What makes the Cambridge Linguistics course so special?

The Cambridge Linguistics programmes (Tripos and MPhil) offer a wide range of courses in theoretical and applied linguistics, frequently taught by internationally recognised experts in the field. There is a strong research culture, fostered by many interesting externally funded projects and various research groups, for example in phonetics, syntax, semantics and pragmatics, and psycholinguistics. Very well equipped phonetics and psycholinguistics laboratories are also an attraction. Both the Linguistics Tripos and the MPhil receive excellent reports from External Examiners, praising the breadth of the courses and the lecturers’ skill in making cutting-edge views accessible to beginners.

For detailed information on the available papers and the structure of the course please consult the website of the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics.

Students can further pursue their interests in Linguistics by embarking on a one-year MPhil course in Linguistics and progressing to a PhD. Consult the Department website (see above) for details.

There is a strong postgraduate linguistics community at Cambridge, consisting of two MPhil programmes in Linguistics and a large number of PhD students who meet at various research groups, reading groups, and subject-specific societies such as Cambridge Linguistics Society and Cambridge Institute for Language Research.

Why choose Newnham for Linguistics?

Newnham College has a long tradition of fostering research in Linguistic Theory through providing ‘in-house’ care in the form of directing studies and subject-related advice – an advantage that not many colleges can boast of. We have strong links with the Modern & Medieval Languages (MML) Faculty through having three Fellows who are also University Teaching Officers at the Faculty (see below). There are also a number of College Fellows with interests in specific languages in the Faculties of Classics and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. The Library is frequently praised by students for being excellently equipped for linguistic study. There is a strong MML community in the College, both on the undergraduate and postgraduate level. Newnham also hosts various linguistics seminars and conferences, for example Semantics and Philosophy in Europe 2015, as well as a research project in linguistics Expressing the Self: Cultural Diversity and Cognitive Universals, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

How many students take Linguistics at Newnham and what options can they choose?

Newnham aims to admit two or three students a year to study the full degree course in Linguistics.

Linguistics is divided into a one-year Part I and a two-year Part II, subdivided into Parts IIA and IIB. Part I, where 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 both IIA and IIB 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.

Students can also switch to Linguistics Tripos Part II after completing Part I in another subject such as Classics, English, Human, Social and Political Sciences, Modern and Medieval Languages, Philosophy, Mathematics, and others. There are a number of relevant papers, such as the Structure and Varieties of French or German in Part I of the MML Tripos and linguistics papers in the Classical Tripos. The papers in Part II of the Linguistics Tripos do not, however, presuppose any prior study of the relevant subjects. There are usually about 20 students of Linguistics Part II university-wide. Many more students take linguistics papers within the MML Tripos or in other Triposes through so-called ‘borrowing’. Students may change to the two-year Part II course after a one-year Part I of another Tripos (including after Part IA of a divided Part I), or to the one-year Part IIA following a two-year Part I. It may be possible to take a two-year Part II after a two-year Part I if funds permit. It is not normally possible to change Tripos after the MML Year Abroad.

How will I be taught at Newnham?

In addition to the lectures, seminars and practical classes (depending on the paper) in the Faculty, the College provides supervisions, usually taught in small groups or pairs, either by a member of the College or by a supervisor external to the College. A supervision gives you the opportunity to discuss your work in some detail in a much less formal setting than that of seminars or classes. Your Director of Studies will discuss the plan of work with you at the beginning of each term. For Part II, where a choice of papers is available, s/he will help you decide on a course that is well tailored to your needs.

Can you tell me more about the Linguistics Fellows?

There are three Senior Members of the College whose teaching and research falls in the domain of Linguistics:

  • Professor Kasia Jaszczolt (Director of Studies in Linguistics and Professorial Fellow), whose main interests are semantics, pragmatics and philosophy of language, and in particular semantic ambiguity, representing time in language, and applications of her theory Default Semantics. She lectures for the paper Semantics and Pragmatics in the Linguistics Tripos and supervises MPhil and PhD students in these subject areas. Click here for her home page, and here for more information on her research interests, publications and current PhD students.
  • Dr Sheila Watts (Director of Studies in MML and College Lecturer in Germanic Linguistics), whose main interests are the older Germanic languages and modern German dialects. She lectures for the papers Structures and Varieties of Modern German, History of German, and Germanic Languages in the MML Tripos. She is also University Lecturer in the Department of German, Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, and a supervisor of MPhil and PhD dissertations. Her home page is here.
  • Dr Minyao Huang (Bye-Fellow in Linguistics), whose main interests are semantics, pragmatics, philosophy of language, and in particular vagueness and imprecision in language and expressing the self. Dr Huang is Research Associate in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, working on a project ‘Expressing the Self: Cultural Diversity and Cognitive Universals’ funded by the Leverhulme Trust. See also her home page.

There are other Senior Members in the College whose interests include languages (Dr Jenny Mander) and philosophy of language (Professor Rae Langton).

What jobs do Newnham Linguistics students go on to do?

Apart from pursuing further study on the MPhil and PhD level, graduates can embark on careers in, among others, media, advertising, law, civil service, translating, interpreting, speech therapy, teaching, or computer consultancy. The interdisciplinary nature of the subject proves to be useful in many diversified professions, either directly (phonetics for speech therapy, logic for law, pragmatics for cross-cultural communication in business) or indirectly, as general knowledge of how conversation, language, and the mind work.

Cambridge linguists who continue with MPhil and PhD studies have a good record of employment in prestigious academic institutions and companies.

Are there any A-level subjects that are particularly useful?

Full three-year degree:
Because linguistics is interdisciplinary we don’t require specific A-level subjects, and welcome applicants with an outstanding academic profile whether science-oriented or arts-centred. Some formal study of language, either through learning languages or through English Language A-level, does however serve as a good preparation.

Switching to Part II only:
No prior knowledge of linguistics is required, although some linguistics-related papers in Part I may be an advantage. There is also an increasing group of applicants from among students who enjoyed English Language A level. Students benefit from combining information from Part I in subjects such as Classics, Philosophy, or Human, Social & Political Sciences, but we welcome applicants from all Part I subjects. Combining science and mathematics with linguistics is increasingly popular and benefits especially those who are interested in formal methods in linguistics.

Can I take a gap year?

We are happy to offer deferred places to applicants who have plans for a year out, whether you plan to take a job to build up financial resources, or to travel abroad to improve language skills and experience another culture. Most gap year students feel they have benefited from the experience, and have no trouble getting back into the swing of academic work once they arrive; maintaining some sort of a connection with your subject is always encouraged, even if only through reading.

How should I prepare for interview at Newnham?

If your passion is to find out how language works and in what ways languages are similar or different, tell us about it during the interview. We are looking for intelligent and enthusiastic young scholars with an interest in questions relating to various aspects of the knowledge of language. All applicants for Linguistics are required to take a written assessment at interview, if interviewed. You do not need to register or be registered in advance for the assessment at interview – the College will provide details of arrangements in the letters inviting applicants to interview. There is no need to prepare any specific topics.

Where can I find out more?

For more information see the Department website.

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