BA in Japanese & Linguistics

The Japanese & Linguistics major enables students to combine the study of human language from a variety of perspectives with the study of Japanese language, literature, and culture. In their linguistics courses, students explore the formal structures of language (sound system, internal structure of words, syntactic organization, and representations of meaning) as well as language universals, variability across languages, social dimensions of language use, and historical language change. At the same time, students achieve proficiency in Japanese (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) and gain an appreciation and critical understanding of Japanese cultural and literary traditions, practices, genres, and great works. Integrating the two components of the joint major, coursework in Japanese linguistics focuses on the historical development of the Japanese language or on its distinguishing characteristics in relation to other languages.

Class projects and interactions with faculty provide frequent opportunities for making connections between the major’s two primary areas of study. Students in the joint major regularly spend a semester or academic year abroad in Kyoto at the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies or in Tokyo at Keio University.

The major equips students for work in or related to Japan, and provides excellent background for a range of careers including language education, testing and assessment, translation and interpretation, international business, speech therapy, voice coaching, information technology, law, nursing and medicine, child development, and social work. It also prepares students for graduate study in the areas of language, literature, linguistics, and related areas such as Asian regional studies and cognitive science.

Learning Outcomes

Students graduating with a joint major in Japanese & Linguistics are expected to attain:

  • An understanding of the fundamental questions that drive modern linguistic research concerning formal structure, universals, acquisition, historical change, variation, and social dimensions of use, along with foundational knowledge in the core areas of linguistic theory.
  • The ability to identify and describe with precision the empirical patterns found in sets of language data, and to construct well-reasoned linguistic analyses by formulating, testing, and refining hypotheses about these patterns.
  • Linguistic mastery of some aspect of modern-day Japanese (phonetics, phonology, or syntax, e.g.) or of the historical development of the language.
  • A high level of proficiency in the Japanese language, with respect to reading, writing, speaking, and understanding of spoken Japanese, including oral proficiency at a minimum of Intermediate High and knowledge of at least 800 kanji characters.
  • An understanding and appreciation of Japanese cultural and literary traditions, practices, genres, and great works.


All BU undergraduate students, including both entering first-year and transfer students, will pursue coursework in the BU Hub, the University’s general education program that is integrated into the entire undergraduate experience. BU Hub requirements can be satisfied in a number of ways, including coursework in and beyond the major as well as through cocurricular activities. Students majoring in Japanese & Linguistics will ordinarily, through coursework for the major, satisfy some of the BU Hub requirements in Philosophical, Aesthetic, and Historical Interpretation; Scientific and Social Inquiry; Quantitative Reasoning; Diversity, Civic Engagement, and Global Citizenship; Communication; and the Intellectual Toolkit. For further details about how the Japanese & Linguistics major courses fit in with the Hub requirements, see the Linguistics Hub requirements page. Students can satisfy up to 14 of the 26 required Hub units from courses counting for the joint major. Remaining BU Hub requirements will be satisfied by selecting from a wide range of available courses outside the major or, in some cases, cocurricular experiences.

The major consists of thirteen 4-credit courses, all completed with a grade of C or higher. Further information on individual courses can be found in the list of Japanese course descriptions and Linguistics course descriptions and on the Linguistics Department website.

Five courses in Japanese

  • Two advanced Japanese language courses: normally CAS LJ 303 and 304, but more advanced courses are also available for students with appropriate advanced placement (CAS LJ 314, 315, 316, 320, 322, 385, 386, 403, 404, 441, 445, 450, 485)
  • Three Japanese literature courses, at any level, from: CAS LJ 250, 251, 260, 316, 350, 388, 451, 460, 480, 481

Five courses in linguistics

  • CAS LX 250 Introduction to Linguistics
  • Three core courses in linguistics, to be taken in any order (all have CAS LX 250 as a prerequisite):
    • CAS LX 301 Phonetics & Phonology: Introduction to Sound Systems (previously offered as CAS LX 510)
    • CAS LX 321 Syntax: Introduction to Sentential Structure (previously offered as CAS LX 522)
    • CAS LX 331 Semantics & Pragmatics: Introduction to Linguistic Meaning (previously offered as 502)
  • One additional CAS LX elective above the level of CAS LX 250

One course in Japanese linguistics

Chosen from the following (or other relevant courses, including courses offered abroad, with advisor approval):

  • CAS LJ 410 The History of the Japanese Language
  • CAS LJ 510 The Structure of the Japanese Language

Two additional electives

  • One course in Japanese linguistics (listed above), general linguistics (CAS LX courses at or above the 300 level) or another linguistics course with advisor approval
  • One additional CAS LJ course at the 300 level or above in the area of advanced language, linguistics, culture, film, literature, or translation; options include courses taken abroad, with advisor approval

At least 6 of the 13 courses required for the major must be taken on the Charles River Campus.

Honors in the Major

Students with a sufficient GPA overall (at least 3.65) and in the major (at least 3.7) and who have already taken at least two of the core courses in Linguistics (from CAS LX 250, 301, 321, 331) as well as two of the required courses in Japanese can apply to participate in the Honors program, which involves additional advanced coursework. See the Linguistics Department website for details. Applications will be accepted no sooner than the end of sophomore year and no later than the beginning of the second semester of the junior year.