As in other small subjects, most teaching is organised at departmental level. Peterhouse is one of the few colleges to have an internal Director of Studies in Linguistics, Dr Nicholas Zair, who has research interests in writing systems, sounds and morphology of ancient languages. He is currently working on the languages of ancient Italy. Professor Mari Jones, Fellow and Tutor of Peterhouse, is a University Reader in French Linguistics and has research and teaching interests in language obsolescence and revitalization, language contact and change, and dialectology and standardization. Her work has focused particularly on French, Norman and the Celtic languages.
Linguistics, the scientific study of language, aims to discover the common properties that languages share with one another and thereby ultimately to help us learn about the structure of the human mind.
It encompasses a broad range of approaches to language, and deals, for instance, with questions as diverse as how we recognise the individual sounds of a spoken conversation, how meanings are communicated indirectly, how children learn their native language, or how different unrelated languages share so many grammatical similarities.
In the first year (“Part I”) of the Cambridge course, students are provided with a foundation covering the main areas of theoretical linguistics, while courses in the study of language variation, language and the brain, and the history and varieties of English serve as a bridge between theoretical linguistics and topics typically taught as part of A level English Language or Psychology. After the first year, students proceed to the two-year Part II, where they are able to specialise in those areas that particularly appeal to them. Papers cover a wide variety of topics ranging from experimental work in phonetics, to looking at the grammatical structures allowed in language, how languages change, or the linguistics of particular languages. In their final year, students write a dissertation on a topic of their choice.
The Department of Linguistics in Cambridge is part of the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and benefits from close links with Modern Languages. Almost all Linguistics courses are also available within the Modern Languages course which allows students to combine the study of Linguistics with intensive study of two foreign languages and a year abroad.