Professor explaining linguistics
Degrees Offered: BA MA Ph Minor

There are over 5,000 languages in the world, most of which have never been properly described and many of which will disappear from the earth in the next 50 years. Linguistics is the study of all aspects of human language, and one of its goals is to describe languages and try to help them survive, if their speakers wish.

Linguists study how languages make it possible to transmit our ideas and feelings to each other, how they develop different styles and dialects and how they are used in everyday communication (e.g., “Hey, y’wan’grabba pizza?”) as well as in formal settings (e.g., “I don’t suppose you would care to have dinner with me this evening?”). People have an immense amount of unconscious knowledge about language; this makes it possible to put thoughts into words and to understand what other people are saying to us, and to do it so rapidly that we rarely pay any attention to these remarkable processes unless we encounter other languages, young children just learning to talk or people with language disorders.

Undergraduate Opportunities

Among other things, linguistics majors learn to observe and describe the structure of languages (their grammar), the way children learn language, slips of the tongue and language disorders. 

In order to fulfill the requirements for the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree, students study 1) a required core of four general linguistics courses that introduce the basic theory underlying the scientific study of language, 2) five or more elective linguistics courses allowing students to specialize according to their interests and 3) five hours of a foreign or a signed language. The study of a language gives students a conscious awareness of the phenomena that linguistics describes and seeks to explain, and prevents students from thinking that English is “typical,” “more natural” or “better” than other languages. The relatively low total number of hours in the major (27 in linguistics, plus five of a natural language other than English) allows students to explore related fields as electives, as a minor or as a double major. Anthropology, international affairs, communication, theatre, speech, language and hearing sciences, computer science, mathematics, education, modern languages, philosophy, classics, sociology and psychology are all areas that can be useful when paired with linguistics. Students can also structure the major to have a focus on teaching English as a second language.

Graduate Studies

The department offers both the master's (MA) degree and the doctorate (PhD) degree. In addition, the department offers a master's degree in linguistics for TESOL professionals. The department has graduated approximately 30 doctoral students in the last 10 years; of these, 80 percent hold academic or industry positions related to their doctoral training.

Graduate students in the department may choose to specialize in any of the following areas: discourse­functional syntax, corpus syntax, computational linguistics, sociolinguistics, conversation analysis, Native American linguistics, language documentation and revitalization, African linguistics, phonetics and phonology, laboratory phonetics, pscyholinguistics, language development, cognitive linguistics, historical linguistics and typology.

Research Opportunities

The department’s research facilities include a speech and computational linguistics computer lab that includes computers and software for speech analysis as well as computerized collections of texts in many languages. 

Both PhD and MA students with research interests in sociocultural linguistics have the opportunity to earn the Culture, Language and Social Practice graduate certificate. Students working toward the MA degree have the opportunity to earn the Human Language Technology (HLT) certificate. MA students can also earn the Graduate Certificate in Cognitive Science.