Specializations > Computational Linguistics
Is computational linguistics a good field to go into?
My #1 passion in life is linguistics, and I’ve been obsessed with it for as long as I can remember, but a lot of the basic linguistics jobs such as translators and the such make low wages per year. I want a high paying job that has to do with my linguistics skill, so naturally, seeing as programming seems to be the way to go, computational linguistics seemed like a good idea. However, browsing through Quora answers, it seems that the field is bleak and unpromising. I am not sure how credible Quora is, but it doesn’t seem UNcredible either.
If I get a job in just programming without language, I know I’ll be miserable, even if I make a lot of money. Is computational linguistics a good path to follow? If it is, how would I go about learning it? Is there another job that doesn’t involve CS at all that involves linguistics, that pays well? (50k-100k a year, or more). What needs need to be filled by advanced linguistic knowledge in our world today?
I would really appreciate this because I know I want to do something with linguistics, but I want to be able to make decent money as well. Currently I am working on a language course/program based on years and years of research, including stuff like understanding syllables instead of words, comprehensible input, learning whole phrases as opposed to individual words, viscerally learning words based on motivations, etc.
Linguistics is not the right field if you're looking for a high paying job. Even if you get lucky and end up in a high paying position (like administration at a university after teaching linguistics as a professor) it will probably be a long path to get there, with low salary along the way, as well as of course many years studying. In fact, Linguistics is a great field for someone like you who is passionate about it, but it's hard to get any job, even the low paying jobs. (Now, more and more professors are temporary positions without job security, too, at least for early career researchers, but even more often now for whole careers.)
Looking at subfields that would allow you to work outside academia is a good option to consider. But most of those aren't really linguistics, but just related topics, or applying some linguistics training to other areas, like translation, teaching, etc. Computational linguistics is one of the exceptions, and it's a good option today (and especially before now) because it's a new area in high demand, but honestly by the time that you finish your program and graduate (especially if you also go to grad school), the market will be more flooded with people who do computational linguistics (to some degree it already is), simply because it's growing in popularity for students now, and because of the same reasoning you have. It's still an option to consider, but will be challenging. And honestly most jobs outside of academia that have something to do with language will only peripherally use any core linguistics you learn, even to the point where many of the jobs could be done without formal linguistics training. There are a limited number of linguist (basically consultant) positions such as at Google, for which it is often necessary to have a general idea about how interact with programmers, so knowing how the basics of programming works, but also more likely now you might need to actually have some technical abilities yourself. But those positions are often entry level, so not paying particularly well anyway (but maybe better than something in academia).
In short, if you love linguistics you can continue in the field despite the practical challenges and likely low salary. If you're in it just for the money, I'd suggest focusing on that and maybe try to do some linguistics on the side. By the way, Linguistics is usually a short major (few classes) in many programs, so it's often easy to do a double major in it and something else (like computer science), even if just for your own interest, and then as a CS major having Linguistics too will set you apart. Some schools are now adding mixed CS+Linguistics majors, so that's another option to think about. In the end, I know from the personal experiences of friends that if they have trouble getting a job in academia (everyone does!), if they do have that CS background, they'll often end up getting a job with that (with or without any language component) instead. So it's a good backup. And some Linguistics students know they won't be pursuing a career in it, just study it for personal reasons and plan for another career.
I don't say any of this to be discouraging, just realistic. There are of course some (few) people who succeed in any of the possible paths you could take, even (rarely) making a high salary.
There are not many positions in computational linguistics that require substantialmknowledge of linguistics. Instead, you need programming skills and practice doing NLP tasks, but you don't need much theory – an MA in linguistics or a high-quality BA would suffice (except that the employer might want an MA qua credential). That is, a couple courses in syntax, one in phonology, one in phonetics. Then a bit more in the specific are that you would end up focusing on (text vs. speech processing). You might have more luck at an area of comp-ling that involves more linguistics if you were intending to do semantics-pragmatics, because they haven't yet figured out a way to avoid the concept of "grammar" in that domain.
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