Liŋ-ˈgwis-tiks

Lin-guis-stics noun pl but singular in constr: the study of human speech including the units, nature, structure, and modification of language.

The idea of linguistics seems to be at the very core of what a Middlebury College education is all about, combining a global perspective with foreign language study and, once you add in some cultural relativism for flavor, you’ve got the perfect Middlebury College major!

Right?

Unfortunately, not.

While we do offer a minor in Linguistics (a recently added minor, mind you), there is no formal major available for students. However, there are a few students who are attempting to create their own major in linguistics under the Independent Scholar program. I sat down with two of these students a few days ago.

Maya Barzilai and April Dodd are sophomores and between them, they speak 7 languages (Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, oh, and English) and a passion for linguistics as intense as the passion the Proctor staff shares for neatly scraped panini machines.

Asked to describe her passion for linguistics, Maya Barzilai exclaimed, “People make fun of me, because when I talk about linguistics, I talk about it like it’s my fiancé, I’m that serious about it. I really want this and I’m going to do everything that I have to do, and even though it’s not easy, and I don’t have a whole department behind me, I’m going to do it.”

From what I’ve gathered, this is the kind of passion that most students pursuing an Independent Scholar degree have: an obsessive desire and drive to create something that reaches beyond the ‘planned’ degrees that Middlebury has created.

“If you’re not happy with the structure Middlebury offers, Independent Scholar is a great option. This is something that we’ve chosen, not something that has been predesigned for us. I’ve said to so many people, you just have to do what you love. If you’re doing something you really love, you’ll fight for it, and that’s what I know we plan to do.” (April Dodd)

While they’ve got the perseverance and determination needed to make these majors work, I couldn’t help but ask the question do you have any frustrations with the lack of Linguistics offered or with the Independent Scholar application process? at which point they both answered with a decisive yes. April Dodd quickly said, “I can’t believe that Middlebury doesn’t offer a Linguistics major. It’s surprising because Middlebury offers all of these languages, but they don’t offer classes which study those languages as a unit.”

But, while they may not have any sort of formal backing, they can’t help but feel like they have all the tools necessary to cultivate this major for themselves:

“I feel reassured because we have the faculty who are excited about it. As far as there not being a major, it’s sort of just part of the package. Obviously we care enough about this to be pushy and to get it done.” (Maya Barzilai)

If Maya and April are successful with their proposals, they will be amongst some of the first students to graduate from Middlebury with majors in Linguistics, a feat that I couldn’t help but point out.

C: So I guess you guys are sort of like pioneers?

A: Yes! I’ll be Clark and Maya, you can be Lewis!

With the love they have for their field of study, and the support they have been able to find from one another and faculty on campus, there is no doubt in my mind that these girls will triumph.

Linguistically, of course.

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5 thoughts on “Liŋ-ˈgwis-tiks

  1. I actually know two people who, two years ago, graduated with independent scholar degrees in linguistics from Middlebury. They took classes while abroad and maybe something else, but they definitely did it.

  2. I also know people who graduated recently with independent scholar degrees in linguistics from Middlebury. That seems to be, actually, what most people do with independent scholar degrees. (What else have people done–does anyone know?)

  3. It’s worth noting that the recently added Linguistics minor is both the culmination of decades of effort on the part of the faculty and a precursor to the eventual introduction of a Linguistics major. Cheers to those who went the extra mile to self-design a major, but for the rest of us, it’s nice to know that our voices are not going unheard!

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