Gaining Perspective Through Language

Senior Sophia Hawk majored in linguistics and global studies and minored in teaching English as a second language. She is interested in how language relates to culture, specifically in relation to colonialism and the interaction between colonial and Indigenous languages.

Why is linguistics important to you?

Language is a very important part of our everyday lives, and I think people don't really think about language enough in their daily lives. When I started taking linguistics classes, I was able to see a different perspective on day-to-day life through interactions with other people.

What sparked your interest in linguistics?

In the introductory [linguistics] class, we talked about cochlear implants for deaf children, and I thought it was really interesting to see the ways linguistics could be applied to people's daily lives.

I also really enjoyed the phonology section in the course, which is about sounds—learning why people [put certain sounds together] or why different languages have different sounds. I thought that was really interesting and [it] was completely new to me.

What is unique about studying linguistics at UMN?

I think our [Linguistics] faculty here at the university is great. I've had really good experiences. They are passionate about their areas of study and they're very knowledgeable about the subjects that they specialize in. They also create a collaborative environment for students. I've been able to make some friends in the department because of the collaborative nature of the classes.

The University of Minnesota [Institute of Linguistics] is also working on language revitalization with Dakota and Indigenous languages here [in Minnesota]. I was in a field methods class last semester where we worked with a speaker of Dakota to understand different aspects of his language, such as the sounds and the grammatical structures. He also was able to talk to us a little bit about his culture and his experiences [as] a Dakota speaker.

I also volunteered to teach English for a bit in the city, primarily to adult immigrants and refugees. That was a really cool experience that I probably wouldn't have been able to gain if I hadn't been here, or at least in a city in general. 

Why is research important in linguistics?

Research in linguistics… allows us to better understand why we think the way that we do and recognize the universal aspect of language that helps us understand the universal aspect of humans.

Research in linguistics can give us a new perspective. Knowing someone's language can help increase understanding, especially across cultures and across different countries. Knowing that language is tied to culture can help us better understand why it's important to learn new languages and preserve languages [like] Indigenous languages.

How did you decide to double major? 

I originally chose to major in global studies, but I was still taking linguistics classes and decided to keep exploring that as well. I ended up taking several classes in other majors and other areas of interest that I didn't end up pursuing. Once I narrowed it down, I kept taking classes in those specific majors, and that allowed me to keep learning, and I didn't have to declare my major right away. I chose whichever classes seemed the most interesting to me and I ended up adding my minor later on. 

What might you want to do with your degree? Where is your education taking you?

As of right now, I am planning to teach English abroad next year. So that has definitely been a way of involving [my] global studies and linguistics majors, and the teaching English minor. I was named a semi-finalist for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Switzerland but will be pursuing an opportunity with TAPIF to teach in France starting in the fall. This summer I am interning with Global Minnesota and the University Language Center. Beyond that, I would maybe like to go into education or education policy. 

How does CLA help students apply their studies to their lives and careers?

CLA does a really good job of looking at things from a bunch of different perspectives, and I think it's interesting. For my English-teaching minor, I worked at the English Learning Center, and I taught English for a little over a semester. This semester I am going to volunteer at the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee. I had the chance to complete both of these experiences through Community-Engaged Learning courses.

I also studied abroad in Senegal, and I was able to complete an internship while I was there. For my internship, I worked at two different schools, a public Senegalese school and a private French and English immersion school. It was really interesting to explore language education in those two different settings.

I think CLA really pushes its students to have difficult conversations and to think about the challenging aspects of life and how we can move forward. In a lot of the classes that I've taken, we've looked at things from a feminist lens or an anti-racist lens, and having that way of looking at things definitely brings increased understanding about the systems in which we live. 

Sophia, interviewed in her senior year, is now a CLA alum. This interview offers a look back at her time as an undergraduate.

Career Ready

As a linguistics student, you will develop ten core competencies to prepare you for your future career, including:

Develop a consciousness about your potential contributions and roles in the many communities you inhabit, in person and online, and take action accordingly.

  • Actively engage with the communities in which you are involved.
  • Build awareness of how communities impact individuals, and how, in turn, an individual impacts, serves, and shapes communities.
  • Evolve your awareness of culture and power in community dynamics.

Explore possible careers, gain meaningful experience, and build skills that help you excel after college and lead to employment or other successful post-graduation outcomes.

  • Understand your values, interests, identity, personality, skills, strengths, and Core Career Competencies
  • Articulate how those characteristics, combined with and shaped by a liberal arts education, lead to career success

Intentionally engage with an audience to inform, persuade, or entertain.

  • Consider relationships with the audience and the social and political context in which you communicate, as well as the needs, goals, and motivations of all involved
  • Have proficiency in, knowledge of, and competence with the means of communication (including relevant language and technical skills)
  • Ensure that communication is functional and clear


This story was written by Autumn Viker, an undergraduate student in CLA.

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