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 and identity; 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 perform 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, computer science and artificial intelligence.

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, both 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. Students may demonstrate competence through Reed coursework, coursework completed elsewhere for transfer credit, placement exams, or some combination of these.
  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 human 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, 320, 321, 323, 324, 326, 328, 329, 334, 336, 341, 344, 348, 352, and 393. The following courses may be counted toward the Group B requirement: 212, 221, 232, 296, 313, 330, 334, 335, 345, 348, 393, 411, 439, and 440. (Note that 211 and 212 cannot be taken together to fulfill a single group requirement).

If taken as anthropology courses, the following courses count toward divisional requirements in history and social sciences: 334, 348, and 411.

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. The second part of the department’s introduction to the field of linguistics. Building on key themes from Linguistics 211, we consider the inclusion of social aspects of language use in linguistic inquiry—the dialogue between langue and parole. This course is presented as a survey of the central themes in the study of language and culture. We will explore theoretical notions (facework, power, ideology, indexicality, social meaning), methodologies for gathering sociolinguistic data (variationist/quantitative sociolinguistics, ethnography, discourse analysis), perspectives on sociolinguistic analysis at the level of the group (speech communities, communities of practice, social networks) and the individual (style, audience design, social practice), and threads of inquiry (ethnicity, gender, third wave sociolinguistics). Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Linguistics 221 - The Story of English

Full course for one semester.  A linguistic history of the English language. This course presents an introduction to diachronic linguistics in tracing the story of English across approximately 1,500 years, from its Germanic and Anglo-Saxon roots to its current presence as a global lingua franca. Students will gain experience with linguistic methods of analysis and will be able to describe and explain structural properties of English at different periods, mechanisms of linguistic change, and the sociocultural forces that have influenced the development of English. Students will work with audio and other primary source material and will conduct original fieldwork for a project related to Modern English. Conference.

Linguistics 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 history and description of the varieties of English currently spoken in the world. Students will acquire a practical knowledge of major linguistic differences among dialects of English, and will gain hands-on experience in collecting linguistic data from varieties of non-standard English. Forms of English to be discussed include varieties of American English (Boston, New York, Southern, etc,) and global English dialects. Other topics include language attitudes, the rise of "standard" English and its implications, English-based pidgins and creoles, and language variation and change. Students will actively collect data on dialects from family, friends, and the media, to be accompanied by audiovisual material in class, including video clips and songs. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Linguistics 296 - Psychology of Language Acquisition

See Psychology 296 for description.

Psychology 296 Description

Linguistics 312 - Topics in Linguistic Analysis

Full course for one semester. An opportunity to pursue intensive readings in specialized topics pertaining to formal linguistic theory and research methods. Building on analytical skills learned in Linguistics 211, this course invites students to explore a chosen topic in phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, typology, or interfaces between these, by discussing current and seminal literature and engaging in original research. Choice of topic varies from year to year. May be repeated for credit with consent of the instructor. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Linguistics 313 - Topics in Language and Society

Full course for one semester. This course is an opportunity for students to pursue intensive reading and research on a specialized topic in sociolinguistics, language and identity, or language contact and change. The course builds on concepts from Linguistics 211 and 212, asking students to incorporate theoretical readings and sociolinguistic field methods in designing and implementing an individual research project. Choice of topic varies from year to year. May be repeated for credit with the consent of the instructor. Prerequisite: Linguistics 212 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Linguistics 320 - Phonetics

Full course for one semester. This course covers areas such as the articulation of speech, the basic anatomy of the vocal tract, the acoustic properties of speech sounds, and speech perception. Students will become proficient in reading and using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) through extensive practice in transcribing speech sounds drawn from a wide variety of languages, and will obtain practical skills in doing speech analysis with Praat. The course will prepare students for independent field and laboratory work, as well as familiarizing them with basic techniques necessary for conducting phonetic experiments. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

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 linguistic 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 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 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.

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 2011–12.

Linguistics 330 - Contact Languages

Full course for one semester.  An investigation into the linguistic varieties and linguistic practices that emerge from contact situations. Taking into account both diachronic and synchronic perspectives, we focus on the linguistic effects of language contact, including code-switching, admixture, lexical borrowing, and language shift. We emphasize the most striking cases of language contact—pidgins and creoles—identifying the formal structures of these varieties, describing the social contexts that surround their emergence, and discussing the relevance of creole formation to models of universal grammar. Students gain experience working with audio and other primary source data to present case studies of the structural and sociolinguistic properties of contact varieties. Prerequisites: Linguistics 211 and 212, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

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.

Not offered 2011–12.

Linguistics 335 - Language and Gender

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the large body of literature on language and gender within sociolinguistics and the study of language in context more generally. Students will investigate how language in use mediates, and is mediated by, social constructions of gender and sexuality. An emphasis on the history of research in language and gender, which contains distinct phases and movements in the field, will culminate in a current description of the state of language and gender research today. Particular attention will be paid to the evolution of feminist theory, the political economy, ideology, hegemony, performativity, resistance, and the "borders" of gender identities. Students will read scholarly articles and write critical reflection papers, and complete a final paper on a topic of their choosing related to language and gender. Prerequisite: Linguistics 212 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

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 group 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 2011–12.

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.

Not offered 2011–12.

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, morphosyntactic and semantic change, language contact and borrowing, and the spread of linguistic changes through the speech community. Various approaches to language change are discussed, including structuralist(-functionalist), generative and variationist perspectives, and the question of whether structural changes result from lexical diffusion. Prerequisite: Linguistics 212 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Linguistics 345 - Linguistic Accommodation

Full course for one semester.  Humans seem to be compulsive imitators, prone to unconsciously mimicking the postures and gestures of those with whom they interact. This is especially true with respect to language: speakers may change aspects of their voice or their pronunciation of particular words and sounds so that their speech becomes more similar to the speech of people they are talking to. This course will examine the biomechanical, linguistic, and social/psychological factors which contribute to and constrain this convergence behavior. We will also consider the broader implications of such accommodation for theories of the mental representation of language as well as for community-level language variation and change. As a final project, each student will design a phonetic or sociolinguistic study that examines some aspect of linguistic accommodation. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 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.

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 twentieth-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 2011–12.

Linguistics 393 - Psycholinguistics

See Psychology 393 for description.

Psychology 393 Description

Linguistics 411 - Performance and Performativity

See Anthropology 411 for description.

Not offered 2011–12.

Anthropology 411 Description

Linguistics 439 - Psycholinguistic Research: Bilingualism

See Psychology 439 for description.

Not offered 2011–12.

Psychology 439 Description

Linguistics 440 - Translation and the Boundaries of Difference

See Anthropology 440 for description.

Psychology 440 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.