Interdisciplinary Program in Linguistics

What is Linguistics?

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It studies both the structure and the use of language. Language is a universal human characteristic. All human languages share some traits, while diverging in particulars. Linguists may describe both universal and specific traits of language and of languages. This knowledge can be applied to a broad spectrum of problems from bilingual education to artificial intelligence, second language learning to conflict resolution.

Areas of study

Linguistics is a broad field. The main subdisciplines listed by the Linguistic Society of America are: writing, grammar, linguistic diversity, language and the brain, prescriptivism, linguistics and literature, slips of the tongue, the sounds of speech, computers and language, machine translation, meaning (pragmatics and semantics), neurolinguistics, history of linguistics, language and thought, discourse analysis, language variation and change, applied linguistics, multilingualism, languages in contact, sociolinguistics, and endangered languages. We cover all these topics in our survey course, the Nature of Language. We offer specialized courses in all but two of these topics: linguistics and literature, and slips of the tongue.

Program profile

Linguistics as a field of study came to Tulane in 1946 with the establishment of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the hiring of Drs. Munro Edmonson and Fredrick Koenig therein. Their course offerings in Mesoamerican language and culture, language and gender, and language as behavior were soon augmented by courses in Sanskrit and ancient languages of the Near East, which were given LING prefixes and listed as Humanities courses. Marshall Durbin, who joined the faculty in 1965, was the first faculty member hired to teach only linguistics classes. When the Anthropology Department separated from Sociology in 1969, Linguistics was firmly established as one of the four fields forming the core of the discipline. Linguistics, while still taught as a sub-discipline within Anthropology, established an independent major within the Newcomb College and a co-ordinate major within the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S). Faculty members from eleven departments cooperated in offering courses within this major. With the merger of the faculties of Newcomb and A&S, the Linguistics Program was evaluated and ratified as an independent major for all students regardless of gender. Since the conception of the Interdisciplinary PhD Program at Tulane, students opted to construct degree programs centered on Linguistics. In the period from 1982 to 2009, we graduated an average of one student every three years. Under the Renewal Plan, we were awarded an independent PhD program, with stipend support for three students each year. Our first cohort graduated this year (2015).

The program continues to strengthen. We currently have twenty-two participating faculty members in eleven departments across the campus participating in the undergraduate program. The following departments participate in teaching and advising: Anthropology, Computer Science, French, Philosophy, Psychology, and Spanish and Portuguese.

Additional resources

We offer a number of less taught languages: Yucatec Maya (modern and classical), Kaqchikel Maya (modern and classical), Nahuatl (modern and classical), Cajun French, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Hungarian, Swahili, Yoruba and Kechwa.

We have a strong library collection on Latin America, with texts in many American Indian languages as well as in Spanish and Portuguese. Our Rare Book collections contain untranslated texts that offer excellent resources for research. The Stone Center for Latin American Scholars offers students opportunities to get to the field for summer and more sustained study. The Cuban and Caribbean Studies Institute has recently begun an initiative for scholarly interchange with, and study programs in Cuba. Louisiana itself is linguistically rich and the Louisiana Collection provides access to local resource materials. The Amistad Center also offers unique collections, as does the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women.