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University of Pittsburgh

Undergraduate Overview

What is Linguistics?

Linguistics is, in short, the scientific study of language. At the heart of linguistics is the search for the unconscious knowledge that humans have about language and how children acquire it, an understanding of the structure of language in general and of particular languages, knowledge about how languages vary, and how language influences the way we interact with each other. But there's more! Please see this excellent handout created by the Linguistic Society of America (LSA).

What is Special about Pitt's Department of Linguistics?

Here at Pitt the faculty of the Department of Linguistics focus on Sociolinguistics (linguistic analysis of social media, for example), Hispanic Linguistics (linguistic aspects of Spanish), and Applied Linguistics (how people learn second/third languages).

Our department is also home to many centers: The English Language Institute where international students learn English, the Less Commonly Taught Languages Center which administers 12+ language programs including the Arabic and American Sign Language certificates, and the Robert Henderson Language Media Center which promotes technology in language instruction and research.

Our students get exposure in these specialties; in addition, our degree program emphasizes capstone training and real-world applications of linguistics. Our department maintains close ties with various industries around Pittsburgh, through which we run an internship program.

What Can I Do with a Degree in Linguistics?


"The courses available are both rigorous, and (in my humble opinion) fun."

Steve Sloto (Class of 2015)

"I’m getting a chance to combine my linguistic and programming skills and to learn about real-world applications of language engineering."

Kaylen Sanders (Class of 2017)

"The linguistics program at Pitt provided me an excellent foundation in theoretical linguistics and helped prepare me for graduate study."

Scott Borgeson (Class of 2015)


"Taking Persian has generated many opportunities for me."

Emily Olmstead (Class of 2014)

Many of our recent graduates have gone on to careers in the following areas.

Industry: Linguistics have many applications in industries beyond academia, including publishing, testing, medicine, and more. Our focus on strong theoretical foundations with an emphasis on real-world applications and internships prepare our students for industry careers.

Tech industry: Another strength in our curriculum is computational training, which equip our students to work on speech recognition, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, user interface research, and more. Pittsburgh is fast becoming a new technology hub; our graduates continue to land positions at local and national technology companies.

English as a Second Language (ESL): Many of our students are currently teaching English abroad, some through CLS and Fulbright. Our majors prepare through taking courses in second language acquisition and volunteering opportunities at the ELI (English Language Institute), an integral part of our department. We also offer the TESOL certificate, often needed to teach ESL in the US, which some of our majors pursue after graduation.

Foreign Language Education: Many of our students double major in a foreign language and have gone on to become foreign language teachers. Linguistics can give you a valuable cross-language perspective.

Higher Education: If you go on to get a graduate degree in linguistics you might teach in departments such as Linguistics, Philosophy, Psychology, Speech/Communication Sciences, Anthropology, English, as well as departments focused on specific foreign languages.

In addition, there are a variety of career opportunities relating to linguistics:

  • Work in government: The federal government hires linguists for the Foreign Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Security Agency (NSA), and more.
  • Work on language documentation, conduct field work, or be part of language conservation effort
  • Work in the publishing industry, as a technical writer, or as a journalist
  • Work for a testing agency
  • Work as a translator or interpreter
  • Work with dictionaries (lexicography)
  • Work for an advertising or branding company
  • Become a consultant on language in professions such as law, medicine or entertainment industry