What is linguistics? There are over 5,000 languages in the world. Most of them have never been properly described and many of them will disappear from the earth in the next fifty years. Linguistics is the study of all aspects of human language, and one of its goals is to describe langauges 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 (‘Hey, y’wan’grabba pizza?”) as well as in formal settings (“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 - until we encounter other languages, young children just learning to talk, or people with language disorders. 

Linguistics tries to figure out what it is that we know and do when we are skilled language users. Linguists observe and describe the structure of languages (their grammar), the way children learn language, slips of the tongue, and language disorders. We study the social nature of language by observing and describing face-to-face and telephone conversations, storytelling, doctor-patient interviews, and other ways that language is used for cultural interaction. We also study the acoustics of sound waves and the way people’s brains react when they read or when they hear speech, and we use this knowledge about how people process speech to help build better computer programs for automatic speech recognition. We create alphabets and dictionaries for languages that have never been written down before, and figure out the unconscious grammar that their speakers are using so that textbooks can be created. We reconstruct prehistoric languages that have been dead for many hundreds of years, and try to deduce the principles behind their evolution into the thousands of languages of the world today. Languages whose grammars are studied by faculty members and current or recent students in our department include: Arabic, Basque, Bahasa Malaysia, Cantonese, English, Japanese, Mandarin, Polish, Spanish, Vietnamese, Yiddish; Native American languages: Gros Ventre, Lakhota, Blackfoot, Arapaho, Wichita; and African languages: Awutu, East Dangla, Gidar, Hona, Lele, Wandala, Mina, Mupun, Pero, Hdi, Giziga, Makari, Sakun.

Bachelor's Degree Specifics

In order to fulfill the requirements for the bachelor of arts (B.A.) degree, you will study 1) a required core of four general linguistics courses which introduce the basic theory underlying the scientific study of language, 2) five or more elective linguistics courses allowing you to specialize according to your interests, and 3) five hours of a foreign or a signed language. (The study of a language gives you a conscious awareness of the phenomena that linguistics describes and seeks to explain, and helps you to keep from thinking that English is a ‘typical’, ‘more natural’, or ‘better’ language than others.) 

The relatively low total number of hours in the major (27 in linguistics, plus five of a natural language other than English) allows you to explore related fields that you might be interested in 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 which can be insightfully combined with linguistics. You can also structure the major to have a focus on teaching English as a second language.

If you are considering minoring in linguistics, or if you are interested in the department’s five-year combined B.A./M.A. program, please see page three. Early consultation with the department’s primary advisor and with professors will help you find the best combination of courses for your goals.     

Concurrent Bachelor's and Master's Degree Specifics

The Linguistics Department offers a five-year concurrent Bachelor’s and Master’s degree program (B.A./M.A.) for students with strong abilities and motivation. Consult your undergraduate advisor for more information. If you are planning to apply for the program, you must have completed LING 2000, one of the three upper-division required courses (LING 3100, 3410, or 4420), and an upper-division elective before your application to the program is approved.  

In addition, you must enroll in LING 5420 (if LING 4420 has not already been taken) or LING 5030 during the fall of your junior year. Admission to the program will not be decided until mid-term grades for one of these courses has been made available to the admissions committee. If your application to the program is not approved, any graduate courses that you have completed satisfactorily will count as upper-division electives. 

Students accepted to the B.A./M.A. program will be assigned a personal faculty advisor, according to their area of interest, and will be required to consult with that advisor in choosing courses.  You may change advisors with the permission of the department chair and the departmental undergraduate advisor.

The advisor will help you plan your courses to make sure that you fulfill all the B.A. requirements by the end of your fourth year, so that you can graduate at that time if you change your mind and decide not to complete the M.A.

Foreign service, international business, translation (including Bible translation) or interpreting, teaching English as a second language in the U.S. or abroad, bilingual education, advertising, and publishing are examples of areas where people with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics find jobs. Linguistics is an especially useful background for graduate study in law; also, many business and industry employers know that linguistics majors have well-developed skills in complex problem solving. Linguistics training is directly helpful in editing textbooks and documenting software. Students who augment their linguistics degree with some computer science classes often find jobs in companies or labs that specialize in computer speech recognition or speech synthesis, or that build natural language interfaces for databases so that users can communicate with their computers more easily.

Linguistics students are also well-equipped for further training in many of the fields already mentioned: computer science, psychology, journalism, communication, sociology, anthropology, international affairs, foreign languages, philosophy, and education. And of course, linguistics majors often go on to do graduate work in linguistics and closely related areas such as psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, cognitive science, communication disorders, and anthropological linguistics.

Career Services (www.colorado.edu/career) helps students discover who they are, what they want to do, and how to get there. They are the bridge between academics and the world of work. 

Career Services offers free services for all CU-Boulder degree-seeking students, and alumni up to one year after graduation. Meet individually the staff to discuss major and career exploration, internship or job searching, and graduate school preparation.


Majors may choose to seek honors in linguistics, which results in the designation of cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude at graduation. Honors work usually involves special coursework and a senior honors thesis. Check into this program early with the linguistics department’s advisor. Undergraduate Research: We encourage seniors to consider participating in research with a faculty member. The department’s research facilities include a speech and computational linguistics computer lab, with computers and software for speech analysis and computerized collections of texts in many languages. Another avenue for engaging in research is the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). This program offers students a chance to work alongside a faculty sponsor on original research. Learn to write proposals, conduct research, pursue creative work, analyze data and present the results. For more information, call UROP at 303-492-2596, or find them on the web: http://enrichment.colorado.edu/urop/.

Study abroad

The linguistics department also recommends participating in one of the many study abroad programs offered by CU and other universities. Interested students should first consult the linguistics primary advisor. Programs last from a few weeks to a full academic year, and offer opportunities to take language courses as well as linguistics courses. Since prior language study is a prerequisite for many programs, early planning for study abroad is essential. For more information, call the Office of International Education at 303-492-7741, http://studyabroad.colorado.edu/.

Please speak with your advisor for specific recommendations; the following is intended to be a general outline only and there may be flexibility to this plan.

Linguistics 4-Year Plan
Average 30 credits per year.

First Year – Fall Semester
LING 2000
(3): Intro to Linguistics
Beginning Level Foreign Language 1 (3-5): (If needed, does not count toward language requirement)
CORE (3): Skills Acquisition (example: Lower-Division Written Communication)
CORE (3): Content Area of Study (example: Natural Science)
Elective/MAPS (3)

First Year - Spring Semester
Beginning Level Foreign Language
2 (3-5): (If needed, does not count toward language requirement)
LING (3): Lower-Division or Upper-Division elective (Six required credits, see Degree Audit for description)
CORE (3): Skills Acquisition (example: Quantitative Reasoning & Mathematical Skills)
CORE (4): Content Area of Study (example: Natural Science and lab)
Elective/MAPS (3)

Second Year - Fall Semester
Second Year Foreign Language 1
(3-5): (If needed, does not count toward language requirement)
LING 4420 (3): Morphology and Syntax (usually only offered in the fall)
CORE (3): Content Area of Study (example: Natural Science)
CORE (3): Content Area of Study (example: Human Diversity)
Elective (3)

Second Year - Spring Semester
LING Foreign Language Requirement
(3-5): (Five credit minimum, see Degree Audit for choices and variations) Skills Area of Core: Foreign Language
LING 3100 (3): Language Sound Structures
CORE (3): Content Area of Study (example: Natural Science)
CORE (3): Content Area of Study (example: Lower-Division Literature & the Arts)
Elective (3)

Third Year - Fall Semester
LING 3430
(3): Semantics (usually only offered in the fall)
LING Foreign Language Requirement (3): UD (Five credit minimum, see Degree Audit for choices and variations)
CORE (3):  Content Area of Study (example: US Context)
CORE (3):  Skills Acquisition (example: Upper-Division Written Communication)
LING (3):  Elective

Third Year - Spring Semester
(3): Upper-Division elective (Nine credits required)
LING Foreign Language Requirement (3): UD (Five credit minimum, see Degree Audit for choices and variations)
CORE (3):  Content Area of Study (example: Contemporary Societies)
CORE (3):  Content Area of Study (example: Ideals & Values)
Elective (3): Upper Division

Fourth Year - Fall Semester
(3): Upper-Division elective (Nine credits required)
CORE (3):  Content Area of Study (example: Historical Context)
Elective (3): Upper Division
Elective (3): Upper Division
Elective (3): Upper Division

Fourth Year - Spring Semester
(3): Upper-Division elective (Nine credits required)
CORE (3):  Content Area of Study (example: Upper-Division Literature & the Arts)
Elective (3): Upper Division
Elective (3): Upper Division
Elective (3): Upper Division


  • This major should be declared by the middle of a student’s sophomore year.
  • Any non-required graded course offered by the LING department may count as an elective toward the major.  Courses from other depts. may be approved on a case-by case basis.
  • 2000 is a prerequisite for all upper division courses
  • 3430 is limited to declared juniors and seniors