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Going into Linguistics w/o a Linguistics major...

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My school for undergrad doesn't offer a B.A. in linguistics, only a "concentration" in linguistics for the English B.A. that doesn't even show up on the diploma. They offer an M.A. in sociolinguistics, and I have been taking some grad-level classes in that sub-field, but my interests, based on the classes I've taken so far lean more toward the theoretical end of the spectrum. Problem is, there are no classes offered at my university entirely devoted to syntax or to semantics or to morphology, which is what I am interested in. There are only general linguistics classes that cover a broad set of topics about "History of English," " Modern English," "Variety in Language," etc.

This has so far been a problem at least once, with my application to UC Santa Cruz; in my interview, they would have admitted me but for my background weakness, and told me I would have to take additional classes and reapply. I am worried that the same sort of thing is going to come up when I visit UC San Diego at the end of the month.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to what would be a good way to make up for this institutional shortcoming? A couple of good books that you had to read for your linguistics undergrad on syntax or semantics that might bring me up to speed by the time I fly out there?

I really, really want to impress, since they didn't accept me outright and want to meet me to make their decision. I know that I will be up against tough competition from schools that did offer a linguistics major. Help!

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First I gotta say that's awfully dick of SC to treat you like that. There are relatively few universities that have strong ling programs, and refusing to consider applicants from outside that little circle is shortsighted. There are plenty of great candidates who might happen to not have access to a rated university. I was lucky to be a California resident, but if I hadn't been, I could never have afforded the out-of-state tuition it would have taken to go to UCLA.

The bad news is there aren't really any books that cover the advanced topics. The fields move too fast. In my intro to syntax class we used Carnie's Syntax: A Generative Introduction, (http://www.amazon.com/Syntax-Generative-Introduction-Introducing-Linguistics/dp/0631225447/ref=cm_lmf_tit_8_rlrssi0). This had been published two months before the start of the class, and the professor already highlighted several portions and told us how they'd been up- or outdated. All my advanced classes had coursework books the professors made out of recent journal articles and had us buy piecemeal or just photocopied and handed out. Some advanced books are just collections of working papers -- good luck with those!

Realistically, how much can you learn in the next couple weeks anyway? A better tack might be to come up with a plan for summer preparatory study and lay it out for them so they know you're not going to be resting on your laurels if they accept you. A way to do that might be to go to the current advanced undergrad and intro grad class websites and download the materials available. Make a book for each area you're weak in. See if they have summer courses and offer to move to SD early and take them. If you really want some lightning preparation, I'd suggest going for depth instead of breadth. Pick a couple of articles on the same subject recently published by someone you'd like to work with at SD and struggle through them. Read the cited articles too, if you have the time. Then steer steer steer conversation to what you know.

Whatever you do, good luck to you.

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Thanks for the tips. I'll check that book out, and look around to see what's available by the folks at UCSD now. Maybe I'll be less nervous armed with more information.

I can't really complain about UCSC, since the prof I spoke with was REALLY nice about it, and did offer me information as to which classes I'd need to take, how much they were, etc. She just couldn't guarantee me anything without the background. She was totally honest and upfront that their program is small and intense and assumes a certain level of preparation (that I don't yet have).

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Thanks for the tips. I'll check that book out, and look around to see what's available by the folks at UCSD now. Maybe I'll be less nervous armed with more information.

I can't really complain about UCSC, since the prof I spoke with was REALLY nice about it, and did offer me information as to which classes I'd need to take, how much they were, etc. She just couldn't guarantee me anything without the background. She was totally honest and upfront that their program is small and intense and assumes a certain level of preparation (that I don't yet have).

Really though, would you want to go anywhere with the banana slug as a mascot anyway? They chew their own penises off while mating!

{just kidding. I've heard nothing but good about their ling program :D )

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I second that book for syntax. I also didn't major in linguistics, so I've been auditing syntax and phonology at the university in my hometown to get some knowledge of theory. If I don't get accepted anywhere, plan B is to take upper-level courses for credit and reapply.

I decided my senior year of undergrad that I wanted to do linguistics, but thought it wasn't worth sticking around another semester/year to finish the minor or double-major. I have studied a bunch of languages though, and I'm hoping that wins me some points. (I know the structure and phonology of various languages, but only sort of know how to describe and analyze them.) Plus none of my programs requires a background in linguistics -- it just makes it a lot easier to get in.

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@ pangor-ban, to which programs have you applied?

So, I've ordered that Syntax book, plus a couple of books written fairly recently by faculty members whose interests pretty closely match mine. I've also downloaded a whole mess of pdf files from the few professors that work in the areas I'd like to enter. I've got a lot of reading ahead of me!

As for taking upper-level classes at the universities around here, I've taken a few grad-level courses at my current university, but all the more theoretical classes are at the other university in the area, and they don't open the courses to non-degree-seeking students. According to what I've read on the UCSD Web site, they aren't offering anything pertinent this summer. They also don't list any books on the course sites, which may very well be because they use current articles.

I suppose I could dig around the course Web sites of some of the other schools to which I have applied and see what texts they are recommending. If that fails, do you guys think it would be worthwhile to ask the professors I meet at the open house for a recommended reading list for self-study, or do you think it would reflect badly on me not to know without asking?

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I want to do Indo-European historical linguistics, so I applied to the three schools in the country that offer it: Harvard, Cornell, and UCLA's I-E Studies program. I think my chances aren't looking so good this year, alas.

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I want to do Indo-European historical linguistics, so I applied to the three schools in the country that offer it: Harvard, Cornell, and UCLA's I-E Studies program. I think my chances aren't looking so good this year, alas.

Have you thought of applying to any European universities? If I don't get in anywhere this year, I'm definitely going to include Paris 7 in my list next year.

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Have you thought of applying to any European universities? If I don't get in anywhere this year, I'm definitely going to include Paris 7 in my list next year.

Yeah, my MA is from Wales, and I'd love to go abroad again, but it's that much harder to get funding as a non-EU citizen, plus it's harder to get a (teaching) job after a European PhD (in general) because they don't offer you any TA experience, except in exceptional cases. (Though there's nothing wrong with doing lots of post-doc positions...)

But I am pretty interested in Cambridge for IE linguistics, or if I want to stick with Celtic languages, which is what my MA is, either Trinity College Dublin or University College Dublin are good choices in Ireland, and there's Pierre-Yves Lambert doing Celtic things in France (I think he's at La Sorbonne) though while my French is reasonably fluent, I worry that it's not write-a-dissertation fluent. And I think the French tend towards requiring even longer dissertations than the UK/US do. Plus Europe has different ideas about linguistic theory -- my French linguist friend says his department hates Chomsky with a fiery passion.

(I did consider including the above universities on this round of applications, but decided I'd get a better education in the US, and hoped the election outcomes would mean the US would be a tolerable place for the next 5 years. But the advice I got from a professor was "get a PhD in the country where you want to work." Though honestly, I don't care, as long as I'm doing linguistics...)

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Does anyone have any suggestions as to what would be a good way to make up for this institutional shortcoming? A couple of good books that you had to read for your linguistics undergrad on syntax or semantics that might bring me up to speed by the time I fly out there?

For semantics you might want to try Heim&Kratzer's Semantics in Generative Grammar. It'll give you all the basics and I think is used as a textbooks in a lot of classes.

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I suppose I could dig around the course Web sites of some of the other schools to which I have applied and see what texts they are recommending. If that fails, do you guys think it would be worthwhile to ask the professors I meet at the open house for a recommended reading list for self-study, or do you think it would reflect badly on me not to know without asking?

That sounds just fine - and even advisable - to me. Surely all that would do is show them that a) you are enthusiastic about the field of linguistics despite not having had the opportunity to major in it; and B) you're serious about completing any preparatory work that you might need. I also think it's well worth mentioning that there wasn't a major in linguistics available to you; they'll see you making the effort to study it regardless! I wouldn't get too stressed-out about completing a huge pile of reading before visiting; work on it, let them know your thoughts and tentative plans pertaining to all of that, and ask for their advice. They're already curious about you, and showing them that you're up to the task of being a linguistics grad-student can't hurt!

I've used both the Carnie and the Heim & Kratzer textbooks, and they're both all right (though syntax and semantics aren't major areas of interest for me). Both subfields can get pretty abstract and formal really quickly, but if you take it a bit at a time, you should be fine. And being interested in the material should definitely help you out! * grins *

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I can see why UCSC responded the way they did. Linguistics isn't at all user-friendly; you'd be surprised how much background knowledge and understanding you need just to get through most Language papers. Even still, there's a big gap between understanding what's going on in a paper and understanding it well enough to be insightful about it. If you can clear that gap, then you may be capable of doing good research. Any grad program will want to see that you're somewhere towards the end of that sequence, or at least that you're clearly getting there.

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This has so far been a problem at least once, with my application to UC Santa Cruz; in my interview, they would have admitted me but for my background weakness, and told me I would have to take additional classes and reapply. I am worried that the same sort of thing is going to come up when I visit UC San Diego at the end of the month.

Having chatted with the UCSD Ling people, perhaps I can ease your mind about that interview a little bit. From what I found out, their first year of courses is very rigidly structured to give you all the theoretical background. Even people who have some syntax/semantics/phonetics/etc. experience are required to take them (technically you can place out, but it seems that nobody has). So as long as you can demonstrate that you've got a good understanding of what linguistics entails and that it's really what you want to do, I don't think a lack of theory classes will be too detrimental, as it looks like they bring everybody up to speed that first year. I've got a somewhat similar background - I've got a linguistics concentration within a broader interdepartmental major, and we're missing a lot of theory classes - and it didn't seem to be an issue.

Hope that helps some!

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Thanks so much, everyone, for all the info. I've ordered the syntax book and a couple of books written by the faculty; they should arrive any day. I'm also going to borrow a semantics text from a classmate (don't know the name of the book yet), and I've downloaded all the recent articles from the faculty members whose interests most closely match mine.

anyli_t, special thanks for the department-specific info; I'm still extremely nervous, but at least I know a little bit of what to expect.

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