Reed College Catalog

Linguistics is the study of human language: its form, variety, and social life. Human language may be studied from a variety of perspectives, whether as a complex social behavior, as a medium for creating and embodying social meaning, or as the instantiation of a highly structured system of knowledge within the mind of the language user (a mental grammar), which can be investigated empirically and modeled formally. Starting from the detailed description of phonological, morphological, syntactic, and semantic patterns in the world’s languages, linguists seek to discover general principles governing the structure and use of language. Research in linguistics encompasses theories of language variation and language universals across space and time, how grammar evolved in the species and develops in the individual, and how language is used to create and reinforce social relationships.

With its focus on language as a unique facet of human nature, linguistics bridges the divide between the cognitive sciences and the social sciences, and interfaces with the humanities, mathematics, logic, and philosophy. Linguistic concepts have contributed to the study of style and rhetoric, genre and register, poetic meter, and metaphor, thereby enhancing our understanding of literature. The techniques of linguistic analysis provide a window into the ideas of other cultures, whether distant in space and time or close to home, and thus contribute to the study of history and anthropology. Linguistic semantics has informed our understanding of the relationship of logic to language, and has influenced (and been influenced by) research in philosophy and mathematics. Finally, discoveries in linguistics have made major contributions to the development of cognitive science, and have applications in fields as diverse as neuroscience, evolutionary biology, speech and hearing technologies, and computer science and artificial intelligence research.

Reed offers a variety of linguistics and linguistics-related courses. In addition to introductory courses in formal analysis and sociocultural linguistics, more specific offerings deal with "core" areas of analysis (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics/pragmatics, and discourse), as well as historical linguistics, language typology, sociolinguistics, anthropological linguistics, and the psychology of language. Courses are also offered periodically on the structure of less familiar languages and language families (Algonquian, Austronesian, etc.). Linguistics at Reed has an interdisciplinary orientation: through the allied field and language requirements, students are encouraged to develop links to other fields, including anthropology, psychology, philosophy, mathematics, biology, sociology, and classical and modern languages and literatures. Students may also have the opportunity to engage in linguistic fieldwork, locally and abroad.

Admission to the Major

After passing Linguistics 211 and Linguistics 212 (or equivalent courses), the prospective linguistics major must present a plan of study to the department for approval.

Requirements for the Major

  1. Linguistics 211 and Linguistics 212.
  2. Five additional courses in linguistics (or cross-listed in linguistics).
  3. Competence in two languages other than English, equivalent to at least second-year college-level proficiency in one language, and at least first-year college-level proficiency in the second.
  4. A total of four semester units in an allied field, none of which can be used to fulfill 1, 2, or 3 above. Some representative examples are: a) Anthropology 211 plus three upper-division anthropology courses (including linguistics courses cross-listed with anthropology); b) four courses in psychology, including the introductory courses; c) four courses from the Division of Literature and Languages; d) four courses in mathematics; e) four courses in philosophy. Other choices of allied field are also acceptable, as appropriate to the student’s needs and interests, and subject to the approval of the department.
  5. A junior qualifying examination in linguistic analysis, to be attempted after taking no fewer than five units of linguistics. An element of the examination will be a thesis proposal.
  6. Linguistics 470 (thesis), which may, as appropriate, be jointly supervised by faculty members from linguistics and an allied field.


  1. Further courses in the allied field and in linguistics.
  2. At least one classical language or one non-Indo-European language as part of, or in addition to, the language requirement above. Additionally, more advanced competence in the languages used to meet that requirement.
  3. Courses in anthropology, psychology, literature, and/or philosophy, in addition to courses in the student’s chosen allied field, if it is not one of these. Students’ attention is particularly drawn to those courses dealing with poetry, prose style, and the grammars of individual languages, both modern and classical, in the Division of Literature and Languages; courses on logic and the philosophy of language; and courses on cognition, mental representations, and psycholinguistics.

Group and Division Applicability

Of the courses listed below, the following courses may be counted toward the Group D requirement: 211, 296, 312, 321, 323, 324, 326, 328, 329, 334, 336, 338, 341, 344, 348, and 393. The following courses may be counted toward the Group B requirement: 212, 232, 296, 312, 313, 334, 348, 393, 411, and 430. If taken as anthropology courses, the following courses count toward divisional requirements in history and social sciences: 212, 312, 313, 334, 348, 411, and 430.

Linguistics 211 - Introduction to Linguistic Analysis

Full course for one semester. An introduction to the empirical study of human language. This course introduces students to the core subfields of linguistics (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics/pragmatics), focusing on the essential formalisms and analytical techniques needed to pursue more specialized coursework in the field. Through direct engagement with data from a wide range of the world's languages, students gain experience in describing linguistic structures and formulating testable hypotheses about the organization of mental grammar. Prerequisite: sophomore standing, but first-year students may enroll with consent of the instructor. Conference.

Linguistics 212 - Introduction to Language, Culture, and Society

Full course for one semester. An introduction to the study of language in its sociohistorical contexts. Building on concepts introduced in Linguistics 211, this course considers ways in which language form varies across space and time, as well as the ways in which language use shapes–and is shaped by–social identities and ideologies. Topics covered include variationist sociolinguistics, dialects, language contact and change, creolization, language and gender, and language as a sign system for the embodying of cultural meanings. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of instructor. Conference. Cross-listed as Anthropology 212.

Anthropology 212 Description

Lingistics 232 - Dialects of English

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to dialectology–the study of regional variation in language–with an emphasis on the survey and analysis of the varieties of English currently spoken in the world. Students will acquire a practical knowledge of major lexical and structural differences among dialects of English, and will gain hands-on experience in the planning, implementation, and analysis of a dialect survey. Forms of English to be discussed include varieties of American English (Boston, New York, Southern, "Valley Girl") and British English (BBC, Liverpool, Scottish), as well as Indian English, Australian English, Singaporean English, and other colonial dialects. Other topics include Yiddish English, English-based pidgins and creoles, and the influence of gender on language variation. Most of the dialects will be illustrated in the classroom either by native speakers or by audiovisual material, including video clips and songs. Conference.

Linguistics 296 - Psychology of Language Acquisition

See Psychology 296 for description.

Psychology 296 Description

Linguistics 312 - Advanced Linguistics

Full course for one semester. An opportunity to pursue intensive readings in specialized topics in linguistics. The focus of the course shifts from analytic procedures and basic concepts developed in Linguistics 211 and 212 to individual research and theoretical problems in linguistics. May be repeated for credit with consent of the instructor.  The topic for 2009 will be word order and quantification. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of instructor. Conference-seminar. Cross-listed as Anthropology 312.

Anthropology 312 Description

Linguistics 313 - Language in Society

Full course for one semester. This course will introduce the study of language, both spoken and written, as a central element in the construction of social life. On the one hand, society occasions and constrains language; on the other, linguistic behavior creatively affects social relationships and the contexts of social action. The class will use both ethnographic materials and modest field investigations of its own to explore this dual relationship. Prerequisite: Linguistics 212 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference. Cross-listed as Anthropology 313. Not offered 2009-10.

Anthropology 313 Description

Linguistics 321 - Phonology

Full course for one semester. Although no two utterances sound exactly the same, speakers of a language overlook distinctions to which mechanical recording devices are sensitive, and they “hear” contrasts that are objectively not there. This course examines the nature of the complex links between abstract language-specific perceptual worlds and the real world of actual sounds in light of the major empirical approaches and theoretical currents in the study of linguistic sound systems. It will consider the relations between the articulatory gestures of language and other levels of linguistics description, notably morphology and syntax, and will also explore different models for formulating phonological rules. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Linguistics 323 - Introductory Syntax

Full course for one semester. The goal of syntax is to characterize the (largely unconscious) knowledge that enables speakers of a language to combine words into larger units such as phrases and sentences, and to "parse" (i.e., assign an abstract representation to) the phrases and sentences that they read and hear. This course—accessible to students with no previous training in linguistics—will introduce increasingly explicit grammar fragments of English. The goal is to present a range of phenomena of concern to syntax, and to explore formal devices that have been proposed to account for such phenomena. The course will consider such topics as argument structure and grammatical relations, constituent structure, subcategorization and selectional restrictions, idioms, movement and locality, case assignment, empty categories, and the interpretation of pronouns. The course also introduces central concepts and notation from contemporary theoretical syntax, focusing on the Principles and Parameters framework developed by Noam Chomsky and others. Conference.

Linguistics 324 - Advanced Topics in Syntax

Full course for one semester. This course gives students the opportunity to build on concepts and methodologies learned in introductory syntax by exploring current research problems in formal syntax. Readings for the course include influential papers from the history of generative grammar, as well as more recent contributions to the field. This course also builds on the topics discussed in Linguistics 328, Morphosyntactic Typology, by considering data from a wide variety of languages, and addressing the issue of how formal syntactic theories handle cross-linguistic variation. Topics covered may include word order variation, constraints on phrase structure and movement, functional categories, and the theory of anaphora. May be repeated for credit with consent of the instructor. Prerequisite: Linguistics 323 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Linguistics 328 is recommended. Conference.

Linguistics 326 - Discourse

Full course for one semester. Within linguistics, the analysis of discourse includes the study of linguistic units larger than the sentence and extends, more generally, to the study of stretches of speech (as well as written language) in the context of their use. This course will introduce a linguistic approach to discourse, touching topics possibly familiar from other disciplines: the nature of text, the determinants of style, the variety of linguistic genres, both written and spoken, and literacy and orality, including conversation and gesture. The class will use empirical materials from a variety of languages and cultural traditions to fuel this exploration. Along the way, we will consider some well-known conundrums surrounding such notions as meaning, reference, topic, coherence, and context. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Linguistics 328 - Morphosyntactic Typology

Full course for one semester. The course provides an introduction to cross-linguistic variation and grammatical description. We develop the notion of linguistic typology and explore proposed universals of language, based on the comparative study of the morphology and syntax of the languages of the world. We consider such topics as parts of speech, word order, case marking, grammatical relations, passive and its friends, causatives, relative clauses, and configurationality—all with reference to both the familiar languages of Europe and less familiar languages of the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Oceania. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or Linguistics 323, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Linguistics 329 - Morphology

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the study of the internal structure of words, providing an overview of contemporary morphological theory and analysis. Topics include a survey of word formation processes (such as affixation, reduplication, and stem changes); the interface between word structure and other domains of organization in the grammar, such as sound structure (phonology) and sentence structure (syntax); and the reality of morphological categories such as "morpheme." Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Linguistics 334 - Language and Politics

Full course for one semester. This course examines some of the core issues of contemporary sociopolitical theory from a semiotic- and linguistic-anthropological perspective. We address questions such as: To what degree is power a semiotic phenomenon? In what sense are “nations” and other political communities linguistically constructed? How might states be legitimated or authorized by particular discursive forms? Is a common language necessary (or sufficient) for forming a cohesive political community? What role do the institutions of linguistic standardization play in modern statehood? What are the semiotic and linguistic mechanisms through which novel political structures are instituted? How does political rhetoric, or propaganda, “work”? Readings will include classic statements on the nature of political power—in which language often plays an essential, if implicit and routinely unnoticed, theoretical role—as well as contemporary work, both theoretical and ethnographic, on the politics of language and the language of politics. Prerequisite: Linguistics 212 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference. Cross-listed as Anthropology 334.

Anthropology 334 Description

Linguistics 336 - Linguistic Field Methods

Full course for one semester. Through the empirical study of a non-European language, using native-speaking informants, the course explores the aims and techniques of linguistic fieldwork. Students will be expected to produce fragments of linguistic description based on individual and conjoint elicitation. Prerequisites: Linguistics 211 or equivalent and one 300-level linguistics course. Recommended: Linguistics 328, or at least one other course focusing on formal analysis (such as Linguistics 321, 323, or 329). Conference with laboratory sessions. Not offered 2009-10.

Linguistics 338 - Language Acquisition

Full course for one semester. A central goal of linguistic theory is to explain how children learn a first language despite significant structural and typological differences between different possible languages. This course explores patterns in the acquisition of linguistic structure, concentrating on problems posed by cross-linguistic variation. The course devotes special attention to how children acquire spatial language in comparative perspective. The course also considers the influence on acquisition of the sociocultural matrix in which language use emerges. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference-seminar. Not offered 2009-10.

Linguistics 341 - Semantics

Full course for one semester. The course will introduce the systematic study of meaning in language, ranging from problems in the semantic structure of lexical systems, and syntactic and morphological contributions to sentence meaning, to competing theories of truth-conditional semantics, situational semantics, and putative universal semantic primitives for integrated linguistic description. Prerequisite: Linguistics 323 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Students may take Linguistics 341 concurrently with Linguistics 323 if they have already completed Linguistics 211. Conference-seminar.

Linguistics 344 - Historical Linguistics

Full course for one semester. This course will introduce the classical comparative method for identifying and comparing related languages. It will consider sound change, grammatical and semantic change, and the diffusion of linguistic features. It will consider further perspectives on language change, including structuralist(-functionalist) views, generative and variationist perspectives, and notions of lexical diffusion. Prerequisite: Linguistics 212 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Linguistics 348 - Languages of the Americas

Full course for one semester. The study of the language families of the Americas has been a central focus of both linguists and anthropologists. The diversity of the languages, their exotic nature compared to Indo-European, and the richness of materials available makes especially rewarding intense study of particular groups of languages. This course will concentrate, in any given year, on one such family. Beginning with typological considerations that locate the languages of the family within wider parameters of linguistic description, the course will include detailed syntactic treatment of at least one member of the family. We shall try to evaluate competing descriptive mechanisms in light of the structure, both syntactic and semantic, of the languages in question. May be repeated for credit with consent of the instructor. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference-seminar. Cross-listed as Anthropology 348. Not offered 2009-10.

Anthropology 348 Description

Linguistics 352 - The Phonetics, Phonology, and Pragmatics of Prosody

Full course for one semester. This course will explore linguistic prosody from a range of theoretical, structural, and functional perspectives. We will begin by first contextualizing prosodic research historically, philosophically, and academically—focusing on the long-term relative neglect of prosody in 20th-century linguistic theory—and, second, constructing a (more or less) theory-neutral metalanguage appropriate to the cross-linguistic description and analysis of prosody. We will turn our attention to the major prosodic features and structures (e.g., length, stress/accent, tone, intonation) in terms of their phonetic manifestation, their phonological organization, and their pragmatic function. We will compare, contrast, and critically evaluate the most important contemporary theoretical perspectives on prosody and, finally, investigate the potential utility of a distinctly semiotic-anthropological approach to its study. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent and one other linguistics course. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Linguistics 354 - Fundamentals: Key Topics in Modern Linguistic Theory

Full course for one semester. This course will explore the key controversies, philosophical debates, theoretical commitments, and guiding assumptions that frame contemporary linguistics. The specific thematic focus will differ each time the course is offered, in accordance with the interests of both faculty and students. The course may be concerned primarily with comparing and contrasting the methodological, analytic, and theoretical features of functional as opposed to formal approaches to language and linguistics; or it may closely examine philosophically rationalist as opposed to empiricist approaches, as represented today by the perennial controversy over the nature, status, and specificity of "innate" linguistic structures, capacities, or faculties. Prerequisites: Linguistics 211 or equivalent and one other linguistics course. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Linguistics 393 - Psycholinguistics

See Psychology 393 for description.

Psychology 393 Description

Linguistics 395 - Advanced Psycholinguistics – Embodied Language

See Psychology 395 for description. Not offered 2009-10.

Psychology 395 Description

Linguistics 411 - Performance and Performativity

See Anthropology 411 for description. Not offered 2009-10.

Anthropology 411 Description

Linguistics 430 - Signs

See Anthropology 430 for description. Not offered 2009-10.

Anthropology 430 Description

Linguistics 439 - Psycholinguistic Research: Bilingualism

See Psychology 439 for description. Not offered 2009-10.

Psychology 439 Description

Linguistics 470 - Thesis

Full course for one year.

Linguistics 481 - Independent Reading

One-half or full course for one semester. Open only to upper-class students with special permission.