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New Linguistics Minor Puts Focus on the Nature of Language

By Gina Myers

illustration of speech bubbles containing the word hello in various languages


April 21, 2021

The study of language is fundamental to human endeavor. Whether students want to become a language teacher or a speech therapist, specialize in natural language processing or create “conlangs” (constructed languages) for virtual world game design—or if they simply desire to know how to communicate effectively with others, linguistics is a foundational field of study.

Beginning in fall 2021, undergraduate students across the University will have the opportunity to enhance their knowledge of the building blocks of language through a new minor in Linguistics. Offered by the Department of Communication, the minor offers courses that teach social and cultural aspects of communicating with people of diverse backgrounds, technical aspects of how language creates meaning, and psychological aspects of how language affects the human mind.

Associate Professor of Communication Rachel Reynolds, PhD, explains the importance of the new program. “It’s a growing field in areas like machine translations, where voice and syntax recognition abilities of artificial intelligence (AI) are just starting to mature, and areas like speech pathology and audiology, which are in high demand in disability medicine and occupational therapy,” she says. “Likewise, linguistics courses are instrumental in credentials for teaching people how to read and for building skills that overtly tell us how to speak across cultural divides. This course of study especially trains us how to recognize the social basis for conflict that arises through linguistic differences and cultural habits that we encounter every day.”

Students are required to take LING101, which covers the structures of language, and LING102, which covers how social relationships appear in linguistic form. “In LING101, we start with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of linguistics—phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics. We examine word morphology, analyze the latest slang to understand word formation processes, and look at how idioms and expressions cause problems in computer translation,” says Barbara Hoekje, PhD, associate professor of communication. “In LING102, which focuses on language and society, we engage in language autobiographies, observe public language and discuss endangered languages and programs for language revival, among other things.”

In addition to those core courses, students select electives from across the College of Arts and Sciences and the University, including from Global Studies and Modern Languages, Psychology, English and Philosophy, Education, Computer Science and Behavior Health Counseling. Some of the classes students can choose from include Politics of Hip Hop, Computer Programming, Foundations in Instructing English Language Learners, Multicultural Counseling and Language Puzzles and Word Games: Issues in Modern Grammar.

Through the course of their study, students will develop a broad range of competencies, including effective spoken communication; message, audience and context awareness; intercultural communication competency; the ability to evaluate communication effectiveness; and the ability to be self-directed learners. Students with multilingual backgrounds and students of modern languages find new frameworks for understanding their linguistic competencies.

There are also opportunities for linguistics students outside of the classroom. Hoekje and Reynolds are excited to help linguistics students find co-ops that tap into the need to communicate across ethnic, class, gender and neurolinguistic diversity. The program will also continue its work in matching Drexel graduates with Fulbright’s prestigious English Teaching Assistant Program, which funds a year abroad in hundreds of locations across the globe teaching English to young people.

Learn more about the Linguistics minor.