The Major

Rosalind, Mikaela, Liz, and SaraWe here in the Linguistics Department may be biased, but we think linguistics is an ideal major at a liberal arts college. Our program examines significant aspects of human nature at several levels and via a number of methodologies. We look at human beings as expert learners and manipulators of extraordinarily complex species-specific systems called “grammars”. We examine the nature of languages using various mathematical techniques.

Students are required to exercise their creativity by actively participating in the building of elaborate theories of the underlying cognitive structures humans routinely, though subconsciously, acquire. They ask how we might understand the concept of “meaning” and its linguistic communication. They ponder what the results of linguistic analysis reveals about long-standing problems in the philosophy of language and mind. They learn to “make sense” of what at first blush appear to be quite exotic examples of this fundamental human skill.

The program includes courses which investigate the quite amazing area of speech production and recognition, and we ask what the characteristics of sound and gesture systems tell us about human beings and their cognitive evolution. Students probe the use of language in artistic settings. They look at how languages develop and change over time, and how they are realized in written form.

We think students emerge from our program with enhanced versatility, intellectual bravery, and an appreciation of the value of rigor. They are unafraid of complexity, know the joy of achieving insight into hard problems, and can speak lucidly in public under pressure. In short, they are ready for anything.

Beginning with the class of 2012, we have offered a regular linguistics major.