With the recent revolution in robotics and machine learning, linguistics is playing an increasingly important role as we develop and interact with systems of artificial intelligence. Just as we communicate with other humans through language, it is most natural for us to communicate with robots and other automated systems through speech, text, and sign. These new types of interactions will demand a robust understanding of linguistics, as language processing poses many unique challenges for machines.
As David Crystal so eloquently put it at a conference I attended recently, ‘we linguists are sad people.’ A quote that resonated with me, for like Professor Crystal, I too have spent many an hour digging through dictionaries and corpora for reasons that might appear trivial to the average individual. As a second-year undergraduate currently pursuing my studies at the University of Ljubljana, I have had the chance to immerse myself in the world of language, literature, and research with special focus on English and French. Considering the wide array of possibilities that a linguistics related major offers, I find it challenging to choose a clear-cut path that fully echoes my interests, which might, like language, evolve over time and away from my current predisposition for theory.
There are already numerous linguistic shifts and notions of awareness in terms of political correctness that pertain to the English language. We see this awareness when we think about the heightened awareness of gender as a non-binary entity of the human condition and the increased use of gender neutral pronouns. Many people are practicing these linguistic changes based on their own value of inclusivity that in turn shape language. In decades to come, my conjecture would be that a normalization of gender-neutral pronouns will occur not only in English but in some other languages as well.
Language has fascinated me ever since I started to talk; however, the immense importance of language did not become clear to me until I started my university studies. Human language is an incredibly valuable asset, particularly with regards to its cognitive, social, cultural and historical aspects. Language allows us to make inferences about how human thinking is organized. Syntactic regularities often reflect human priorities. A striking example of this is the influence of the animacy hierarchy in various grammatical areas. Frequently, animate or even human referents assume a special grammatical role, for example, they may be preferred to inanimate referents in syntactic orders. (Conventionalized) metaphors are another example for the interplay of language and cognition. It is believed that they reflect existing presumptions or human thinking, and vice versa, shape human perception.
We are constantly immersed in language whether we notice it or not. It is present in everything from conversations, to signs, text, and speeches. As linguists we love to think about the language that surrounds us as we go about our lives. Today, with the rise in the use of social media platforms, I can see the field of linguistics growing and expanding to focus on online discourse. With millions of people making a footprint online it is interesting and exciting to understand the different linguistic varieties and linguistic practices that take place in this platform. Different communities of practice utilize language online in unique and exciting ways, and I see this becoming a hot area of interest in the near future. Younger generations are utilizing social media platforms for activism, to spread information, and to build communities. This is largely new, as just a couple years ago this was not the case. As youth in America become more and more politically active online, I believe that focusing on online youth political discourse will be an exciting area of study.
The role of language in cultural identity is often overlooked. However, acknowledging the connections between cultural and linguistic identities contributes to a fuller understanding of societies. Deepening our understanding of linguistics helps prevent miscommunication between dialects, fosters a sense of belonging through common linguistic features, and counteracts stigmas associated with variations between dialects. Knowledge of linguistic identities helps us understand communities and individuals better and helps us accept and cherish our unique linguistic attributes.
As an advertiser and linguist, I hope that the intersection of these fields emerges as a “hot topic.” Linguistics has been explored in media, but its application to advertising specifically has not been explored in as much depth. Advertising is about communicating, whether it is through art or through its copy; but if advertisement’s main point is to create a customized ad specific to a target audience, why is copy language so generalized?