Invitation to Linguistics

The capacity to use and understand language is common to all human beings, and it is also a unique attribute of our species. Language plays a crucial role in human activity of all kinds, yet we tend to take it for granted precisely because it is so central and fundamental to our humanity. Surprisingly few people have a scientific or academic understanding of language and language capacity, or even recognize the importance of such knowledge. Linguistics as an academic subject is nowhere to be found in the secondary school curriculum. Perhaps as a result, myths about language abound.

“Japanese is an illogical language compared with English.”

“The Japanese are poor communicators because in Japanese the all-important verb comes at the end of the sentence.”

“Uncivilized peoples speak primitive languages.”

“Not only human beings but other animals, such as apes and dolphins, possess language as well.”

All of these frequently heard assertions are either dubious or completely false. But to understand why they are incorrect and explain it in one’s own words requires a certain amount of academic training. It requires the ability to analyze any language objectively using a common set of tools. And the discipline that provides those tools is linguistics. A basic understanding of linguistics is essential to anyone who wishes to discuss language intelligently.

Once a student has acquired a basic scientific understanding of human language, the possibilities for further study are as varied and fascinating as language itself, ranging from more advanced studies in linguistics itself to the study of speech-language-hearing disorders. Students who have progressed to this level may be inspired to delve further into the way the human brain processes and produces language. But language also extends outside the human mind and links one individual to another. Because of this important social function, language is inextricably involved in culture, history, economics, education, politics, ethnicity, and other aspects of human society. The intersection between linguistics and these fields constitutes an important component of the Linguistics curriculum. Students gain a whole new level of insight into questions they touched on only superficially in high school: how people acquire their first (native) language, how one learns a second (foreign) language, the relationship between their language of specialization and their native language, the relationships between various foreign languages (what principles they have in common, how they differ), and more. They can also learn such practical skills as translation and interpreting, along with their theoretical underpinnings.

What makes linguistics so special is its ability to astonish and delight. It astonishes us with realizations that defy conventional wisdom (or prejudices) and delights us with a new and multifaceted way of thinking that expands and deepens our view of the world and humanity. Choose Linguistics as your concentration and experience this delight and astonishment for yourself.

Academic Aims of the Linguistics Concentration

The purpose of the Linguistics concentration is to further the study of language and linguistics with the following aims in mind.

1. To better understand the nature of the human psyche (the workings of the human mind) through a scientific study of the language ability with which all human beings are endowed.

2. To contemplate the universality and diversity of language through empirical and descriptive research into Japanese and other languages.

3. To examine the wide-ranging function and role of language in human life, including society, history, culture, and education.

Curriculum of the Linguistics Concentration

In the Linguistics concentration, students begin by completing introductory courses that provide the necessary foundation for more advanced study and research in language and linguistics. After that, they enroll in a selection of core courses, where they learn about various branches of linguistics and language study. In our seminars, open to third- and fourth years, students choose a research topic of their own, explore it independently, and write up the results in the form of a graduation thesis. As they progress from introductory courses to core courses, seminars, and finally graduation research, students from all departments are able to make use of their familiarity with the principles of their language of specialization and their native language to probe the universal principles that transcend individual languages and gain insights into what makes us human.

Introductory Courses

Students who wish to graduate with a concentration in Linguistics are required to complete at least six credits of coursework in the introductory courses of their choice, beginning as early as year one. In these courses, students acquire the basic knowledge needed to pursue the scientific study of language, including the nature of the mechanism linking sound and meaning, the branches of and various approaches to linguistics, and the fundamental aspects of linguistic universality and diversity.

Selected Course Offerings :

(Courses followed by an [E] are taught in English) 
Introduction to Linguistics
Introduction to Japanese Linguistics
Introduction to the Study of Language [E]
Introduction to Applied Linguistics

Core Courses

Having established a basic framework for study in the concentration’s introductory courses, students are ready to begin taking our more advanced core courses from their second year on. The concentration offers more than 120 core courses on a wide range of subjects pertaining to language and linguistics. These courses are divided broadly into four domains: Theoretical Linguistics, Applied Linguistics, Speech-Language-Hearing Disorders, and Translation & Interpreting. Depending on their interests, students may choose either to dig deeply into one area or broaden their horizons by taking courses in several domains. Theoretical Linguistics, which deals with the structure and function of human language, comprises a variety of courses that delve into such core elements of language as phonology (sound), grammar, and semantics (meaning). Applied Linguistics covers subjects pertaining to the role and function of language in society, the empirical study of foreign-language learning and teaching methods, computer processing of human language, and more. Courses in Speech-Language-Hearing Disorders deal with impairments affecting the ability of children and adults to communicate through language. And Translation & Interpreting courses build practical skills in these professional fields together with an understanding of the underlying principles.

Selected Course Offerings :

Grammatical Theory
Introduction to Language Processing
Introduction to Communication Disorders
Translation Theory
Introduction to Interpreting

Seminar Courses

The seminars offered to third- and fourth-year Linguistics concentration students are grouped into the same four domains as the core courses. In seminars, students choose and pursue their own research topics based on their individual interests and awareness of the issues, instead of passively absorbing information, as in lecture classes. They read widely on their subject, gather pertinent data, analyze the information, interpret the results, and ultimately write up their findings in a graduation thesis. In this way seminars are both a summation of the college experience and an opportunity for students to leave behind a concrete testament to what they have learned in the Linguistics concentration.

Selected Course Offerings :

Seminar in Japanese Linguistics
Seminar in Foreign Language Education
Seminar in Communication Disorders
Seminar in Translation Theory