“Linguists are no different from any other people who spend more than nineteen hours a day pondering the complexities of grammar and its relationship to practically everything else in order to prove that language is so inordinately complicated that it is impossible in principle for people to talk.” (Ronald W. Langacker 1973) Department Website
Linguists are engaged in the study of language structure, which is the ultimate interdisciplinary enterprise. Linguistic theory attempts to model a complex domain of human knowledge that is also central to philosophy of mind and to cognitive psychology. The linguistic models that theoretical linguists construct are formal in character and rely on computational and mathematical methodologies. As such, linguistics has a mutually beneficial relationship with computer science and the study of artificial intelligence. An individual language is a cultural artifact, and so the reconstruction of an extinct language can shed light on the physical surroundings and the social institutions of its speakers, while the study of a living understudied language leads to the understanding of material culture, folklore, and society of a new community. That makes linguistics a topic of interest to anthropologists, sociologists, and archaeologists.
Students who gravitate to linguistics are necessarily interested in language, but that means different things for different people. Linguists are not necessarily polyglots. Many are intrigued by formal systems and the prospect of modeling complex behavior; others are interested in the relationship of natural languages to other symbolic systems; still others are drawn into the formal study of language by the similarities and differences they have noticed among individual languages.