University of Cambridge




Are you curious about our most crucially human attribute, language? Is a subject that combines the arts and sciences appealing? If you've found yourself asking 'why?' or 'how?' in relation to language, then Linguistics is for you.

UCAS code Q100 BA/L

Duration Three years

Colleges Available at all Colleges except St Catharine's

2013 entry Applications per place: 4
Number accepted: 30

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Contact details 01223 335010


Language and linguistics

Linguistics is the systematic study of human language. Superficially, there's huge variation among the world's languages, and linguists not only describe the diverse characteristics of individual languages but also explore properties which all languages share and which offer insight into the human mind.

The interdisciplinary study of linguistics draws on methods and knowledge from a wide range of disciplines. For instance, the study of meaning draws on philosophy, whereas the analysis of the speech signal uses methods from physics and engineering, while the study of language acquisition draws on psychology.

This variety is what makes linguistics fascinating - one day you might be poring over a medieval text for evidence of how the grammar of a language has changed, and the next, learning about how the larynx creates sound energy for speech, or how we can record brain responses to a categorisation task.

The Department

The Department has internationally acknowledged expertise across an unusually wide range of language-related disciplines, both theoretical and applied. Situated within the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics benefits greatly from colleagues specialising in the linguistics of particular European languages.

Changing course

Part II of Linguistics is also available to some undergraduates who have successfully completed Part I of another course. It may be taken either as a two-year course or as a one-year course for those who have taken a two-year Part I. Alternatively, it's possible to choose linguistics options within the Modern and Medieval Languages course.

After Linguistics

The broad interdisciplinary training means that our graduates emerge with transferable skills that are greatly sought after by employers; for example, students learn to analyse quantitative data, construct abstract grammatical models, and test alternative hypotheses. Therefore, Linguistics graduates find employment in a wide range of professions.

Linguistics provides a particularly good preparation for vocational training too, in fields such as speech therapy, teaching, speech and language technology (eg developing speech recognition and translation software), law, translation, interpreting, and even forensic linguistics. Familiarity with the range of human languages is also a huge advantage in careers where rapid learning of unfamiliar languages may be involved, such as in the Diplomatic Service.

Course outline

Linguistics is divided into a one-year Part I and a two-year Part II, and teaching is by a mixture of lectures and supervisions. A typical week involves four hours of lectures and two hours of supervisions, with additional practical classes for some areas such as phonetics.

Assessment is by written examination, and practical exams in phonetics, as well as a dissertation in the final year.

Year 1 (Part I)

Part I provides a foundation across a wide range of linguistics taught within the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. You take the following four papers:

  • Sounds and Words
  • Structures and Meanings
  • Language, Brain and Society
  • History and Varieties of English
Year 2 (Part IIA)

Part II allows you to specialise in the areas which particularly interest you. There's a wide choice of topics to choose from, taught by the Department as well as other faculties and departments.

In Part IIA, you take four papers chosen from a wide range of options dealing with different linguistic levels and perspectives, which may include the following (not all options are offered every year):

  • Phonetics
  • Phonology
  • Morphology
  • Syntax
  • Semantics and Pragmatics
  • Historical Linguistics
  • History of Ideas on Language
  • History of English/History of French
  • Language Acquisition
  • Psychology of Language Processing and Learning
  • Language Typology
Year 3 (Part IIB)

In Part IIB, you take:

  • Linguistic Theory – a general theory paper
  • two further papers from the remaining Part IIA options

Part IIB also includes an element of individual research as you write a dissertation of 8,000-10,000 words on a topic of your choice.

Entry requirements

Typical offers require
A Level:
IB: 40-41 points, with 776 at Higher Level
For other qualifications, see our main Entrance requirements pages.

Course requirements

Essential No specific subjects

Useful A foreign language, A Level/IB Higher Level English Language

Linguistics is interdisciplinary so specific A Level subjects are not required. We welcome applicants with an outstanding academic profile, whether science-oriented or arts-centred. However, some formal study of language, either through learning languages or through English Language A Level, does serve as a good preparation.

Check College websites for College specific requirements. See also Entrance requirements and our Subject Matters leaflet for additional advice about general requirements for entry, qualifications and offers.

Admissions tests and written work

The table below sets out the ways in which each College assesses applicants for this subject. For more information about these methods of assessment and why we use them, see the main Admissions tests and written work page.

College Assessment of applicant for this subject
Christ's Interview only
Churchill School/college essays
Clare School/college essays
Corpus Christi School/college essay
Downing School/college essay; Test at interview
Emmanuel School/college essay
Fitzwilliam Test at interview
Girton Interview only
Gonville & Caius School/college essays
Homerton Interview only
Hughes Hall Interview only
Jesus Test at interview
King's Interview only
Lucy Cavendish School/college essays; Test at interview
Magdalene Test at interview
Murray Edwards School/college essay
Newnham School/college essays
Pembroke School/college essays
Peterhouse School/college essays
Queens' School/college essays
Robinson Interview only
St Catharine's Contact the College for details
St Edmund's One-hour essay test
St John's School/college essay; Written test at interview; Data-based problem at interview
Selwyn School/college essay
Sidney Sussex School/college essays
Trinity Test at interview
Trinity Hall School/college essays
Wolfson Test at interview
How to apply

If you are interested in applying for this course, please see our Applying section for more details.

Further Resources

Find out more about Linguistics at Cambridge

Improve your knowledge of Linguistics

  • Preparatory reading - There is no specific guidance on preparatory reading for applicants interested in Linguistics, but you may wish to explore the suggested reading and other guidance for first-year students.

Unistats info

Contextual Information

From September 2012, every undergraduate course of more than one year's duration will have a Key Information Set (KIS). The KIS allows you to compare 17 pieces of information about individual courses at different higher education institutions.

However, please note that superficially similar courses often have very different structures and objectives, and that the teaching, support and learning environment that best suits you can only be determined by identifying your own interests, needs, expectations and goals, and comparing them with detailed institution- and course-specific information.

We recommend that you look thoroughly at the course and University information contained on these webpages and consider coming to visit us on an Open Day, rather than relying solely on statistical comparison.

You may find the following notes helpful when considering information presented by the KIS.

  1. The KIS relies on superficially similar courses being coded in the same way. Whilst this works on one level, it leads to some anomalies. For example, Music courses and Music Technology courses can have exactly the same code despite being very different programmes with quite distinct educational and career outcomes.

    Any course which combines several disciplines (as many courses at Cambridge do) tends to be compared nationally with courses in just one of those disciplines, and in such cases a KIS comparison may not be an accurate or fair reflection of the reality of either. For example, you may find that when considering a degree which embraces a range of disciplines such as biology, physics, chemistry and geology (for instance, Natural Sciences at Cambridge), the comparison provided is with courses at other institutions that primarily focus on just one (or a smaller combination) of those subjects.

  2. Whilst the KIS makes reference to some broad types of financial support offered by institutions, it cannot compare packages offered by different institutions. Different students have different circumstances and requirements, and you should weigh up what matters to you most: level of fee; fee waivers; means-tested support such as bursaries; non-means-tested support such as academic scholarships and study grants; and living costs such as accommodation, travel.

  3. The KIS provides a typical cost of private (ie non-university) accommodation. This is very difficult to estimate as prices and properties vary. University accommodation can be substantially cheaper, and if you are likely to live in College for much or all of the duration of your course (as is the case at Cambridge), then the cost of private accommodation will be of less or no relevance for you. The KIS also provides the typical annual cost of university accommodation and the number of beds available. Note that since most universities offer a range of residential accommodation, you should check with institutions about the likelihood of securing a room at a price that suits your budget. Knowing the number of beds available is not necessarily useful: it may be much more important to find out if all students are guaranteed accommodation.

  4. Time in lectures, seminars and similar can vary enormously by institution depending on the structure of the course, and the quality of such contact time should be the primary consideration.

  5. Whilst starting salaries can be a useful measure, they do not give any sense of career trajectory or take account of the voluntary/low paid work that many graduates undertake initially in order to gain valuable experience necessary/advantageous for later career progression.

The above list is not exhaustive and there may be other important factors that are relevant to the choices that you are making, but we hope that this will be a useful starting point to help you delve deeper than the face value of the KIS data.