Secondary Field in Linguistics

For Harvard Undergraduates

Linguistics at Harvard is counted among the humanities. Much research in linguistics, however, lies in the area of linguistic theory, which seeks to develop a theory of language that accounts for interlanguage variation while uncovering the general laws and principles that govern all languages. Such work resembles research in the social and behavioral sciences. Recently, advances in biology and neuroscience have led to the emergence of a kind of linguistic scholarship that closely parallels research in the life sciences. Thanks to its unique field- and methodology-straddling quality, Linguistics is able to offer three distinctively contoured secondary field pathways:

Requirements: 5 half-courses

Language History and Language Structure

The pathway in Language History and Language Structure is designed for students whose curiosity about linguistics is an outgrowth of their interest in specific languages or their "love of languages" in general. Such students may also have considered concentrating or taking courses in an ancient or modern language field (Classics, Romance, Slavic, Near Eastern languages, East Asian languages, etc.); or they may simply be looking for ways to learn more about the history and structure of English.

  1. Two foundational courses:
    1. Linguistics 83: Language, Structure, and Cognition; or
      Linguistics 101: The Science of Language: An Introduction; or     
          Freshman Seminar 34x: Language and Prehistory
    1. Another core linguistics course to be approved by the Head Tutor

  2. Three more advanced courses, chosen from among:
    1. Linguistics 117r: Linguistic Field Methods;
      Linguistics 107: Introduction to Indo-European; or
      Linguistics 108: Introduction to Historical Linguistics; 
    2. Any one in historical linguistics, e.g.
      Linguistics 168: Introduction to Germanic Linguistics;
      Greek 134: The Language of Homer; 
      Linguistics 176: History and Pre-History of the Japanese Language; or
    3. Any one in descriptive linguistics, e.g.
      Linguistics 171: Structure of Chinese;
      Linguistics 173: Linguistic Issues in Japanese; 
      Slavic 126a: Structure of Modern Russian

Language and Linguistic Theory

The pathway in Language and Linguistic Theory is designed for students whose love of languages (with a final -s) is less important to them than their love of Language (with a capital L). Such students may have been attracted to linguistics from a variety of fields—a foreign language, English, anthropology, mathematics, computer science, even physics. What unites them is an interest in the common formal and representational systems that underly all natural languages.

  1. Two foundational courses:
    1. Linguistics 83: Language, Structure, and Cognition; or
      Linguistics 101: The Science of Language: An Introduction; or
      Freshman Seminar 34x: Language and Prehistory; or
      Freshman Seminar 39x: Human, Animal and Artificial Languages
    2. Another core linguistics course to be approved by the Head Tutor

  2. Three more advanced courses, chosen from among:
    1. Linguistics 102: Sentence Structure;
      Linguistics 104: Word Structure;
      Linguistics 105: Sounds of Language; and
      Linguistics 106: Knowledge of Meaning; or
    2. Any more advanced course in syntax, morphology, phonetics/phonology, or semantics

Language, Mind and Brain

The pathway in Language, Mind and Brain was created for students with an interest in the areas of inquiry addressed by Harvard's Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative. Such students will be less interested in language-particular facts than those in the other two groups; they will be correspondingly more interested in the evolution of language, the linguistic abilities of non-human primates, the mechanisms used by the brain to access and store linguistic information, and similar questions.

  1. Two foundational courses:
    1. Linguistics 83: Language, Structure, and Cognition; or
      Linguistics 101: The Science of Language: An Introduction; or
          Freshman Seminar 39x: Human, Animal and Artificial Language
      B. Another core linguistics course to be approved by the Head Tutor
  2. Three more advanced courses, chosen from among the following groups:
    1. Linguistics 102: Sentence Structure;
      Linguistics 130: Psycholinguistics;
      Linguistics 146: Syntax and Processing; or
    2. Any other course countable toward the elective requirement of the MBB track in Linguistics, e.g.
      Computer Science 187: Computational Linguistics;
      Philosophy 147: Philosophy of Language

Other Information

Subject to the Head Tutor’s approval, linguistics summer school courses and linguistics study abroad courses will be allowed to count towards the secondary field requirements. One course may be taken Pass/Fail towards the course requirements; this may be, but need not be, one of the two designated Freshman Seminars.

If you are planning to write a thesis for your primary concentration, another option is to do a Joint Concentration with Linguistics as the Allied field. If writing a thesis is part of your plan already, then having a joint concentration simply means one more course in Linguistics. The joint concentration requirements are also more flexible than secondary field requirements. 

Advising Resources and Expectations

The primary adviser and contact person for the secondary fields in Linguistics is the Head Tutor, Professor Kathryn Davidson.