Skip to main content

The Undergraduate Program

Major in Linguistics

The Field of Linguistics

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. Linguists try to answer such questions as:

  • Why do particular languages work the way they do?
  • What features do languages in general share?
  • How do children acquire a language, and how does this differ from adult language learning?
  • How and why do languages change?
  • Why does language differ from place to place?
  • How does language interact with other aspects of society and culture?

Linguistics majors and minors study the results of linguistic research and its relevance to such diverse fields as psychology, philosophy, English, foreign languages, anthropology, communication, speech and hearing sciences and computer science. In this context, the field of linguistics occupies a special position, bridging the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences. Linguistics is also central to the developing interdisciplinary field of cognitive science. Linguists do not necessarily need a command of several languages, but a background in foreign languages can be an asset.

The undergraduate major in Linguistics is designed to be flexible in order to meet the needs of a range of students. It consists of 1 prerequisite, 3 required core courses chosen from the list below, and 4 electives. For more information about which courses you might like to choose based on your areas of interest, see the Designing your major program page.

Structure of the Major

The prerequisite for the Linguistics major is LING 101: Introduction to Language. Students contemplating a Linguistics major should fulfill their General College Social Science Perspective with LING 101. If you are considering the Linguistics major and are having trouble enrolling in LING 101, please contact us at the department.

Complete one course from each pair for three out of four of the following pairs of courses:

LING 200: Phonology
LING 520: Linguistic Phonetics
LING 201: Syntax
LING 537: Semantics
LING 202: Linguistic Variation and Language Change
LING 541: Sociolinguistics
LING 203: Language Acquisition and Development
LING 427: Morphology

Note that you are welcome to take both courses in a pair. If you do, one of them can be counted as a major elective. –The same is not true for the graduate-level core courses. Also, these pairings of core courses apply only to the major.

Five Linguistics courses beyond the required core are necessary for the completion of the major. Electives can be chosen from the courses offered by the Linguistics Department that are numbered 200 or higher, except LING 400 and the graduate-level core courses, as well as from courses that are cross-listed with Linguistics. Certain language-related courses offered by other departments can also be counted as major electives.

Please note that elective courses taken outside the Department should form part of a coherent program of study. No more than two non-LING courses may be used to fulfill the requirement for four elective courses. The Department usually does not consider elective courses beyond those on the list below except under extraordinary circumstances.

  • AAAD 421 Introduction to the Languages of Africa
  • AMST 374 America’s Threatened Languages
  • CHIN 253 Chinese Language and Society
  • COMP 455 Models of Languages and Computation
  • ENGL 115 History of the English Language
  • ENGL 213 Grammar of Current English
  • GERM 500 History of the German Language
  • GERM 501 Structure of German
  • GERM 514 Old Norse I (Old Icelandic)
  • GERM 515 Old Norse II (Old Icelandic)
  • GERM 521 Variation in German
  • GERM 545 Problems in Germanic Linguistics
  • ITAL 526 History of the Italian Language
  • PHIL 345 Philosophy of Language
  • PORT 526 History of the Portuguese Language
  • PSYC 432 Psychology of Language
  • SPAN 683 Linguistics of Indigenous Languages
  • SPHS 530 Introduction to Phonetics
  • SPHS 540 Speech Science
  • SPHS 570 Anatomy and Physiology of the Speech, Language, and Hearing Mechanisms
  • SPHS 582 Introductory Audiology I

Independent Study

The University offers independent study experiences for undergraduate students, including directed readings, internships/practica, mentored undergraduate research, and senior honors thesis courses for an individual student. Students, in consultation with the faculty member, must complete a learning contract and have it approved by the director of undergraduate studies (or designee). Registration for an independent study course must be completed after the learning contact has been approved and no later than the last day of “late registration” (the end of the second week of classes in fall or spring semester or the equivalent date in each summer session). Students are strongly encouraged to begin this process early, well before the beginning of the semester.

More information and the resources to start an independent study can be found here

Special Note on Graduate Level Core Couses: LING 523, 525, 528, and 530

Most LING courses in the 400/500 range are intended for both graduate and undergraduate students. However, the following four courses are different. They are specifically designed for graduate students, since they are graduate-level equivalents of the 200-level courses, 200-203:

  • LING 523: Phonological Theory I
  • LING 525: Historical and Comparative Linguistics
  • LING 528: Language Acquisition
  • LING 530: Syntactic Theory I

Most undergraduates take the 200-level core courses, but exceptionally capable and motivated students may take the graduate-level equivalents with permission of the course instructor.

In most cases, students must choose either the undergraduate version or the graduate version of each core course. It is not possible to receive credit toward the major for both versions. However, students in the dual BA/MA program can receive BA credit for the 200-level core course and then receive MA credit for the corresponding 500-level core course.

Any Linguistics major with a cumulative total GPA of at least 3.300 overall, and at least 3.500 in the major, is eligible to write an honors thesis in Linguistics. Membership in the UNC Honors Program is not required.

What are the requirements and deadlines?
The following three PDF documents explain the requirements, deadlines, and process for writing an honors thesis in Linguistics. Please note that the planning process starts in your junior year.

For more information about the Linguistics major, please contact the undergraduate advisor.