Comps Overview

The Integrative Exercise (“comps”) is meant to provide students with the opportunity to do some extended research into a topic central in linguistic theory, and to articulate the results of that research in both written and oral form at a level at least approaching professional competence.

The Comps Process

Here is the basic process of how comps works in Linguistics:

  • Early in spring term, the faculty will present to the current juniors a short list of three or four areas. By the end of this term, the juniors as a group select one of those areas, and this then becomes the theme for comps in the following year. The areas themselves are broad enough so that there is still lots of room to pick an appropriate narrow topic. Here are some examples of areas the faculty might propose:
    • bilingualism
    • the structure of words
    • Altaic languages
    • linguistics and psychology
    • linguistics and philosophy
    • history of languages
    • acquisition to age five
    • endangered languages
    * It is possible for a group to propose their own theme. Simply submit the proposal to the faculty, and we’ll meet to discuss it among ourselves and with you.
  • Students will develop their paper topic in the fall of their senior year, in the three credit course Linguistics 399: Senior Thesis. By the end of the fall term, the following items should be in place:
    • A specific topic should be chosen, and a preliminary plan made for doing the research, including, for example, an annotated bibliography, experimental design, etc. The student should also have formulated an outline of the paper to be written, with the anticipated chapters and should also write a draft of the introduction.
    • The primary reader should be agreed upon by the student, the reader, and the chair of the Linguistics Department. The primary reader must be a member of the Linguistics faculty. The primary reader will meet with the student regularly during the winter term (see below).
    • Similarly, the secondary reader should be agreed upon. The secondary reader need not meet with the student regularly, but will be asked to read final or penultimate drafts of the paper and help decide if the paper is satisfactory. The secondary reader can be any faculty member at the College, though special care should be taken if the reader is outside the Linguistics Department.
  • The winter term is when most of the research and the writing of the paper is done. Students should register for the six credit course Linguistics 400: Integrative Exercise.

We encourage students to plan on getting permission to defend (see below) before the end of winter term. As an incentive, permission to defend must be obtained by the last day of class in winter term if the student is to be eligible for distinction in comps.

The Defense

As the student comes to the final stages of the process, he or she should begin thinking about the defense. What follows is a description of the defense and how it is arranged.

  • The defense is a public presentation of the results of the research. It is quite formal. The student is introduced by the chair of the Linguistics Department. He or she speaks for no longer than thirty minutes. Then the first reader may ask questions. Then the second reader. Then anyone in attendance may ask questions. During this time, questions may also be posed to the student from people not present, subject to the discretion of the chair. Anyone on earth may submit a question via the chair. So, it is possible for example, that Noam Chomsky might submit a pointed question. (This has not yet happened, but one never knows.) The objective is that the student must defend the proposal against all reputable observers. The question period ends no more than one hour after the beginning of the defense.
  • All students who defend pass. No exceptions. This means a number of things. First, the key step in the process is getting permission to defend from the primary and secondary reader. No defense may be officially scheduled without this permission. So permission to defend amounts to a declaration that the paper is ready to defend, and therefore will pass.
  • It also means that the defense is in part celebratory. Parents, sweethearts, friends, teammates are all welcome to attend. Refreshments following the event may be arranged, if the student wishes.

After the defense, the student is asked to give an electronic copy of the final version of the paper to the Linguistics Department. It will be catalogued and placed in the program’s library. The student may wish to make emendations to the paper after the defense. Such emendations are welcome, so long as the program gets the final paper before the last day of class, spring term. It is expected that students will also submit an electronic copy of the paper to the archive in the College library. See the library webpages for details.

Students successfully completing comps in Linguistics are to be (virtually) enshrined on the Department’s webpages, with a title of their paper, and, perhaps, a photograph. 

Here is a small sample of some of the papers that have been submitted to the department for this exercise:

  • The universality of Motherese
  • Daa gweyn Aa gweyn: Focus constructions in the Belizean creole
  • Spontaneous speech in response to electrical stimulation of the thalamus
  • wh-movement in ASL: an overview
  • Inflection and derivation in Dinka morphophonology
  • Syntactic category influence and irregularity in rendaku