BA in Linguistics

The major in Linguistics enables students to explore, at many levels and from a variety of perspectives, how language works. Students of linguistics examine the structure, use, acquisition, and development of the languages of the world. We aim to identify both those elements that are common to all human languages (spoken and signed) and the ways in which languages and dialects can differ from one another. Courses in phonetics and phonology reveal the sound patterns of language. Morphology studies the composition of words. Syntax, semantics, and pragmatics focus on how phrases are put together and how “meaning” is communicated. Historical linguistics examines the evolution of linguistic systems over time. Sociolinguistics considers the relationship of language form and social factors such as gender, race, and region. Acquisition investigates the learning of language from birth into adulthood.

The major offers the flexibility to enable students to study two foreign languages of their choosing, to pursue their own interests within linguistics, and to explore interdisciplinary connections. The vibrant linguistics community in the Boston/Cambridge area affords the opportunity for students to attend lectures and conferences and participate in other local linguistics events.

An undergraduate degree in linguistics offers excellent training for a wide variety of careers, including translation, interpreting, teaching, publishing, national security, international affairs, forensics, or medicine, and for graduate study in linguistics or related fields (such as anthropology, law, philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, computer science, or speech and hearing sciences).

Learning Outcomes

Students graduating with a major in 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.
  • Experience in presenting their own research and/or reviewing the literature through written papers and oral presentations.


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 Linguistics will ordinarily, through coursework for the major, satisfy some of the BU Hub requirements in Scientific and Social Inquiry; Quantitative Reasoning; Diversity, Civic Engagement, and Global Citizenship; the Intellectual Toolkit; and possibly Philosophical, Aesthetic, and Historical Interpretation. For further details about how the Linguistics major courses fit in with the Hub requirements, see the Linguistics Hub requirements page. Students can satisfy up to half of the 26 required Hub units through the 8 linguistics courses counting toward the Linguistics major. The foreign language courses required for the major may satisfy additional Hub requirements. 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.

For students who entered BU prior to Fall 2018, courses taken toward the major in Linguistics cannot also be used for Divisional Studies course credit outside the Humanities Division.

Major Course Requirements

The major consists of 12 courses: eight in Linguistics (including four basic required courses and four electives) plus four intermediate or advanced language courses including two different foreign languages. Unless otherwise indicated, all courses are 4 credit hours. Further information on individual courses can be found in the list of Linguistics course descriptions and on the Linguistics Department website.

Please note that the numbering system has changed as of Fall 2016. Listed below are the new numbers, along with the previous number (if any) for each course.

1. An introductory course—to be taken before all other linguistics courses in the major

  • CAS LX 250 Introduction to Linguistics

2. Three basic linguistics courses

  • 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 CAS LX 502)

3. Two additional linguistics courses, including at most one below the level of LX 250, from the following

  • CAS LX 110 Say WHAT? Accents, Dialects, and Society
  • CAS LX 120 Language and Music
  • CAS LX 205 Origins of Writing (also offered as CAS CL 205)
  • CAS LX 208 The Language of Our Ancestors: Introduction to Indo-European Linguistics
  • CAS LX 235 Language in the Contemporary World: Technology, Society, and the Law
  • CAS LX 240 Great Linguists
  • CAS LX 245 Language and Mind
  • CAS LX 255 Language Myths (previously offered as CAS LX 340)
  • CAS LX 311 Morphology: Introduction to the Structures and Shapes of Words (previously offered as CAS LX 521)
  • CAS LX 317 “Having” and “Being” across Languages (previously offered as CAS LX 517)
  • CAS LX 327 Focus (previously offered as CAS LX 518)
  • CAS LX 328 Questions (previously offered as CAS LX 519)
  • CAS LX 341 Sociolinguistics (also offered as CAS AN 521)
  • CAS LX 342 Language, Race, and Gender (previously offered as CAS LX 320)
  • CAS LX 345 Languages in Contact: The High Stakes of Grammatical Border-Crossing (previously offered as CAS LX 515)
  • CAS LX 346 Language Variation and Change
  • CAS LX 349 Bilingualism (previously offered as CAS LX 545)
  • CAS LX 350 Crosslinguistic Approaches to Language Acquisition
  • CAS LX 355 Second Language Acquisition (previously offered as CAS LX 542)
  • CAS LX 359 Interrupted Acquisition and Language Attrition (previously offered as CAS LX 546)
  • CAS LX 360 Historical and Comparative Linguistics (previously offered as CAS LX 535)
  • CAS LX 390 Topics in Linguistics (previously offered as CAS LX 500)
  • CAS LX 394 Introduction to Programming for Computational Linguistics
  • CAS LX 402 Intermediate Phonetics
  • CAS LX 403 Phonological Analysis (previously offered as CAS LX 513)
  • CAS LX 405 Prosody (previously offered as CAS LX 525)
  • CAS LX 422 Intermediate Syntax: Modeling Syntactic Knowledge
  • CAS LX 423 Advanced Syntax: Issues in Modern Syntactic Theory (previously offered as CAS LX 523)
  • CAS LX 432 Intermediate Semantics: The Grammatical Construction of Meaning (previously offered as CAS LX 503)
  • CAS LX 433 Experimental Pragmatics (previously offered as CAS LX 504)
  • CAS LX 453 Acquisition of Phonology (previously offered as CAS LX 541)
  • CAS LX 454 Acquisition of Syntax (previously offered as CAS LX 540)
  • CAS LX 490 Intermediate Topics in Linguistics
  • CAS LX 496 Computational Linguistics

4. One course in the linguistic analysis of a specific language

Offered in English:
  • CAS EN 515 History of the English Language 1
  • CAS EN 516 History of the English Language 2
  • CAS LX 364 The Linguistics of Contemporary English (previously offered as CAS LX 406)
  • CAS LX 365 Variation in English Dialects (previously offered as CAS LX 530)
  • CAS LX 367 Indigenous Languages of Latin America
  • CAS LX 368 Structure of African Languages (previously offered as CAS LX 505)
  • CAS LX 369 The Structure of Creole Languages (previously offered as CAS LX 533)
  • CAS LX 370 Romance Linguistics (previously offered as CAS LX 532)
  • CAS LX 391 Linguistic Field Methods (previously offered as CAS LX 501)
Knowledge of the language a prerequisite:
  • CAS LG 315 Introduction to German Linguistics
  • CAS LJ 410 The History of the Japanese Language
  • CAS LJ 510 The Structure of the Japanese Language
  • CAS LS 504 History of the Spanish Language
  • CAS LX 372 French Phonetics (also offered as CAS LF 500)
  • CAS LX 373 The Structure of French: Phonology (also offered as CAS LF 503)
  • CAS LX 374 The Structure of French: Syntax (also offered as CAS LF 502)
  • CAS LX 376 Topics in French Linguistics (also offered as CAS LF 506; previously also offered as CAS LX 506)
  • CAS LX 381 Spanish in the United States (also offered as CAS LS 420; previously also offered as CAS LX 420)
  • CAS LX 383 The Sounds of Spanish (also offered as CAS LS 507; previously also offered as CAS LX 507)
  • CAS LX 384 The Structure of Spanish (also offered as CAS LS 508; previously also offered as CAS LX 508)
  • CAS LX 386 Topics in Spanish Linguistics (also offered as CAS LS 505)
  • SED DE 672 American Sign Language Structure

5. One additional course chosen from among those listed in groups 3 and 4 above plus those listed below (or another related course, with approval of the major advisor)

Logic and philosophy of language:
  • CAS PH 160 Reasoning and Argumentation
  • CAS PH 261 Puzzles and Paradoxes
  • CAS PH 360 Symbolic Logic
  • CAS PH 421 Frege, Moore, and Russell
  • CAS PH 463 Philosophy of Language
  • CAS PH 486 Topics in Knowledge, Language, and Logic
Language, culture, and society:
  • CAS AN 351 Language, Culture, and Society
  • CAS AN 524 Seminar: Language and Culture Contacts in Contemporary Africa
  • CAS AN 532 Literacy and Islam in Africa
Language acquisition and development:
  • CAS NE/PS 544 Developmental Neuropsychology
  • SAR SH 505 Introduction to Phonological Disorders
  • SAR SH 523 Introduction to Speech Science
  • SAR SH 524 Language Acquisition
  • SAR SH 531 Introduction to Communication Disorders

6. Four courses made up of any combination of language courses at or above the third-semester level and/or upper-level courses taught in a foreign language, including two different foreign languages. (These include both Indo-European and non-Indo-European languages. One of the two languages may be American Sign Language, taught in the Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.)

Study Abroad Opportunities

Students of Linguistics are encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad. Students should consult with their advisor to determine which of the Study Abroad and Internship Programs might best fit with their study of languages and linguistics and to discuss which Study Abroad courses may fulfill degree requirements.

At least 6 of the 12 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 four core courses listed in (1) and (2) above can apply to participate in the Honors program, which involves either additional advanced coursework or a thesis. 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.