Linguistics

If you’re curious about language – and attracted by a subject that combines physical sciences, humanities, social sciences, maths and computer science – Linguistics is for you. It seeks to understand human language and animal communication in all forms: spoken, signed, gestured, written, whistled and drummed. And that means any language: from English to Euskara, Spanish to Sanskrit, and Norwegian to Ntlaka’pamux.

The Rosetta stone
The Rosetta stone (196 B.C.)


Why Study Linguistics at Christ's?

Perhaps more than any other Cambridge college, Christ’s has been a hotbed of linguistic activity and boasts quite a number of alumni with linguistic interests:

  • Charles Darwin, our most famous alumnus, engaged in a legendary debate with Max Müller over the evolution of language (see summary and the exchange of letters)
  • Quentin Skinner, the prominent historian and former Fellow is known for (among other things) his work on speech act theory and rhetoric
  • Richard Clarke, Laurence Chaderton and Francis Dillingham were among those commissioned by King James to translate the Bible into Modern English
  • Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge, notorious Egyptologist
  • Sir John Lyons, author of a famous book on Noam Chomsky, and master of Trinity Hall
  • Walter William Skeat, author of the landmark Etymological English Dictionary and the definitive edition of Chaucer’s works
  • Sir Ralph Turner, leading Indologist, author of the great Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan Languages, and Director of the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) at University of London
  • Thomas Burrow, Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford and author of classic The Sanskrit Language
  • Alfred Cort Haddon, one of the founders of modern British anthropology, famous for his study of life in the Torres Strait Islands

This course gives you broad interdisciplinary training, teaching you to analyse quantitative data, construct grammatical models and test hypotheses. As a result, you emerge with the kind of transferable intellectual skills employers are keen to see.

Graduates go on to careers in speech therapy, teaching (especially languages), speech and language technology and even forensic linguistics. Familiarity with the range of human languages is a huge advantage in careers where you might need to master a new tongue quickly, such as the Diplomatic Service.
 

Course content and structure

The Linguistics course (or ‘tripos’) is a three-year degree. Please visit the University website for full details of the Linguistics course content and structure.
 

Teaching

As well as lectures organised by the University’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, you have weekly ‘supervisions’ at the College. These small-group tutorial sessions (1-to-1 or in pairs) give you personally-tailored tuition and support – one of the advantages of a Cambridge education. Christ’s Director of Studies in Linguistics Dr Bert Vaux arranges these for you and can offer guidance whenever you need it.
 

What do our students think?

Imogen and Arthur both studied Linguistics here at Christ's College. They have written about their experiences in their student profiles:

If you would like to read more accounts from Christ's students, please see the student profiles page.
 

How to apply

Visit How to Apply for full details and a timeline of the application process. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds and school types, all over the world. If you're applying from outside the UK, please read our international students section.

Subjects: what do you need?

As linguistics is interdisciplinary, we don’t need you to take specific subjects – we welcome applicants with an outstanding academic profile in the sciences or the arts. However, it is helpful to do some formal language study by learning languages or taking English Language A-level (or equivalent).

We’re looking for applicants with a lively curiosity about the nature of language.
Have you ever been struck by a language that puts verbs in a different position in the sentence?
Or wondered why languages change over time – making Chaucer hard to understand, for instance?
Or felt puzzled when speech recognition software gets a perfectly clear word wrong?
Basically, if you’ve ever found yourself asking Why? or How? in relation to language, Linguistics is for you.

Pre-interview admissions assessment

Whichever college you apply to, you sit a pre-interview assessment called the Linguistics Admissions Assessment (LAA). It takes place in your school, college or local testing centre.

The Admissions Assessment forms part of our holistic admissions process and examines your academic abilities, knowledge-base and potential, rather than looking for any set score. When applying, please be aware of the registration and assessment dates.

All Linguistics applicants applying in 2019 must:

  • Be registered to take the Linguistics Admissions Assessment by 18:00 UK time on 15 October 2019. How to get registered.
    Please note that open centres may set an earlier deadline for accepting entries, and it is your responsibility to check if this applies at your centre.
  • Sit the assessment on 30 October 2019.

Information about the assessment, including example papers and subject content, is available on the University Admissions website from March each year.

Interviews

If we invite you for interview in Cambridge, you normally have two interviews in early December, one of them with the Director of Studies in Linguistics.

Read the information and watch the short films on Cambridge admissions interviews for an idea of what to expect when you come. We also hold interviews in various locations overseas for international students.

Offers

We define the terms of each offer individually, but the typical conditional offer is:

  • A*AA at A-level
  • 42 points overall in the International Baccalaureate with 7,7,6 in relevant Higher Level subjects
  • H1/H1/H1/H2/H2/H2 for Higher Level subjects in Irish Leaving Certificate
  • AAA in Scottish Advanced Highers

If you’re taking another qualification, we expect you to be working at or close to the top of the mark range i.e.

  • Option Internationale du Baccalauréat: at least 17/20 overall, with 17 or 18 in relevant subjects
  • European Baccalaureate: at least 85% overall, with 9/10 in relevant subjects

Read about offer levels in other exam systems and international entrance requirements.

If you will have finished school when you apply, please read about post-qualification applications.
 

Helpful resources

Reading suggestions Suggestions to help you find out more about Linguistics and develop your interests
Essay competitions Entering an essay competition is a good way to explore a relevant topic and get some extra practice in writing a convincing and well-structured essay. Examples: Trinity Linguistics Prize; Babel Young Writers' Competition


Open Days

If you want to get a feel for what it's like to study here, come to a Christ's College Open Day. You'll have the opportunity to discuss the Linguistics course with current students and staff in person.
 

Want to know more?

For a fuller picture of what the course involves, read Undergraduate Linguistics admissions on the University website. You should also look at the information for prospective students on the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics site.

If you can't find what you need, please send any queries to admissions@christs.cam.ac.uk. We'll be glad to help.

 

Back to the subject list / How to apply / Why choose Christ's?