Linguistics Major and Minor

The Tri-co (Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore) linguistics program brings together students and faculty interested in the scientific study of human language. Drawing on a broad range of faculty from three institutions, our program examines the structural components of sound, form, and meaning and the interplay between them. We are committed to giving our majors a strong foundation in the field and opportunities to explore its interdisciplinary aspects and promise in connection with areas such as psychology, philosophy, mathematics, computer science, sociology, and anthropology. The breadth of academic resources we offer is complemented by our strong emphasis on close student/faculty relationships; our dedication to both is one of the program’s most distinctive attributes.

Curriculum & Courses

We offer two majors: a Linguistics major and a Linguistics and Language major. The Linguistics and Language major requires students to study two languages in addition to their linguistics work.

Students in both majors pursue a curriculum that includes foundation courses, synthesis courses, and elective courses. Designed to provide a grounding in linguistics theory and methodology, foundation courses cover sounds, forms, and meanings. In our synthesis courses, majors examine the structure of a non-Indo-European language, putting the analytical tools they’ve learned to use in classes such as Structure of Chinese, Structure of Colonial Valley Zapotec, and Structure of American Sign Language. Through elective courses, majors explore linguistics in more detail and as it intersects with other areas. Computational Linguistics, The Psychology of Language, and The Politics of Language in the Spanish-Speaking World are just a few of the cross-disciplinary classes available.

Students majoring in Linguistics and Language must also study two distinct languages at the intermediate/upper levels.

  • Major Requirements

    The Tri-Co Linguistics Department offers two major tracks: (i) Linguistics and (ii) Linguistics & Language (often called Ling/Lang). Students complete either of these majors with a total of eight credits. 

    Mandatory Foundation Courses (three credits)

    Students in both major tracks must complete one course from each of the following categories:

    • Forms: LING H113 or LING S050 (Introduction to Syntax)
    • Meanings: LING H114 or LING S040 (Introduction to Semantics)
    • Sounds: LING H115 or LING S045 (Phonetics and Phonology)

    Structure of a Non-Indo-European Language Courses (one credit)

    Students in both major tracks much complete one course from the Structure of a Non-Indo-European Language series, which include the following classes, among others:

    • LING H215 (Structure of Colonial Valley Zapotec)
    • LING H282 (Structure of Chinese)
    • LING S060 (Structure of Navajo)
    • LING S062 (Structure of American Sign Language)
    • LING S064 (Structure of Tuvan)

    Elective Courses (LING majors only, three credits)

    Three elective courses in linguistics or related fields are required for Linguistics majors.  (Ling/Lang majors are not required to take elective courses, but have an additional language requirement, see below.) Electives include the following courses, among others:

    • LING B101 or LING H101 (Introduction to Linguistics)
    • LING H204 (Topics in Introductory Programming: Language and Computation)
    • CMSC/LING H208 (Speech Synthesis and Recognition)
    • LING/ENGL H213 (Inventing [the] English)
    • LING/PSYC H238 (The Psychology of Language)
    • PHIL H253 (Analytic Philosophy of Language)
    • PHIL H260 (Historical Introduction to Logic)
    • ANTH B281 (Language in the Social Context)
    • LING/CMSC H325 (Computational Linguistics)
    • LING/SPAN H365 (The Politics of Language in the Spanish-Speaking World)

    Language Courses (LING/LANG majors only, six credits)

    This requirement applied only to Linguistics and Language majors, not Linguistics majors. 

    • Ling/Lang majors must study two different languages with three credits from each, with at least one credit at the third-year level for each of the two languages.

    Thesis (one credit)

    A one-credit senior thesis in the fall semester of the senior year is required for majors in both tracks. The thesis constitutes the comprehensive requirement for the major.

    Note: Majors in the Tri-Co Linguistics Department can receive up to two elective credits for pre-approved courses taken outside the Tri-Co. Interested students should seek consultation with, and approval from, the Bi-Co chair of the department prior to enrolling in the courses, and be ready to provide course descriptions during consultation and transcripts afterwards for proper credit counting towards the major.

    Senior Project

    Majors in our department are recommended to take the Junior Seminar LING S090 (Advanced Research Methods in Linguistics), in the spring term of their junior year. This course is designed to expose students to the classic literature on the major subfields in linguistics, familiarizing them with theoretical frameworks, methodologies, and bibliographies, culminating in the selection of a potential thesis topic, working and reworking on a thesis abstract with references. Students are also encouraged to take an upper level seminar course in the subfield where they will most likely choose a thesis topic.

    Linguistics majors write their thesis in the fall semester of their senior year. All Bi-Co linguistics majors should pre-register for LING H399 in the spring of their junior year. They will be assigned an appropriate faculty advisor once they choose a thesis topic and the topic is approved. In the topic proposal, students need to list at least two relevant courses related to the topic. (LING S090 could be listed as one of the two.) If their assigned faculty advisor is from Swarthmore, majors will then switch to the appropriate senior seminar section of LING S100, which can be done in the beginning of the fall semester of their senior year.

    Senior Project Learning Goals

    As the capstone experience of the Linguistics major, the senior project represents the most rigorous academic undertaking by a senior, and reflects the achievement of the learning goals of the major.

    Senior Project Assessment

    Faculty members are assigned as first and second readers to each thesis after the senior major has decided on a topic in the beginning of the fall semester.

    The senior thesis is evaluated on the following criteria:

    Fundamentals:

    • Does the student demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of elementary concepts in linguistics, such as the underlying goals of linguistic inquiry, basic units of linguistic analysis (phonemes, morphemes, constituency, entailment, etc.), and distinctions important to linguistics (prescriptive/descriptive, competence/ performance, phoneme/allophone, form/function, etc.)? Does the student demonstrate familiarity with essential literature?

    Tools and Methods:

    • Does the student select and correctly implement methods and formal theories appropriate for their work? Does the student correctly use standard, professional linguistics formatting and notation for transcriptions, glosses, OT tableaux, syntactic structures, semantic interpretations, citations and references, etc.? Does the student correctly use standardly accepted technical jargon (“allomorph,” “adjunct,” “implicature,” etc.) rather than vague descriptions or nonstandard terminology? Does the student correctly use appropriate linguistics technology (Praat, ELAN, etc.)? At the level of technical details, does the student’s work look like it was written by a linguist (rather than, say, by a historian or chemist)?

    Ethics:

    • Does the student demonstrate a full understanding of best practices for responsible and ethical collection, storage, and use of data in ways that respect the relevant speakers and their communities and cultures? Does the student demonstrate a commitment to appropriate collaboration with speakers and communities?  (N.B. This learning outcome may not be relevant to work that does not use primary data, in which case, this should normally be assessed as “N/A”.)

    General Scientific Methodology:

    • Data Collection and Presentation
      Does the student demonstrate an understanding of proper scientific methodology for collecting data (survey design, selection of participants, establishing controls, eliciting useful contrasts and paradigms, etc.)? Does the student organize data in meaningful ways that clearly demonstrate important patterns (minimal pairs, morphological paradigm tables, logical blocks of related utterances, etc.)?
    • Analysis
      Does the student construct useful, appropriate hypotheses to explain the observed patterns in the data? Are these hypotheses rigorously and clearly formulated? Does the student sufficiently explore logically plausible alternative hypotheses? Does the student convincingly argue for why their hypotheses are superior to the logical alternatives?

    Critical Thinking Skills:

    • Advanced Literature
      Does the student draw upon relevant advanced literature in meaningful ways? Does the student demonstrate an understanding of crucial data, analyses, results, models, predictions, etc. from this advanced literature?
    • Innovation
      Is the student’s work innovative in some way that makes it stand out as more than just superficial description and/or straightforward application of tried-and-true analytical tools?  Does the student articulate novel and insightful claims about a specific language, language itself, or linguistics more broadly? Is the student’s work noteworthy, at least in part, because of the student’s particular insights?

    Quality of Prose:

    • Coherence, Structure, Fluidity, etc.
      Is the student’s prose professional and polished, in line with general standards of academic writing? Is the student’s prose clear and logically structured? Are individual sentences coherent and grammatical? Do sentences and paragraphs flow fluidly from one to the next?  Does the student’s prose strike an appropriate balance between being concise and being sufficient? Would the student’s prose pass muster for publication in a journal?

    Requirements for Honors

    Honors will be granted, at the discretion of the faculty members, to those senior majors who have consistently distinguished themselves in major-related course work (typically with a GPA of 3.7 or higher), active and constructive participation in the intellectual life of the department, and an outstanding senior thesis. A senior major may receive high honors if deemed exceptional in all three areas.

  • Minor Requirements

    Students may minor in linguistics through Haverford by completing six credits in the following three areas:

    Mandatory Foundation Courses (three credits)

    • Forms: LING H113 or LING S050 (Introduction to Syntax)
    • Meanings: LING H114 or LING S040 (Introduction to Semantics)
    • Sounds: LING H115 or LING S045 (Phonetics and Phonology)

    Structure of a Non-Indo-European Language Courses (one credit)

    • LING H215 (Structure of Colonial Valley Zapotec)
    • LING H282 (Structure of Chinese)
    • LING S060 (Structure of Navajo)
    • LING S062 (Structure of American Sign Language)
    • LING S064 (Structure of Tuvan)

    Elective Courses (choose two from the following sample of relevant courses among many others):

    • LING B101 or LING H101 (Introduction to Linguistics)
    • LING H204 (Topics in Introductory Programming: Language and Computation)
    • CMSC/LING H208 (Speech Synthesis and Recognition)
    • LING/ENGL H213 (Inventing [the] English)
    • LING/PSYC H238 (The Psychology of Language)
    • PHIL H253 (Analytic Philosophy of Language)
    • PHIL H260 (Historical Introduction to Logic)
    • LING/ANTH B281 (Language in the Social Context)
    • LING/CMSC H325 (Computational Linguistics)
    • LING/SPAN H365 (The Politics of Language in the Spanish-Speaking World)

    The Tri-Co Linguistics Department accepts all linguistics courses offered at Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford for credit in their appropriate category.  

    Note: Minors in the Tri-Co Linguistics Department can receive up to two elective credits for pre-approved courses taken outside the Tri-Co. Interested students should seek consultation with, and approval from, the Bi-Co chair of the department prior to enrolling in the courses, and be ready to provide course descriptions during consultation and transcripts afterwards for proper credit counting towards the minor.

Research & Outreach

All majors produce a thesis—a work of original research—over the fall semester of their senior year. Students select their topic at the beginning of the fall semester, then are assigned to a particular faculty advisor and Thesis Seminar, held at Swarthmore or Haverford. In the Seminar, majors hone their research and writing skills, while working one-on-one with their advisors to develop their theses.

After Graduation

Because our majors are interested not only in language but also the human mind, they go on to pursue a wide range of interests and fields.

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