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Why I Majored in Linguistics

Evan Chuu ’20

I've always been interested in learning languages; upon coming to Pomona, I wasn't sure how that would translate into a major, but I was very fortunate to take Intro to Linguistics my first semester. I really enjoyed learning about the different sub-fields of linguistics and figuring out how the different features of each language function together to convey meaning. After taking more classes and getting more plugged in to the Linguistics and Cognitive Science Department, I decided to major in linguistics. 

I love the close-knit nature of this department. Everyone has a collaborative attitude, working together and supporting each other through difficulties. Spending time at night in the projects room really helps build community and allows us to learn from and with each other. The professors are also very supportive and understanding; it's really easy to form close bonds with people in the department because everyone is so open and accepting. 

For Language and Society [class], I wrote a final paper on the speech and singing of Rihanna. I investigated her use of Bajan English features at different points of her career, which corresponds with her changing public persona. 

Another project I worked on was at my internship at the Language and Cognitive Development Lab in UC Berkeley through the Pomona College Internship Program (PCIP). I helped finish a project involving visual working memory; we found that visual working memory is enhanced due to familiarity with the object and access to visual long-term memory representations.

The fact that I've been able to perform a diverse range of research and gain significant exposure to research methods is a testament to the ability of the linguistics faculty to prepare students for the real-world. I've been fortunate enough to be able to work closely with faculty members and also have access to high-level, actual linguistic research. Currently, my specific research interests are in psycholinguistics, which involves the study of language acquisition and how language relates to thought. 

Felicity Walston ’20

I’m majoring in linguistics because I’ve enjoyed comparing languages since middle school when I started taking Latin and Spanish. I also enjoy considering how it works in our minds — questions like ‘do all speakers perceive verbs the same way I do?’ are always running through my head. I’m intrigued by minds and human interactions, and linguistics is a field that seeks to address some of those topics in both very concrete and abstract ways. 

The professors are dedicated to every student and what he/she/they is/are personally interested in. Together with the department coordinator, they make such a nurturing environment full of student events, guest lectures, and cozy study spaces. The Projects Room and mentor sessions every weeknight contribute to a sense of community among linguistics and cognitive science students. It’s my favorite community I’ve found on campus!

I worked as a research assistant through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) with Professor Michael Diercks on his project with professors from other universities to document four languages in the Luyia-Bantu language family spoken in West Kenya. I got to read through transcripts of interviews and narratives from native speakers of the language Wanga to find examples of Prof. Diercks’ findings and even postulate some new syntactic theories of my own! This was an important experience to me because it highlighted that I picked the perfect major for me. 

This coming summer, I will be interning with The Rosetta Project, a non-profit in San Francisco that’s planning a modern-day Rosetta Stone to document as many modern languages as possible in a format that will last for thousands of years. I will be using my SURP experience to organize their archives of interviews with native speakers of hundreds of modern languages and help create promotional materials for the organization.

Linguistics is a field that helps make sense of the ways humans communicate and interpret the world, and I’d urge any prospective student without a major in mind to sample an introductory class — you might love it!