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Grad Program: Linguistics

Basic Information

Linguistics (the scientific study of human language) is about what language is and how it works, and it’s present everywhere you turn--or at least every time you open your mouth to speak. Not only is the development and structure of language fascinating, it can speak volumes about how human brains--and cultures--function.

There are probably a dozen subfields of linguistics, but most fall into three categories: theoretical, descriptive and experimental/psychological. Theoretical linguistics focuses on language structure in sound patterns, word and sentence structure, and interpretation. Descriptive linguistics examines languages in context, considering socioeconomic factors and how languages change over time as well as the diversity and death of many lesser-documented languages. Experimental and psychological linguistics delve into the ways that we as humans learn, perceive and process language.

Degree Information

A masters-level (M.A. or M.S.) degree in linguistics covers core areas of language structure, field methods and research. Programs may be class- or thesis-based; most take about two years.

A Ph.D. in linguistics may take an additional three to four years. Most doctoral programs encompass masters-level material but focus on theoretical topics in language structure, language acquisition and processing. Upon completion, Ph.D. students are generally required to pass written exams in their areas of concentration and orally defend their dissertation.

Students interested in practical applications of English linguistics might also consider an M.A. program in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) through a foreign languages department.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • What is your motivation for studying linguistics? A love of languages? An interest in brain function? A curiosity about the cultural and social implications of the spoken and written word?
  • What area of linguistic study interests you most? Do you prefer to work with language in the abstract or in application?
  • Is the program you’re considering based on coursework or a written thesis?
  • What are the reputations and connections of the faculty? How do their research and publications fit your areas of interest?
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