Linguistics is the study of all aspects of human language: how languages make it possible to transmit ideas and feelings; how and why languages are similar and different; how we develop different styles and dialects; what will be required for computers to understand and produce spoken language; and how languages are used in everyday communication as well as in formal settings. Linguists try to figure out what it is that speakers know and do by observing the structure of languages, the way children learn language, slips of the tongue, conversations, storytelling, the acoustics of sound waves, and the way people’s brains react when they hear speech or read. Linguists also reconstruct prehistoric languages, and try to deduce the principles behind their evolution into the thousands of languages of the world today.   

The major in linguistics is useful for careers involving cognitive science, computer science, psychology, international business, language teaching, advertising, publishing, law, and documentation. Double majors and minors are encouraged with language, computer science, psychology, communication, sociology, anthropology, international affairs, philosophy, and education.   

The core of the major is a set of courses, taught in the Department of Linguistics, on the nature of language. In addition, the major requires language courses offered by other departments (except for fluent speakers of languages other than English).   

The undergraduate degree in linguistics emphasizes knowledge and awareness of:

  • the fundamental architecture of language in the domains of phonetics and phonology, morphology and syntax, and semantics and pragmatics;
  • the diversity of languages structures;
  • the main interactions between language, culture, and society, including the role of language as a cultural institution and the social functions of language diversity; and
  • the approaches to the study of language that are used by a discipline other than linguistics.   

In addition, students completing the degree in linguistics are expected to acquire the ability and skills to:

  • demonstrate proficiency in a second language equivalent to the third-year university level;
  • infer language structures from the analysis of data from unfamiliar languages; and
  • give coherent general interpretations of common language phenomena in terms of language structure and language use.

Course codes for this program are LING and ESLG. 

Bachelor's Degree Program(s)

Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics

Majors in linguistics must complete a total of 32 hours of study in general linguistics, including 5 in a natural language (for exceptions, see below). Language study is taken in other departments. 

Students must complete the general requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences and the required courses listed below.

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

Complete the following courses in general linguistics with grades of C- or better:

  • LING 2000 Introduction to Linguistics—3
  • LING 3100 Language Sound Structures—3
  • LING 3430 Semantics—3
  • LING 4420 Morphology and Syntax—3

Natural Language. Students must complete with a grade of C- (2.00) or better a minimum of 5 credit hours of study of a natural language other than English (including signed languages used by deaf communities). The 5 credit hours offered in satisfaction of this requirement must be at the 3000 level or above for widely-taught languages (French, German, Latin, Spanish), or at the 2000 level or above for less-widely-taught languages (Arabic, American Sign Language, Chinese, Farsi, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish).  Only courses taught in the language in question, and focused specifically on language-learning, may be used for this requirement. A list of all the approved courses is available from the Department of Linguistics or the departmental undergraduate advisor. The natural language requirement may be satisfied by examination or waived for foreign students whose native language is not English; in these cases, students must still meet the college minimum major requirement of 18 credit hours ofupper-division course work and 30 credit hours overall in the major. Students who wish to have their language requirement waived must obtain the consent of an undergraduate advisor before registering for the fall term of the junior year.

Electives. A minimum of 15 elective hours must be completed with a grade of C- (2.00) or better. Courses may be chosen from the following:

  • FREN 3020 French Phonetics through Musical Performance—3
  • FREN 3010 French Phonetics and Pronunciation—3
  • JPNS 4030 Japanese Syntax—3
  • JPNS 4080 Kanji in Japanese Orthography—3
  • JPNS 4070 Second Language Acquisition of Japanese—3
  • LING 1000 Language in U.S. Society—3
  • LING 1010 Study of Words—3
  • LING 1020 Languages of the World—3
  • LING 2400 Language and Gender—3
  • LING 3005 Cognitive Science—3
  • LING 3220 American Indian Languages—3
  • LING 3500 Language/Public Interest—3
  • LING 3545 World Language Policies—3
  • LING 3810 Undergraduate Seminar (may be repeated once for credit)—1
  • LING 4100 Perspectives on Language—3
  • LING 4220 Language and Mind—3
  • LING 4450 Introduction to Formal Syntax—3
  • LING 4560 Language Development—3
  • LING 4610 English Structure for TESOL—3
  • LING 4800 Language and Culture—3

Other upper-division linguistics courses may also be chosen if available; graduate courses may be taken with permission of the department.

The department recommends that pro-spec-tive majors complete LING 2000 and at least two 1000-level foreign language courses (in the same language) by the end of the sophomore year, unless the student’s foreign language proficiency is already advanced.

The fall semester of the junior year should include LING 3430, a 2000-level foreign language course, and a linguistics elective or LING 4420. It must also include LING 2000 if that was not taken earlier. The spring semester of the junior year should include LING 3100, a linguistics elective, and a further 2000-level foreign language course (if needed to prepare the student for the required upper-division foreign language hours).

Graduating in Four Years

Consult the Four-Year Guarantee Requirements for information on eligibility. The concept of “adequate progress” as it is used here refers only to maintaining eligibility for the four-year guarantee; it is not a requirement for the major. To maintain adequate progress in linguistics, students should meet the following requirements:

  • Declare linguistics as a major by the beginning of the second semester.
  • Complete two semesters of study of a natural (spoken or signed) language other than -English by the end of the sophomore year (fourth semester) at the latest, continue study at the 2000 level during the junior year at the latest, and take 5 credit hours at the 3000 level during the senior year (seventh and eighth semesters) at the latest. The language requirement is waived for native speakers of a language other than English, but if it is waived, 6 additional upper-division credit hours in linguistics must be taken.
  • Take LING 2000 (required) and LING 1000 or LING 2400 (electives) during the freshman or sophomore years and one or both of LING 3430 or 4420
  • during the fall of the junior year. 
  • Take LING 3100 and an upper-division linguistics elective in the spring of the junior year. Take the remaining courses as needed during the junior or senior year.

Note: A linguistics major who has been excluded from any upper-division linguistics course due to enrollment limitations will be given first preference for a seat in that course the following year if the exclusion is made known to the department staff within two weeks after it occurs. No declared linguistics major who still needs LING 2000 for fall of the junior year and attempts to register for it during the regular registration period for continuing students (spring of the sophomore year) will be excluded from the course.

Study Abroad

Language study and some courses in the major may be completed in university or university-affiliated study abroad programs, and such study is recommended. Students interested in doing part of their major work in a study abroad program should discuss the matter with their advisor before going abroad. For information on study abroad programs, consult the Office of International Education.

Graduation with Honors

The honors program in linguistics offers the opportunity for highly motivated undergraduates to undertake a deeper and more individualized study of linguistics than is provided by the regular BA curriculum. Linguistics majors with an overall grade point average of 3.30 or higher are eligible to participate in the program. Honors that may be earned are cum laude (with honors), magna cum laude (with high honors), and summa cum laude (with highest honors).

Students interested in pursuing departmental honors are encouraged to consult with the departmental honors advisor by the beginning of their junior year to ensure that they will be able to meet the requirements for departmental honors before graduation.

Minor Program

A minor is offered in linguistics. Declaration of a minor is open to any student enrolled at CU-Boulder, regardless of college or school. 

Students minoring in linguistics must complete a total of 18 credit hours in linguistics, 9 of which must be at the upper-division level. They must maintain an overall and a linguistics GPA of at least 2.00 (C), and complete all LING courses with a C- or better. 

Required Course and Semester Credit Hours

  • LING 2000 Introduction to Linguistics—3

Complete 2 of the following:

  • LING 3100 Sound Structure—3
  • LING 3430 Semantics—3
  • LING 4420 Morphology and Syntax—3

Take the remaining one of the three courses listed above and/or choose from the following electives to bring the total credit hours to 18:

  • LING 1000 Language in U.S. Society—3
  • LING 1010 The Study of Words—3
  • LING 1020 Languages of the World—3
  • LING 2400 Language and Gender—3
  • LING 3005 Cognitive Science—3
  • LING 3220 American Indian Languages—3
  • LING 3500 Language and the Public Interest—3
  • LING 3545 World Language Rights and Policies—3
  • LING 4100 Perspectives on Language—3
  • LING 4220 Language and Mind—3
  • LING 4450 Introduction to Formal Syntax—3
  • LING 4560 Language Development—3
  • LING 4610 English Structure for TESOL—3
  • LING 4800 Language and Culture—3

NOTE: At least 3 credit hours of the electives must be an upper-division course.

Concurrent Bachelor's/Master's Program

Concurrent BA/MA in Linguistics

The department has a five-year concurrent bachelor’s and master’s degree program, which is recommended only for the most serious and able graduate students. For further information, see the graduate advisor in the spring of the sophomore year or during the first week of the fall semester of the junior year.

Graduate Degree Program(s)

Graduate Study in Linguistics

Students wishing to pursue graduate work in linguistics should carefully read Requirements for Advanced Degrees in the Graduate School section of this catalog and the detailed degree requirements available from the department office. A brief summary of MA and PhD requirements follow.

Prerequisites. Applicants should hold a recognized baccalaureate degree. They should have considerable knowledge of a language other than their native language. This knowledge may have been gained by formal study or by use of the language in a country, community, or institution where it is the usual means of communication. The department may require formal study of a foreign language by graduate students whose proficiency in this area is less than the equivalent of the college junior level. GRE scores are required from United States residents; scores are also required from native speakers of English who wish to be considered for fellowship aid. TOEFL scores are normally required from foreign applicants.

Master’s Degree

The master’s degree calls for a minimum of three semesters of study, though four semesters is usual. Students must complete LING 5030 Linguistic Phonetics, LING 5410 Phonology, LING 5420 Morphology and Syntax, LING 5430 Semantics and Pragmatics, and LING 5570 Introduction to Diachronic Linguistics.

The remaining courses are normally taken at the 5000-level or above. Students in Plan I (thesis) must complete a total of 30 semester hours, including 4–6 thesis hours. Students in Plan II (nonthesis) must complete a total of 30 semester hours of course work. All students must pass a comprehensive written examination covering general topics in linguistics plus the thesis topic if any. 

The MA in linguistics for TESOL professionals is a graduate program in linguistics. The MA will provide a cohesive, professionally oriented program addressing the increased demand for professionalization in the field of teaching English as a second language. The program requires completion of 30 credit hours: 12 in graduate linguistics course, 12 in required TESOL courses, a 3-credit practicum, and a 3-credit elective course. A comprehensive examination and teaching portfolio are required.

Doctoral Degree

To be admitted to the PhD program, students must have completed course work equivalent to LING 5030 Linguistic Phonetics, LING 5410 Phonology, LING 5420 Morphology and Syntax, LING 5430 Semantics and Pragmatics, LING 5570 Introduction to Diachronic Linguistics, and LING 6450 Syntactic Analysis. Students who do not have this preparation may be admitted to the MA program. They may apply for admission to the PhD program when these requirements are close to completion. Students may be admitted to the PhD program before finishing the MA.

In addition to phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, the department offers specializations in sociolinguistics, conversation analysis, historical linguistics, typological comparison, Amerindian linguistics, African linguistics, linguistic anthropology, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, language development, cognitive linguistics, and computational modeling of language knowledge. Students should select a specialization and begin their own research as early as possible.

  • Thirty-six hours of course work are normally required for the PhD. 
  • Four linguistics courses are required at the 6000 level or above: LING 6450 Syntactic Analysis, LING 7100 Field Methods 1, and any two of LING 7410 Phonological Theory, LING 7420 Syntactic Theory, LING 7430 Semantic Theory, or LING 7570 Diachronic Theory.
  • The remaining eight courses may include up to four courses in other departments appropriate to the specialization.
  • All PhD students must demonstrate the ability to read linguistic literature in a language other than English.

As a PhD preliminary examination, students submit a data-based research paper at the beginning of the second year in the PhD program. The university comprehensive examination requirement is completed in two steps: the completion of a synthesis paper followed by the defense of a dissertation prospectus.