Concentration Advisor: Prof. Pauline Jacobson

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 systems: 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.

AP and Transfer Credits: Please refer to our departmental policy on applying AP and transfer credits.

For more information about linguistics and language: Visit the Linguistics and Language at Brown website.


For the most up-to-date concentration requirements, please visit the Brown bulletin page or meet with your advisor.

Do Foreign Language Courses Count?

Foreign language courses will generally not count towards the concentration requirements, except those that 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.