Adult human beings have the ability to speak and understand at least one language. And while languages can vary considerably, all are intricate, complex, rule-governed systems. Humans use language with little or no conscious awareness of the underlying system(s) that they have (unconsciously) learned, and which enables them to communicate and interact with others. Linguistic theory seeks to understand the nature of these sytems: the sound systems (phonetics and phonology), the grammatical and meaning systems (syntax and semantics), and the interactions of these. The field addresses a variety of further questions including: How do these systems interact with communicative goals (pragmatics and discourse analysis)? How are these systems acquired by children (child language acquisition)? How do people actually produce and understand sentences in real time (language processing)? What are the neural systems underlying speaking and understanding (neurolinguistics)? How do the systems change over time, and how do these changes interact with and illuminate language structure (historical linguistics)? How do people use these systems for social identity (sociolinguistics)? How does language interact with culture (anthropological linguistics)? Fields as diverse as anthropology, legal reasoning, language pathology, technical writing and editing, speech recognition, automatic machine translation, and natural language user interfaces all rely heavily upon methods and models developed in linguistics.

The linguistics concentration at Brown is designed to give students a background in the basic “core” areas concerned with the structure of language (phonetics, phonology, syntax, and semantics) and to allow students to concentrate more heavily in these areas of theoretical linguistics and/or to build on these areas to concentrate on areas such as child language acquisition, language processing, neurolinguistics (among others). Other areas such as historical linguistics or applications of linguistic theory to the study of the structure of various languages can also be pursued in conjunction with offerings in other departments. The electives (listed below) include a number of courses in related departments, and the breadth of the field offers students flexibility in designing their concentration.

Requirements (10 courses)

Prerequisite Course (1)

Required courses (4)

It is recommended that students thake CLPS 1310 and CLPS 1330 before higher level courses.

Electives (5)

The remaining five courses may be drawn from any of those courses listed above, or from the following courses in Linguistics and related disciplines, with the restriction that only 2 may be below 1000-level courses. The listings here are not exclusive of the possible electives; students should consult with the concentration advisor about the appropriateness of other courses.

Courses above the 1000-level from other departments dealing with the history and structure of a language may also qualify with the consent of the advisor. At least three of these courses must be at the 1000-level or above. Other courses may be substituted at the discretion of the concentration advisor.

Degrees with Honors (12 Courses)

Candidates for Honors in Linguistics will take a minimum of 10 courses for the concentration which will consist of all requirements for the standard program plus 2 additional courses in Linguistics or related disciplines. One of these courses may be an independent study project upon which the thesis is based. Honors candidates should formalize their projects in consultation with their advisors by the end of Semester 6.

Although no specific grade-point average has been set for acceptance into the Honors Program, only students with a good record and an advisor willing to work with them will be allowed into the Honors Program.

Independent Study

Independent study is encouraged for the A.B. degree. Students should sign up for CLPS 1970 (formerly COGS 1980) with a faculty advisor who is a member of the Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences. Arrangements should be made in Semester 6 for students expecting to do independent study during Semesters 7 and/or 8.


Foreign language courses will generally not count towards the concentration requirements, except those which focus on the structure or history of the language. Students are, however, advised to gain familiarity with a foreign language, and are encouraged to take at least one course which deals with the structure of a language other than English.

It is strongly recommended that students take CLPS 1310 and CLPS 1330 before Semester 7.

Page last updated in February, 2012.

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