Where to Go for More Information

Linguistic Society of America
1325 Eighteenth St. NW, Ste. 211
Washington, DC 20036-6501
(202) 835-1714

American Association of Applied Linguistics
3416 Primm Lane
Birmingham, AL 35216
(866) 821-7700

Linguists are social scientists. In 2005 social scientists with bachelor's degrees and no experience could start working for the federal government at an annual salary of $24,677 to $30,567, depending on their college records. Those with master's degrees could start at $37,390, and those with doctoral degrees could begin at $45,239.