Linguistics, the scientific study of language, lies at the nexus of the natural and physical sciences, humanities, social sciences, maths, and computer science. Linguists seek to understand the structure, behaviour, and evolution of human language and animal communication in all of their forms: spoken, signed, gestured, written, even whistled and drummed. Any language is fair game for linguistic study, from English to Euskara (Basque), Spanish to Sanskrit, Norwegian to Nlaka'pamux.
The Linguistics Tripos is divided into a one-year Part I and a two-year Part II. Part I, where you follow four lecture series, provides a foundation across a wide range of linguistics taught within the Department of Linguistics. Part II allows you to specialise in the areas which particularly interest you, and in Parts IIA and IIB (years 2 and 3) there is a wide choice of lectures taught within and beyond the Department, the latter including the linguistics of particular languages. Part IIB includes an element of individual research as you write a dissertation on a topic of your choice.
Director of Studies
The main requirement for studying linguistics is a lively curiosity about the nature of language. It may be that you’ve been struck by a language that puts its verbs in a different position in the sentence, or wondered why languages change (making Chaucer hard to understand, for instance), or been puzzled that automatic speech recognition software gets a perfectly clear word wrong, or realised that an utterance such as ‘it’s cold in here’ may mean more than the words (understood: ‘do close the window!’), or been excited to learn that languages as diverse as Welsh and Hindi have a common ancestor. Basically, if you’ve found yourself asking ‘why?’ or ‘how?’ in relation to language, linguistics is for you.
The typical A Level offer for Linguistics is A*AA. The typical IB offer is 40-41 points with 776 at Higher Level. Because linguistics is interdisciplinary we don’t require specific A level (or equivalent) subjects, and welcome applicants with an outstanding academic profile whether science-oriented or arts-centred. Some formal study of language, either through learning languages or through English Language A level, does however serve as a good preparation.
Applicants are required to sit the Linguistics admissions written assessment, if invited for interview. More information can be found on the University website.
- David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (1997)
- David Crystal, How Language Works (2006)
- Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind (2003).
Life after Cambridge
Linguistics graduates find employment in a wide range of professions. The fact that linguistics provides a broad interdisciplinary training, developing the ability to analyse quantitative data, construct abstract (grammatical) models, and test alternative hypotheses, means that linguistics graduates emerge with the kind of transferable intellectual skills that are highly sought after by employers. Careers for which linguistics provides particularly good preparation include speech therapy, teaching (especially of languages), speech and language technology (developing and improving computer-based applications such as speech recognition and translation software), and even forensic linguistics (in cases where authorship, voice identity, or place of origin are at issue). Familiarity with the range and essence of human languages is a huge advantage in careers where rapid learning of unfamiliar languages may be involved, such as the Diplomatic Service.