Major in Linguistics

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It seeks to answer questions such as: What is the structure of human language? How much can languages vary from each other? How can children acquire language so easily when language learning is so difficult for adults? Do bilingual people have cognitive advantages? How and why do languages change over time? Linguists are also concerned with the social and cultural aspects of language, investigating issues such as in what way our social identities are encoded in our languages and how social and economic power relations are encoded and reproduced in language. Finally, linguistics plays a role in the tech industry--by contributing to the development of human/computer interface systems, including natural language processing, such as text to speech processing and natural language understanding. Linguistics also contributes to content design and other aspects of user experience with e-technology.

Linguistics develops skills that are central to many careers. Some of these skills are: critical and analytic reasoning ability, attention to detail, and the ability to develop and test ideas and hypotheses. Fields that have those skills as their foundation include law, teaching, publishing, technical writing, library science, editing, public health, content design in tech, tech user support, and others. For further information about careers that a major or minor in linguistics could prepare you for, read this FAQ from the Linguistics Society of America:

If you are interested in becoming a major or minor in Linguistics, find out more by visiting the linguistics advising page. We also invite you to make an appointment with our undergraduate adviser, Dr. Kenneth Van Bik (

B.A. in Linguistics

The B.A. in Linguistics requires a minimum of 120 units which includes courses for the major, General Education, all University requirements, and free electives. 


1. General education courses                              51 units

General education courses can count toward a major or minor. For linguistics, the following courses are possible:

LING 102 Languages of the World (3) counts in the Introduction to the Social Sciences GE section
LING 106 Language and Linguistics (3) counts in the Introduction to the Humanities GE section. It is also a prerequisite for the certificate in teaching English as a second language.


2. Required courses in linguistics                       15 units

LING 351 Introduction to Linguistic Phonetics and Phonology (3)
LING 406 Descriptive Linguistics (3)
LING 408 Syntax (3)
LING 412 Sociolinguistics (3)
LING 430 Historical Linguistics (3)


3. Elective courses                        18 units (minimum 6 in linguistics proper)

All 300- or 400-numbered LING courses (other than the required courses) count as electives, as do certain courses offered by other departments.

  • Possibility 1: The student can focus on linguistics proper by choosing all or most electives from within LING.  
    Example courses: LING 305 The English Language in America (3), LING 413 Language Acquisition (3), LING 414 English As A Global Language (3), LING 417 Psycholinguistics (3), LING 442 Changing Words (3), LING 469 Language and Gender (3), LING 492 Field Methods in Linguistics (3), etc.
  • Possibility 2: The student can choose to focus on a particular language by taking up to 4 courses in a language. Example courses from Spanish:  At least 2 LING electives plus SPAN 315 Introduction to Spanish Civilization (3), SPAN 466 Spanish Phonology and Dialectology (3), SPAN 467 Spanish Morphology and Syntax (3), SPAN 468 Spanish/English Bilingualism and Language Contact, etc.
  • Possibility 3: The student can focus on English by taking up to 4 ENGL courses. ENGL 303 The Structure of Modern English (3), ENGL 305 The English Language in America (3), ENGL 410 Language and Power in African American  Culture (3), and ENGL 442 Changing Words (3) are approved for this purpose. The linguistics undergraduate adviser can be consulted if the student would like to include other ENGL courses.
  • Possibility 4: The student can include up to 4 approved linguistics-related elective courses from various departments that the student is interested in, such as ENG 303 The Structure of Modern English (3), FREN 315 Origins of Modern France (3), PHIL 375 Intro to the Philosophy of Language (3), PSYC 415 Cognitive Processes (3), etc.


4. Foreign language requirement        12-20 units

Four semesters of a language or two semesters each of two languages. The undergraduate adviser can waive this requirement for students who are fluent in a language in addition to English.


5. Free units                                           16-24 units

The student can use these units for different purposes:

a.     To take any courses the student finds interesting but that do not fit anywhere else in the student's study plan,
        whether economics or tennis.

b.     For a minor or a second major.

c.     For a certificate, such as the certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).

d.     To take pre-law courses. (Consult with an adviser in political science.)

e.     To obtain a teaching credential

Additional Information:

Students must consult with an adviser in linguistics before establishing their individual programs of study. Other courses in the university may be taken as electives with the permission of the adviser.