The field of linguistics does tend to attract people who speak more than one language, or people who are interested in learning new languages. But linguistics is much more than being multilingual--it is the scientific study of language. 

Students in our program discover topics--like formal grammar, language and culture, language acquisition, cognition, and bilingualism--in the context of a broad liberal arts experience. UVM linguistics students have continued on to distinguished graduate programs. Many others join the private sector in jobs ranging from technology, medical research, education, translation and teaching as a second language. Students who major in linguistics are equipped with a broad range of transferable skills, enabling them to succeed in any profession.

Meet just a few of our recent graduates here.

Discovering the Neuroscience of Language

Andrew Collins

When Londonderry, N.H., native Andrew Collins ’18 got a close look at UVM, he saw the campus and city of Burlington as the perfect “Goldilocks” scenario—“not too close to home, but not too far; a lot of student activity but with a small town feel,” he recalls. Collins was originally set on studying neurology but a curiosity about language continued to tug at him. “I ended up taking courses in Latin, which I thought would help me in the medical field. I also took classes in German—then some French and Mandarin.” Collins concluded he was mostly interested in the study of language development itself and discovered a deep connection between his original STEM interests and learning languages. “Linguistics is one of the most important cognitive sciences because it can tie together findings in neuroscience and psychology with language,” he said.

Read more of Andrew's story.

He found a mentor in Associate Professor Guillermo Rodríguez, who specializes in morphosyntactic processing in a second language and how executive function might affect language acquisition. After graduation, Collins worked at the Aphasia Research Laboratory at Boston University to study structural changes in the brain and patterns in language processing of stroke survivors. He recently began a five-year PhD program at the University of Kansas, a leading institution in neurolinguistics. Based on current psycholinguistic research and sophisticated brain imaging techniques, he’s working on developing predictive models for ultimate second language attainment by using a person's neurocognitive individual differences. “It’s a really exciting time in the field. With all the technology and unexplored data that’s available, we’re on the verge of substantial advances—it feels like a powder keg ready to go off.”

 

Linguistics and the Law

Jessica Blier

Like many students who adopt the major, Jessica Blier ’14 didn’t know what linguistics was when she first stepped onto the UVM campus. Now she’s using her background in the discipline as a linguistic analyst for a company that uses big data to help businesses and organizations identify safety risks. “I always enjoyed languages, but decided political science would be a more practical choice as a major, thinking I could do translating work in international relations. When I realized that this was not the field for me, I went to my advisor for help. She suggested a TAP (Teacher-Advisor Program) seminar taught by Julie Roberts called ‘Language and the Law.’ I took it, and the rest is history!”

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Along with her linguistics major, Blier minored in anthropology and took classes in Chinese, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. She also did a UVM-sponsored two-week summer study tour in China and studied abroad for a semester at Yunnan University. As graduation neared, Blier considered law school or teaching English in China. Then she stumbled on a graduate program that seemed tailor-made for her interests in law and education—forensic linguistics at Hofstra University. The program applied linguistic science to criminal law, which connects directly with her current occupation. “I write linguistic algorithms. A lot of it has to do with syntax but other aspects of sociolinguistics come into play. I’m so happy to be doing what I love.” As she makes her way in her first job in the linguistic field, Blier looks forward to getting her PhD someday and continue her research in forensic linguistics.

 

From UVM to Georgetown University

Sarah Bellavance

A native of Indiana, Sarah Bellavance ’17 was attracted by UVM’s inviting outdoor environment and opportunities to study the natural sciences. But it was a first-semester course on linguistics that set her on an unexpected academic path. “I always loved language, but I wasn’t familiar with linguistics as a discipline,” she said. Bellavance was particularly attracted to Professor Julie Roberts’ work on Vermont speech and American English dialects. “She was crucial in helping me start my research career at UVM. I was involved in a group research project on local vowel sounds—we were looking at college-aged students who were native Vermonters to see if their vowels aligned with vowel shifts that were happening elsewhere in the U.S.” Bellavance became especially interested in sociophonetics, which she describes as the study of individual sounds and how researchers examine them to get at questions of identity.

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She received a Humanities Center Summer Research Award which funded her stay in Burlington while studying “T-glottalization” variations (the propensity for Vermonters to drop the “t” at the end of words like “hot”). Bellavance completed her senior honors thesis on the subject, and also presented her work at the American Dialect Society national conference in Washington, D.C. A Spanish minor at UVM, Bellavance took advantage of a study abroad program in Morocco her junior year to expand her language learning to Arabic, French, and Tamazight. After graduation, she embarked on a five-month backpacking trip in South America which gave her a chance to practice her language skills and observe the social context of language development in places she’d read about as a student. Bellavance was recently accepted into a master’s degree program in linguistics at Georgetown University—she sees herself continuing on to a PhD when she completes the program in 2021. “I think the research background at UVM really prepared me for grad school and whatever happens next. The small classes and individual attention I received had a lot to do with that.”

 

Exploring the science of linguistics leads to job with Amazon

Claudia Garber ‘18 declared chemistry as her UVM major before eventually switching to linguistics. The Needham, Mass., native was intrigued by the symmetry between the two disciplines—in chemistry she deconstructed matter from compounds, to molecules, to atoms, while in linguistics she broke down language into sentences, words and then sounds. “Specifically I’m interested in phonetics, phonology, and morphology—the scientific ways of approaching language,” she said. Garber found plenty of opportunities to gain research experience as an undergraduate. She partnered with Shelley Velleman from UVM’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences on a study focusing on speech development in children with Williams Syndrome.

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“I did an analysis of four children over their first three years of life. I identified speech sound acquisition patterns in the children through transcriptions and analyses of recorded play sessions.” Garber received two grants—an Honors College Career Development Award and a College of Arts and Sciences APLE Grant—which funded her research at UVM over two consecutive summers. A semester at the University of Cardiff in Wales introduced her to corpus linguistics, or the study of large language data processing. Taken together, her academic experience turned out to be ideal preparation for her job as a data specialist for Amazon’s voice service program Alexa. She stepped into the role within weeks of graduation. “It’s not within the scope of what I even knew was possible as a career path when I started studying linguistics at UVM, but it’s an up and coming field and an awesome first job.”