How I studied linguistics and got into an English Linguistics MA programme as a BA in Italianistics


A year ago, a few months after I graduated as a BA in Italianistics, I decided to continue my studies in linguistics instead of literary studies. In the beginning of last month, I registered at Hacettepe University for their English Linguistics MA programme. This blog post documents the almost year-long process of study it took me to get there.


Why

At the end of the summer of my graduation, my plans to do an MA in comparatistics had failed: the one school I wanted to try my luck at required applicants to document knowledge of a third language; and while I knew Italian, there was no chance I could do any of the exams they accepted. I was left with two options: either apply and do an extra prep year where I’d learn one of French, Arabic, Persian or German; or I’d just apply next summer, and document my Italian in between. Because the uni was in another city, it’d too expensive to spend an extra year doing a totally useless language class (even if I wanted to learn one of those languages, I could just go to a course in my city), so I decided I’d postpone it one year, and do an Italian test when I had the chance to.

At that moment I had the chance to look at my choices and their potential results is a more serene atmosphere: the rush of applying a course and having to switch a city was no longer, so I could reconsider my situation with a clear mind. And I found that comparatistics did not really excite me much, that I could not find interesting research questions or ideas for future. After quite a bit of soul searching, research and reflexion, I decided that I wanted to go on with linguistics. I was already interested in the field, even considering a potential switch / interdisciplinary studies later on in my career; also, I had a year in front of me out of school; so I decided to at least see if I like it better. And pretty soon I fell in love with it, and decided I was definitely trying my luck at a switch. If I failed, I’d have done the Italian exam anyways, so I would have a chance to try the comparatistics programme at the end.

Many months passed by studying; next March, I did my Italian exam and got a good enough grade, and I applied to the Linguistics MA programme of Boğaziçi University, undoubtedly the best public university in Turkey especially in social sciences and humanities. I made it past the exam, but not the interview; they always get the créme de la créme anyways, so I went on with my studies and my applications. In June, I was applying almost concurrently to three universities: Hacettepe University and Ankara University, both in Ankara; and Dokuz Eylül Univeristy in İzmir. July went by filled with travel, interviews and exams; at the end, I qualified directly for Hacettepe and Dokuz Eylül, and for Ankara I was in the reserve list in second position. Ankara was my first choice, given the department had the most tenured professors, but they filled their quota from the primary list, so I had to choose between Dokuz Eylül and Hacettepe. The choice was easy: at Hacettepe the programme was in English, and at Dokuz Eylül the interview process was sloppy, and interviewers disrespectful (they even caused me to miss my buss to Ankara b/c they started a full hour and a half later than the hour they promised; luckily I had a back-up mainline train ticked, and I had a beautiful overnight voyage in the sleeper, tho I almost missed the exam at Ankara University the next day). So I registered at Hacettepe, and in the coming weeks I’ll move to Ankara and start my lessons.

Below I’ll be documenting the way I studied, which will mostly be about what resources I used, in chronological order, and a review of the particular resource. I should mention two things that slowed me down during this process, so that why I couldn’t do much when there would actually have been time to progress faster will be clear: first, I had to spend a month and a half for a surprise exam that I had to do (Boğaziçi wanted 70/100 in EA (Equally Weighed) points from ALES, and I did not clear that, tho I did not know that because I mistakenly thought that they wanted SÖZ (Linguistic/Verbal) points which I did already clear; so I had to learn enough Login and Maths to clear that, and luckily I managed to get a 72 out of 100 at the end, but I lost quite a bit of time). Second, and most importantly, this whole effort coincided with the last months of my grandma and her death; the back and forth to and from the hospital, and the sorrow and duties after her passing away did slow me down inevitably. Yet another problem was the stinginess of university libraries in Turkey, which severely limited the breadth of resources I had access to. Still, I did manage to digest a considerable amount of info in around ten months minus roughly the two and a half months that I was not able to use effectively.

How

The first step I took was to look for MOOCs; they are not great for in depth study of a topic, but they are easy on a beginner and make good introductory material. I found Miracles of Human Language on Coursera, prepared and presented by the Leiden University Linguistics Department staff. The course covered the field in good enough breadth, but rather shallow depth; still, it was good introductory material; at the end, I way at a way better position as to how to further my efforts. The course also included interviews with two very prominent researchers in the field: Noam Chomsky and Adele Goldberg. All in all, it took me a couple or three weeks to complete the course, shorter than the expected 6 weeks.

In the mean time I was also watching Linguistics 101 playlist by Virtual Linguistics Campus of University of Marburg and other videos that I collected into a playlist on YouTube, along with DS Bigham’s playlist of his introductory videos. This whole process took around a month with at least one or two videos per day; I learned a lot and accumulated tens of pages of notes. I was ready to pick a good introductory textbook.

The first book I used was The Handbook of Linguistics, Second Edition editors Mark Aronoff and Janie Rees-Miller. I used many chapters of this book to get an overview of different subdisciplines within linguistics. This book was actually a bit too advanced for where I was back then, but it was not debilitatingly so and I managed to read it and comprehend it enough.

The second book I used was the 7th edition of An Introduction to Language (Amazon affiliate link) by late Victoria Fromkin and new editors Nina Hyams and Robert Rodman. This 600-odd pages long tome is a great introductory textbook, included in the reading list of all the departments I applied, and specifically recommended when I asked the department at Boğaziçi University for advice on how to prepare for their admission procedures. And indeed, both the content, and the excercises included in the book were really helpful. The main flaw of this book is that it is more concerned with teaching the mainstream theories very well, rather than providing a deep and broad knowledge of the field. Construction Grammar, for example, was hardly mentioned, if ever (tho the 7th edition is back from 2002 or 2003, if my memory is not failing me, so it might be updated to include at least some information about it in more recent editions). Regardless, this is a great introductory book that helped me gain a solid basic understanding of linguistics and its subdisciplines. One last forte of the book I almost forgot to mention is the very rich bibliography appended to each section which can really help when looking for further resources.

Language in Society: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (Amazon affiliate link) by Suzanne Romaine was the third book I studied (the linked is the 2nd edition, I used the first one). It was immensely useful because it was filled with great examples of topics that it discussed (which it did with great taste and competence). As my current plan is to initially specialise in variation and language contact, the entire book was relevant for me; the reading lead on to many ideas for further research.

Next, the fourth book I read was Language Contact: An Introduction (Amazon affiliate link) by Sarah G. Thomason. Like the above, this textbook is one of the best introductions to its own respective field, and is a great, fun and informative read. Neither the above nor this one contain any excercises, which is not a problem if you’re using them with the guidance of a lecturer; but for a solo learner like me I now feel like I should’ve used a counterpart with them to better retain information. Tho it is the case that these books are so well-written and interesting that it’s not that hard to retain a good amount of information even after a single pass.

Language Contact was the last book I completed, after which I had to study for ALES for a long time, and then came the applications and exams and interviews during which I could not really study; tho I did start Understanding Phonology (Amazon affiliate link) by Carlos Gussenhoven and Haike Jacobs, and progressed a few chapters in just before I did my July exams and interviews. The book is good, but it is a bit complex in some places, so someone who wants to use it without prior exposure to linguistics would struggle using it, tho reading something like An Introduction to Language I mentioned above should provide enough background to make use of this textbook. One plus side is that it has excercises all throughout, which are helpful.

I’ve currently suspended reading the above-mentioned and am about to resume my readings proceeding with Construction Grammar and its Application To English (Amazon affiliate link) by Martin Hilpert. I had already watched the entire playlist that accompanies the book which has already been very useful to me in grasping what exactly CxG(Construction Grammar) is about, and the it seems that the book will help deepen that knowledge and provide me with a decent understanding of this interesting branch of linguistic theory. I really recommend both the videos and the book as a great resource in the field. Also, Martin Hilpert’s YouTube channel is full of really useful and enjoyable videos on a variety of linguistics topics, including sociolinguistics, english linguistics and his conference videos. By the way, let me not forget to mention that the book contains excercises in the form of open ended questions too.

One other book that waits on my shelves that I want to mention is Discourse and Identity (Amazon affiliate link) by Bethan Benwell and Elizabeth Stokoe, which is obviously about discourse analysis and identity. I don’t know at the moment how useful a resource this is, as I did not really start reading this. But nevertheless my impression is that it’s good, so I recommend that you give it a look if it’s relevant for your plans.

Lastly, I did make great use of Wikipedia and some use of /r/linguistics throughout this process.

Conclusion

This was a labourous, long adventure; but luckily it was concluded last month to become a new journey from then on. The above procedure has helped me go from some knowledge about historical linguistics through wikiwalking to finding a place at an MA programme, and I’m really grateful to everybody who participated in the preparation of these resources. Hopefully, the above elaboration of my process and progress will help somebody that decides to get into this beautiful field. Ciao!