Director of Studies: Dr Bert Vaux
Linguistics, the scientific study of language, lies at the nexus of the natural and physical sciences, humanities, social sciences, maths, and computer science. Linguists seek to understand the structure, behaviour, and evolution of human language and animal communication in all of their forms: spoken, signed, gestured, written, even whistled and drummed. Any language is fair game for linguistic study, from English to Euskara (Basque), Spanish to Sanskrit, Norwegian to Ntlaka’pamux.
The University Course
The Linguistics Tripos is divided into a one-year Part I and a two-year Part II. 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 Parts IIA and IIB (years 2 and 3) 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.
After Your Degree
Linguistics graduates find employment in a wide range of professions. The fact that linguistics provides a broad interdisciplinary training, developing the ability to analyse quantitative data, construct abstract (grammatical) models, and test alternative hypotheses, means that linguistics graduates emerge with the kind of transferable intellectual skills that are highly sought after by employers. Careers for which linguistics provides particularly good preparation include speech therapy, teaching (especially of languages), speech and language technology (developing and improving computer-based applications such as speech recognition and translation software), and even forensic linguistics (in cases where authorship, voice identity, or place of origin are at issue). Familiarity with the range and essence of human languages is a huge advantage in careers where rapid learning of unfamiliar languages may be involved, such as the Diplomatic Service.
Linguistics at Christ’s
Christ’s has long been a hotbed of linguistic activity, perhaps more so than any other Cambridge college. Christ’s most famous alumnus, Charles Darwin, engaged in a famous debate with Max Müller (Professor of Comparative Philology at Oxford) over the evolution of language; a useful summary of Darwin’s views on the subject can be found here and the original exchange of letters here. Prominent historian and former fellow Quentin Skinner is known among other things for his work on speech act theory and rhetoric. Three members of the team commissioned by King James I to translate the Bible into Modern English were from Christ’s: Richard Clarke, Laurence Chaderton, and Francis Dillingham. Other famous alumni with linguistic interests have included:
- notorious Egyptologist Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge
- Sir John Lyons, author of a famous book on Noam Chomsky and later 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 and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London
- Thomas Burrow, Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford and author of the 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.
Imogen has just completed her third year studying Linguistics here at Christ's College. She has written about her experiences of studying Linguistics in this student profile. If you would like to read more accounts from Christ's students, please see the student profiles page.
What are we looking for?
The main requirement for studying linguistics is a lively curiosity about the nature of language. It may be that you’ve been struck by a language that puts its verbs in a different position in the sentence, or wondered why languages change (making Chaucer hard to understand, for instance), or been puzzled that automatic speech recognition software gets a perfectly clear word wrong, or realised that an utterance such as ‘it’s cold in here’ may mean more than the words (understood: ‘do close the window!’), or been excited to learn that languages as diverse as Welsh and Hindi have a common ancestor. Basically, if you’ve found yourself asking ‘why?’ or ‘how?’ in relation to language, linguistics is for you.
How to apply
We welcome applications from all backgrounds and school types. Details and a timeline for the application process can be found on the how to apply page, and if you'll be applying from outside the UK, there is also a dedicated section for international students.
As Linguistics is interdisciplinary we don’t require specific A-level, IB Higher or equivalent 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 good preparation for this course.
For students selected for interview in Cambridge, the interviews take place in early December. Linguistics applicants are given two interviews on the same day. One interview will include the Director of Studies in Linguistics. Information about interviews (including two useful films) is available in the Cambridge interviews section.
We also hold interviews in a number of locations overseas. If this may be relevant for you, please see the international students section .
Pre-Interview Admissions Assessment
All students applying to the University of Cambridge for Linguistics must sit a pre-interview admissions assessment. This will take place in your school, college or local testing centre on 30 October 2019. The same assessment is used regardless of which College you have applied to. Information about the Admissions Assessment will be published here once available. The Admissions Assessment examines your academic abilities, knowledge-base and potential, and forms part of our holistic admissions process: there is no set score that we are looking for. When applying, it is important to be aware of the registration and assessment dates:
- All Linguistics applicants applying in 2019 must be registered to take the History Admissions Assessment by 18:00 UK time on 15 October 2019. See how to be 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.
- All Linguistics applicants applying in 2019 sit the assessment on 30 October 2019.
Information about the assessment including example questions will be available on the University Admissions website once available.
Our standard conditional offer is A*AA at A-level, 42 points overall in the International Baccalaureate with 7,7,6 in relevant Higher Level subjects, or the equivalent in other qualifications. The international students section has further information about typical offers for other qualifications.
If you will have already finished school when you apply, please see the page for post-qualification applications.
- David Crystal, The Cambridge encyclopedia of language (1997)
- David Crystal, How language works (2006)
- Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind (2003)
If you would like further suggestions, a longer list is available.
If you are able to come to a College Open Day, we will be glad to tell you more about Christ's College and the Linguistics course in person. If you are not able to come to an Open Day, please feel free to email us with any queries you may have. Our email address is email@example.com.