Program Director: Prof. John McWhorter, 309 Hamilton; 212-854-3941;

Language is central to all human mental activity and communication. Linguistics investigates language in three ways: as a self-contained system of elements and rules of combination (sounds, words, grammar, syntax); as a component of culture and society; and as a cognitive and neurological operation of individuals.

Courses in linguistics acquaint students with the theoretical ideas, conceptual apparatus, and research techniques of the scientific study of language. Linguistics provides an intellectual context for students who enjoy learning languages and who are fascinated by the diversity of language; linguistics then intersects with a range of academic disciplines whose subject matter, in one way or another, involves language. For this reason, linguistics is valuable for students whose primary field of study is philosophy, anthropology, music, sociology, political science, psychology, computer science, or a national literature.

The small undergraduate program in linguistics at Columbia focuses on language usage and language diversity. Students in linguistics at Columbia have done original research in a range of topics: internet discourse (e.g., hashtag, Tumblr), grammar of Wakhi, code-switching (e.g., trilingual, KiSwahili text-messaging, Egyptian Arabic blogs), language attitudes, prototype theory and Latino identity, evidentiality in Quechua, and more.

Study Abroad

Undergraduates have engaged in unique travel and research projects, including sign language in Nicaragua; language attitudes in Kyrgyzstan; colloquial Arabic in Cairo; summer internship at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology; and study abroad in Spain, England, India, Hungary, and Ireland.

Graduate Study

Columbia's linguists have distinguished themselves with awards and plans after graduation, such as Fulbright Fellowships to France, Georgia, and Turkey; and graduate study of linguistics or psychology at Harvard, Stanford, UCSD, Northwestern, New York University, and SUNY Buffalo. Linguistics is also a natural background for the law, and our students have entered such law schools as Georgetown and Columbia.

There is no graduate program in linguistics at Columbia. Students interested in pursuing graduate study in linguistics in New York should investigate CUNY Graduate Center, New York University, or Teachers College (applied linguistics).

The Columbia Linguistics Society

The Columbia Linguistics Society is an organization of undergraduates interested in linguistics which sponsors lectures and hosts informal social events. Information is available at or through Facebook.

Affiliated Faculty

  • May Ahmar (Arabic; MESAAS)
  • Akeel Bilgrami (Philosophy)
  • Aaron Fox (Music)
  • Haim Gaifman (Philosophy)
  • Boris Gasparov (Slavic Languages)
  • Tiina Haapakoski (Finnish, Germanic Languages)
  • Julia Hirschberg (Computer Science)
  • Ana Paula Huback (Latin American and Iberian Studies)
  • Rina Kreitman (Hebrew; MESAAS)
  • Karen Lewis (Philosophy, Barnard)
  • Lening Liu (Chinese; East Asian Languages and Cultures)
  • David Lurie (Japanese; East Asian Languages and Cultures)
  • Kathleen McKeown (Computer Science)
  • John McWhorter (American Studies)
  • Yuan-Yuan Meng (Chinese; East Asian Languages and Cultures)
  • Michele Miozzo (Psychology)
  • Fumiko Nazikian (Japanese; East Asian Languages and Cultures)
  • Youssef Nouhi (Arabic; MESAAS)
  • Christopher Peacocke (Philosophy)
  • Owen Rambow (Center for Computational Learning Systems)
  • Robert Remez (Psychology, Barnard)
  • Francisco Rosales-Varo (Latin American and Iberian Studies)
  • Carol Rounds (Hungarian; Italian)
  • José Plácido Ruiz-Campillo (Latin American and Iberian Studies)
  • Richard Sacks (English and Comparative Literature)
  • Ann Senghas (Psychology, Barnard)
  • Mariame Sy (Wolof; Pulaar; MESAAS)
  • Alan Timberlake (Slavic Languages)
  • Zhirong Wang (Chinese; East Asian Languages and Cultures)

Special Concentration in Linguistics

The special concentration in linguistics is not sufficient for graduation in and of itself. It must be taken in conjunction with a major or a full concentration in another discipline.

For the special concentration, students must take 18 points in the linguistics program as follows:

  1. Three core courses in linguistics chosen from:

    LING W3101Introduction to Linguistics
    HNGR W3343Hungarian Descriptive Grammar
    ANTH V3906Functional Linguistics and Language Typology
    AMST W3930 (Section 5)Topics in American Studies: Media and Democracy: The 2016 Election
    LING W4108Language History
    LING W4120Language Documentation and Field Methods
    LING W4190Discourse and Pragmatics
    LING W4202Cognitive Linguistics
    LING G4206Advanced Grammar and Grammars
    LING W4376Phonetics and Phonology
    LING W4800Language and Society
    ENGL W4901History of the English Language
    LING W4903Syntax
  2. Two additional courses in either linguistics or in related fields chosen in consultation with the program director, in fields such as:

    History or structure of individual languages
    Chinese, Spanish, French, Russian, etc.
    ANTH V3044Symbolic Anthropology
    ANTH W4042Agent, Person, Subject, Self
    ANTH G6125Language, Culture and Power
    Computer Science
    COMS W3261Computer Science Theory
    COMS W4705Natural Language Processing
    COMS W4706Spoken Language Processing
    COMS E6998Topics in Computer Science
    FREN BC3011History of the French Language
    MUSI W4405Music and Language
    MSPS G4233Language and Music (Seminar)
    PHIL V3411Symbolic Logic
    PHIL V3685Philosophy of Language
    PHIL G4490Language and Mind
    PSYC W2440Language and the Brain
    PSYC W2450Behavioral Neuroscience
    PSYC W3265Auditory Perception (Seminar)
    PSYC BC3164Perception and Language
    PSYC BC3369Language Development
    PSYC W2215Cognition and the Brain
    SOCI G4030Sociology of Language
  3. One language course at the intermediate level (third-semester), separate from the general language requirement.

Students interested in a major in linguistics should consult with the director of undergraduate studies, John McWhorter (

In Fulfillment of the Language Requirement for Linguistics

The language taken in fulfillment of the linguistics requirement can be either an ancient or modern language, but should neither be the student’s native (or semi-native) language nor belong to one of the major groups of modern European languages (Germanic, Romance). In addition to the regularly taught courses listed under the Foreign Language Requirement, the following is a list of languages that have been offered at Columbia. See the list of languages offered through the Language Resource Center and consult with the program director about other languages to determine if they are acceptable for the linguistics language requirement.

  • Ancient Egyptian
  • Anglo-Saxon
  • Aramaic
  • Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian
  • Cantonese
  • Chagatay
  • Czech
  • Finnish
  • Georgian
  • Hindi
  • Hungarian
  • Indonesian
  • Irish
  • Kannada
  • Kazakh
  • Korean
  • Nahuatl
  • Nepali
  • Old Church Slavonic
  • Quechua
  • Persian
  • Polish
  • Pulaar
  • Romanian
  • Sumerian
  • Swahili
  • Syriac
  • Tajik
  • Tamil
  • Telugu
  • Ukrainian
  • Uzbek
  • Urdu
  • Vietnamese
  • Wolof
  • Zulu


LING W3101 Introduction to Linguistics. 3 points.

An introduction to the study of language from a scientific perspective. The course is divided into three units: language as a system (sounds, morphology, syntax, and semantics), language in context (in space, time, and community), and language of the individual (psycholinguistics, errors, aphasia, neurology of language, and acquisition). Workload: lecture, weekly homework, and final examination. 

Fall 2016: LING W3101
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 3101 001/75842 T Th 2:40pm - 3:55pm
Room TBA
John McWhorter 3 124

HNGR W3343 Hungarian Descriptive Grammar. 3 points.

This course is designed for those curious about the structure of Hungarian - an unusual language with a complex grammar quite different from English, or, indeed, any Indo -European language. The study of Hungarian, a language of the Finno-Ugric family, offers the opportunity to learn about the phonology of vowel harmony, the syntax of topic-comment discourse, verb agreement with subjects and objects, highly developed case systems and possessive nominal paradigms. In addition to its inflectional profile, Hungarian derivation possibilities are vast, combinatory, and playful. During the semester we will touch upon all the important grammatical aspects of Hungarian and discuss them in relation to general linguistic principles and discourse, and finally, through some text analysis, see them in action. Although the primary discussion will center on Hungarian, we will draw on comparisons to other Finno-Ugric languages, most notably Finnish and Komi; students are encouraged to draw on comparisons with their own languages of interest. No prerequisite. Counts as Core Linguistics.

Spring 2016: HNGR W3343
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HNGR 3343 001/14135 T Th 1:10pm - 2:25pm
408 Hamilton Hall
Carol Rounds 3 5

LING W3997 Supervised Individual Research. 2-4 points.

LING W3998 Supervised Individual Research. 2-4 points.

LING W4108 Language History. 3 points.

Prerequisites: LING W3101.

Language, like all components of culture, is structured and conventional, yet can nevertheless change over time. This course examines how language changes, firstly as a self-contained system that changes organically and autonomously, and secondly as contextualized habits that change in time, in space, and in communities. Workload: readings & discussion, weekly problems, and final examination.

LING W4120 Language Documentation and Field Methods. 3 points.

Prerequisites: LING W3101.

In light of the predicted loss of up to 90% of the world languages by the end of this century, it has become urgent that linguists take a more active role in documenting and conserving endangered languages. In this course, we will learn the essential skills and technology of language documentation through work with speakers of an endangered language.

Spring 2016: LING W4120
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 4120 001/62653 T Th 4:10pm - 5:25pm
511 Hamilton Hall
Teresa O'Neill 3 21

LING W4170 Language and Symbol: Semiotics of Speech, Literature, & Culture. 3 points.

Not offered during 2016-17 academic year.

Prerequisites: LING W3101 Introduction to Linguistics or a course on linguistic semantics, literary theory, or linguistic anthropology.

Reading and discussion of scholarly literature on various aspects of the meaning, structure, and functioning of signs in language, art, and society. All reading for the course is drawn from original scholarly literature, some of it of a specialized nature. At some points (for instance, while discussing dimensions of the linguistic signs, or parameters of structural poetics), theoretical reading will be supplemented by brief practical assignments.

LING W4171 Languages of Africa. 3 points.

Not offered during 2016-17 academic year.

The African continent is home not to simply a collection of similar "African dialects," but to at least 1000 distinct languages that belong to five language families, none of them any more closely related than English and its relatives are to Japanese. This includes the Semitic languages that emerged in the Middle East and are now most commonly associated with Arabic and Hebrew, the famous "click" languages of Southern Africa whose origins are still shrouded by mystery, and in the case of Malagasy on Madagascar, the Austronesian family of Southeast Asia and Oceania - the language traces to speakers who travelled over the ocean from Borneo to Africa. This course will examine languages in all of these families, with a focus on how they demonstrate a wide array of linguistic processes and how they interact with social history, anthropology, and geography.

Spring 2016: LING W4171
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 4171 001/15849 M W 11:40am - 12:55pm
717 Hamilton Hall
John McWhorter 3 36

LING W4190 Discourse and Pragmatics. 3 points.

Not offered during 2016-17 academic year.

Prerequisites: LING W3101.

How discourse works; how language is used: oral vs. written modes of language; the structure of discourse; speech acts and speech genres; the expression of power; authenticity; and solidarity in discourse, dialogicity, pragmatics, and mimesis.

LING W4202 Cognitive Linguistics. 3 points.

Not offered during 2016-17 academic year.

Prerequisites: LING W3101, previously or concurrently.

Reading and discussion of scholarly literature on the cognitive approach to language, including: usage-oriented approaches to language, frame semantics, construction grammar, theories of conceptual metaphor and mental spaces; alongside of experimental research on language acquisition, language memory, prototypical and analogous thinking, and the role of visual imagery in language processing.

LING W4376 Phonetics and Phonology. 3 points.

Prerequisites: LING W3101.

An investigation of the sounds of human language, from the perspective of phonetics (articulation and acoustics, including computer-aided acoustic analysis) and phonology (the distribution and function of sounds in individual languages). 

Fall 2016: LING W4376
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 4376 001/19814 T Th 10:10am - 11:25am
1219 International Affairs Bldg
Teresa O'Neill 3 30

LING W4444 In Search of Language: From Rousseau to Derrida. 3 points.

Not offered during 2016-17 academic year.

The course addresses fundamental ideas concerning the nature of linguistic meaning and communication as they evolved in modern times, from the Enlightenment to the contemporary critique of the modernist linguistic paradigm. Beginning with the polemic between Herder and Rousseau, the course then proceeds to Romantic philosophy of language (in particular, the role of Romantic philosophy in the emergence of historical linguistics and linguistic typology); Saussure, his structuralist interpreters and his critics; generative grammar as a philosophical concept; the notion of linguistic performativity and its philosophical implications; Bakhtin's heteroglossia; and the impact of the post-structuralist semiotic revolution (Barthes, Derrida) on the study of language.

LING W4800 Language and Society. 3 points.

How language structure and usage varies according to societal factors such as social history and socioeconomic factors, illustrated with study modules on language contact, language standardization and literacy, quantitative sociolinguistic theory, language allegiance, language, and power.

LING W4903 Syntax. 3 points.

Prerequisites: LING W3101.

Syntax - the combination of words - has been at the center of the Chomskyan revolution in Linguistics. This is a technical course which examines modern formal theories of syntax, focusing on later versions of generative syntax (Government and Binding) with secondary attention to alternative models (HPSG, Categorial Grammar). 

LING G4206 Advanced Grammar and Grammars. 3 points.

Prerequisites: LING W3101.

An investigation of the possible types of grammatical phenomena (argument structure, tense/aspect/mood, relative clauses, classifiers, and deixis). This typological approach is enriched by the reading of actual grammars of languages from Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas.

Fall 2016: LING G4206
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 4206 001/63851 T 6:10pm - 8:00pm
Room TBA
Alan Timberlake 3 15

Of Related Interest

Anthropology (Barnard)
ANTH V1009Introduction to Language and Culture
ANTH V3044Symbolic Anthropology
ANTH V1009Introduction to Language and Culture
ANTH V3906Functional Linguistics and Language Typology
ANTH V3947Text, Magic, Performance
ANTH W4042Agent, Person, Subject, Self
Computer Science
COMS W3261Computer Science Theory
COMS W4705Natural Language Processing
East Asian Languages and Cultures
CHNS W3301
 - CHNS W3302
Introduction To Classical Chinese I
   and Introduction To Classical Chinese II
CHNS W4019History of Chinese Language
French (Barnard)
FREN BC3011History of the French Language
HNGR W3343Hungarian Descriptive Grammar
PHIL V3252Philosophy of Language and Mind
PHIL V3411
 - PHIL G4415
Symbolic Logic
   and Symbolic Logic
Psychology (Barnard)
PSYC BC3164Perception and Language
PSYC BC3369Language Development
Slavic Languages
SLLN G4005Introduction to Old Church Slavonic
Spanish and Latin American Cultures (Barnard)
SPAN BC3382Languages in Contact: Sociolinguistic Aspects of U. S. Spanish
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
SPAN W3563Spanish Pragmatics: What Do We Do When We Speak Spanish?