Reed College Catalog

Kara Becker

Sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, American regional dialects, social practice and identity construction, African American English, language and gender.

Sameer ud Dowla Khan

Phonology, phonetics, intonation/prosody, reduplication, laboratory phonology, voice quality and phonation, speech acoustics, Bengali and other South Asian languages.

Matthew Pearson

Formal linguistic theory, syntax, typology and language description, phonology, morphology, the syntax-semantics interface, Austronesian languages.

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 universals and language variation 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 particular areas of analysis (phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics/pragmatics), as well as sociolinguistics, language typology, phonological and syntactic theory, and research methods. Courses are also offered periodically on the structure of less familiar languages and language families. 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 and laboratory research.

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. Language requirement: Evidence of academic study of two languages other than the student’s native language(s), 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 meet this requirement through Reed coursework, coursework completed elsewhere for transfer credit, placement or proficiency exams, or some combination of these. Students who are not native speakers of English may use their academic study of English to satisfy their second-year requirement.
  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 additional anthropology courses (including linguistics courses cross-listed with anthropology); b) four units in psychology, including the introductory courses; c) four courses from a single department in the Division of Literature and Languages, or four courses listed as comparative literature; 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.
  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.


Linguistics 211 - Introduction to Linguistic Analysis

One-unit semester course. 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. Conference.

Linguistics 212 - Introduction to Sociolinguistic Patterns

One-unit semester course. This course is the second semester in the linguistics department’s yearlong introduction to linguistics. We consider the inclusion of social aspects of language in linguistic inquiry. This course is presented as a survey of the central themes in sociolinguistics, focusing on the sociolinguistic patterning of language through the key concepts of variation and change. We will also explore theoretical notions (ideology, indexicality, repertoires), methodologies for gathering sociolinguistic data, perspectives on sociolinguistic analysis at the level of the group (speech communities, communities of practice) and the individual (style, audience design, social practice), and the role of identity and social categories in sociolinguistics (age, race/ethnicity, gender). Students will collect original data and write short research write-ups, moving from a collaborative data project to a final research project of each student’s choosing. Conference.

Linguistics 220 - Language and Discrimination in the United States

One-unit semester course. Linguistic discrimination is one of the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination, in large part because it serves as a proxy for other forms of discrimination (i.e., attitudes about language, like "The Southern accent sounds slow and lazy,” actually function as attitudes about speakers). In this class, we will engage with the myths and language ideologies active in the current U.S. context, from standard language ideology to the myth of monolingualism, to frame our study of individuals and speech communities who experience discrimination. Students will acquire knowledge of key aspects of the linguistic system that support a positive perspective on linguistic diversity. In addition, specific varieties, including African American language and Latinx English, as well as social groups and styles, from young people’s speech to code-switching, will be spotlighted, as will a range of contexts for discrimination, from the law to the workplace to the college classroom. Student work will focus on community engagement and application, with final products that directly relate to linguistic social justice in our local community. Conference.

Linguistics 312 - Topics in Linguistic Analysis

One-unit semester course. Topics vary. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. May be repeated for credit with consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2022–23.

Linguistics 320 - Phonetics

One-unit semester course. 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. Conference.

Linguistics 321 - Phonology

One-unit semester course. 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 322 - Phonological Knowledge

One-unit semester course. The way we understand the phonological grammar has changed as formal phonological theory and psycholinguistic research continue to evolve. Through reading articles, writing reviews, and designing our own experiments, we will seek to answer the question: what do speakers know about the sounds of their language? Topics to cover include exemplar theory, the psychological reality of irregular patterns and morphological structure, the gradient nature of phonotactics, the strength of paradigm uniformity and contrast, and the role of lexical statistics in a speaker’s native language. In addition, we will cover linguistic accommodation, second language phonology, and the effect of having competing phonologies in the same speaker. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 and Linguistics 321, or consent of the instructor. Conference-laboratory.

Not offered 2022–23.

Linguistics 323 - Introductory Syntax

One-unit semester course. The goal of syntax is to characterize the (largely tacit) 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 structural 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, lexical categories and selectional properties of words, 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

One-unit semester course. 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 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.

Not offered 2022–23.

Linguistics 328 - Morphosyntactic Typology

One-unit semester course. 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, 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 330 - Contact Languages

One-unit semester course. 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 331 - Laboratory Phonology

One-unit semester course. In this course, we will read and discuss classic and contemporary research papers in experimental phonetics and phonology, while gaining laboratory skills for testing phonetic and phonological theories. We will examine the relationship between the gradience of phonetics and the categoricity of phonology: how is phonological knowledge realized in the acoustic signal, and how are phonological processes grounded in phonetic naturalness? Examples of methods covered include acoustic analysis, data visualization, and designing and running speech perception studies. Prerequisites: Linguistics 211 and either Linguistics 320 or 321. Laboratory-lecture.

Not offered 2022–23.

Linguistics 332 - Dialects of English

One-unit semester course. 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 United States. 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 nonstandard English. Forms of English to be discussed include varieties of American English and other global English dialects. Other topics include language attitudes, the rise of “standard” English and its implications, phonological chain shifts and diffusion, 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. Students will read scholarly articles and complete short assignments throughout the semester, and conduct a data-driven research project to be submitted at the end of the semester. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 and 212. Conference.

Not offered 2022–23.

Linguistics 334 - Historical Linguistics

One-unit semester course. This course provides an introduction to the study of language change, linguistic relatedness, the spread of new forms in language, and linguistic prehistory. Students will engage in two methods of reconstructing words in unattested languages: the comparative method and internal reconstruction. The comparative method is traditionally used as the basis for classifying linguistic relatedness, but has been challenged because of assumptions that it makes about how innovations in language occur. Students will be presented with critiques of certain approaches to reconstructing languages at large time depths and will learn about alternative cross-disciplinary methods of understanding language diversification at deep time depths. In addition, students will learn about cultural reconstruction on the basis of linguistic reconstruction and geography. Prerequisite: Linguistics 320 or 321, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2022–23.

Linguistics 335 - Language, Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

One-unit semester course. 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.

Linguistics 336 - Linguistic Field Methods

One-unit semester course. This course explores the goals and techniques of elicitation-based fieldwork through the empirical study of an unfamiliar and under-studied language, using native speakers as consultants. Students will work together in a hands-on lab setting 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 course focusing on data collection or formal analysis (such as Linguistics 320, 321, or 323). Conference-laboratory.

Linguistics 337 - Methods of Design and Analysis

One-unit semester course. The tasks of designing, carrying out, and interpreting linguistic research vary across subfields, traditions, and time; in particular, quantitative methods have become increasingly crucial in both formal and social areas of linguistic study. Using a different unifying topic each semester, this course will guide students through the process of quantitative linguistic research from the choice of topic and research design through statistical analysis and presentation. Students will write their own research papers on topics of their choosing using the skills covered here, including devising a feasible research question; designing a study to operationalize that question; gathering, annotating, and analyzing data; visualizing results in various formats; interpreting and evaluating those results; writing a journal article–style paper to present the findings; and preparing a conference-style poster and/or talk presentation to share the conclusions. Students should emerge with a newfound ability to critically engage with journal articles in linguistics and related fields. Throughout the semester, students will make use of software such as Audacity, Praat, Excel, and R, and learn how and when to use statistical tests such as correlations, regressions, t-tests, and ANOVAs. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 and 212, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Linguistics 338 - African American English

One-unit semester course. The variety currently known as African American English (AAE) is perhaps the most studied by sociolinguists yet remains the least understood by U.S. residents. This course covers the history, linguistic structure, and sociocultural patterns of use of the English of African Americans in the United States. We will place the systematic descriptions of AAE by sociolinguists in the context of critical race theory, and use the concept of strategic essentialism to understand the context for and history of AAE scholarship. We will take a variationist approach to African American English features, focusing on the phonology and morphosyntax that is considered unique to AAE, and discussing lexical and discursive features as well. We will cover the major debates that continue to rage in AAE scholarship: the origins debate, including the Anglicist and creolist positions, and the related divergence/convergence debate over AAE’s relationship to standard American English. Additional topics include AAE and hip-hop, appropriation and crossing, and AAE in education and the public sphere. Prerequisite: Linguistics 212, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2022–23.

Linguistics 341 - Semantics

One-unit semester course. Semantics is the branch of linguistics that deals with the relationship between the form and meaning of linguistic expressions (morphemes, words, phrases, and sentences). The basic project of formal semantics is to develop a theory of how the meaning of a complex linguistic expression is built up, or “computed,” from the meanings of its constituent parts and how those parts are combined. In this course we sketch a formal compositional model for the semantics of English and consider how this model captures speakers’ intuitions about entailment, presupposition, and ambiguity. Topics covered include inference relations and concepts of meaning, developing a metalanguage (based on simple set theory and propositional logic) for representing the denotations of expressions, functions and lambda notation, definiteness, quantification and logical form, modality and possible worlds, and the relationship between semantics and pragmatics. Prerequisite: Linguistics 323 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Students who have already completed Linguistics 211 may take Linguistics 341 concurrently with Linguistics 323. Conference.

Linguistics 348 - Structure of Austronesian

One-unit semester course. Austronesian is a family of over a thousand languages spoken primarily in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, Taiwan, and Madagascar. Some of these languages (e.g., Malay, Tagalog, Javanese) are well documented and spoken by millions of people, while many others are highly endangered and have received little attention in the linguistics literature. In this course we discuss the grammatical diversity of the Austronesian family and probe some of the distinctive features of these languages, focusing on morpho-phonological and morpho-syntactic properties such as word order, reduplication, ergativity, case marking, and wh-question formation. By surveying both classic and contemporary research on Austronesian, we explore how the study of these languages has contributed to developments in linguistic theory. As part of the work for this course, each student will conduct research on a different Austronesian language and report on the grammatical features of that language through a series of in-class presentations and short papers. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Recommended: Linguistics 328. Conference.

Not offered 2022–23.

Linguistics 350 - Languages of South Asia

One-unit semester course. The Indian subcontinent is home to five typologically divergent language families (Indo-European, Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman, Austroasiatic, Tai-Kadai) in addition to at least two language isolates, creating an ideal setting for the areal spreading of diverse linguistic features across genetic affiliations, affecting all areas of the grammar, from phonetics (e.g., retroflexion) and intonation (e.g., macrorhythmicity) to morphology (e.g., fixed segment reduplication) and syntax (e.g., head finality). In class, we will take a broad typological view of the languages of South Asia while also making more detailed observations of specific languages representing the diversity of the region. Outside of class, each student will focus on a South Asian language of their choice—collecting data from native speakers or from available language grammars—to examine the phonetic, phonological, lexical, morphological, syntactic, semantic, and other features, from a synchronic formal perspective as well as from historical and sociolinguistic perspectives. Prerequisite: Linguistics 211 or equivalent, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Linguistics 352 - Intonation

One-unit semester course. 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 2022–23.

Linguistics 412 - Sociolinguistic Variation

One-unit semester course. The contemporary field of sociolinguistics is most often associated with the program on language variation and change (or variationism), which focuses on the orderly heterogeneity of the linguistic system and how that variation is indicative of language change. This approach to language in use utilizes quantitative methods to track the patterns of linguistic variables according to both linguistic and social constraints. This course explores the theories that motivate variations as a means to a deeper understanding of the linguistic system. In particular, we will use the “three waves” model of variations to follow the evolution of variations theory over the last 50 years. In tandem, students will work as variationists, collecting data and analyzing it within the quantitative paradigm. Prerequisites: Linguistics 212 and 337. Conference.

Not offered 2022–23.

Linguistics 470 - Thesis

Two-unit yearlong course; one unit per semester.

Linguistics 481 - Independent Reading

Variable (one-half or one)-unit semester course. Open only to upper-class students with special permission.