Historical Linguistics

The Department of Linguistics offers a secondary field in historical linguistics for PhD students enrolled in other departments at Harvard. Historical linguistics, the study of how languages change over time, subsumes both the general study of language change and the history of specific languages and language families. The intellectual spectrum thus defined bridges part of the gap between linguistic theory and the areas traditionally known as “philology.” At Harvard, the more theoretical aspects of historical linguistics are covered in courses offered by the Department of Linguistics, while courses dealing with the historical linguistics of specific languages are offered both by the Department of Linguistics and the relevant language departments. In practice, many graduate students in the classics, Germanic languages and literatures, Slavic languages and literatures, Near Eastern languages and civilizations, and other language-centered departments take courses in historical linguistics as part of their ordinary preparation for the PhD. The availability of a secondary field in historical linguistics allows such students to have their work in linguistics officially recognized.


Requirement: four courses (16 credits), to be distributed as follows:

a) One of Linguistics 120 (Introduction to Historical Linguistics) or Linguistics 224 (Historical and Comparative Linguistics)

b) Three other courses in linguistics or cross-listed with linguistics, two of which must be chosen from the following:
Linguistics 122 (Introduction to Indo-European)
Linguistics 123 (Indo-European Phonology and Morphology)
Linguistics 158r (From Indo-European to Old Irish)
Linguistics 168 (Introduction to Germanic Linguistics)
Linguistics 176 (History and Prehistory of the Japanese Language)
Linguistics 220ar (Advanced Indo-European)
Linguistics 221r (Indo-European Workshop)
Linguistics 247 (Topics in Germanic Linguistics)
Linguistics 225a (Introduction to Hittite)
Linguistics 250 (Old Church Slavonic)
Linguistics 252 (Comparative Slavic Linguistics)
Greek 134 (The Language of Homer)
Latin 134 (Archaic Latin)
Semitic Philology 140 (Introduction to the Comparative Study of Semitic
Semitic Philology 200r (Comparative Semitic Grammar: Seminar)
Slavic 125 (Modern Russian in Historical Perspective)

Other courses with a historical linguistic focus may be added to this list at the discretion of the director of graduate studies in linguistics.

Historical linguistics is one of the department’s traditional areas of strength. For courses offered in the 2015–2016 academic year, contact the department.


The contact person is the director of graduate studies in linguistics.