Our program's goal is to train students in the scientific study of the human mental capacity for language. Successful study in this area investigates the syntactic, phonological and semantic/pragmatic properties of the language systems that humans naturally acquire, and asks what kind of underlying mental capacity is implicated by these properties.

Our program emphasizes the place of this field of study among the cognitive sciences, and provides coursework and individual advising to prepare students to engage with and produce research in the field.

I first decided to go to graduate school for Linguistics for two main reasons: first, because I'd been interested in languages ever since childhood, and second, because I'd been working as a Russian interpreter for about six years by the time I applied for the program. This experience in particular gave me the chance to work closely with speakers of many different languages, and helped spur my interest in language and Linguistics as a discipline. I hadn't had any prior experience with Linguistics, at least in any formal sense, and although at times this made me feel like I had a lot of catching up to do, I actually feel like I got past that pretty quickly, thanks in large part to the extremely welcoming, helpful atmosphere in the department. I really felt comfortable asking questions, and this meant that I was able to make quick progress.

Zachary Lorang, alumnus

Our MA and PhD program requirements involve four major components:

  • The majority of the early coursework is aimed at providing students with foundational knowledge of the field’s major discoveries, literacy in current theoretical frameworks, and an ability to think critically about the relationship between empirical findings and theoretical proposals. This initial component of the program’s coursework is organized into a general introductory course plus more specific courses on phonology, syntax and semantics.
  • Field methods classes are intended to familiarize students with ways to conduct research that is informed by the aforementioned foundational knowledge.
  • Coursework outside of linguistics equips students with some familiarity with neighboring or related disciplines. The objective is that this should benefit students’ research by allowing them to either import skills and techniques that can complement the usual array encountered in linguistics, or better articulate and address research questions that touch on the way linguistics connects with other cognitive sciences.
  • Seminars and topics courses are intended to provide a setting where students can pursue deeper knowledge of specific areas of inquiry and move into original research. Close supervision by individual faculty advisors in the later stages of the programs, in combination with paper-writing workshops, provides the final fine-tuning of students’ research-related skills.

Besides the formal required components of the program, students develop skills in abstract writing, conference presentation, manuscript preparation for publication in conference proceedings, journals or book volumes in the field through coursework, workshops, faculty mentorship, as well as participation in department and interdisciplinary reading groups and departmental talk series. Students also develop skills in communicating to an audience of non-experts when applying for grants/fellowship funding, guided by their faculty mentor.

Students gain instructional competency through an apprenticeship model, as they work as a Teaching Assistant, with mentorship from the faculty member whose course they TA for.

I decided to join the UMN Linguistics program because of the department’s good reputation and the potential for an advisor with a specialty that interested me. The professors are also very invested in their students and encourage independent research and success rather than assisting the professors’ research.

Alexander, alumnus