Linguistics

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Prof. Meredith Landman, ml4263@columbia.edu 
Program Director: Prof. John McWhorter, jm3156@columbia.edu

In any discussion of linguistics, in popular or academic contexts, the first question is always, what is linguistics, after all?  This is remarkable. Language informs most of our mental and cultural activity, and linguistics is the just study of language.  

Linguistics, especially since the 1960s, has become a highly multifarious, and even sprawling, field of inquiry. This requires that a major acquaint students with a number of subfields, all of which are crucial to understanding what modern linguistic analysis is about, and foster interdisciplinary inquiry as well. To wit, the person with a basic foundation in what constitutes linguistic study in our times (including realistic training for graduate study if desired) understands: 

a)  the basics of grammatical analysis in terms of sounds and sentence structure 
b)  how languages change over time 
c)  the mechanics of how languages express meaning and implication 
d)  the details and nuances of how language is used in social space 
e)  the ways and extent to which the world's 7000 languages differ from one another 
f)  the relationship between language and cognition writ large 

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).

Affiliated Faculty

  • May Ahmar (Arabic; MESAAS)
  • Akeel Bilgrami (Philosophy)
  • Aaron Fox (Music)
    Melissa Fusco (Philosophy)
  • Haim Gaifman (Philosophy)
  • Boris Gasparov (Slavic Languages)
    E. Mara Green, (Anthropolgy, Barnard)
  • Tiina Haapakoski (Finnish, Germanic Languages)
  • Julia Hirschberg (Computer Science)
  • Ana Paula Huback (Latin American and Iberian Studies)
  • Rina Kreitman (Hebrew; MESAAS)
    Meredith Landman (Slavic Languages)
  • Karen Lewis (Philosophy, Barnard)
  • Lening Liu (Chinese; East Asian Languages and Cultures)
    Reyes Llopis-Garcia (Latin American and Iberian 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)
    John Phan (East Asian Languages and Cultures)
  • 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)
    Una Stojnic (Philosophy)
  • Mariame Sy (Wolof; Pulaar; MESAAS)
    Herbert Terrace (Psychology)
  • Alan Timberlake (Slavic Languages)
  • Zhirong Wang (Chinese; East Asian Languages and Cultures)

Major in Linguistics

The complete major requirement – totaling 38 points – is the following:

1.LING UN3101 Introduction to Linguistics

2. LING GU4376 Phonetics and Phonology 

3. LING GU4903 Syntax 

4. One course from four out of five themes (12 pts. total):

a) Language in time
Content: Historical linguistics, as in how grammars transform over time (such as the development of Modern from Old English) in terms of sounds, structures, and meaning

LING GU4108 Language History 
ENGL GU4901 History of the English Language
CHNS GU4019 History of Chinese Language

b) Language in context
Content: How language varies in structure and usage according to sociological factors such as gender, class, race, power and culture

LING GU4800 Language and Society
LING UN3102 Endangered Languages in the Global City: Lang, Culture, and Migration in Contempary NYC
ANTH UN1009 Introduction to Language and Culture
ANTH GR6067 Language and Its Limits (graduate seminar open to undergraduates)
AMST UN3931 Topics in American Studies
AMST UN3931 Topics in American Studies
SPAN GU4010 LANGUAGE CROSSING IN LATINX CARIBBEAN CULTURAL PRODUCTION
SPAN BC3382 Languages in Contact: Sociolinguistic Aspects of U. S. Spanish (taught in Spanish)

c) Language diversity
Content: How languages differ from one another and in which ways; especially valuable in this module are a) Field Methods, eliciting the vocabulary and structure of a lesser documented language by questioning a native speaker, in the fashion of professional linguists, b) courses focusing on the structure of individual languages

LING GU4206 Advanced Grammar and Grammars  
LING GU4120 Language Documentation and Field Methods
LING GU4171 Languages of Africa
HNGR UN3343 Hungarian Descriptive Grammar

d) Language and meaning
Content: semantics, philosophy of language, cognitive linguistics, natural language processing

LING GU4190 Discourse and Pragmatics
PHIL UN2685 Introduction to Philosophy of Language
SPAN GR5450 A COGNITIVE LINGUISTICS ACCOUNT OF LANGUAGE
SPAN GU4030 Spanish Pragmatics (taught in Spanish)

e) Psychology and biology of language
Content: psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, language genesis. This is especially important given the burgeoning research on the actual structural representation of language in the brain, as well as increasingly influential proposals that ground language in larger thought processes (as opposed to the Chomskyan proposal that language is, to a considerable extent, generated via exclusive cognitive mechanisms).

PSYC BC3164 Perception and Language
PSYC GU4232 Production and Perception of Language
PSYC BC3369 Language Development
PSYC GU4242 Evolution of Language (Seminar) (graduate seminar open to undergraduates)
PSYC GU4272 Advanced Seminar in Language Development

4. One elective course (3 pts.) from either a) one of the themes, or b) a linguistics-related course from another department subject to approval from the program. This option will allow students to either sample more widely or specialize somewhat in a subarea of linguistics that has come to interest them. 

5. Senior thesis (two semesters, 3 pts. per semester)

6. Two courses at the intermediate level (8 pts.), in addition to the general foreign language requirement.
 

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 23 points in the linguistics program as follows:

1. Three core courses in linguistics chosen from:

LING UN3101 Introduction to Linguistics
LING UN3102 Endangered Languages in the Global City: Lang, Culture, and Migration in Contempary NYC
HNGR UN3343 Hungarian Descriptive Grammar
ANTH UN3906 Functional Linguistics and Language Typology
LING GU4108 Language History
LING GU4120 Language Documentation and Field Methods
LING GU4171 Languages of Africa
LING GU4190 Discourse and Pragmatics
LING GU4202 Cognitive Linguistics
LING GU4206 Advanced Grammar and Grammars
LING GU4376 Phonetics and Phonology
LING GU4800 Language and Society
LING GU4903 Syntax

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.

Anthropology:
ANTH UN1009 Introduction to Language and Culture
ANTH UN3044 Symbolic Anthropology
ANTH GU4042 Agent, Person, Subject, Self
ANTH GR6067 Language and Its Limits
ANTH GR6125 Language, Culture, and Power

Chinese:
CHNS GU4018 Readings In Modern Chinese II (W) (Level 4)

Computer Science:
COMS UN3261 Computer Science Theory
COMS GU4705 Natural Language Processing
COMS GU4706 Spoken Language Processing
COMS GR6998 Topics in Computer Science

Comparative Literature & Society:
CPLS GU4111 World Philology

French:
FREN BC3011 History of the French Language

Music:
MUSI GU4405 Music and Language
MSPS GU4233 Language and Music (Semiar)

Philosophy:
PHIL UN2685 Introduction to Philosophy of Language
PHIL UN3411 Symbolic Logic
PHIL UN3685 Philosophy of Language
PHIL GU4490 LANGUAGE AND MIND

Psychology:
PSYC UN2215 Cognition and the Brain
PSYC UN2440: Language and the Brain
PSYC UN2450 Behavioral Neuroscience
PSYC BC3164 Perception and Language
PSYC UN3265 Auditory Perception (Seminar)
PSYC BC3369 Language Development
PSYC GU4232 Production and Perception of Language
PSYC GU4272 Advanced Seminar in Language Development

Spanish:
SPAN BC3382 Languages in Contact: Sociolinguistic Aspects of U. S. Spanish
SPAN GU4010 LANGUAGE CROSSING IN LATINX CARIBBEAN CULTURAL PRODUCTION
SPAN GU4030 Spanish Pragmatics
SPAN GR5450 A COGNITIVE LINGUISTICS ACCOUNT OF LANGUAGE

Sociology:
SOCI GU4030 Sociology of Language

3. One language course at the intermediate level (third-semester), separate from the general language requirement.

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

Linguistics

LING UN3101 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 2019: LING UN3101
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 3101 001/53924 T Th 2:40pm - 3:55pm
301 Pupin Laboratories
John McWhorter 3 147/185

LING UN3102 Endangered Languages in the Global City: Lang, Culture, and Migration in Contempary NYC. 3 points.

CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement

Of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages – representing migrations and historical developments thousands of years old – the majority are oral, little-documented, and increasingly endangered under the onslaught of global languages like English. This course will take the unprecedented, paradoxical linguistic capital of New York City as a lens for examining how immigrants form communities in a new land, how those communities are integrated into the wider society, and how they grapple with linguistic and cultural loss. Interdisciplinary with an experiential learning component, the course will focus on texts, materials, encounters, and fieldwork with three of the city’s newest and least-studied indigenous immigrant communities (indigenous Latin Americans, Himalayans, and Central Asians).

Indigeneity, though often invisible or perceived as marginal in global cities like New York, is in fact pervasive and fundamental. Cities now constitute a crucial site for understanding migration and cultural change, with language a vehicle for culture. Studying cultures only in situ (i.e. in their homelands) risks missing a crucial dimension. Students will be immersed in stateless, oral, immigrant cultures while also gaining a hands-on critical understanding of language endangerment and urban sociolinguistic research, first through field experiences and guest speakers (Endangered Language Alliance partners) and then by going out together into communities to work on projects in small teams.

The Endangered Language Alliance (ELA), where the instructor is Co-Director, was formed as a non-profit research institute in 2010 as a forum for researchers, community members, activists, artists, and other New Yorkers to come together to support indigenous and minority languages. ELA’s video recordings provide first-hand testimony of endangered languages in the global city – in indigenous languages with English translation – available in few other places. Those texts will be central to this course, supplemented by the new,first-ever, detailed language map of New York City being produced by ELA.

Fall 2019: LING UN3102
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 3102 001/10171 M W 4:10pm - 5:25pm
318 Hamilton Hall
Ross Perlin 3 24/22

HNGR UN3343 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 2020: HNGR UN3343
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HNGR 3343 001/12708 Th 4:10pm - 5:25pm
501 Hamilton Hall
Carol Rounds 3 6/18
HNGR 3343 001/12708 T 4:10pm - 5:25pm
518 Hamilton Hall
Carol Rounds 3 6/18

LING UN3997 Supervised Individual Research. 2-4 points.

LING UN3998 Supervised Individual Research. 2-4 points.

Supervised Individual Research

Spring 2020: LING UN3998
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 3998 001/12022  
John McWhorter, Meredith Landman 2-4 8/10

LING GU4108 Language History. 3 points.

Prerequisites: LING UN3101

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.

Fall 2019: LING GU4108
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 4108 001/53926 T Th 1:10pm - 2:25pm
423 Kent Hall
Meredith Landman 3 12/15

LING GU4120 Language Documentation and Field Methods. 3 points.

Prerequisites: LING UN3101

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 2020: LING GU4120
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 4120 001/12007 T Th 1:10pm - 2:25pm
Room TBA
Meredith Landman 3 12/12

LING GU4170 Language and Symbol: Semiotics of Speech, Literature, & Culture. 3 points.

Not offered during 2019-20 academic year.

Prerequisites: LING UN3101 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 GU4171 Languages of Africa. 3 points.

Not offered during 2019-20 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.

LING GU4172 The Structure of Cambodian. 3 points.

Like every other language, Cambodian is totally  unique in some respects (these are of interest only to the language learner), and  a representative human language in others (these are of interest to all students of language).  Thus, for example, like every written language, Cambodian  will  exhibit diglossia: the grammar  and the vocabulary  of the written language will differ from that of the  spoken language.  It is also a member of a language family, known as Austroasiatic, whose members are spoken from NE India through Malaysia, Myanmar,  and Indochina. In addition, Cambodian is a structural representative of a given type of language spoken throughout mainland Southeast Asia. That is, in many respects, the structure of Cambodian is similar to those of Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, as well as Hmong.  In the “Far West” of SE Asia, are spoken other languages, among  them Burmese, Mon,  and Karen, which  are still similar, but less so.  All of these languages are isolating, monosyllabic languages.  Of the languages just listed, only Vietnamese and Mon are genetically related to Cambodian.   Finally, in its orthography and lexicon, Cambodian has borrowed so extensively from Indic languages, that all literate speakers  have a considerable background in practical etymology, and recognize borrowings from , say, Pali, as English speakers generally do not recognize borrowings from Norman French or Latin or Greek. Since the Indic languages belong  to Indoeuropean, some unexpected words in Cambodian  (e.g. niam ,smaeu )  will turn out to have English cognates (like name, same).


Your goal in this course is not to acquire a speaking knowledge of Khmer. (For that you would need a pedagogical grammar,  a native-speaker instructor, and hours and hours of practice in the lab and in the classroom.)  It is rather to understand from a linguist’s point of view what it is that makes this language a typical language of this part of the world.   We  will be working  through a reference grammar of the language together.  You  are  each also going to ‘adopt’ another mainland SE Asian language for purposes of comparison, to experience for yourself  what it means for a language to be a member of a linguistic alliance or Sprachbund. You may select your own ‘pet’ language, and your assignment will then be to ‘master’  this language in the same way that you have ‘mastered’ Khmer. 

LING GU4190 Discourse and Pragmatics. 3 points.

Prerequisites: LING UN3101

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.

Spring 2020: LING GU4190
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 4190 001/15992 M 8:10am - 10:00am
Room TBA
John Wright 3 21/22

LING GU4202 Cognitive Linguistics. 3 points.

Prerequisites: LING UN3101 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 GU4206 Advanced Grammar and Grammars. 3 points.

Prerequisites: LING UN3101 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 in which gramatical descriptions are read with an eye to important notional concepts of grammar: reference and categorization, case and role of arguments with predicates (ergativity), tense/aspect/mood. Discussion of meaning is combined with attention to expression (that is, morphology), which yanks our attention towards language change (grammaticalization).

Spring 2020: LING GU4206
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 4206 001/12008 M 12:10pm - 2:00pm
Room TBA
Alan Timberlake 3 17/22

LING GU4376 Phonetics and Phonology. 3 points.

Prerequisites: LING UN3101

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). 

Spring 2020: LING GU4376
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 4376 001/12006 T Th 10:10am - 11:25am
Room TBA
Meredith Landman 3 22/22

LING GU4444 In Search of Language: From Rousseau to Derrida. 0-3 points.

Not offered during 2019-20 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 GU4800 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.

Spring 2020: LING GU4800
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 4800 001/12009 M W 2:40pm - 3:55pm
Room TBA
William Foley 3 45/60

LING GU4903 Syntax. 3 points.

Prerequisites: LING UN3101

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). 

Fall 2019: LING GU4903
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
LING 4903 001/53925 T Th 10:10am - 11:25am
424 Pupin Laboratories
Meredith Landman 3 19/18