What students say about linguistics: why study French linguistics?

Author: Jonathan Kasstan


This paper was written by a student about their experiences of studying linguistics at university.

This article was added to our website on 23/10/08 at which time all links were checked. However, we cannot guarantee that the links are still valid.

Table of contents

Why I chose to study French linguistics

As a student, from an early age, I had always loved languages, they fascinate me – how understanding the variations in vocabulary, and grammar structures, can mean communicating with an entirely different culture, and identifying yourself with that culture, with its people, in this way, through articulating yourself in a manner that seems normal to them, and alien to you… it seemed, and still does seem, quite amazing.  My goal in life had always been to reach University, and take French for my degree (and try to pick up Spanish) – as French has always been a passion of mine, but from there I had no idea what I would do with my life as a postgraduate, what career I could see myself in; after my second term at University this soon changed.

I remember picking my modules for the first year of my BA French prior to starting, gazing at the list and wondering what would interest me.


I remember picking my modules for the first year of my BA French prior to starting, gazing at the list and wondering what would interest me.  Understanding how a language works, the structure of the grammar its self (e.g. why the subject – verb – object schéma at the very core of French was so important), the purpose of the individual morphemes that make up a sentence, the “vrai mechanisme” as Saussure put it, never really stood out to me as important before, as (to me) school only ever taught the student how the language is spoken, and never really explained why it ‘works the way it does’.  I ended up choosing a module called Sounds of French; an introduction to French phonology, and from then on it all changed.  I had never enjoyed a class so much, not merely because of the lecturer’s entertaining style of teaching (taking an ‘anti-purisme’ approach to French linguistics as a whole really amused me), but because of how interesting it was to learn the ins and outs of the language that I loved so much.

After my first year my mind was set, I wanted to take as many linguistics modules as possible, to better understand the workings of French, and any other language that I could come across; it was in my second year that my passion for linguistics really took off, I became equally fascinated with Dialectology, just as I was with French. 

A further module: Other Languages of France has to be one of my favourite modules to date; I was given the opportunity to learn about the several other regional languages that exist within the hexagon, which I had (shamefully) never even heard of before.  Both Breton and Basque literally astonished me, how two languages that don’t resemble French in any way, could exist within its own linguistic border.  I was even more pleased to read that I wasn’t the only one that thought this, William J. Entwistle once famously wrote that;

outside the families of languages of equal interest that make up the human knowledge exists some languages which are unique. They do not reiterate the experience of many others, but, in their independence, offer the student an unusual wealth of fresh facts. Such a language is Basque. For peers it does not admit the circumjacent Romance tongues, French and Spanish, which are comparatively recent immigrants into its neighbourhood. It is comparable, in its antiquity and originality, not even with Latin, but with primeval Indo-European and the ancestral stocks of the great speech families. For these qualities Basque draws to its self the eyes of the most proficient and broad-minded students of language... In respect of its uniqueness the Basque language merits the description ‘Great’.”

If I had any complaints at all, it would be that my university doesn’t offer the student enough linguistic variations in its module choices, given how important linguistics is in understanding any language, not just French.  In comparison, while on my year abroad, I had the opportunity to study at Lyon III under their renowned linguistics department (with modules such as épistémologie, lexicographie, dialectologie, and morphologie on offer to name a few) which I will always be thankful for, as I feel it has given me even more direction, and a greater understanding of languages in general – interestingly, the French like it when you attempt to speak their language, but love it when you show a real understanding in it! It was at Lyon III that I learnt that studying linguistics is more of a Science than anything else, and that being a linguist doesn’t mean that you speak several languages (as according to R.Martin we have all mastered one or more languages and therefore merit the title ‘linguist’), but that possessing a working knowledge of a language’s mechanics, specifically the function of these languages, would warrant such a title.

Due to my lecturers’ help during my course, and the opportunities that my university has offered me, I can only be grateful to them that I have now found an avenue to explore academically, and intend to pursue as far as possible, which is something that I had never before thought feasible.


To conclude this statement, I would recommend any and all linguistic modules to future languages students, as they allow you to better understand that said language, and once you can understand it, you will soon find you will be better equipped to speak it, and if anything, respect what it has accomplished over the decades.

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More on French Linguistics (in French): Introduction à la linguistique française

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