If you’ve found yourself asking ‘why?’ or ‘how?’ in relation to language, linguistics is for you.
Linguistics is the scientific study of language as a system in its own right. Linguists study the sound, form, and meaning of languages – either in their present form or historically. They are interested in description (finding out what speakers do) not prescription (they do not tell speakers what to do). Linguistics is an interdisciplinary enterprise: it combines ideas from the humanities, formal tools from mathematics and computer science, concepts of identity and group membership from the social sciences, and models of the mind and brain from the natural sciences.
The Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics in Cambridge is one of the biggest and widest-ranging in the UK. A part of the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages & Linguistics, the Department was ranked 2nd in the world, and top in Europe, by the Times Higher Education World University rankings for 2020.
The Linguistics Tripos 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 topics taught within the Department. 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. Teaching takes place in the form of lectures and small-group supervisions, as well as practical classes, and for your research you will have access to some of the best libraries in the UK, as well as a phonetics, psycholinguistics and computational linguistics laboratory.
Linguistics graduates find employment in a wide range of professions, from business to commerce, government, and education. The broad interdisciplinary training means that our graduates emerge with transferable skills that are greatly sought after by employers; for example, students learn to analyse quantitative data, construct abstract (grammatical) models, and test alternative hypotheses. In fact, among the Arts and Humanities graduates from Cambridge linguists are especially employable.
If you come to Trinity you will join a small but vibrant group of students whose interests span the whole range of linguistics topics. The external Director of Studies is Dr Napoleon Katsos, whose interests are in language acquisition, multilingualism and language processing.
If you are invited to interview by Trinity, you will have one academic interview. You will be provided with some written material, which will form the basis of the interview. Typical conditional offers for those taking A-levels vary between A*AA and A*A*A; comparable conditions are set for those taking the IB and other school-leaving examinations. Generally, we find that candidates who are taking an A-level in a foreign language (modern or classical) or English Language are especially well-prepared for the course. However, in Linguistics we consider candidates from a wide range of backgrounds and there is no prescribed combination of A-levels.
Trinity organises the annual Linguistics competition for Year 12 (Lower 6th) students. The Essay Prize aims to raise awareness of the systematic study of language as an interesting and multifaceted subject in and of itself. It is hoped that the Prize will encourage students with an interest in linguistics to explore this further and to apply for a University course in this subject. In addition, the Prize aims to recognise the achievements of high-calibre students from whatever background they may come, as well as the achievements of those who teach them.
For more information about Open Days, the Tripos, preparatory reading lists etc, please visit the departmental website or contact the Senior Secretary.
This short video is a good introduction to Linguistics at Cambridge.
- Dr Napoleon Katsos