What do linguists do?



Did you know that of the roughly seven thousand languages spoken in the world today, only 50% are predicted to survive the 21st century? One language disappears every two weeks. 


Did you know that we can read your minds? We literally can as our researchers collect brain waves to track changes in mental states to better understand how language is stored and processed. 


Even when the robot C-3PO in Star Wars frequently boasts that he is “fluent in over six million forms of communication”, what will it take to really make computers talk one day? Current computers can translate, summarise, take dictation, and even make jokes, yet they are nowhere near as good at these tasks as people. Our linguists are devoted to this problem of bringing language to machines. 

Linguistics is a data-driven social and behavioural science in which inferences about human cognition, behaviour, and social structure are drawn from observations of communicative practices. This includes documenting the communicative practices of many cultures and their histories and attempting to determine the principles and cognitive abilities that underlie human behaviour and how to model them. Linguistics therefore is highly multidisciplinary and has ties with computer science, neuroscience, cognitive and social psychology, philosophy of language and epistemology, history, and anthropology.

Our linguists work in very diverse areas and being in Singapore, a nation with at least 3000 languages at our doorstep - we are smack in the centre of a linguistically diverse region where multilingualism is a norm. This location offers a thriving environment for us to focus our research on multilingualism. Some areas that our linguists are interested in include:

  • how children acquire language in multilingual contexts
  • the threat of language loss and how languages can be documented and maintained
  • language attitude and identity
  • the role and the study of emotions in multilinguals
  • the cultural and symbolic value of language in everyday life, as well as
  • the management of linguistic resources


A background in core Linguistics training will place students in a strong position to develop a guided interest in multilingual and bilingual language development and use. An appreciation of the complexities of multilingualism will inculcate in the students a deeper understanding of themselves as bilinguals and a keener awareness of how to make the best use of the linguistic potentials made available to them in a multilingual community.

About the Programme

A Major in LMS gives graduates insight into one of the most intriguing aspects of human knowledge and behaviour, and at the same time introduces them to related disciplines. As language is an integral part of all human activities, the study of linguistics provides a conducive platform for interdisciplinary discourse and research. The interdisciplinary nature of LMS ensures that students obtain a solid general education through being exposed to a variety of disciplines such as Sociology, Communication, Computer Science, Education, Hearing and Speech sciences, Law, Literature, Philosophy, and Psychology. The LMS programme in NTU complements courses in related areas and encourages students to think beyond their specific fields. 

Students majoring in LMS at NTU may organise their studies around different aspects of the field or concentrations. For example, a student may decide to concentrate on how language is acquired and processed (Language Mind and Multilingualism concentration); how language relates to social and cultural forces (Multilingual Societies and Multiculturalism concentration), language learning and teaching (Applied English Linguistics concentration); how language is used in the ever changing and innovating technological world (Language and Technology concentration); or how language systems are analysed from a variety of theoretical perspectives (General Linguistics concentration). Students can also choose courses from two or more of these concentrations. All of these programmes share a common focus on the application of linguistic knowledge to practical issues related to languages in modern society.