The Linguistics Major at Yale

Raffaella Zanuttini: Director of Undergraduate Studies

The major in Linguistics offers students the opportunity to approach human language as an object of scientific investigation. It offers a program of studies that leads toward an understanding of phonological, grammatical, and semantic structure and that exposes students to descriptive, experimental, and historical approaches to the study of language. 

Students can seek an answer to questions concerning, for example, the origin and evolution of human language, how languages change over time, what kind of mental representations underlie the knowledge of our native language, how the brain implements this knowledge, or how we can give a precise characterization of the similarities and differences attested across languages.

Given the range of questions that it allows students to explore, the major serves the interests of a variety of students:

  • those who seek to understand the role of language in the human mind and are interested in building abstract, empirically testable representations of our knowledge of language, as part of cognitive science;
  • those who approach the study of human language from a humanistic angle and are interested in how language changes over time, or what language can tell us about the past;
  • those who want to apply experimental methodology to the study of language, in particular in the area of phonetics and semantics;
  • those who are attracted to language as a computational system and want to use the formal tools of mathematics and computer science to characterize the patterns and restrictions found across the world’s languages, and the process by which language is acquired and used;
  • those who are interested in issues of language preservation and the documentation of endangered languages;
  • those who love languages, and are interested in reaching a precise and deeper understanding of how exactly they differ from, and to what extent they are similar to, one another.

The major offers the opportunity of applying a variety of methodologies to the study of language: fieldwork; introspection and analysis of native speakers’ judgments; experimental investigations of normal and impaired language processing; laboratory phonetic analysis; computational and mathematical modeling; and language description based on existing texts.

Why Major in Linguistics? click here

Career Opportunities in Linguistics