What Types of Careers are Available in Computational Linguistics?

Computational LinguistThere are many exciting careers available in computational linguistics that you may not have heard of and many with which you are probably familiar. In fact, computational linguistics has been around since before the mid-twentieth century. You use the technology every day and your life would be very different without it.

The Definition

Computational linguistics is an interdisciplinary field concerned with statistical or role-based modeling of language from a computational perspective. So what does that mean? Well, simply put, it is the study and the science of helping computers process human speech. The technology was developed during the Cold War to help Americans and Brits translate Russian communication. Since then, it is being applied in many areas. Science is still in the development stage of much of computational linguistics because of the many quirks of human speech such as inflexion, which can change the meaning of a phrase. That is why the discipline involves using statistics and models. Getting beyond that problem involves teaching computers to think, and to choose from probable meanings for a phrase. Computers don’t really think right now; they just analyze the sets of data that are programmed into them. If there is an unpredicted response or meaning introduced, the computer will respond inappropriately. That is why when you ask “Siri” silly questions, the program responds with programmed sarcasm or simply says, “I do not understand.”

Careers in Computational Linguistics

According to the Houston Chronicle, there are several careers in this field. They are as varied as the uses for the technology.

  • Machine Translation – The use of computers to translate languages, such as the Cold War example above. You might work in research in this area, exploring the ways to help computers “understand” context and inflexion. You could also be a programmer, writing code to help the many translation websites work well.
  • Inter-Computational Linguistics – the ability of one machine to communicate with another. If you have ever experienced the difficulty of getting a document from Word Processing to another program, you understand the problem. An intercomputational linguist is responsible for making programs work from computer to computer by building languages they both understand.
  • Voice Interface Design – the technology that allows your GPS to understand when you tell it where you want to go, and give you correct directions. It allows Siri to answer your questions about where the nearest restaurant is, or how to fix a flat tire. Voice interface designers also work with AI programs to develop robotic assistants that can speak, and understand commands.
  • Text Mining – another use of computational linguistics that allows search engines to work. It helps them identify key words and phrases to single them out for responses to queries. Computer programmers in this field write code and create digital dictionaries for search engine responses.
  • Speech Synthetization – another utilization of computational linguistics that brings in the Wikipedia definition term “interdisciplinary.” One of the places you will see this technology work is in your phone’s text-to-speech feature. It is used to help handicapped people communicate. Working in this field requires knowledge of how human speech is produced as well as an understanding of sight and hearing deficits.

Education Required and Salary

Most jobs in require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computational linguistics or a related field, plus work experience, for an entry-level position. Certification or specialization in one of the many areas will make you more marketable. Graduate education is usually required for a managerial position. Computational linguists earn a median salary of $79,560. Those who live in the Virginia area or Washington DC area will earn more because much of the employment in translation is done through federal agencies that are located there.

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This is a diverse and fascinating field that has its foundation in computer skills and knowledge but relies on human sciences to achieve its goals. If you are a person who is interested in how people and machines will interface in the future, a career in computational linguistics may be right for you.