I’ve always been more into magic than the mundane. I’ve always been the type to believe the fairytales and to make up my own to colour the underside of the grey “grown up” reality. People my age aren’t supposed to see the wonder of the world. Or at least, we’re expected to pretend we don’t. Complacency feels much less than cool to me.
I have been approached by palm-readers twice in my life. Both of them had the same thing to say: that I would find two True loves. One would stay for a short while, the other would last forever.
The latter, I think, is Linguistics. Its predecessor would be English Lit. For years, I was certain that I would spend my university years up to my eyeballs in novels. I was lucky to have had an incredible English teacher in school (shoutout to Anna Woodhouse, best teacher I’ve ever had) and I had just naturally accepted that Literature was my calling in life.
That is, until I was 16 years old and choosing my subjects for my A Levels (the exams British students take in years 12 and 13- the equivalent of Canadian grade 12 and first year of uni). It was then that I discovered that English Language sounded like exactly what I wanted to learn. I had spent so long learning how powerful language is, how it can make you feel, how it can make you think, how it can capture the soul of someone who never even existed. Now, I wanted to learn about the mechanics behind the magic. How, I wondered, could I ever use such a powerful tool without understanding it fully?
For me, that’s exactly what Linguistics is about. The mechanics behind the magic. I love that I spend my time learning about the ways in which words fit together, how you can say the complete opposite of what you mean and people can still understand you, that my friends send me Ted Talks on the importance of African American Vernacular English being accepted by society.
When I tell people I study Linguistics they always ask me what kind of job my degree can get me. The truth is, I have no idea what I want to do. None. I have vague ideas, but I have also accepted that everything can change. So I choose not to limit my opportunities. Linguistics is the Science of Language. It teaches critical thinking, analytical skills, it forces you to peel back the skin of everyday life and pull it apart like an orange. From that, my options are kept open, but I still get to learn the things I enjoy.
I won’t lie to you. I find Linguistics really difficult. It’s not the kind of subject you can coast through. You can’t be passive, you can’t be complacent, you have to dedicate to it. You have to sink your teeth in. It’s an uphill hike with one hell of a view.
In year 12, I had a teacher called Mr Powell. He taught English Language and during a year when my academic confidence was being systematically shattered by other teachers, he was the one that championed my potential. One day, I waited after class to ask his opinion on my coursework, and he told me to start from scratch. It was two weeks before the deadline. I thought he was joking, and I told him so. He turned to me and said these words: it’s a good piece, but I think you can do even better. I think you’ve got a future in this subject, Jas- and I’m going to push you to do well because I know you can. Those words were the catalyst for my decision to pursue a degree in the subject that had completely captured my heart.
In my final year of high school, I wrote an investigation on how relationship and social context changes an idiolect. I recorded the data, I transcribed the recordings, and I spent every day for four months completely enthralled by what I was learning. I wrote my university application, opening with a quote by Steven Pinker from his book The Language Instinct (which is incredibly interesting and I highly recommend it!). I crossed everything I could cross that I would get accepted.
By first year of university, I knew that this was the real deal. Now, in second year, every day is a revelation. I leave every class feeling like my brain is two sizes bigger. And even better- I leave every class with my mind having been blown.
I love Linguistics because it’s like learning secrets. It is watching the cogs of our words, our thoughts and our communication turn and seeing how everything fits together. Language is a living phenomenon: growing and changing as much as we, its creators and benefactors, do. And honestly, studying Linguistics is the closest I can get to learning magic. What could be better?