Linguistics FAQ

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I'm interested in Lingusitics, but I'm not a major or minor. What can I take?

Anything you like. Courses at the 1000-level have no prerequisites, so anyone may register for them.  While courses at the 2000- and 3000-levels do have prerequisites, as long as you have sufficient background (or instructor permission) we are happy to have non-majors and non-minors in our courses. Please see our Current Year courses page or our Undergraduate Calendar page for more information.

What Linguistics courses can I take in my U1 year?

While some departments offer courses designated as "U1" level courses, this designation is essentially meaningless. "U1" students can take any course offered by any department, assuming they have met the prerequisite requirements. For most departments including Linguistics, classes at the 1000-level have no prerequisites, meaning you may take them even in your U1 year. All Linguistics courses at the 2000-level have LING 1200 Intro to Linguistics as a prerequisite, and some have LING 1380 General Phonetics as well. Many (but not all) of our courses at the 3000-level have prerequisites at the 2000-level. Please check individual course listings.

But to the point, you may take any 1000-level Linguistics course in the U1 year, or indeed anytime thereafter (assuming you have room in your schedule, enough 'attempts' left to register for the class, etc.). If you think you are interested in Linguistics as a major or minor, we particularly recommend taking at least LING 1200. (1000-level Linguistics courses also satisfy areas-of-study requirements in social science, if that is of any interest to you. LING 1200 provides six credit hours of social science credit, and the others each provide three.)

What are 'prerequisites'? How do I know whether I need them?

A prerequisite is a requirement which must be fulfilled before you can register for a course.  Usually these are expressed in terms of coursework (e.g. you must have taken Shakespeare 1--or had the equivalent training at another school or in high school--before you can register for Shakespeare 2). In Linguistics, you develop skills which get applied later, so having some basic foundation in place is desirable (though not necessarily absolutely critical) to success later on--for this reason, we have built in some prerequisites into our 2000- and 3000-level coursework.

Course descriptions in Aurora Student always include a list of prerequisites, if any. Also, we have noted prerequisites for our courses on our Undergraduate Calendar page.  Unfortunatey Aurora Student is incapable of checking your records for prerequisites before it lets you register (although it will generate a report about missing prerequisites later--and bounce you from the class as a result).  It is the responsibility of the student to a) check course descriptions for prerequisites and other requirements and b) to ensure they have them (or appropriate special permission) before they register for a course.

How do I get special/written permission to take a course?

Short answer: Apply for special (written) permission by filling out a Request for Letter of Permission form. These can be downloaded or picked up at the Department office at 534 Fletcher Argue. If permission is granted, you will be given a Permission to Enroll form, which you will have to present in your home Faculty (3rd Floor Fletcher Argue for Arts students) who will clear the block (if there is one) and allow you to register for the course via Aurora Student.

Long answer: Special permission is required to enroll in a course under several circumstances--the student lacks a prerequisite, course capacity has been reached, etc. Written permission is required for some advanced seminars (courses with variable content and thus instructors must decide on their own prerequisites and other requirements course-by-course). In either case, you will be prevented from enrolling (or if the computer somehow allows you to enroll, you will be dropped from the course later), unless you receive the appropriate permission. The procedure is designed to create a paper trail between you, the instructor, the department and the Faculty as to who has been granted permission, when and why.

  1. Obtain and fill out a Request for Letter of Permission form, either by downloading it or inquiring at the Department of Linguistics main office.
  2. Submit the form to the Linguistics main office. If permission is granted, you will be informed, and required to pick up the official Permission to Enroll form, which you must then present to your home Faculty. They will clear the block and allow you to register via Aurora Student.

We cannot under any circumstances grant permission for students to enter classes that have reached room capacity. We get many requests for some courses, and must consider all possible applicants when making decisions--this means that typically we do not consider any requests until after regular registration, and usually not until the week or two before school starts in September. Starting the third full week in August, we begin sorting through all the applications for a given course, the instructor and the department prioritize the requests (e.g., who do you let in first, the student in the fourth year who needs a course to graduate, or the student in the second year who wants to take a course and its prerequisite simultaneously; or the transfer student with the near-equivalent course from another school?). Obviously we need all the requests in front of us to make fair decisions, which is why we appreciate your patience.

I'm having trouble in one of my Linguistics classes. Can you recommend a tutor?

If you are having trouble in a class, your first step should always be to contact your professor (or TA, if there is one). They may be able to assist you in ways that are congruent with classroom goals, and they may be able to assist you in finding appropriate outside assistance. The department does not keep a list of available tutors. Tutoring for linguistics can be difficult because there are different ways to approach any problem, and different instructors (at different moments) may be stressing a particular skill, procedure, or problem as part of a teaching context. Any sufficiently advanced undergraduate should be able to help with general technique (recognizing natural classes, drawing trees, solving a morphology problem) but they may not be able to help you understand the pedagogical goal being addressed.

Why isn't <course> offered this year? When will it be offered?

We're a small department, and demand for our courses is high. Also please understand that as research professors, teaching is only 40% of our jobs. So every year there is tension between what we can offer, what we want to offer, and what we must offer. Our first priority is always to core courses--those that most of our majors must take. We try to make sure that a full suite of core courses are offered every year. By full suite, we mean that enough core courses are offered that our students can, over a four-year program, get the courses they need to complete their degrees. Not every course is offered every year, but over a couple of years, students should be able to find enough courses (and fill in enough prerequisites for later courses) to complete their degrees. Some years the choice, especially of electives, is limited. Some elective courses are strongly recommended to students with particular interests beyond 'just' linguistics, for instance as part of the Clinical and Developmental Linguistics curriculum (we try to offer such courses at least every other year or so) or the joint program in ASL/English interpretation (because of the way the program is structured, these courses must be offered every year).  In the last couple and next couple of years, we've had an unusually large number of staff who take research leaves away from the university, which further taxes our ability to offer everything we would like to.

So we do our best, and if there's a course that isn't on the books this year, please let us know how eager you are to take it. If we know there is particular interest in a particular course, we'll certainly try to fit it in.  Time tabling for a given school year usually takes place in November of the year before, and (through negotiations with staff, the Dean's Office, etc.) gets finalized (usually) by January, after which it is too late to do anything in terms of new course offerings. 

I'm interested in Linguistics. How many languages should I speak? What languages are most in demand?

Let's get this straight. A linguist is a professional who studies Linguistics. Someone who speaks a bunch of languages is called a polyglot. While many linguists are polyglots, being a polyglot is in no way necessary to being a linguist.

Linguistics is a scientific study of human language--the fundamental question of interest to linguists is "What is it a person knows when they know a language?" Some linguists are interested in a bunch of languages, and are just interested in the 'range' of things these languages can do. Others are interested only in particular languages, or only in how a particular language handles a particular thing, like relative clauses or syllable structure. Some linguists are interested in big-picture issues like communicative competence, implicit knowledge, social factors involving language use, or how fairy tales are organized. Some linguists are only interested in teeny little issues like how the tongue moves to make a 'g' or why the plural of fish is fish and not fishes.

Now, it is true that there are many linguists who are interested in translation and/or interpretation, but not all translators are linguists. Translation is not a scientific study so much as it is an incredibly artful skill. Picking words and phrases in one language involves more than just knowing what they mean, but also how they 'feel' to the native speaker. It's about nuance, connotation, artfulness, as well as just what things mean. Interpretation is a little different, but it is just as artful. Interpretation involves both on-line (simultaneous) translation of 'live' performance (conversation, presentations, etc.), and 'sequential' translation of performance (e.g. in court, licensed interpreters translate questions to witnesses, and translate the witnesses response.

The University of Manitoba, in conjunction with Red River College, offers a certification program in ASL (American Sign Language)/English Interpretation.  We offer a small number of courses in general interpretation theory, but none regarding 'translation' per se, which is usually understood as either 'technical', i.e. translating instruction manuals, business communications, legal documents, and that sort of thing, or 'artistic', i.e. translating the literary works from one language to another.

The College-universitaire de St Boniface (the French-language college affiliated with the UofM) offers a certificate program in translation. You might also try to search on 'translation' and the names of the languages you are interested in.

What kinds of careers does a degree in Linguistics prepare you for?

Short answer: anything that doesn't require specific training in anything else.

Long answer: In many ways, Arts degrees in general are not profession-specific. While in the context of a particular field, you learn writing and proofreading skills, research skills, organization, critical reading and thinking skills, and problem solving.  There isn't any field, office, store, or community that doesn't require these things.

That said, I know linguists in a whole bunch of different fields.  Some moved into these fields after becoming linguists, and some became linguists intending to move into these fields. A few moved into these fields with the intent of making their linguistics careers better.

Law - particularly contract law, case law, and constitutional law, which is so often about rigorous research, critical thinking, precise description, analyzing and disambiguating statements and intents, and things like that.

Publishing and Information - Whether you are a journalist, a technical writer, a proofreader, or an editor, and whether you free-lance, work for a local government, or work for a huge conglomerate, there is a serious need for clear writing, scrupulous proofreading, and judicious editing in every business, industry, or field.  Usually these positions require a lot of research and critical reading as well. The more 'independent' you are as a writer, the more critical it is that you meticulously keep notes, check facts, evaluate your sources of information, and so on.

Speech and Language Technology - While the tech bubble has burst in a lot of ways, there are still many people out there who are doing research and product/service development in speech-recognition, text-to-speech, machine translation, information searching, text summarization, and related high-tech linguistic applications. I regularly see ads for jobs involving product development and marketing in multicultural or multi-national contexts--developing product names and images that 'translate' well, 'localizing' dialogues and interactive information sources, and so on.

Espiona--I mean, Diplomacy - No linguists become spies. None. Ever. But many linguists end up with expertise in interesting languages, and end up translating or interpreting for governments, the military, and international business, as well as the usual writing and research.

Language Teaching - I know many linguists who regularly develop teaching materials, both for well-studied languages and for 'endangered languages'. Some specialize in working with or for children, and others for adults. Many develop language-teaching materials as part of a greater 'language revitalization' agenda while working with a community whose language is somehow threatened. Others happily make their livings teach English or French or whatever to interested parties.

Speech-language Pathology and Audiology - Both clinical and research-based SLP/A's benefit from the basic training in language and speech-language models specifically, and more generally in thinking about speech and language critically. Speech and language are 'special', i.e. they make use of 'different' parts of the brain and involve different kinds of practice, goal-oriented direction, etc. than 'general' oral or manual behaviours. While specific models of grammar or phonology may have limited practical utility, the ability to capture generalizations, recognize classes, and critically evaluate hypotheses, predictions, and outcomes is crucial to modern evidence-based practice.

I have a degree, but now I want to pursue work in Linguistics. What should I do now?

Short answer: Take courses related to your area of interest, and develop the necessary background to apply for graduate study.

Long answer: Depending on your background, you may or may not be ready for graduate study in your field of choice. In general, graduate programs require the equivalent of a four-year Bachelor's degree in the field of study or a closely related field. At the UofM, that means the equivalent for 48 credit hours in the major area, including 'core' courses equivalent to those required of our majors. Please see the Graduate Programs FAQ entries on Pre-MA coursework.

Does the LSA have any information about majoring in Linguistics?

As a matter of fact, it does! In fact, they even publish a pamphlet, downloable in PDF format, on the topic.