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Linguistics

Name: Eva Yopes

Year: Class of 2009

Hometown: San Francisco, CA

Major: Cognitive Science

Minor: Linguistics

WHAT EXACTLY IS LINGUISTICS?

When I tell people that I am a cognitive science major with a minor in linguistics, the most common question I get is: “What does that mean?” Well, I respond, it means a lot of things.  Cognitive Science can be thought of as the intersection of psychology and neuroscience, with some computer science thrown in for good measure.  Cognitive science is a fairly new field and is beginning to make a name for itself in the science community.  I chose this major based on one thing: linguistics.  My freshmen year I took a linguistics class called “World of Language” and fell in love (not to sound too cliché).  I loved how analytical, yet creative linguistics is.  There are formulas of sorts, and some sense of rules, but how and when to apply them requires creativity and deep thinking.  And with so many exceptions to the rules, linguistics is always interesting.  Linguistics looks at both the form of language (the grammar) and the meaning of language (the semantics).  It also encompasses phonology (the study of sound) and even relates to philosophy!

Brain2Linguistics ties into the bigger field of cognitive science in a number of ways.  First, language itself is a major trait that sets humans apart from other animals.  Anyone interested in the brain and its function has to think about language.  Second, the development of language is unique and can teach us a lot about human and animal learning.  Finally, linguistics is a huge part of the growing artificial intelligence field.  Language teaches us about the human brain and mind, which is why linguistics has gained so much attention over the years.

So what about linguistics at Hopkins?  Well, to start, you can’t major in linguistics.  You can minor in it as well as focus on it as a cognitive science major.  I loved linguistics so much, I decided to minor in it and focus my major on philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience.  The three areas are extremely interconnected—it’s rare that I take a philosophy course or neuroscience course where we don’t talk about language.  To minor in linguistics here, you need to take 6 linguistics courses and a foreign language for two years.  The cognitive science department offers most of the linguistics classes, with some being offered by the computer science or neuroscience departments.  Some of my favorite linguistics classes have included Syntax (the study of grammar) and Foundations of Cognitive Science, which really showed me how linguistics relates to different facets of cognitive science.  A class I am taking now, Classic Papers in Language Learning, combines the two things I’m interested in most: language and development. I’m lucky enough to be doing research in exactly that with the resident development expert, Dr. Barbara Landau.

The cognitive science department has much to offer its students.  First, if you take any linguistics class from any teacher, you are being taught by one of the greatest cognitive scientists around.  The professors that are part of the department are well known and highly respected in the field.  They are very knowledgeable and are excited to share their knowledge with you.  I’ve never felt uncomfortable talking to the professors in the department. And, because the department’s small, as a student you get the opportunity to get to know all the professors.  Monthly undergraduate teas are held to encourage conversation between undergrads, graduate students, and faculty.

Another great aspect of the department here at Hopkins is the opportunity for research.  As I mentioned, I do research now in the Language and Cognition Lab with Dr. Barbara Landau.  I am working with a graduate student who is studying the use of auxiliary verbs (to be verbs) in language learning.  Typically, 2-3 year olds don’t use axillaries (they say: “they running” instead of “they’re running”).  Lilia is doing a priming study that is seeing if she can prime the use of the auxiliary before it normally appears.  I help her run 2-3 year olds and then transcribe and code the files.  I am learning not only about linguistics, but also graining Comicvaluable research experience.  Attending weekly lab meetings has exposed me to what’s happening currently in the fields of linguistics and cognitive science. There are numerous opportunities for research within linguistics, even for freshmen.

To sum up, I think linguistics is awesome.  When I was applying to college, I assumed  I’d be a political science major and go onto law school, as I had thought for years.  But, when I first started transcribing sentences and building sentence trees, my fate was sealed.  There was something that grabbed me about linguistics and I haven’t looked back since.  Hopkins classes have a way of doing that.  All the programs here are so strong, by just exploring what the school has to offer; you could find a passion you didn’t even know existed.  I found out that my passion was linguistics—what will yours be?

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Click here to access more information about the Linguistics Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the Linguistics question thread.