Research in the UCSD Linguistics Department combines theoretical linguistics with empirical language research. Faculty and graduate students are involved in theory construction, experimental research (language acquisition, phonetics, psycholinguistics, computational linguistics and neurolinguistics) and fieldwork data collection. With its instructional and research program, the department is actively working toward a synthesis of the basic insights and findings of diverse theoretical and experimental perspectives.

The department houses laboratories devoted to empirical studies of language with focus on:

The focus of experimental research in the department is the mutual dependence between mechanisms of language processing and theories of phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and discourse. Graduate students are often affiliated with a lab and conduct research within the labs. In addition to departmental labs, graduate students may have access to experimental laboratories concerned with language issues in other departments. Most faculty are affiliated with the Center for Research in Language. Some students hold CRL training grants and many participate in the weekly CRL talk series. Current and past research is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

The range of languages represented in faculty research encompasses American Sign Language (ASL), Quebec Sign Language (LSQ), Chinese, Finno-Ugric, German, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Niger-Congo (Bantu and Kordofanian), Oto-Manguean, Spanish, Semitic (particularly Ethiopian/Eritrean), Russian and Uto-Aztecan. The departmental concern with the empirical facts of language is reflected in a field methods requirement for graduate students as well as in the graduate student language requirement. Recent field methods languages include Nieves Mixtec, Purepecha, GiTonga, Somali and Moro. The department has a tradition of working with native speakers of a wide variety of languages. Current and past research is funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Hans Rausing Endangered Language Documentation Programme.

Work in the department spans theoretical and experimental approaches to the study of language. The department also maintains strong links to other disciplines, such as cognitive science and psychology.