By Kristina Mihajlovic
I’m here to tell you about how my Classics education led me to my non-Classics career, linguistics. I decided to take Latin in high school, which was one of the best decisions I ever made because, like so many of you, it led to so many other wonderful experiences, opportunities, and relationships in my life (and I know it will continue to do so). Throughout high school, I was heavily involved in my local and state JCL chapters, and went to state and national conventions for all four years, under the excellent mentorship of my teachers, Jeremy Walker, Ryan Collier, and Sara Robertson. I was so in love with my experience with JCL that I made a decision to become a Latin teacher so that I could continue to share the Classics and the JCL with students of my own for the rest of my career, just as my amazing teachers had done for me.
When senior year came around, I applied to only one university: Indiana University (go Hoosiers!). IU Bloomington ticked off all my boxes: it was large and public and offered almost anything I could ever want to study, which at the time included Latin, Classics, languages, and history. I started college as a Latin major, but in my first semester, I also took a course titled “Language and Culture” because I knew that I liked languages (because I loved learning all about Latin, and my parents also spoke another language), and I also liked culture. I later learned that this course was an introduction to linguistic anthropology, or the study of human civilizations by use of linguistic - or language - methods. While I enjoyed the whole course, I was absolutely obsessed with all the linguistics. I knew I had to learn more about linguistics - the scientific study of language - and how it could be used to study humans and our world.
Within a year, I had declared my Linguistics minor, and within two years, my Linguistics major. I completed undergraduate research in a lab, and got funded to present both my research projects in Salt Lake City and Berlin (shoutout to the McNair Scholars Program!). At the same time, my Latin major became a Latin minor, and then a Classics minor, since I hadn’t taken enough Latin language courses to satisfy a Latin minor. I graduated college with a Bachelor’s in Linguistics, with minors in Classical Cultures and Literature, History, and Slavic Languages and Literatures. After graduation, I immediately moved to Tucson, Arizona to pursue a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Arizona.
I definitely use my Classics education everyday in my field of study. Linguistics is the scientific study of language, which means that we conduct peer-reviewed research by investigating critical questions all about language and its various components, e.g. about sounds (phonetics and phonology), words (morphology), phrases and sentences (syntax), and meaning and context (semantics and pragmatics), to name a few fields of study (there are certainly more!).
When I was learning Latin in high school, what I thought was an obsession with Latin was so much more than that: it was a love of languages and piecing together the puzzles of how language works. Without a doubt, I learned a lot about English language, grammar, and comprehension in my Latin classes, and those invaluable lessons translated into key skills when it comes to linguistics. For example, I can explain the minutiae of grammatical jargon to my colleagues, like what is meant by the Latinate “voice”, “mood”, and “declension” (and all of you could too!). Additionally, I have honed in my critical attention to detail when working with language data, a skill I still use to catch typos, point out logical inconsistencies, and strengthen and clarify arguments to this day.
Even though I am not a Latin teacher, I have been so happy with every leg of my academic journey because every step led me to exactly where I am now. My Classics education continues to serve me well, and I recommend anyone who has the opportunity to read up about Latin, or enroll their children in a school with JCL. I have always been a “it’s about the journey, not the destination” kind of person. If I didn’t take Latin, not only would I have never participated in JCL or met any of you (*shudders*), but I also don’t think I would have discovered my love of languages, linguistics, or teaching. I probably never would have started a PhD program, moved to Arizona, met my partner, started salsa/bachata dancing, or done any of the things that make me me. I don’t usually entertain the “What ifs?”, but I definitely think about the “Thank goodness I did _”. Well, thank goodness I decided to take Latin and participate in JCL when I was 14, because I never would be where I am today without it.