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What is Linguistics?

Linguistics SeminarThe field of linguistics explores the nature of languages, seeking to describe what human languages are like, how languages develop and change, and how people learn and use language.

Linguistics is a problem-solving oriented discipline, sharing much with the sciences. It is the study of how languages are structured, how they are used, and how they change through time.

Unlike courses in a language, where the point is to gain an automatic, unconscious ability to use the language, courses in linguistics attempt to develop a fully explicit, scientific theory of how language works. Linguistics thus offers a unique combination of humanistic and scientific concerns.


Since language is central to so many arenas of human endeavor, the study of linguistics makes substantial contact with a number of disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, including:

As a result of its diversity, linguistics offers exciting fields of study for students with varied inclinations and backgrounds, so long as they have a deep intellectual curiosity about language.

Questions Addressed by Linguistics

Among the questions addressed by linguistics are the following:

The Department of Linguistics offers courses on these and related topics. For additional information about studying linguistics, see the LSA guide Why Major in Linguistics? and these FAQs.