Skip to main content


Department Overview

There are 7,000 languages in the world, and we're interested in studying all of them. Linguistics is the scientific study of language—we develop techniques to explore patterns that all human languages have in common and investigate the ways in which each is unique. Our explorations yield insights not only about languages, but also about the nature of the human mind.

Linguistics at Swarthmore

Students learn linguistics at Swarthmore through interacting with the information and each other. Coursework and problem sets challenge students to develop their own insights and construct arguments supporting their claims. Professors guide the process, ultimately leading to a fuller understanding of linguistic theory than one could attain by absorbing theories presented in classes and texts.

The community of learning is enhanced and expanded by the Linguistics Department's strong ties to Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges. Swarthmore Linguistics professors teach courses on all three campuses (though the vast majority are at Swarthmore), and linguistics courses regularly include students from all three schools.

Why study Linguistics?

The relevance of linguistics to the fields of anthropology, cognitive science, language study, philosophy, psychology, and sociology has been recognized for a long time. Linguistics crosslists courses from ten departments, reflecting the diversity of fields with strong relevance to our field. The interdisciplinary nature of the field, and our program, further encourages students to broaden their horizons and interact with a wide variety of students, scholars, and ideas.

Because the very nature of modern linguistic inquiry is to build arguments for particular analyses, the study of linguistics gives the student finely honed argumentation skills, which stand in good stead in careers in law, business, and any other profession where such skills are crucial.

Jamie Thomas

 Jamie Thomas is named Woodrow Wilson Fellow and will be a visiting scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

David Harrison with Aneityum speaker

Professor David Harrison (right) consults with Chris Nevehev, a speaker of the Aneityum language, in the South Pacific islands of Vanatu. He is working to document the plants and languages of local communities that will help ensure the survival of their languages and cultures. 

Visiting Linguistics

Linguists visited Donna Jo in January 2019 to discuss issues in historical analysis of sign languages.  Pictured from left to right are Elena Radutzky, Donna Jo Napoli, Gloria Reisman, and Nancy Frishberg. 

Aurora Martinez del Rio '16

Where are They Now? Aurora Martinez Del Rio '16

Students make dumplings

Professor Washington’s The Structure of Kyrgyz students are fully devoted to making “manty” or “manti” dumplings (with the help of Jonathan’s wife Tolgonay). These steamed dumplings are made all across Eurasia, and the Kyrgyz version is usually made with chopped or ground meat or pumpkin.  Jonathan is currently teaching Historical Linguistics and Computational Linguistics.

Emily Gasser

Professor Emily Gasser attended the 14th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics in Madagascar where she presented her work on an unnatural phonological rule in some languages of Indonesia. Although the conference was intense she did find the time to do a Lemur tour. Emily is currently teaching  The Structure of Wamasa and Advanced Research Methods.

rene Silentman (left), Visiting Instructor, working with student Lauren Pronger,

Irene Silentman (left), Visiting Instructor, working with student Lauren Pronger, Haverford College. Irene Silentman and Ellavina Perkins, both Navajo linguists, are working with the students in Ted Fernald's the Structure of Navajo class. 

 Jamie Thomas is named Woodrow Wilson Fellow and will be a visiting scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Photo /
1 of 7

Tri-College Class of 2019


All  Tri-College majors are required to write a thesis in the fall of their senior year. This year we have 31 seniors writing theses, including 18 from Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges.  Check them out.



Linguistics Professor Ted Fernald leads the NSF/REU Navajo Linguistics Field School in NM

The research site was hosted by Navajo Technical University (NTU), Crownpoint, NM.  All students had a strong background with speaking Navajo prior to the program. For two of them, Navajo is their first language. The others have had at least two years in college of classroom instruction in Navajo.

Six undergraduate researchers from the Navajo Technical University (Bernadine Cody, Wallace Dale, Dana Desiderio, Natalie Desiderio, Lester Kinsel and Tyler Tinhorn) worked on several projects, each of which required background training. 

The team recorded and annotated 266 example sentences that contain postpositional phrases or postpositional enclitic phrases. Here's the link to the talking dictionary: 


Brook Lillehaugen receives the Ernest A. Lynton Award

Brook Lillehaugen, Assistant Professor of Tri-College Linguistics will receive the 2018 Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement for Early Career Faculty at a ceremony later this month. The award is sponsored by the Swearer Center at Brown University in partnership with the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities. 

Brook studies the modern and historical forms of Zapotec, a group of roughly 50 languages largely concentrated in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, and is interested in considering how academics can be effective allies to language activists. She offers courses in linguistics at Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore, and is co-director of Ticha, an online digital text explorer for colonial Zapotec manuscripts. She also recently co-produced a documentary web series on Zapotec language and identity in one Valley Zapotec community, San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya.

Juhyae Kim ’19 Receives Beinecke Scholarship to Explore Languages in Grad School

Unsure of her chances and walking out of a first-thing-Monday-morning class, Juhyae Kim ’19 needed a moment to process the news of receiving a Beinecke Scholarship.

“When it finally hit me, my reaction was to call my parents and celebrate with them,” says Kim, a linguistics major, one of 18 students across the U.S. to be awarded $34,000 for graduate studies.

Kim plans to enter a Ph.D. program in linguistics and is researching programs with an emphasis on fieldwork — an interest sparked in her Field Methods class with Visiting Assistant Professor Emily Gasser.


Seniors of 2019