Why Study Linguistics?

In previous posts, we’ve tried to explain what it is linguists do. Here are some reasons why you should study linguistics and do some of these things too:

Get a job

Let’s get straight down to business. With global economic uncertainty, and falling oil prices affecting the economy in Trinidad and Tobago, it’s only sensible to think about job prospects before committing to a university programme. You may be put off applying to study linguistics, because you’re not sure what professional linguists actually do, or whether you’ll be able to get a job at the end of it.

Google’s autocomplete feature provides the following questionable insights:

Linguists are feckless posers

I won’t comment about the others, but it’s true that linguists are in demand. An interpreting agency in the UK was recently looking for Caribbean linguists to work with the Ministry of Justice, police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service. Graduates from our programmes have excellent rates of employment in a wide range of industries, including communications, media, marketing, education, international relations and politics. Former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar once worked as a lecturer in the Department of Linguistics and English at the UWI’s Mona campus in Jamaica, and President, Anthony Carmona was lecturer in the Department of Language and Linguistics in Trinidad and Tobago. Sir Colville Young, Governor-General of Belize, and Dame Pearlette Louisy, Governor-General of St Lucia, are trained linguists. Basically, if you want to be a world leader, do linguistics.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar, linguist

A linguistics degree not only gives you a deeper understanding of how language works, which will be useful in a wide range of possible careers. You’ll also learn technical skills that can be invaluable. For example, think how helpful it would be to be able to read and write phonetically when you have to pronounce words on live television for a living.

Apparently not a linguist

At UWI, we also offer specialist training programmes in Caribbean Sign Language Interpreting (undergraduate) and TESOL (postgraduate), and the first and currently the only Caribbean MA programme in Speech-Language Pathology. There are huge shortages of trained professionals in these fields across the region (and beyond). On top of that, the Ministry of Education has approved our BA in English Language and Literature with Education, and our Major in Linguistics with a Minor in Literature as two routes to Teacher III status as an English teacher in Trinidad and Tobago (see this link for more details).

Linguists are doing jobs you may never have thought of, like designing languages for Game of Thrones, and more likeable computer voices. There are all kinds of potential opportunities for entrepreneurial linguists:


If you’re still not convinced, check out http://careerlinguist.com/ for much more information about careers for people who study linguistics.

Get out into the field

Despite its relatively small size, Trinidad and Tobago is packed with linguistic diversity. We have creole languages, immigrant languages and sign languages, languages from Europe, Africa, India, the Middle East, the Far East, and of course languages which have their origins right here in the Caribbean. That makes it the perfect place to study linguistics.

As a linguist you will get the chance to go out and find out more about the languages all around you, like getting a jeep up to Paramin to speak with Patois (French Creole) speakers,

Paramin Group Shot
UWI Paramin Field Trip, 2015

or participating in Deaf community events, and seeing Trinidad and Tobago’s own unique sign language.

One of the most exciting parts of studying linguistics at UWI is the opportunity to do fieldwork on language situations around the Caribbean. A short plane ride away you could be speaking to Lokono speakers in Guyana, Sranan speakers in Suriname, Warao speakers in Venezuela. Recently, we’ve organized trips to St Lucia,

Linguistics in St Lucia
UWI linguists in St Lucia

and to Guyana and Suriname.

Linguistics in Suriname
Headwear fashions for linguistic fieldwork

As part of a Linguistics degree at UWI, you can learn Caribbean languages which are rarely taught elsewhere including French-lexicon Creole and Trinidad and Tobago Sign Language from native users of these languages.

Understand yourself better

Everyone has an accent, and a unique idiolect. Understanding the way you speak or sign, and the way other people react to your language variety is empowering. CNN posted an article recently placing the Trinidadian accent as the 11th sexiest in the world, with the following bizarre and fetishistic description:

“For fetishists of oddball sexuality, the Caribbean island of Trinidad offers an undulating, melodic gumbo of pan-African, French, Spanish, Creole and Hindi dialects that, when adapted for English, can be sex on a pogo stick.”

This kind of nonsense says a lot more about the author than it does about Trini speech. Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that Trinidadians do speak with a distinctive pattern of intonation, which is often described as ‘sing-song’, or compared, variously, to Welsh or Indian accents of English. Linguistics can give you the tools to really understand where these distinctive patterns come from, based on our complex linguistic history, rather than on the exoticizing gaze of outsiders (note: pogo sticks do not feature prominently).

By studying Caribbean languages, linguists have been able to trace the linguistic contributions of African and indigenous peoples, which had previously been overloooked. Watch this video, featuring another UWI student field trip, to learn about Berbice Dutch of Guyana, and its roots in the Kalabari language, still spoken in Nigeria.

Be a scientist and an artist

The study of language sits at the meeting place of science and art. As part of our programmes, you can take courses about the relationships between language and a wide range of other fields, such as Gender, Literature, Biology, Education, Sociology and History.

We’ve worked on prize winning projects with computer engineers,

Developing automated recognition of TTSL

and creative artists.

From Nelshan Phillips’ ‘Sign Language Basics’

Linguists are studying Caribbean art forms. They’re even producing new creative art. Trinidadian poet Vahni Capildeo has a DPhil in Old Norse. Derek Bickerton, famous for his work on the linguistics of creole languages, and formerly of the University of Guyana, wrote a novel, King of the Sea, and Barbara Lalla‘s third novel, Uncle Brother, was launched last year.We’re doing work on language in legal systems. Even engineers really wish they were linguists.

Make a difference

As a linguist in the Caribbean (and beyond), you have the chance to make a difference. Linguists campaign against linguistic discrimination. We provide crucial linguist support services, like sign language interpreting.

At UWI’s Speech-Language Clinic we provide clients with all kinds of speech and language problems with free therapy, and training for the next generation of Caribbean speech therapists.

We are working with speakers and signers of endangered languages, on documentation and revitalization projects.

We are working with teachers to support more effective language policies, and better teaching practices which recognise that linguistic diversity is a strength, not a weakness.

There is much more to do, so come and join us!



3 thoughts on “Why Study Linguistics?

  1. Lol. I’m on my way to being a world leader! Good to know about the clinic. I’ll make an a appointment. I think my current job makes me talk to much.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s