If a friend told you she was interested in becoming a computational linguist, your first reaction might be to console her on catching a terrifying disease. Your second reaction might be to ask her what on earth is a computation linguist – and it’s a great question. Computational linguists are actually crazy math/science/linguists ninjas, forging careers at the intersection of all three of these fields. They use computer programming and science to teach computers about language. There are many career opportunities for these talented language aficionados and, even better, these position tend to be well compensated.
Companies both big and small create apps and software that utilize speech recognition technology to assist and improve their products. You probably have one app on your phone that uses text recognition software, right? A computation linguist made it possible for that app to recognize your voice. They make it possible for a map app on your phone to clearly recognize what you are saying and input that data into the mapping software so you get where you want to go. Good computational linguists make this complex process seamless and quick. To get into this field, you need extensive experience in both linguistics and computer programming and, in many cases, an advanced degree.
What the heck is text mining? It actually refers to the somewhat sneaky process of gathering useful information from huge amounts of Internet data in order to learn more about a customer, demographic or statistical trend. This technology involves a computation linguist teaching a computer about a language and identifying patterns to look for in the data and then programming software that learns about the trends as it goes. It sounds pretty sci-fi – and it is – and like in many sci-fi movies, the technology can be used both for good and for evil. Many large companies use this technique to learn more about a customer so they can target advertising toward them. To start in this field, advanced degrees in computer programming, math or linguistics are a basic necessity, with experience in the other fields as well.
Have you ever seen someone write something in another language on Facebook, and you get an option to “Translate this?” That is machine translating at work. Behind the scenes, a genius computation linguist has taught a software program how to read the language written and translate it. If you have ever actually used one of these programs, you will know that some work really well and some translate it into complete gibberish. Computational linguists have an immense job and taking slang and local phrases into account is a huge project. Getting started in this area requires near native-level fluency in at least two languages, computer programming skills, and a linguistic background.
Job Outlook and Career Growth
A computational linguist isn’t a position you can simply fall into; it takes years of serious training and education. Fear not, however! The payoff is worth the time you spend training. UCLA states that linguists beginning their careers start at an average salary of $50,000 per year and, within a few years, reach a six-figure salary. This is a much higher-than-average wage than most other recently graduated academics, and the need for these word nerds is only increasing.
Based in the Pacific Northwest, Arin Bodden started writing professionally in 2003. Her writing has been featured in "Northwest Boulevard" and "Mermaids." She received the Huston Medal in English in 2005. Bodden has a Master of Arts in English from Eastern Washington University. She currently teaches English composition and technical writing at the university level.