Computational linguists develop mathematical models which help computers understand, process and mimic human language in oral or written form.
The fact that people communicate with computers using natural language is still a very recent development. By now, however, language technologies have become an integral part of our everyday life. We are surrounded by voice assistants, search engines, talking machines, translation software, chatbots and language learning apps in various forms and shapes. They are the result of research in computational linguistics, which has made enormous progress in recent years.
In order to model human, natural language for computers, computational linguists use language-analytical concepts from linguistics (e.g. syntax, semantics and phonetics) and combine them with theories and methods of computer science and mathematics (e.g. programming of algorithms, statistical methods). As natural language is very complex, computational linguists also draw on approaches from psychology, cognitive science, philosophy and other neighboring disciplines. The results are computer systems that not only comprehensively analyze and process human language, but can also reproduce it with deceptive authenticity.
A good sense of language and enthusiasm for the complexity of natural language are important for the job of a computational linguist, but so is a certain pleasure of working with computers and logical, abstract thinking. Computational linguists research, test and develop. This makes computational linguistics a very future-oriented professional field in which a great deal of creativity and innovative spirit prevails.
In German-speaking countries, you can study computational linguistics at universities. Students can choose to specialize in linguistics or information science in the various degree programs or to specialize in certain areas of practical application. The master’s degree program Cognitive Systems at the University of Potsdam, for example, focuses on artificial intelligence and is interdisciplinary in nature.
Since computational linguistics is still a very new subject in which a lot of basic research is carried out, computational linguists often work at universities and research institutes. In the free economy, computational linguists are usually employed in companies in the field of software and hardware development or they set up their own start-ups. Since the field of software and hardware development is increasingly turning into a part of the service sector, skills in dealing with customers and in product marketing, for example, are also in demand when starting a career in this field. Start-up founders also need comprehensive entrepreneurial skills to get off to a good start.