Linguistics major announced

Carnegie Mellon faculty members have combined efforts to create an interdepartmental linguistics major, which they believe will further strengthen language study at the university.

The new linguistics major will provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the use of language and the importance of language in society.

Faculty involved with the implementation of the linguistics major say that the rich presence of language study at Carnegie Mellon will make this a strong program.

“We’ve been running the linguistics minor for many years,” said Mandy Simons, a philosophy professor and director of the new major. “And we have wonderful resources here for providing a linguistics major.”

The new major will consist of courses in the departments of English, modern languages, philosophy, and psychology in H&SS as well as the Language Technologies Institute in the School of Computer Science. By offering a variety of courses that all concern the study of language, the major will give students the opportunity to study language from several different perspectives.

“The study of language has to be a cross-disciplinary study,” said Simons. “With research, your view has to narrow, but on the undergraduate level you want to have the opportunity to explore it from different directions. It lets you get a multifaceted view of language.”

Students pushed for the linguistics major to add to the resources already available at Carnegie Mellon.

“A number of students who had completed the minor in linguistics had expressed the wish that it was possible to continue their study to lead to a major,” stated G. Richard Tucker, the head of the department of modern languages.

Students completing the major will not be halted by the university’s lack of a department dedicated completely to linguistics. An interdepartmental major will give students more freedom in their study of language, Tucker noted.

“We have faculty who do really exciting work in linguistics or in ‘hyphenated’ areas of linguistics [such as] psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, computational linguistics,” Tucker said. “The breadth of the interests and the depth of the expertise is quite amazing, and we are well positioned to offer a very exciting program.”

The major’s core curriculum is divided into the studies of the sound, structure, and meaning of language. Students are also required to complete at least two semesters of foreign language instruction. After receiving a foundation in language study, students can narrow their focus with specialized electives in different concentrations. The program culminates in a thesis study at the end of senior year.

The senior year capstone requirement is a unique aspect of the major that allows students to focus on a specific interest that may have developed over the course of their undergraduate career.

“Partly because of interdisciplinary nature of the field, there is a need for a final scholarly experience to sum up the study. Students can look back through the project,” said English professor Paul Hopper.

The far-reaching scope of the major is intended to spark interest across colleges. Those involved with the creation of the major feel that students of different majors will choose to combine linguistics with another concentration to gain an in-depth understanding of how language relates to their area of study.

Simons praised the major for its flexibility and feels that it will be fairly easy for students to broaden experience with the assistance of what they learn in the major.
The program will also prepare students to enter a wide range of fields after graduation. Even several of the faculty members behind the establishment of the major are linguists who have branched out into other fields.

“Careers go from humanitarian to business to academic to government,” said Lori Levin, a professor at the Language Technologies Institute who was also instrumental in the creation and approval of the linguistics major. Careers that accommodate linguistics majors can range from national security intelligence analysts for the government to assisting international businesses, she said.

“If you know language technology and linguistics and you work for a company with a lot of international business, you can help this company tremendously,” Levin said. Students can also turn to teaching and translating as possible career options, but Levin assures students that there are “not only academic careers” available for linguistics students.

Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of the new major is the enthusiasm of faculty members to make Carnegie Mellon as well-known for linguistics as the university is in other areas.

“We have faculty who are interested in ‘applied linguistics’ and, in particular, in the area of language acquisition, individual differences in second-language learning, the development of bilingualism, the development of pragmatic competence, the development of reading and writing skills, etc., so we are well-positioned and extremely interested in contributing to the success of the new major,” Tucker said.

“Carnegie Mellon is the type of place where linguistics will thrive,” Hopper said. “We’re excited about it and look forward to working with students interested in the program.”

Students interested in the major should contact Simons for more information.