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. Our introductory series: LING211 and LING212.
  2. Five additional units in linguistics, not including Thesis. See FAQs regarding Linguistics coursework below.
  3. Non-native 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. See FAQs regarding the language requirement below.
  4. A total of four units in an allied field. Courses used for the allied field may not be used to fulfill requirements 1, 2, or 3 above, but they may be cross-listed with Linguistics. See FAQs regarding the allied field below.
  5. Passing the take-home junior qualifying examination in either Grammatical Analysis (GA) or Research Design (RD), no earlier than enrolling in a fifth unit of linguistics. See The junior qualifying exam and FAQs regarding the qual below.
  6. Linguistics 470 (thesis), which may, as appropriate, be jointly supervised by faculty members from linguistics and an allied field. See The senior thesis: Format and expectations below


  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; courses on semiotics and linguistic anthropology; and courses on cognition, mental representations, and psycholinguistics.

Group and Division Applicability

All linguistics courses fall under Group 2 in the Distribution Requirements structure.

If taken as Anthropology courses, the following courses count toward divisional requirements in History and Social Sciences: 334, 348, 411, and 440.

Courses without prerequisites

The following Linguistics courses can be taken without prerequisites:

  • 211 Intro. to Ling. Analysis (offered every fall)
  • 320 Phonetics (offered every spring)
  • 323 Intro. Syntax (offered every spring)
  • Some cross-listed courses in Psychology and Anthropology

Sample first- and second-year coursework plans

Courses Typically taken by a first year Linguistics major:                         

Hum 110 Hum 110
Group or allied field course Psych/Ling 296, or allied field course
Group 3 course     Group 3 course    
Non-native language   Non-native language  

Note: First-year students are eligible to enroll in 211 if there is space available. Other options for those who want to take linguistics courses before their first year include 320 (Phonetics) and 323 (Intro. Syntax), both offered in the spring and open to students with no prior background in linguistics.

Courses typically taken by a second-year Linguistics major:                                                 

Linguistics 211   Linguistics 212
Linguistics or allied field course   Linguistics or allied field course
Non-native language Non-native language
Group or elective course     Group or elective course    

Off-campus study options: Majors interested in studying abroad are recommended to complete the study abroad program during the spring semester of sophomore or junior year. Potential majors should consult with a member of the Linguistics department as soon as possible for help in planning their course of study.

The junior qualifying exam: Format and evaluation

There are two formats for the junior qualifying exam, known as the Grammatical Analysis (GA) qual and the Research Design (RD) qual. These formats are described below. It is up to the student to decide which exam format they will take. The deadline for students to make their decision is approximately one month before the two-week exam period (the exam period varies somewhat from year to year, depending on student preferences and availability, but normally falls shortly before or after Spring Break). We strongly encourage students to take LING 328 Morphosyntactic Typology as preparation for the GA qual, and/or LING 337 Methods of Design and Analysis as preparation for the RD qual. Both of these courses are offered every fall.

  • Grammatical Analysis (GA) qual
    One of the primary goals of an undergraduate education in Linguistics is to acquaint students with the structural complexity and diversity of the world’s languages, familiarizing them with the concepts, terms, and methodologies necessary to do basic grammatical analysis and description of natural language data. In this spirit, the GA qual provides students approximately 8 pages of spontaneous textual data in an unidentified language, for which students must construct a partial grammatical sketch for the language. The exam is open-book and open-notes. GA exam papers are judged on a number of criteria, including (a) clarity and conciseness of the description, (b) comprehensiveness, (c) the degree to which claims are supported using examples from the text, (d) proper use of technical terminology, and (e) proper presentation and formatting of data.
  • Research Design (RD) Qual
    The purpose of the RD qual is to test a student’s ability to develop a research project to investigate a linguistic topic. The overarching aim is to assess the student’s readiness to carry out an empirical thesis project in the field of Linguistics. Students are provided with the name of a linguistic phenomenon and are asked to design a research study investigating some aspect of that phenomenon. Students are asked to submit their study in the form of a journal article, consisting of a research question, a literature review, a research design and methodology, and data analysis and interpretation. Like the GA qual, the RD qual is open-book and open-notes. RD exam papers are judged on a number of criteria, including, (a) clarity and merit of research question, (b) comprehensiveness of the literature review, (c) soundness of methodological design, (d) conciseness, (e) intuitive presentation of data, and (f) proper interpretation of the data.

All exam papers are evaluated by at least two members of the department. For both exams, students receive a grade of pass, conditional pass, or fail. Students who fail the exam are required to take it again the following semester. (Note that students who fail the qual have the option of either retaking the qual in the same format or switching to the other format.) Students who receive a conditional pass are typically given an extra week to revise and resubmit their exam papers. In rare cases, a student receiving a conditional pass may be required to complete additional coursework during their senior year to address an identified curricular deficit.

The senior thesis: Format and expectations 

With regard to scope, length, methodology, and engagement with the scholarly literature, students in the Linguistics Department are encouraged to model their thesis projects on a journal article in a subfield related to their research topic. Students are given a great deal of freedom in shaping their research projects, although they are strongly encouraged to select topics and methodologies which (a) build on prior coursework or research projects, and/or (b) are cited within (or adjacent to) the areas of expertise of at least one faculty member. 

Students are assigned the first two members of the thesis committee (the thesis adviser and first reader) by the Linguistics Department, based on alignment of topics of interest with faculty expertise as well as on equitable thesis loads across the Linguistics faculty. Advisers meet with students on a weekly basis and provide feedback at every stage of the thesis experience, while also encouraging students to take ownership of their projects. Students are required to submit a chapter of their thesis at the end of the first semester, and a complete rough draft five weeks before the final college deadline. The first chapter and the complete rough draft each receive feedback from both the adviser and the first reader. Most advisers also require students to submit draft pages on a regular basis. Furthermore, one week per semester, the adviser and first reader switch roles in terms of meeting with the student and providing explicit feedback.

Thesis grades are assigned by the thesis adviser, based in part on feedback from the first reader and the rest of the orals committee, and following a meeting (after the oral exams) where the Linguistics faculty as a whole discuss all of the theses in a given year. Theses are evaluated on a number of criteria, including:

  1. scientific merit of the research question,
  2. breadth and depth of engagement with the relevant literature,
  3. soundness of the research design (if applicable)
  4. intuitive and effective data presentation, including good use of tables, diagrams, example sentences, trees, etc.,
  5. clarity, conciseness, readability and typographical accuracy (the “cleanness” of the thesis prose),
  6. correct use of technical terms, linguistic tests, and statistical tests,
  7. the “ thesis process” (i.e., how well the student engaged with their adviser through the year), and
  8. performance during the oral exam (e.g., ability to engage with all four committee members).

FAQs for Linguistics majors

FAQs regarding Linguistics coursework

Q: When should potential majors start taking Ling courses?
A: Sophomore year is the most typical year to start Ling courses. However, if space is available, students can take 211 in their first year. We strongly encourage majors to complete both 211 AND 212 by the end of their sophomore year.

Q: Which Ling courses can be taken before 211?
A: Very few: 320 (Phonetics), 323 (Intro. Syntax), 290 (Language and Cognition), and courses in Psych and Anthro crosslisted in Linguistics. (Some other courses can be taken with instructor consent.)

Q: Which courses count towards the “five additional ling courses” required for the major?
A: Any course in Linguistics (including courses cross-listed in Linguistics), excluding 211, 212, and Thesis.

Q: Are the “five additional ling courses” counted as “five courses” or “five units”?
A: Five Reed units are required above and beyond LING 211 and 212 for this requirement. This does not include Thesis units.

Q: Can students apply transfer credit to cover 211 and 212?
A: This depends on specific circumstances. Transfer students can use an introductory linguistics course taken elsewhere to satisfy their 211 requirement, provided the course is sufficiently similar to 211 in terms of coverage. However, non-transfer students are strongly discouraged from petitioning to meet their 211 or 212 requirement with courses taken elsewhere.

Q: Can students apply transfer credit towards the “five additional courses”?
A: Yes, but students are discouraged from taking more than two of their five additional Linguistics courses elsewhere. 

Q: Can a Linguistics course be taken pass/fail?
A: No. Students may not take any course in the major department for credit/no-credit.

FAQs regarding the language requirement

Q: In what ways can the non-native language requirement be filled?
A: Reed coursework, transfer credit, and placement exam results can all be used towards the requirement.

Q: Can a student use a language acquired at home towards this requirement? What if it is not English?
A: No, any language that the student acquired natively cannot be used towards this requrement. However, students who did not acquire English natively can use English to fulfill the 2-year language competency requirement.

Q: Can a “language-like” system be used to fulfill the non-native language requirement?
A: No. Math, logic, programming languages, music, or other “language-like” systems do not count towards our non-native language requirement.

Q: Can a particular language course count towards both our language requirement and an Allied Field of German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Classics, or Russian?
A: No, not if it’s the exact same course. However, language courses that are not used for the language requirement can count for an Allied Field of German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Classics, or Russian.

Q: How are courses of < 1 unit counted in the language requirement?
A: A course transferred in to Reed at 0.75 ≤ x ≤ 1 units or above rounds up to 1 unit towards the language requirement. Courses with x < 0.75 units will not be rounded up to 1 unit, but can be combined with other courses of x < 0.75 units to help add up to 1 or more units. 

Q: Can a language course passed as “pass/fail” be used for the language requirement?
A: Yes. 

Q: Can courses in a regional variety of a language (e.g. Moroccan Arabic) be combined with courses in the standard variety (e.g. Modern Standard Arabic) towards fulfilling a single language requirement?
A: This depends on the languages/varieties in question. Talk to your advisor.

FAQs regarding the allied field

Q: What fields can count as an Allied Field for linguistics?
A: Typical options are Anthropology, Psychology, Mathematics, Computer Science, Philosophy, Sociology, Classics, General Literature, or a language (English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian), but talk to your adviser for other options.

Q: What does an Allied Field of  “four courses in the Division of Literature and Languages” look like?
A: This is interpreted narrowly to mean four courses from a single department in this division.

Q: Can a particular language course count towards both the non-native language requirement and an Allied Field of German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Classics, or Russian?
A: No, not if it’s the exact same course. But, language courses that are not used for the language requirement count for an Allied Field of German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Classics, or Russian.

Q: Can my Allied Field of German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Classics, or Russian be filled using only language courses?
A: Yes, although students are encouraged to fulfill a portion of their Allied Field with literature courses.

Q: Can “General Literature” be an Allied Field? If so, what courses count?
A: Yes, it can. A student can do General Literature as their allied field if they take four courses that are officially cross-listed in the catalog as General Literature, even if those courses are taught in different departments. These may include courses in the literatures of two or more different languages. English courses do not count as General Literature courses unless they are explicitly cross-listed as such.

Q: Can transfer credit be applied towards our Allied Field requirement?
A: Yes, but we discourage majors from fulfilling more than 50% of their allied field requirement with transfer credit.

Q: How are courses of < 1 unit counted in the Allied Field requirement?
A: A course transferred in to Reed at 0.75 ≤ x ≤ 1 units or above rounds up to 1 unit towards the Allied Field requirement. Courses with x < 0.75 units will not be rounded up to 1 unit, but can be combined with other courses of x < 0.75 units to help add up to 1 or more units.

Q: Can an Allied Field Course be taken credit/no-credit?
A: No. Students cannot use credit/no-credit courses to meet distribution, divisional or major requirements.

Q: When applying language courses towards the Allied Field requirement, does the student need to have taken 4 *units*, or 4 *courses*?
A: One must take 4 *units* towards the Allied Field requirement, so two yearlong language courses (e.g. first year + second year of Russian) would fulfill the requirement. Note that these courses cannot simultaneously be used towards the department’s language requirement.

FAQs regarding group distributional requirements

Q: Can courses used towards the Linguistics coursework requirements also be used towards a Group Requirement?
A: Yes, one or two of the seven Linguistics courses may be used towards Group 2.

Q: Can courses used towards the Allied Field requirement also be used towards a Group Requirement?
A: Yes, two Allied Field courses may be used to fulfill a group.

Q: Can courses used towards the language requirement also be used towards a Group Requirement?
A: Yes, one or two courses taken for the non-native language requirement can be applied to fulfill Group 1.

Q: Can a Group requirement be taken pass/fail?
A: No. Students cannot use credit/no-credit courses to meet distribution, divisional or major requirements.

FAQs regarding the qual

Q: When is the qual taken?
A: The qual is normally completed in the second semester of junior year, but students doing study abroad during that semester have been permitted to take the qual the previous semester or over the summer prior to their senior year. In special circumstances, we have allowed students to complete the qual during a semester when they are not enrolled in Reed courses. 

Q: What coursework must be completed before taking the qual?
A: A student must have completed, or be currently enrolled in, their fifth ling course (that includes 211 and 212) before they are eligible to attempt the qual. Students are also highly encouraged (but not required) to have taken MST prior to taking the Grammatical Analysis (GA) qual and/or MDA prior to taking the Research Design (RD) qual.

Q: Can a time-based accommodation be used for the qual?
A: Yes. Students who normally receive extra time on exams or other time-based tasks can get extra time on the qual. If requested and approved ahead of time, a student who normally receives time-and-a-half for exams can take 21 days to complete the qual instead of the usual 14.

FAQs regarding study abroad

Q: Is it advisable to do study abroad if majoring in Ling?
A: Yes, we encourage Linguistics majors to pursue study abroad, but only for a single semester--usually spring semester of the junior year, after the student has had time to take 211, 212, MST and/or MDA, and other upper-division courses. Studying abroad for an entire year is generally not feasible, unless the student has taken 211 and 212 their freshman year.

Q: What is the best year to do study abroad if majoring in Linguistics?
A: Any year is possible, provided that the student will have taken 211, 212, and three other Linguistics courses by the time they begin their junior year.

Q: Can courses from study abroad be applied towards 211/212?
A: No. While it's theoretically possible to take courses equivalent to 211/212 abroad, we are not aware of any study abroad programs that have courses sufficiently equivalent to our 211/212 sequence. With very few exceptions, these foundational courses must be taken at Reed.

Q: Can courses from study abroad be applied towards the “five additional courses”?
A: Yes, majors can apply up to two upper-division Ling courses taken abroad towards their 5-course minimum. We discourage students from taking these courses before taking 211 here.

Q: Can the qual be taken while abroad?
A: Yes, it can be taken while abroad or, alternatively, in the semester or summer prior to studying abroad.