A stock photo of New Haven, including Dow Hall and the adjacent Timothy Dwight College.

Department History

Yale University boasts a long history of research in languages and linguistics. The first doctorate in linguistics was granted by Yale in 1930, and linguistics has been taught in the present departmental structure since 1961.  An illustrious roster of distinguished scholars have contributed to a tradition of research and teaching in Sanskrit and Indo-European linguistics, and the study of native American languages, including W. D. WhitneyEdgar SturtevantEdward SapirMary HaasLeonard BloomfieldBenjamin Lee WhorfMurray EmeneauBernard BlochWarren CowgillRulon Wells, and Stanley Insler

After a period of turbulence, the Department of Linguistics was repositioned as a modern department in the 1990s, with a new emphasis on the study of linguistic theory and its role in the study of the mind, while also maintaining its connections to issues of language change. Further, the department’s traditional focus on linguistic diversity has in recent years been matched by diversity among the individuals who make up the department, in both gender and ethnicity.

Chairs of Yale Linguistics

The Genesis of Yale Linguistics

Linguistics at Yale was originally run as an interdepartmental graduate program, first directed by Edgar Sturtevant from Classics and then by Franklin Edgerton, Prof. of Sanskrit, who was a member of the Dept of Oriental Languages, an original occupant of HGS. Owing to a dispute between Edgerton and Albrecht Goetze (Prof. of Hittite), Oriental Languages was split into Indic & Far Eastern Languages and Near Eastern Languages (early 1950s), and the Linguistics Program remained with Edgerton in Indic and Far Eastern Languages.

When Edgerton retired in 1952, Bernard Bloch (Prof. of Japanese) took over the program and chairmanship of the department. In 1959 Linguistics emerged as a budgetary, independent department. When Bloch died in the early 1960s, Samuel Martin became chairman, and under coaxing from John R. (“Haj”) Ross, then a Yale undergraduate, a linguistics major was formed in Yale College. 

The Linguistics Department moved to its current location in Dow Hall in the Summer of 2002. Dow Hall’s history is itself quite interesting.

Haskins Laboratories has been affiliated with Yale since 1970. Yale and Haskins have been at the forefront of research in the fields of articulatory phonology and phonetics.