Focus Program

Duke's Focus Program for first-year students provides clusters of courses designed around an interdisciplinary theme. Focus faculty come from academic departments in Arts & Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering and are leading researchers in their fields. Topics for study include several themes that draw from the Linguistics Program.

Cognitive Neuroscience and Law

Cognitive Neuroscience and Law offers an introduction to several important aspects of the study of the brain.  Our cluster will include courses that include the basic principles of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and neurochemical processes, as well as a focus on the neurofunctionality of brain and language, including how the brain enables us to understand language, disorders of the brain that impair language comprehension, how individuals acquire and maintain their first and subsequent languages, and how recent advances in brain imaging technology have improved our ability to understand the relationship of brain and language.  In addition, our cluster will study the intersection of law and neuroscience; how recent advances in understanding and studying the brain have affected issues fundamental to the legal system, such as criminal intent, insanity, and truthfulness.  This cluster should appeal to anyone curious about how the brain is structured, how it works, how we study it, how it produces and comprehends language, and how our understanding of the brain influences our judgments on issues of legal responsibility for our actions.


  • Linguistics 216FS.01/Neuroscience 116FS.01/Russian 216FS.01 - Neuroscience and Human Language (NS, SS)
  • Linguistics 212FS.01/Public Policy 250FS - Law, Ethics and Responsibility (EI, STS, SS)
  • Linguistics 190FS.02/ Romance Studies 190FS.02 - Cognition, Identity and Linguistic Human Rights (SS, CCI, EI)
  • Linguistics 123FS - When the Head’s in Trouble (NS, STS)

Power of Language

Language is a unique faculty of the human species.  While other species may communicate in more limited ways about their immediate physical environment, only humans have developed language permitting a full narrative characterization of events and circumstances outside of the here and now.  Language has permitted humans to coordinate and control their activities, permitting the creation of complex, materially-advanced societies.  Language lies at the heart of most human endeavors—religion, education, law, computers, for example.  It is the basis on which most human relationships and interactions are formed.

This cluster is devoted to examining the myriad ways in which language affects us, individually and collectively.  The courses in the cluster will consider the role that language plays in creating personal and collective identity, how governments formulate and enforce policy regarding language, how the legal system limits or prohibits certain kinds of language that are deemed offensive, and how the non-verbal languages of art communicate meaning and values.


  • Linguistics 213FS/Slavic and Eurasian Studies 215FS/Political Science 185FS/ ICS 228FS - The Politics of Language (SS)
  • Romance Studies 190FS/ Linguistics 190FS - Language and Identity (AIP, CCI)
  • Linguistics 114FS - The Power of Poetry (ALP, CZ)