What is Computational Linguistics?

Did you know the Linguistics department has a major in Computational Linguistics which all CSCI majors have already completed half of?  Consider finishing it.

Computational Linguistics is a field with many sides, but most work in this area tries to improve the relationship between computers and regular language.  For this reason, as a major at Fresno State it is part computer science and part linguistics.  It is also the most commercially viable branch of linguistics, and hundreds of companies now work on computational linguistics in the U.S., from tiny start-ups to giants like Microsoft and I.B.M.  The nearby Bay Area, in particular, is full of firms busy with the problems of computers and language, and we have obtained internship opportunities there at Nuance (formerly BeVocal), Cataphora, and PARC (formerly Xerox PARC).

If you’ve ever tried to equip your computer or other device with a voice interface and found it can’t understand you, or if you’ve ever been frustrated by internet search engines’ inability to answer a simple question, you are among millions who intuitively realize that the voice and language capabilities of today’s computers are in sore need of improvement.  Computer science cannot solve these problems alone, since in order to truly deal with something on a computer you have to understand it first—that’s why the linguistics part of the equation is there.

Here are some examples of language processing tasks that computers carry out (or try to carry out) every day all over the world:

  • Searching large databases (or the entire internet) for documents containing the answer to a query
  • Listening to voice commands and acting on them correctly
  • Providing a speaking voice for text (reading out loud)
  • Translating documents from one language to another
  • Searching databases of current text to gather information about what words mean

Computational linguistics is both highly theoretical and highly practical.  To succeed, those of us involved in the field must make key advances in understanding how language really works, and we must work tirelessly on computing techniques which maximize the utility of what little we do understand about language.  The BA in Linguistics with the Computational Linguistics option qualifies our graduates to apply computer science skills to language processing problems—problems that companies all over the map want to have solved.

The BA major in Computational Linguistics is easy to add to CSCI as a secondary major, requiring 27 units beyond the primary CSCI major.  For specific information about the BA program in Computational Linguistics at Fresno State, check out the Linguistics section of the latest Catalog.

For questions, please contact Professor Sean Fulop by email.