From the earliest philosophers to modern neuroscientists, researchers from a wide range of disciplines have explored a diverse range of issues concerning the human capacity for language and the diversity of the world's languages. Linguists work at the intersection of these issues and define linguistics as the science of language and languages. During the last 150 years, linguists have developed a variety of theoretical paradigms to describe and explain language history, dialect variation, cross-cultural similarities and differences, the neurological processing and production of language, and the evolutionary emergence of language.
The linguistics major at Duke is unusual in its range of theoretical approaches coupled to the study of languages of the world. The required courses for the major stress empirical methods and the global data base; the theory courses expose the student to the perspectives offered by historical and comparative linguistics, structural linguistics, generative linguistics, sociolinguistics, semiotics, discourse analysis, philosophy, cognitive linguistics and psycholinguistics. The major maintains the traditional and mainstream body of linguistic inquiry (general linguistic theory, sociolinguistics, cognitive linguistics, neurolinguistics) and, at the same time, encourages exploration of the most recent developments in language study that issue from cultural and literary theory and the biological sciences.