School Time

» 23 February 2004 » In Bay Area, Pursuits »

I am going back to school, 5 years after graduation. A few weeks ago I signed up for two classes – Introduction to Linguistic Phonetics and Introduction to Syntax – through San Jose State’s Open University program. These are the prerequisites for a Master of Arts in Linguistics degree, which is what I am shooting for. In the fall I will enroll for real and become a graduate student.
Why linguistics? Some may say that with my background of computer science going for MBA or MS in Computer Science again makes more sense. Well, I have always been an advocate of studying and working in the areas that you have a passion for. Business degree may be advantageous for career advancement or starting a new enterprise, but somehow I do not feel that it will make me happy.
On the other hand, I have always been fascinated by languages, their similarities and differences, their structure, sounds, flexibility, and ambiguity. Did you know that Japanese has voiceless vowels? That Turkish can form words of 200 letters and longer via agglutinative morphology and thus convey very precise shades of meaning? Why does one language have only three vowels and another twenty-three? Why does “I pronouce you husband and wife” matters when spoken by a person with appropriately vested power, but not by an actor on a stage?
I am fluent in English and Russian, and can read a bit of Norwegian, and even with this limited set there is so much to learn and discover. I am especially interested in the intersection of computer science and linguistics – computational linguistics, which includes fields of speech recognition and production, natural language processing, etc. This field is still largely unexplored and can bring about a multitude of benefits for human-computer interaction.
Why San Jose State University? Financial and time management reasons mostly. All other things being equal, I would probably go for Stanford, but the tuition there is close to, oh, $28,000 a year. Berkeley also has a good linguistics program, but the commute would take approximately 1-1.5 hours. Plus, these schools mostly accept students who are going for doctorate, not masters, degrees. It’s already challenging enough to combine school and work, taking 6 credits hours as I do now. So that leaves San Jose State – it is not too far away and the costs are reasonable. I will re-evaluate the situation after a year or so.
So far it feels strange to have to attend classes, answer “here!” when your name is called, do the homework, and sit in a room full of people most of whom are younger than me. But I love it.

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