What is Applied Linguistics?

Applied Linguistics is a social science that studies language as a cognitive, social, and cultural phenomenon. While other disciplines such as communication, rhetoric, and world languages work with language-related topics or specific languages, Applied Linguistics focuses on what language is and how people use it. We study everything from the smallest bits of language (such as sound) to whole texts and complicated multi-person interactions. In other words, Applied Linguistics makes overt what we all use and experience but generally don't think about, let alone analyze. Using linguistic analysis and argumentation, we work on major problems that societies grapple with, such as education, health care, law, artificial intelligence, and public policies.

How is Applied Linguistics connected to other fields?

Since language is central to human interaction, Applied Linguistics provides insight into many related fields. At PSU, that means students often combine a major in Applied Linguistics with a minor in another department or vice versa. Applied Linguistics is often combined with: 

  • Anthropology
  • Communication
  • Computer Science
  • Education
  • English
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Speech and Hearing
  • World Languages

Do applied linguists speak a lot of languages?

Not necessarily. Being an applied linguist means knowing about language-- knowing the structural and functional principles of human language and being able to analyze how the use of language affects society. That is different from being a fluent speaker. Because applied linguists are fascinated by how languages work, most have studied more than one language and lived in more than one country. In fact, many people get into Applied Linguistics because they found learning a new language fascinating. But not all applied linguists are fluent in multiple languages.

When I first graduated high school, I had no idea what I wanted to go to college for and was really struggling to find something I was passionate about. Then I discovered I wanted to learn Korean, and I realized how cool I thought language was. So I decided to try switching to Applied Linguistics. From the first class, I was so in love with it. [Before applied linguistics,] I hadn't experienced going to a college class and actually wanting to learn the material. 

-- Sara Scott, BA major in Applied Linguistics