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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.

Phonetics and Phonology

Professor Jonathan Washington demonstrated ultrasound imaging of the tongue to his Phonetics and Phonology class.

Linguist David Harrison Continues to Grow a Repository for the World’s Endangered Languages

“Swarthmore has unwittingly become a repository for the world’s endangered languages — but a living repository, not somebody stored some data away somewhere under lock and key,” Harrison says. “We put the data, publicly facing, on a free platform that supports indigenous rights and indigenous languages.

“I'd like the College to get credit for this,” he adds, “because it has great global impact. And it's doing something to advance and support cultural diversity and language diversity — which are the same thing.

David Harrison works with Anselon Seru on Futuna Island, Vanuatu. 

Photo by R. Sean Thackurdeen ’12.

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: 


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Seniors of 2019