Linguistics graduates are valued for their ability to analyse complex situations and situate them in a broader context. This makes them invaluable assets in management, consulting, marketting and public relations. Here are some of our former students and how they developed their careers on a degree in linguistics.
Kiran Pienaar: Project Assurance Coordinator in the IT sector
Frances Gordon: Business Communications Consultant
Annie Moyo: Human Resources Generalist for the Foschini Group
Candice Caldwell: Currently completing a Ph.D. at Cambridge University
Jennifer Smit: Media industry
Professor Gary Barkhuizen: Head of Department of Linguistics at the University of Aukland New Zealand
Carol Hobson-Chadd: Adult English Teacher
Sharon Fay: Public relations manager
Lorna Hiles: Freelance Editor
When I chose to major in Linguistics (and later pursue Honours and Masters degrees in Ling), I did so because I was passionate about how language works. I loved learning the terminology to describe the systemacity of language and I was fascinated by the workings of ideology in language. I had little idea how Ling related to the real world and certainly could not track a clear-cut career path that I would follow when I finished studying.
After finishing my MA, I spent two wonderful, challenging years lecturing in the Ling department at Rhodes. Then at the beginning of 2009, I relocated to the bright lights and smoggy skies of Johannesburg where I am now working for a IT solutions consulting company as a 'project assurance coordinator'. Essentially this entails implementing a project management methodology which contains multiple checks and balances to ensure big consulting projects run smoothly.It also includes training consultants on additions to the methodology, managing change control (keeping the client abreast of changes to project requirements and ensuring they sign off these changes), assisting with resourcing decisions (allocating consultants to particular projects) and editing documents.
My studies in Linguistics help most directly with editing documents as one would expect. But, more than that, the analytical skills and critical thinking skills I developed during my years at Rhodes can be applied to just about any work environment. I think the fact that I have made the move from academe to industry is testament to the value and relevance of Linguistics. I never thought I would be doing the kind of work I'm doing now which just goes to show that there are many more industry links to Ling than the obvious ones like publishing and teaching. As one of my Honours students once declared, "Ling is life!"
Frances Gordon: Plain Language Linguistic consultant
I graduated in 1994 with an Honours degree in Linguistics. Throughout my career as a consultant in the business communications industry, I have been surprised at just how relevant and important linguistics has been to me.
My main interest is in the field of ‘’’simplified communications’’. This means taking complex concepts and making them clear and relevant to readers. I work mostly in the financial services and technology sectors.
I can honestly say that I use concepts I learnt in Linguistics everyday. On the applied side, I have to understand how to structure concepts for different languages and cultures; I have to understand the ‘power-plays’ people execute through language; I have to transform confusing sentences into the grammatical forms that are easiest for readers to understand. I even use theoretical concepts I learnt in my grammar courses to help me structure the content of websites. And of course the disciplines of plain language and information design are guided by linguistic theory.
Consulting jobs have taken me all over the world. I have worked for projects in London, Prague, Warsaw, Tel Aviv, New York, Los Angeles – and many other places.
Right now, I’m happy to be home in Johannesburg. I am Director of a (very small) communications consultancy called Touchpoint Communications. We produce business documents and websites that are clear, concise and effective.
I "stumbled" on Linguistics in my first year and sort of rode the wave for the first semester! By the time it got to the second semester in my first year I was hooked! I liked explaining the complexity of the subject to my B Com friends who often looked at me with sympathy and pity as I rattled on about phonetics! I come from a very narrow minded childhood. I have what many would call a "pommie" accent. Some say..."I speak very well for a black person." I never used to notice the manner in which I spoke until it was pointed out to me so many times by so many different people. Doing linguistics certainly helped me to understand why I spoke the way I spoke. It's my identity and I stopped feeling embarrassed about it! Linguistics also helped me learn how it is also important to make people feel comfortable around you. The best way to achieve that is to "talk-the-talk." Not only am I fluent in Xhosa and Zulu because of my raised awareness when it comes to language but I can manipulate my accent very easily to adapt to whoever it is I am speaking to. I am amazed by what this does to people, they treat you completely differently when they feel that you are one of them or at least making an effort to be one of them. This is really important for my job. I am currently a Human Resources Generalist for the Foschini Group. My job involves a lot of talking and networking. I speak to people from all walks of life. And I cannot deny how the linguistics helped me to sharpen my communication skills!
Candice Caldwell (currently completing a Ph.D. at Cambridge University):
After doing honours in ELT and an MA on academic discourse at Rhodes, I applied to read for a Ph.D. at the Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics at Cambridge University. I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship by the Association of Commonwealth Universities and began my studies in the UK in 1998. When I left SA I believed anyone with a background in Linguistics had an enormous amount to contribute in many different fields; my time in the UK has only reinforced this belief. I was aware of the potential of electronic corpora and decided to use my PhD project to learn as much as I could about this. I used student essays from Rhodes university to set up my own small corpus and have spent the last few years learning to look for and interpret the patterns so readily accessible via existing computational tools. As a result of this work I have encountered the following applications of linguistics: Anyone with a background in linguistics (especially syntax and discourse analysis) and basic knowledge of C programming is highly sought after in the field of Computer Speech and Language Processing. Cambridge offers an Mphil in this area and it’s students are highly sought after by industry. This is not pie-in-sky stuff: human/machine interaction depends entirely on machines being able to understand elements of communication we take for granted, and that linguists understand! Those people I know doing this course are primarily computer scientists… and they are weeping over the fact that the linguistics component is much tougher, and far more important, than the programming! Many people working in psycholinguistics also collaborate closely with engineering and computer science: if we can understand precisely how humans process language, we can teach machines. Another thing to remember is the ongoing race for more efficient internet search-engines: information extraction requires a computer science background but is impossible without understanding the structure of human languages.
In an effort to get away from academia now and again, I have taught English and currently work as a freelance “wordsmith”. My knowledge of phonetics and how sounds can be used to create different effects got me work with a brand-naming company in the USA. I make up names for their clients’ new services and products which is great fun… and I get $30/hr to do it!
This year I was also lucky enough to attend a master class in lexicography and lexical computing. This was really a crash-course in dictionary-making, taught by the same team that recently spent time training new lexicographers in South Africa; considered a “growth area” by the industry. Dictionaries are fascinating and a high-tech business now. And linguistics is a pre-requisite for training in this area, particularly for bilingual and learner dictionaries.
Finally, what does the future hold for me with my PhD in Linguistics? Well, there is a head-hunter in the US dedicated only to finding linguists - people good at syntax are particularly valued in high-tech industries. However, if I want to take a break from linguistics altogether it seems I have great potential as a management consultant: speaking to the HR person at Bain & Co. (who recently opened an office in JHB), I was told that linguists are regarded very highly. Why? Because we are trained to think in a way quite unique to our discipline. We are sensitised to patterns both in language and in the way people around us use it. This sensitivity transfers easily and enables us to contribute a different view when solving the types of problems dealt with by these consultancies. What they have to have are teams of people working together but thinking quite differently. Linguists consequently make good management consultants and very good market researchers.
Having done well at languages at school and having chosen to pursue a Bjourn degree at Rhodes, it made sense for me to take Linguistics as a subject at university. But what started as merely one of the subjects taken, became in fact my major. Language is a wonderful thing – and far more complex than I could have imagined - and I found learning about the different aspects of this ‘living thing’ fascinating.
Since graduating from Rhodes I have joined an international company where my job is essentially communication. Public relations, marketing, writing, public speaking – this is what I spend my days doing. Linguistics has given me a better understanding of the finer nuances of language that has proved extremely useful in a job of this nature.
I will always be involved in the media industry and in communication and I can think of no better grounding for this field than the Linguistics course offered at Rhodes. And of course it was always the most organised department too!
Professor Gary Barkhuizen
Studying linguistics opened up for me the field of Applied Linguistics and language education, specifically English teaching. I was lucky enought to be awarded a British Council Scholarship to do my MA in Applied Linguistics at Essex University in the UK, and then a Fulbright Scholarship to study for my doctorate in TESOL at Columbia University in New York. I taught English to adults in New York City and I have also taught English at high schools in New York and in South Africa. Later I becamse a professor in the Department of English Language and Linguistics at Rhodes University, where I was involved in both teacher education and in lecturing linguistics for almost nine years. I am now a senior lecturer in the Department of Applied Language Studies and Linguistics at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
I fell into Linguistics by sheer luck when I attended Professor de Klerk's introductory lecture for first years. I knew immediately that I had found my subject and I went on to do an Honours degree in Linguistics and English Language Teaching followed by a Masters. Then I was very fortunate to be offered a leave-replacement position in the Department where I taught all sorts of things to all sorts of students while doing some very interesting research in the field of second-language acquisition for a PhD. I went off to London and worked at a charity where my knowledge of sociolinguistics and discourse analysis made for some interesting observations of the language of the British upper classes and the completely different forms which emanated from the mouths of the rest of British society! My next step was to sail through (thanks to my Linguistics training) a certificate in teaching English to adults and I went on to teach students from across the world. Linguistics has given me a distinct advantage in the classroom, especially since English learners often have a far better grasp of grammar than many of their teachers. Linguistics has given me sensible answers to their questions and a greater understanding of the difficulties they have when learning.
As public relations manager for MassDiscounters (the holding company for Game and Dion retail outlets, and part of the assmart group), I am responsible for ensuring that the public image of our two brands (Game and Dion) is positive and publicity opportunities are maximised. Via the media [electronic (radio and TV), print, web-based etc], I am constantly communicating with external 'clients' (existing and potential shoppers, suppliers, shareholders, stakeholders etc.) I also communicate with internal 'clients' (team members at all levels from director downwards).
Effective communication is critical for business efficiency, and this is where Linguistics has been of immense benefit, helping me to ensure that each communication that I send out is spoken / written / created in a style best suited to achieve the primary objective. In addition, I am fortunate to be able to run the company's social responsibility programme for 65 stores in 4 (soon to be 5) different countries . . . a very, very rewarding aspect of my job!
Lorna HilesE-mail: Lorna.Hiles@oup.com
When I graduated with Linguistics Honours in 1998 I had a vague idea that I wanted to spend the rest of my life 'in publishing'. My first job was for a publishing house in Joburg, as a publishing assistant, where I learnt a lot about many aspects of publishing. After being retrenched at the end of the year, I started working as a freelance editor. I did a huge variety of freelance work for the next five years: working for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, big publishing companies, people wanting to self-publish, universities etc. I loved working from home and the flexibility of freelancing. When I was ready for something new, I went to China to do the teaching English thing. With my Linguistics degree, I was quickly promoted to Teacher Trainer, responsible for training and recruiting Chinese and foreign teachers for 7 schools in the city. It was great fun, and I felt a lot more challenged than had I just been teaching. As trainer, I still got to teach, which I thoroughly enjoyed too. And I learnt enough Chinese to spend two weeks travelling around China on my own, in places where absolutely no English was spoken. In second year Ling, our class had been introduced to Lexicography, which is dictionary writing and editing. It was something that really appealed to me, (not least because I wanted to tell people I was a lexicographologist!) and this year I started working for Oxford University Press Southern Africa, as an editor in their schools literature and dictionaries department. I love working with the dictionaries, and find it very exciting being part of a team that makes them. I have found that Journalism and Linguistics make a very powerful combination in the workplace. Who knows what's next?