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New Undergraduate FAQ



 Welcome to UC San Diego Linguistics! We’re happy to have you with us. In our program, you’ll discover the amazing world of human language. You’ll examine the world’s languages, formulating and testing hypotheses on how they function.

We've compiled some common questions about Linguistics for you (or your relatives!) to look over to help you decide whether a Linguistics major is for you. This FAQ includes links to great resources for you to take advantage of on your UC San Diego journey. 

What's Linguistics?

Linguistics is the scientific study of Language. It's a young and vibrant field of study, often separated into six 'core' disciplines: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. They examine how languages function on different levels. There are also many other subdisciplines like computational linguistics, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, language acquistion, and more, which explore different facets of language and its interactions with other fields.

For more detailed information about Linguistics as a discipline, please refer to the Linguistic Society of America (LSA)'s page "What is Linguistics?". 

What can I do with a degree in Linguistics?

Beyond academia, Linguistics gives students a robust skillset for working in the following areas:

  • Computational Linguistics: Develop tools to help in speech synthesis, speech recognition, natural language processing, machine translation, and more. Highly in demand- we recommend supplementing Linguistics education with computer science courses and seeking out summer internships in technology to be competitive in this field.
  • Education: Teach a foreign language in a high-school setting, or English abroad or as a second language. Develop second language learning curricula and assessments.
  • Government: Government agencies such as the NSA, CIA, FBI, and others hire linguists for translation, interpretation, localization, forensic linguistics, and cryptography.
  • Communication disorders: Become a speech pathologist or audiologist in a hospital, school, or private clinic. Requires a Master's or Doctorate degree in the appropriate field, but Linguistics is a great degree to gain foundational knowledge on these topics.
  • Other areas: Apply the analytical skillset developed in Linguistics to a variety of fields. Linguistics graduates often work in translation, language documentation, lexicography, product naming, editing, journalism, and more!

According to data collected in 2018 by the Strada Institute and Burning Glass Technologies, Linguistics majors have a far lower chance of being underemployed than students who major in other more traditional disciplines such as biology, education, and psychology (Burning Glass 2018, p. 20).

The Linguistics Society of America hosted a "Linguistics Career Launch" event during the summers of 2021 and 2022 to help students transition into non-academic positions. More information about this event can be found here and resources from it can be found here.

What's special about Linguistics at UC San Diego?

UC San Diego Linguistics has many unique opportunities that aren't available in other Linguistics programs. They include:

  • The PURL program (Program for Undergraduate Research in Linguistics): This innovative program pairs promising undergraduate Linguistics students with grad students that are seeking research assistance. This program gives students a structured, hands-on introduction to Linguistic research. Projects range across the spectrum of Linguistic inquiry and students are assigned projects based on their interests and capabilities. Counts for elective course credit.
  • Pathways for Speech Pathology: Our department partners with local state schools to provide our Linguistics students with opportunities to take necessary pre-requisites for Speech Language Pathology graduate programs that UC San Diego is unable to offer. A student who takes advantage of that opportunity and plans well can apply directly into a Speech Language Pathology program after getting a Linguistics degree from UC San Diego. For more information about our Speech and Language Sciences program, visit this page.
  • Field Linguistics: Our department has a strength in language documentation, collaborating with speakers of under-described languages and their communities to gain understanding about their language's grammar, vocabulary, practices, and cultural significance. This collaboration can help linguists better understand how these languages (and Language on the whole) works, and can help communities build resources, teaching materials, recognition, and archival documentation for their language. Undergraduate students can help with these projects, and also take LIGN 139, 'Field Methods', to learn about this process.
  • ASL opportunities: Our department has the Mayberry Lab for Multimodal Language Development. Not only does the lab produce fascinating research but it also gives us amazing instructors who teach unique courses such as "Sign Languages and Their Cultures" (LIGN 7) and "The Psycholinguistics of Gesture and Sign Languages" (LIGN 148). We also have a Language Studies- ASL minor as well as a unique study abroad program for sign language through Global Seminars!

What *is* Linguistics research?

As an undergraduate, exploring Linguistics research can be overwhelming. Thankfully, we have two programs that can help guide Linguistics students through their first research experiences:
  • PURL (Program for Undergraduate Research in Linguistics): The student is paired with a graduate student. The student acts as a Research Assistant for the graduate student. This way, the undergraduate student gets hands-on experience in the research process. This counts for elective course credit.
  • Honors Program: The student is paired with a faculty member. The student takes two graduate Linguistics classes related to their topic(s) of interest. The faculty member guides the student through the entire research process, culminating in an original ~30-40 page research paper written by the student. This distinction will be marked on the student's diploma.

Through these programs you can see firsthand the scientific method is used in Linguistics. Though all Linguistics fundamentally use the scientific method, not all Linguistics research is experimental. Here are the general steps to conducting experimental Linguistic research:

  • Discovering a research topic: Perhaps you hear your friend say something in a strange way that sets off alarm bells in your linguist brain ("was that... palatalized?"). Maybe you're reading a paper and realize that the author did their experiment incredibly wrong. However you do it, you find something you want to research.
  • Formulating a research question: You take the topic you discovered and turn it into a question that can actually be answered with the scientific method. Questions like, "what language did the first human speak?" is not answerable with linguistics. However, a question like, "in what ways did Indo-European languages diverge as that people group migrated?" is.
  • Literature review: You read what others have written about the topic. This way, you can learn from their findings and position your analysis relative to theirs in the literature.
  • Experimental design: Create an experiment that will get the sort of data you need to answer the question.
  • Data collection: You run your experiment. This can look many different ways depending on what you're studying. It can be anything from a laboratory experiment to soliciting a single native speaker's opinions on target sentences you create, or even working with language teachers to record words, translations, stories, and analyze the data collected.
  • Conclusion: Revisit your research question in light of the data you collected. This step often involves statistical analyses.

What class should I take first?

The first course in the core Linguistics course sequence is LIGN 101: Introduction to the Study of Language. This course is the prerequisite for all other upper-division linguistics courses and should be taken early in your Linguistics education. All students can be admitted into LIGN101 through an EASy request. All transfer students should take LIGN 101 their first quarter.

Many 4-year students opt to begin with lower-division courses instead, which can fulfill university or college requirements. For example, LIGN 8: Languages and Cultures of America counts for the university's DEI requirements. LIGN 17: Making and Breaking Codes counts for Thurgood Marshall College's Mathematics, Statistics, and Logic general education requirement.

What's a Linguistics class like?

Core Linguistics classes have a mixture of theory and application within them. For example, a method of analysis may be introduced in a Tuesday lecture before students are asked to apply it to a dataset in Thursday's class. Elective classes differ greatly in content and therefore differ in structure as well.

For an example of what a Linguistics lecture might look like, please watch Professor Will Styler's 2022 Legacy Lecture (runtime 1:21:09, lecture begins at 00:04:58). Professor Styler was voted by the UC San Diego student body as the university's best lecturer and was given the chance to give this lecture on a topic of his choice. This lecture is a great example of an introductory linguistics lecture. (Prospective students, you could send this to your friends or relatives if they want an idea of what Linguistics is!)

Why do Linguistics classes have the course code "LIGN"?

LIGN stands for Linguistics-General. It's to distinguish Linguistics theory courses from our language courses such as LIAB (Linguistics-Arabic) and LIHL (Linguistics-Heritage Languages).

Where's the Linguistics department and what resources are there?

The Linguistics department is located on the third and fourth floors of the Applied Physics and Math (AP&M) building.

There are three locations in the Linguistics department that Linguistics students should be familiar with:

  • Language Lab (APM 3432A): Easily identifiable from the beautiful mural leading into it, this lab offers textbooks for all core Linguistics classes (and all language classes) on course reserves. That means that you can use items for as long as you like while in the library but you cannot check them out. Additionally, there are board games, computers open for student use, laptop docks, reservable private study spaces, and self-study language learning materials.
    • How to get there: Take the elevator to the third floor of AP&M. Turn right, then walk down the hall. A mural will lead you into it.
  • Linguistics lounge (APM 3016): This lounge is for undergraduate linguistics students to study and socialize. It has couches, a table, a microwave, and a whiteboard. It's a great place to get to know LingUA (Linguistics Undergraduate Association), as they advertise heavily in the lounge.
    • How to get there: Take the elevator to the third floor of AP&M. Walk straight out of the elevator. A whiteboard with information about LingUA is right next to the door.
  • Conference room (APM 4301): Many events for both the department and for LingUA take place here.
    • How to get there: Take the elevator to the fourth floor of AP&M. Turn right and walk down the hall. 4301 is the first (and second) door on the right.

What resources does UC San Diego provide students?

UC San Diego has many great resources for students from all backgrounds and for all needs:

  • Black Resource Center (BRC): (From site): "Birthed through strong advocacy of students, alumni and other supporters, the BRC seeks to provide support services and foster community for current undergraduate and graduate students. Services include but are not limited to: academic support services, mentoring/leadership development, co-and extra-curricular programming, and non-academic counseling."
  • Career Center: Helps students prepare for careers or graduate school by giving guidance for resume building, cover-letter writing, and finding internships and job opportunities.
  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): Offers free mental health services to all UC San Diego students. Services include workshops, individual and group counseling, and self-help resources.
  • CARE at SARC: (From site): "CARE at SARC is an independent confidential campus resource for individuals impacted by sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking." Also offers education and outreach programs for the entire campus community.
  • LGBT Resource Center: Serves UC San Diego's LGBTQIA+ community through robust programming, resources, and developing student leadership.
  • OASIS: A program that seeks to promote successful transition from high school to college life, primarily serving first-generation students and students from underserved populations.
  • Office for Students with Disabilities: Works with any student with disabilities, connecting them with resources and accommodations. Also works with the student veteran community.
  • OPHD: On campus resource that works to prevent, investigate, and address incidents of harassment or discrimination against any group protected by law or university policy brought against academic personnel.
  • Raza Resource Centro: (From site): offers "activities, events, and resources to connect students, staff, faculty, and alumni. The RRC is open to everyone, and we strive to emphasize and foster the access, retention, and graduation of Chicanx-Latinx students as well as create strong connections with our surrounding community."
  • Student Health Services: Offers primary healthcare to students regardless of insurance provider. Runs programs and distribute resources that promote health and wellness for the entire student population.
  • Student Legal Services: Provides counseling, attorney referrals, and workshops for students and student organizations.
  • Student Veterans Resource Center: (From site): "The SVRC provides a safe space for military-connected students to access peer support, resources and referrals, study space, a meditation room, computers, lockers, snacks and coffee, and free printing. Campus and community partners provide in-center access to veteran benefits counseling, career advising, disability accommodations, mental health support, and additional services."
  • Teaching and Learning Commons: Looking for help with your classes? The Teaching and Learning Commons offers writing coaches through the Writing Hub and tutoring for Biology, Chemistry, Economics, Mathematics, Physics, and Statistics classes.
  • The Hub Basic Needs Center: Offers a variety of resources to ensure that every UC San Diego student has access to secure food and housing. Also provides financial wellness resources through workshops and connecting students with resouces from the Financial Aid Office.
  • Triton Food Pantry: A discreet service for UC San Diego students in need of food. Any UC San Diego student can pick up a set amount of groceries from the pantry each week.
  • Triton Transfers: Helps transfer student navigate UC San Diego's academic and cultural community. Offers peer counseling, a student space at the Transfer Hub, and diverse programming aimed at helping transfers connect with each other and succeed academically.
  • The Zone: A lounge for students designed with student well-being in mind. Runs a variety of popular programs, including therapy fluffies.
  • Women's Center: (From site): "The UC San Diego Women's Center is a space in which people work collaboratively to foster the educational, professional, and personal development of diverse groups of women. The Center provides education and support to all members of UC San Diego regarding gender issues, with the goal of promoting an inclusive and equitable campus community."

Do you offer a [insert language here] major?

We offer Linguistics - Language Studies degrees for the following languages: Arabic, ASL, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish. Please note that these are distinct from other, similarly titled majors offered by other departments. For example, the Chinese Studies major is offered by the Chinese Studies program.

The key difference is that our program emphasizes Linguistic theory. Students are required to take several core Linguistics classes. This makes our degree program an excellent choice for anyone looking to specialize in the Linguistic theory of a particular language. However, students should consider both majors carefully and consult major advisors regarding the benefits of both programs.

One important thing to note about our Language Studies program is that our majors and minors appear on diplomas as "Language Studies" and don't specify the language. However, the particular language will be noted on the transcript.

Is Linguistics in the Humanities or Social Sciences?

As a discipline, Linguistics is uniquely positioned such that it covers topics in both the humanities and social sciences. However, at UC San Diego, Linguistics is in the School of Social Sciences.

What sorts of discussion groups are open to students?

There are two discussion groups that are open to undergraduate students:

  • Spectrogram reading group
    • Frequency: Weekly on Mondays from 4-5 p.m. in the Phonetics Lab (APM 4432).
    • Description: A presenter shows a spectrogram of a word that they've recorded. Participants then analyze that spectrogram, reconstructing what the word is. This is an excellent opportunity for students interested in phonetics and speech pathology.
  • S-babble
    • Frequency: Weekly on Tuesdays, times change each quarter. Hybrid virtual & physical.
    • Description: A presenter talks through recent work they've done in the fields of syntax, semantics, pragmatics, or related fields. Participants then help the presenter develop their ideas through discussion.

Undergraduates may go to other discussion groups and lab meetings at the discretion of the professor(s) who lead them.

Does the department have a student organization?

Yes. LingUA (Linguistics Undergraduate Association) is the department's official undergraduate student organization. They organize social and academic events to enrich undergraduate student experience at UC San Diego Linguistics.

For a listing of all current student organizations at UC San Diego, visit the Center for Student Involvement (CSI) site.

My question isn't covered above!

Please email your question to our Student Services Advisor Olivier Jamois at Please include "FAQ:" in the subject line. Questions that reoccur will be added to the FAQ.


  • Prof. Will Styler for detailed feedback and as a source for the student resources section.
  • Staff for help with layout and correcting details.