BA in Linguistics & African Languages

The major in Linguistics & African Languages enables students to combine the study of human language from a diversity of perspectives with the study of one or more African languages in cultural and historical context. 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, in African studies courses they will gain a foundational understanding of the diversity of ethnicities, African languages, cultures, and societies, including the advent of Islam, Christianity, and colonization and their enduring consequences. This program thus is consistent with the CAS commitment to diversity: “We strive to create environments for learning, working, and living that are enriched by racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity.” Courses that focus on the linguistics of African languages bring together the major’s two primary areas of study. Study abroad is strongly encouraged through the linkages of the African Studies Center.

The joint major equips students with language skills and cultural competence, preparing them for a wide range of careers, or pursuit of graduate degrees in fields such as Linguistics, Forensic Linguistics, Cognitive Science, Anthropology, African Languages, African Studies, African History, Information Technology, or Translation and Interpretation. They will also be well prepared to pursue professional MA degrees in International Affairs, Diplomacy, and Global Development Policy at BU and elsewhere, and could find career opportunities in government and nongovernmental organizations where interdisciplinary training in linguistic theory and practice and language and cultural competences are increasingly in demand.

Undergraduate Fellowships

The African Studies Center offers financial aid in the form of the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for undergraduates at the intermediate level of African language and area studies. The competitive awards consist of a scholarship and stipend.

Learning Outcomes

Students graduating with this joint major will:

  • Achieve an understanding of the fundamental questions that drive modern linguistic research, along with foundational knowledge in the core areas of linguistic theory.
  • Develop 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.
  • Develop proficiency in an African language at an advanced level, with respect to the four skills (reading, writing in dual scripts, speaking, and listening); as well as an understanding of the linguistic properties of that language, and of African languages more generally.
  • Develop an understanding of the diversity and complexity of the African continent, beyond stereotypical representations in the media, including the watershed events that have shaped the continent.


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 in the Linguistics & African Languages joint major can ordinarily fulfill up to 18 of their 26 Hub units through the 13 courses that satisfy requirements for the major; these are primarily in the areas of Scientific & Social Inquiry; Quantitative Reasoning; Diversity, Civic Engagement & Global Citizenship; and Critical Thinking. For details, see the Hub page on the Linguistics website. Remaining BU Hub requirements will be satisfied through selections from a wide range of available courses outside the major or, in some cases, cocurricular experiences.

The course requirements include thirteen 4-credit courses completed with a grade of C or better, as follows:

  1. Seven required courses:
    • CAS AN 521/CAS LX 341 Sociolinguistics
    • CAS AN 524 Language and Culture Contacts
    • CAS LX 250 Introduction to Linguistics
    • CAS LX 301 Phonetics
    • CAS LX 321 Syntax
    • CAS LX 331 Semantics
    • CAS LX 391 Field Methods
  1. Two electives in African languages at or above the fifth-semester level, chosen from offerings in Akan (Twi), Amharic, Igbo, Kiswahili, Mandinka, Wolof, isiXhosa, and isiZulu.
  2. Four additional electives from among offerings in Linguistics (at or above the 300 level) and African Studies, with at least one in each of those areas.

Linguistics Electives

  • CAS LX 311 Morphology: Introduction to the Structures and Shapes of Words
  • CAS LX 317 “Having” and “Being” Across Languages
  • CAS LX 327 Focus
  • CAS LX 328 Questions
  • CAS LX 342 Language, Race & Gender
  • CAS LX 345 Languages in Contact: The High Stakes of Grammatical Border-Crossing
  • CAS LX 349 Bilingualism
  • CAS LX 355 Second Language Acquisition
  • CAS LX 359 Interrupted Acquisition and Language Attrition
  • CAS LX 360 Historical and Comparative Linguistics [Hub credit pending]
  • CAS LX 368 Structure of African Languages
  • CAS LX 394 Natural Language Processing and Computational Linguistics
  • CAS LX 403 Phonological Analysis
  • CAS LX 405 Prosody
  • CAS LX 422 Intermediate Syntax: Modeling Syntactic Knowledge
  • CAS LX 423 Advanced Syntax: Issues in Modern Syntactic Theory
  • CAS LX 432 Intermediate Semantics: The Grammatical Construction of Meaning II
  • CAS LX 433 Experimental Pragmatics
  • CAS LX 453 Acquisition of Phonology
  • CAS LX 454 Acquisition of Syntax

African Studies Electives

  • CAS AA 588 Women, Power, and Culture in Africa
  • CAS AH 317 From Morocco to Timbuktu: Art and Architecture at the Saharan Crossroads
  • CAS AN 351 Language, Culture, and Society
  • CAS AN 532 Literacy and Islam in Africa
  • CAS AN 593, 594 Seminar: Topics in Cultural Anthropology
  • CAS LF 456 Postcolonial Novel
  • CAS LF 569 Algeria: Words and Images
  • CAS HI 237 Reconstructing the African Past
  • CAS HI 489 The African Diaspora in the Americas
  • CAS HI 589 Nature’s Past: Histories of Environment and Society
  • CAS ID 116 Africa Today: The Beat of Popular Culture
  • CAS IR 343 African Politics Today
  • CAS IR 352 International Human Rights: Applying Human Rights in Africa
  • CAS IR 584 The United States and Sub-Saharan Africa
  • CAS PO 571 Government and Politics in Contemporary Africa
  • CAS PO 572 Political Systems of Southern Africa
  • CAS XL 386 Africa on Screen
  • CFA MH 435 Music of Africa

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 completed at least four of the seven required courses (CAS LX 250, 301, 321, 331, 391; CAS AN 521, 524) can apply to participate in the Honors program, which involves one additional advanced course in Linguistics (at or above the 400 level) and one additional advanced course in African Studies, both chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor. See the Linguistics Program 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. To graduate with honors in the major, the student will need a GPA of at least 3.7 in the 15 major courses.

Cocurricular Activities

Honors students will meet at least several times a semester. Activities may include colloquia, presentations, question-and-answer sessions, and panel discussions with faculty. We will maintain an email list and inform honors students of other events (both at BU and in the Boston area) that may be of interest in relation to Linguistics & African Studies. Honors students will also be included in the activities associated with the Linguistics Department honors programs.