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

Why Study Linguistics at Christ's?

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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.


As well as lectures organised by the University’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, you have a few 'supervisions' a week, either at the College, a different college, or one of the Department's rooms on the Sidgwick Site. 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 Matthew Tyler arranges these for you and can offer guidance whenever you need it.

What do our students think?

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

If you would like to hear more from Christ's students, please watch the Christ's student Q&A film, and visit our 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.

  • If you are considering an application in October 2023 for October 2024 (or deferred Oct 25) entry, we recommend that you sign up for the next College Open Day, which will include a Linguistics subject meeting.

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.


If we invite you for interviews, these usually take place in early December. For the last three years interviews have been online and students have been interviewed either at home (in most cases) or at school (if easier). Those invited for interviews are normally interviewed for 35-50 minutes in total. At Christ’s, we usually split the time into two interviews with academics in Linguistics.

Further, more general information about interviews (including two useful films) is available in the Cambridge interviews section, and it's worth also having a look at supervisions (short film here), as interviews are similar to what you do every week as a Cambridge student.

Written Assessment (College registered)

Assessment details are confirmed by July each year, but note that applicants for Linguistics who are selected for interview are normally asked to take the Linguistics Admissions Assessment at the end of November. We arrange your assessment automatically so you don’t need to register. You complete the assessment online in a remotely invigilated session and upload your work - you will not need to travel for it. Details of how the assessment will work are given to students selected for interview by email.

Information about the format and content of the Linguistics Admissions Assessment is available in the Undergraduate Linguistics course information See the entry requirements tab. There are sometimes changes to assessments from year to year - any changes are confirmed by the July before you apply.


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

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

Introductory reading suggestion For students who are looking for an introduction to Linguistics, the Christ's Director of Studies particularly recommends Chapter 1 of Essentials of Linguistics (a FREE online textbook - just click on the link). We do need to emphasise that this is only a suggestion - it's not required reading for applicants to Christ's or anything like that (there's no disadvantage if you've been reading other things). Note also that we do not recommend that you read the rest of the textbook, just Chapter 1.
More reading suggestions These are some further suggestions to help you find out more about Linguistics and develop your interests further. 
Online lectures Change and stability in the native language of migrants
Stability and change in child language
Language learning and creativity
The acquisition and evolution of linguistic variation
Darling, dukeling, duckling: how historical corpora can verify predicted pathways of language change
Podcasts Because Language (all areas of linguistics)
Lingthusiasm (all areas of linguistics)
The Vocal Fries (specifically sociolinguistics)
En Claire (specifically forensic linguistics)
Spectacular Vernacular (all areas of linguistics)

Youtuber Tom Scott has a series of videos called "Tom's Language Files" that give a basic overview of some topics within linguistics. 
K Klein has more detailed videos about lots of areas of linguistics
Simon Roper talks a lot about historical linguistics, especially the history of English and Indo-European

Undergraduate Lingustics Association of Britain (ULAB) ULAB's website contains a lot of information that might be helpful to prospective applicants. They have an online magazine (U-Lingua) with articles and puzzles written by undergraduates, as well as a journal that contains mostly undergraduate dissertations. 
TED Talks Who's an Eastender now?
How language shapes the way we think
Why language is humanity's greatest invention
British accents and dialects Online resources from the British Library
Blog The Language Log (also available as a Twitter feed).
All things linguistic
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
National Linguistics Olympiads

These are competitions where you solve linguistics problems. See for example UK Olympiad (and their useful set of past problems). Other countries often have similar resources pages e.g. Australia, Ireland, USA to give a few examples from anglophone countries. Enjoy these but please don't worry if they seem difficult - they are designed to be challenging and are in general more involved than problems and puzzles that you would normally encounter in Cambridge interviews or the Linguistics written assessment.

The Linguist List Website forum with discussion of linguistic issues. About the Linguist List
Linguistics-related free online courses An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Accents, Attitudes and Identity - University of York on FutureLearn
Introduction to Comparative Indo-European Linguistics - Leiden University on FutureLearn
Introduction to Intercultural Studies: Language and Culture - University of Leeds on FutureLearn
HE+ Linguistics Website for secondary school students who would like to explore Linguistics
Language taster films METIS presents a taste of Indoensian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Catalan, French, Arabic, Cornish, Portuguese, Persian, Nepali
CamGuides Introducing the academic and information skills that you will need during your studies, as well as how and where you be working.

Open Days and Online Events

Our open days and events page advertises regular online opportunities as well as events you can attend in Cambridge. If you can, sign up for a College Open Day (our October, February and September events normally include a meeting with a subject specialist). Between February and August we run regular webinars:

  • Subject Matters: The importance of post-16 subject choices (this one is also run Sept - Nov)
  • Cambridge for Beginners
  • Christ's College: A look at the Grounds and Facilities
  • Personal Statements and preparing for an application

Further subject-specific opportunities you might wish to consider include Subject Masterclasses organised by Cambridge Admissions Office, and subject-specific talks in the July Cambridge Open Days. If you are a UK student from a background where there is little tradition of entry to Higher Education, you can apply to attend a Sutton Trust Summer School in Linguistics or to shadow a current undergraduate studying Linguistics via the Cambridge SU Shadowing Scheme (do be aware that there's a high proportion of applicants to places for both of these last two opportunities so please don't be discouraged if you don't get a place).


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 We'll be glad to help.


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