Historical Linguistics

The Department of Linguistics offers two secondary fields, one in Historical Linguistics and the other in Linguistic Theory, for linguistics graduate students and for graduate students not enrolled in the linguistics Ph.D program. 

Historical Linguistics 

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. 

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Linguistic Theory 

Linguistic theory, the core of the modern field of linguistics, seeks to characterize the linguistic knowledge that normal human beings acquire in the course of mastering their native language between the ages of one and five. Studied as an internalized formal system, language is a source of insight into a wide range of human pursuits and abilities, some of them traditionally approached through the humanities, others through the social sciences, and others through the behavioral and natural sciences. The major divisions of linguistic theory are syntax, the study of sentence structure; phonology, the study of sounds and sound systems; morphology, the study of word structure; and semantics; the study of meaning. Courses in these areas regularly draw students from other Harvard departments, especially Psychology, Philosophy, and other departments associated with the Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative. The secondary field in Linguistic Theory allows such students to receive official recognition for their linguistics coursework. 

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The contact person for Ph.D students wishing to pursue a secondary field in Linguistic Theory or Historical Linguistics is the Director of Graduate Studies in Linguistics.