Undergraduate Research in Linguistics

The Department of Linguistics offers undergraduate students an opportunity to engage in investigation of the interplay of sound, form and meaning that underlie the complex structures of human language. Our department emphasizes a balance of theoretical and empirical work that encourages the use of first-hand evidence and gives our students the ability to understand, challenge and defend theoretical claims. 


Linguistics provides different types of opportunities for students to engage in research with a faculty mentor. Through research students acquire first hand experience in linguistic research while developing important skills such as critical thinking, information gathering and processing, and effective communication.  These opportunities may include independent studies, special topic reading groups, working in the Lattimore Eyetracking Lab or the Phonetics Lab on current research projects.  These  are collaborations between faculty and students which provide a forum for faculty to work on a one-on-one basis with students outside the classroom.  


Jared O'Loughlin ‘13, traveled to the Amazon to help document Desano, an endangered Native American language. Timothy Dozat '12 not only helped Prof. Jeff Runner conduct psycholinguistic experiments, but presented their findings at a major conference. “Research brings my course work to life,” says Joelle Mamon '13, who is developing test materials for a linguistics experiment. More . . .


Opportunities for Students:

Students who are interested in getting involved in research with faculty are advised to take linguistics classes and talk to their professors. All our classes involve hands on approaches to learning linguistics, often students undertake and complete research projects in our classes. These class projects are one of the best ways to get to know your professors and to become involved in research. The following are some of the opportunities available to linguistics students. 

  • Summer Positions
  • TA and RA Positions
  • Independent Studies
  • In-class Conference Papers
  • Cooperatives with other programs

What our faculty say: 

Jeff Runner, associate professor, works closely with undergraduate students in his eye-track lab. He likes them to “have some ownership” of the research projects they’re working with. “Rather than have them just run subjects, or schedule subjects, I try to get them involved in every stage of the experiment.” That includes contributing to the initial brainstorming on what the experiment will look like. “I give them a lot of freedom to choose what they would like to do.”

Scott AnderBois, visiting assistant professor, says his own undergraduate research experiences were “crucial for both my learning and in figuring out this was something that I really loved and wanted to keep doing.  …  The field work really helps you understand if this is something you will actually enjoy doing.”  Even students interested in other careers find that, “the scientific mind set of the linguist, and the ease with which you can do experiments is a really good introduction to scientific thinking more generally.”

Wilson Silva, post doctoral lecturer, also knows firsthand the value of undergraduate research opportunities. While studying arts and letters as an undergraduate in Brazil,  Silva volunteered to help survey the status of the indigenous languages of Native Americans who had migrated to the cities. “That’s when I began to be aware of all the indigenous languages, and their endangered status.” And that’s when he decided to become a linguist.  “When I applied for graduate school here, I already knew what I wanted to work on and I already had experience in research. I didn't have to spend a lot of time thinking about what I was  going to do or how to go about doing it.”