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Linguistics

Welcome to the Linguistics subject page at King’s! Here you will find an overview of Linguistics (the scientific study of language) at King’s, the Cambridge Linguistics course (or 'Tripos'), the people who teach and research in Linguistics at King’s, and information about applying for an undergraduate place at King’s.

Studying Linguistics

Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta stone (196 B.C.)

Linguistics gives you a host of valuable intellectual skills, including analytic reasoning and argumentation, and learning how to study language scientifically. This means making insightful observations, formulating and testing clear hypotheses, making arguments and drawing conclusions, and communicating findings to a wider community.

Linguistics graduates are well equipped for a wide range of career trajectories. Some go on to postgraduate studies in areas such as anthropology, biology, cognitive science, computer science, linguistics, mathematics, music, medicine, philosophy, and psychology. Many find fruitful employment in the real world, in areas as diverse as acting, composing, writing and publishing, programming (speech recognition, speech synthesis, search engines, artificial intelligence), interpreting and translating, espionage, forensics, speech therapy, education (school teaching, English as a Second Language, foreign language teaching, and so on), and standardised testing, as well as such generally popular careers as law, banking, the civil service, and management consultancy.

King’s has a rich tradition in Linguistics

King's was home to a pioneering Linguistics research project in its Research Centre and has produced a long string of graduates who went on to become world-famous professors of linguistics, such as:

  • Daniel Jones, founder of the International Phonetic Association and author of the classic English Pronouncing Dictionary, considered by many to be the greatest phonetician of the modern era;
  • Peter Trudgill, who conducted a pioneering sociolinguistic study of Norwich, identified the phenomenon of covert prestige, and demonstrated that an important class of linguistic innovations is spearheaded by middle-class women;
  • Bernard Comrie, the world’s leading expert on language typology and universals;
  • Edward Keenan, Professor of Linguistics, UCLA;
  • Caroline Heycock, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh;
  • Nigel Fabb, Professor of Literary Linguistics, University of Strathclyde.

King’s was the first Cambridge college to appoint a Fellow in Linguistics (who also happens to be Undergraduate Coordinator for the Department of Linguistics). It features the largest community of undergraduate and postgraduate linguists of any Cambridge college, as well as speakers of a wide variety of languages.

King's College Library is available 24/7 and provides a very pleasant environment to work in College (see the virtual tour). Students at King's also have very easy access to the Linguistics department just a few minutes' walk away in the Raised Faculty Building on the Sidgwick Site (shown by the red marker on this map), as well as  the University Library at the back of King's (by the Garden Hostels), and the centre of town and shops etc. if you go out the front of the College.

The Cambridge Linguistics Tripos

The Linguistics Tripos (Tripos = course) is divided into a one-year Part I and a two-year Part II. Part I, in which you follow four lecture series, provides a foundation across a wide range of linguistics taught within the Department of Linguistics. Part II allows you to specialise in the areas which particularly interest you, and in Parts IIA and IIB (years two and three) there is a wide choice of lectures taught within and beyond the Department, the latter including the linguistics of particular languages. Part IIB includes an element of individual research as you write a dissertation on a topic of your choice. For a full list of course options (called ‘papers’ in Cambridge) see the Department website.

Linguistics papers typically consist of nineteen hours of lectures spread over three terms, augmented by eight hours of supervisions (three in the autumn (Michaelmas) term, four in the winter (Lent) term, and one in the spring (Easter) term). Most students are supervised in groups of one or two students; individual supervisions involve a mix of working through data sets, discussing assigned 1500-word essays, and pursuing points of interest or confusion from the lectures.

King’s Fellows with linguistic interests

Robert Foley

Robert Foley (Human Evolutionary Studies); linguistics in relation to human diversity, evolution, and dispersals.

David Good

David Good (Psychology) is interested in how our understanding of human communication can contribute to the design and use of new informational and communication technologies, as well as the role of social factors in the evolution of language and intelligence.

Stephen Hugh-Jones

Stephen Hugh-Jones (Anthropology); Amerindian languages, ethnography of speaking, language structure / semantics, ethnolinguistics

Yasir Suleiman

Yasir Suleiman (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies); linguistic and cultural politics of the Middle East, Arabic grammatical theory.

Simone Teufel

Simone Teufel (Computer Laboratory); use of Natural Language Parsing techniques for web-based applications.

Bert Vaux

Bert Vaux (Director of Studies); University Lecturer in Linguistics and Undergraduate Coordinator for the Department of Linguistics, specialises in phonology, morphology, (English, Armenian, and Abkhaz) dialectology, and (Indo-European and Turkic) historical linguistics. His research focuses on using historical, geographic, and idiolectal nanovariation in phonological and lexical structure to investigate the nature of the human language faculty and general animal cognition.

We typically have four to five graduate students at King’s as well; our current students are pursuing research ranging from Korean prosody to the semantics of irony to phonological theory.

Applying to study Linguistics at King’s

There are no particular subject requirements, since the field covers such a wide range of intellectual pursuits. However, students may find it helpful to have studied one or more of the following: English Language, Maths, any science, any foreign language. Students who end up loving the Linguistics Tripos tend also to be interested in music, maths, and/or languages. Further general advice is available in our Subject Matters leaflet.

Within King’s, we are looking for students who are fascinated by human language and linguistic structure: how it develops in children and across generations; how it varies across dialect and language boundaries; how and where it is processed in the mind. It is important to move beyond ‘I’ve always loved languages’ and to be able to think and talk analytically and creatively about linguistic questions (such as ‘in what linguistic positions does British English delete and insert r?’ or ‘why does the double plural “mice traps” work, but “rats traps” doesn’t?’ ).

The application process is explained on our how to apply page, which we advise you to read thoroughly. Once candidates have applied through UCAS, most will be asked to come to Cambridge for an interview with the Director of Studies in Linguistics and another member of the department staff. Linguistics does not require students to take any special exams before their interview, but they may be called upon to apply their analytical skills to data from an unknown language during the course of the interview.

We welcome applicants who look able to meet our entrance requirements from all kinds of schools all over the world. King’s admits between one and two undergraduates to study Linguistics in each year, though we have no firm subject quotas.

Reading, resources and events

Further Information

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Bert Vaux, the Director of Studies for Linguistics (bv230@cam.ac.uk) or King's Admissions Office (undergraduate.admissions@kings.cam.ac.uk).

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