Why I Majored in Linguistics

Mady Colantes ’22

During high school, I attended a summer program at Ohio State University that gave students a brief introduction to linguistics. At that time, I had never even heard of linguistics, but the program called for people interested in languages — which I was — so I signed up. We spent time learning IPA and drawing syntax trees, and I was fascinated by how language — something seemingly so everyday and taken for granted — was actually astoundingly complex. The program ended much too quickly, but as soon as I got to college, I signed up for an Introduction to Linguistics course, which immediately reaffirmed my interest in the subject.

What makes linguistics exceptional is its vast versatility and applicability to everyday life. Each linguistics course that I’ve taken has affected how I think about speech and language on a daily basis, whether I’m noticing someone switch registers in different contexts or wondering why a certain sentence is considered ungrammatical. Language is something that every human has in common, and studying it is therefore infinitely useful — there is nothing in linguistics that cannot, in some way, be applied insightfully to daily life.

Through Pomona’s Remote Alternative Independent Summer Experience (RAISE) program in 2020, I got to research and analyze the syntax of noun phrases in the Bantu language Tiriki with Professor Michael Diercks and two other 5C students. We met virtually with a language consultant in Kenya several times a week, researching and documenting aspects of Tiriki’s morphology and syntax. The following semester, in Prof. Diercks’ Topics in Syntax course, I got to delve deeper into Bantu language syntactic theory, this time researching the language Cinyungwe.

Linguistics, of course, isn’t always about syntactic theory; for my final paper in my Language and Society class, I wrote about the linguistics methods used by male actors portraying female characters in Saturday Night Live sketches!

I would encourage anyone in search of a fun class to take a linguistics course or two, even if you’re unsure you’d want to major in it — I truly believe linguistics is a field that has something for everyone.

Evelyn TeSelle ’22

I had very little experience with linguistics before coming to college, and I decided to take an Intro to Linguistics class because it seemed interesting to me. I quickly found that linguistics was unlike any subject I had studied before, because it changed the way I viewed language completely. I began noticing things about language in my everyday life that I had never even considered before, and I knew it was a subject I wanted to continue studying because of how it captivated my interest and shifted my way of thinking.

The LGCS Department at Pomona is a very strong and inclusive community. I love going to mentor session and department events, because I always come away having met new people and feeling supported both socially and academically. LGCS has great meeting spaces on campus and a welcoming atmosphere, and I encourage anyone interested in linguistics to attend events and get to know all the lovely people in the department!

During summer 2020, I was funded by RAISE to work with Professor Michael Diercks on his research of Tiriki grammar. As a research assistant, I conducted interviews with our language consultant Kelvin Alulu in order to investigate the function of copulas in Tiriki. My fellow research assistants and I analyzed our data and produced an outline of the features and use of copulas in Tiriki as the final result of our RAISE projects. This project was a great opportunity for me to gain experience with conducting interviews and organizing my own research schedule, and I hope to continue participating in research projects in the Linguistics Department!