Which employers are looking for linguists these days, and what kinds of linguist are they after? The usual assumption is that linguists are employed almost exclusively in academia, and that they are generally engaged in esoteric theoretical work. I've long suspected that this is not completely true, but I'd never really looked into it. Facing two long plane rides this past week, I decided to get the data and wade through them. This post reports some initial findings about 2008.
My source for the data is The Linguist List. For at least ten years, The Linguist List has been the primary place for jobs ads specifically targeting linguists. This orientation is important. I'm not asking the question, "Where do linguists work?", because they work in many, many fields; linguists have a mix of skills from the sciences and the humanities that has a lot of market potential outside the field. Rather, I am curious about which employers are looking for linguists in particular.
My scrape of the 2008 advertisements on The Linguist List turned up 579 jobs. Here's a rough breakdown by employer type:
|Advertisement counts by employer type|
So it seems true that most linguists work in academia. The "Other" list is robust, though, and it is filled with a wide array of job types: lots of tech firms, lots of research institutes, some libraries, some advertising firms, as well as odd-balls like Gap International and the PricewaterhouseCoopers. Here's the full list.
What kind of linguists are employers seeking? To get a rough answer to this question, I looked at all the job area types with more than one advertisement associated with them, then did some hand clustering:
|Counts of specific areas targeted by job ads|
|Institutionally prominent theoretical areas||203|
|Specific non-English languages||182|
Most ads list more than one area. The counts in this table are the number of times that the area was mentioned. Thus, a single ad seeking either a computational person or an applied linguist would be counted twice. I went this route because I am curious about the opportunities open to particular specialists. For example, "How many jobs could someone like me apply to?"
"Applied linguistics" and "General linguistics" are single categories. To get the others, I combined various areas. Some notes on the breakdowns:
Institutionally prominent theoretical areas
The list I've called "Institutionally prominent theoretical areas" sorts out, from most to fewest ads, in almost exactly the order that modern theoretical linguistics developed, suggesting that the initial Chomskyan conception still shapes the way departments are built up and replenished:
|Institutionally prominent theoretical areas|
Specific non-English languages
The category "Specific non-English languages" consists mainly of advertisements for positions that call for specific language skills. I even left out things like "Spanish linguistics", opting instead to include just the ones that seemed to care about fluency alone. Here are the top eleven:
|Specific non-English languages (top 11)|
And here's a link to the full list of languages with at least two job ads targeting them.
The "Computational" group is dominated by the simple category "Computational linguistics", which probably covers lots of different researchers, ranging from people who just rely on computing power to get their work done to people who use language as a testing ground for new machine learning models and the like.
|Natural language processing||23|
Finally, the "English" area covers a diverse bunch (perhaps too diverse):
All positions, with counts
To close out this section, here is the raw list of positions with their counts.
Specialists and specialist positions
There is one more thing I'd like to check. Many people, I think, have the impression that it is getting harder to survive as a pure theoretician, or perhaps as a pure X for any X. The sense is that most jobs are looking for people with multiple skill sets. Is this true? It is hard to answer definitively without looking carefully at each ad, but how about this related question: For which areas A are there ads for A and only A (rather than a disjunction of areas). Specialists in such areas are more likely to be competing against just other specialists, for positions already tailored to them. Here are the top ten:
|Numbers of ads targeting exactly one area|
This is just the top 10. The full list has 136 jobs ads on it. So about 23% (136/579) of the jobs target just single areas. Once again, computation looks like a safe specialization. Jobs in "General linguistics" are open to a wide range of specialists, so that category should probably be removed from the list. If we do that, then just 20% of the jobs target single specialist areas.
I hope to do more analysis like this in the future. Rachel Walker and I are starting an eLanguage journal that will report on hiring in linguistics, and I'd like to provide general data like this in addition to specific information about individual moves.
In closing, some questions:
- Why are so few colleges (as opposed to universities) looking for linguists? Or: how can colleges get away with not having linguistics? Shocking!
- Are the TESOL/TEFL jobs mostly being advertised elsewhere?
- Are there areas not represented on this list that linguists should be exploring for jobs (and internships)?
Comments are open for opinions, predictions, suggestions, and so forth.