Our Mission

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 past 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 database; the theory courses expose the student to the perspectives offered by historical and comparative linguistics, cognitive neurolinguistics, structural linguistics, theoretical linguistics, sociolinguistics, semiotics, discourse analysis, philosophy, and cognitive linguistics. The major maintains the traditional and mainstream body of linguistic inquiry while encouraging exploration of the most recent developments in neuroscience, biological sciences, memory and cognition, as well as cultural and literary theory. 

The Linguistics Program is active in anti-racism efforts in outreach to students, faculty and collaborations with our colleagues across the Triangle at NCSU, NCCU, NC A&T, UNC-CH, and K-12 teachers and students through course work, lectures and research. We are active in educating our communities about the risks of linguistic discrimination in fragile communities. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Center for Advancing Opportunity (TMCF) defines fragile communities as “areas with high proportions of residents who struggle financially in their daily lives and have limited opportunities for social mobility” (2018: 2). Such communities experience, in the phrase coined by Judith Butler, precarity. One of the issues present across all of these communities is discrimination based on the fragile or precarious community’s use of particular linguistic forms and dialects.   

In recent years, we have been witnessing exciting advances in the intersection of computing and linguistics, as well as growing interest in these disciplines among undergraduate students at Duke.  We are happy to offer an inter-departmental major (IDM) that allows students to pursue their joint interests in Computer Science and Linguistics.   

We expect student interests to be diverse, some interested more in computer science, while others may be more interested in theoretical linguistics, cognitive neurolinguistics, or sociolinguistics. There is no one-size-fit-all. The requirements accommodate all of these interests.