Department of Linguistics


Linguistics at USM provides a rigorous undergraduate education focused on the nature, organization, acquisition, and origins of human natural language. The Linguistics major provides four pathways:

*Nationally accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education since December 9th, 2009.
The linguistics major consists of linguistics courses designed to foster a deep understanding of human natural language (spoken and signed), including an appreciation of the structure and organization of natural languages, the variety of natural languages, the commonalities that underlie the vast apparent differences among languages, the processes of language acquisition in children, the psychological and neurological bases of language use, and the form and significance of social variation in language. 

The goals of the linguistics major are 1) to help each student develop an understanding of the nature of natural language, 2) to help each student develop a foundation of more specialized expertise relevant to the student's career goals, and 3) to help each student compile a record of achievement that will facilitate the student's search for employment or further education.

The General Linguistics major is intended for students who are looking for a rigorous liberal arts major with rich connections to a variety of science, humanities, and arts disciplines. This track is also appropriate for students who intend to do graduate study in linguistics or related disciplines such as cognitive science, computational linguistics, law, or education, among others.

For students with an interest in ASL/English interpreting, we have in place a four-year interpreter training program, including courses in ASL and in interpreting theory and process. Launched in 1998 with support from the Maine Dept. of Education, these offerings are designed to serve undergraduate students at USM as well as working interpreters seeking to advance their skills. The program is directed by Dr. Judy Kegl.

The ASL Linguistics Concentration is intended for students interested in ASL, Deaf studies, and linguistics who intend to pursue a career other than interpreting that involves Deaf people and the Deaf community.

Students interested in Speech-Language Science will find that linguistics provides an excellent foundation for their professional training. First, linguistics will offer a broad understanding of how normal language works and how it varies both within and across human communities. Second, linguistics has proven to be an excellent base from which to apply for graduate school admission in speech-language pathology or audiology.

The USM Linguistics Department also offers a minor in Linguistics and a minor in Deaf Studies.

Many students in all of the concentrations study ASL. Our ASL course curriculum places a heavy emphasis on interaction with the Deaf community. Every ASL course in the program has a community interaction requirement that increases with the level of the course.

Students majoring in linguistics also study spoken languages. The Linguistics Department offers courses in the following spoken languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

Graduates of the Linguistics program have been admitted to masters or doctoral programs at Boston University, McGill University (Montreal), Syracuse University, UCLA, University of Massachusetts (Amherst), and Vanderbilt University, among others.

Student Learning Outcomes:

All linguistics majors will be able to:

  1. Explain the nature and goals of the discipline of linguistics and its major subfields.
  2. Explain in broad outline the research process in linguistics and allied disciplines (e.g., cognitive science, neurolinguistics, etc.), especially with respect to quantitative and experimental studies.
  3. Explain the relevance of linguistic theory to its applications (in particular to interpreting for students in the ASL/English Interpreting Concentration, and speech/language pathology for students in the Speech and Language Science Concentration).
  4. Discuss the ways the specific features of language contribute to, enable, and constrain human thought and interaction in a variety of domains.
  5. Analyze, at a basic level, linguistic structures in English and other languages (specifically ASL, for students in the ASL Linguistics and ASL/English Interpreting concentrations).
  6. Demonstrate some familiarity with one or more languages other than English.
  7. Argue persuasively that all naturally occurring languages/dialects are of equal complexity and value.
  8. Apply knowledge about language to situations outside of the context of courses.
  9. Read a significant research publication and present a formal review of the material.


Students in the ASL Linguistics and ASL/English Interpreting concentrations will in addition:

10. Demonstrate fluency in both conversational (BICS) and academic ASL (CALP).
11. Demonstrate an understanding of Deaf culture, including its language, literature, and art forms.
12. Establish connections with and become involved in the local Deaf community.


Students in the ASL/English Interpreting concentration will in addition:

13. Demonstrate the ability to effectively interpret in a variety of modes: consecutive, simultaneous (uninterrupted consecutive), escort, and sight translation.
14. Be able to interpret for a variety of consumers, including Deaf signers of ASL, Deaf/blind signers, users of more contact language varieties of signing, and signers with cognitive challenges.
15. Be able to explain the difference between using a language and the complex process of interpreting.
16. Be able to engage in critical thinking and decision making with regard to ethical issues encountered in interpreting.
17. Demonstrate the meta-cognitive abilities needed to talk about and self-reflect upon one’s own mental process in interpreting.
18. Be able to talk with others about the interpreting process in a constructive and non-evaluative manner.
19. Advocate for and work in teams, including hearing-hearing teams, Deaf-hearing teams, and ensemble interpreting.
20. Be able to talk about their work within the Integrated Model of Interpreting and to apply this model in their interpreting process.


Mission Statement:

The only linguistics major in Maine is located in its major urban center where linguistic and cultural diversity abounds and opportunities to interface with community programs and businesses are plentiful. The mission of the linguistics major is to offer students empirically grounded, explanatory accounts of the major phenomena of human language -- whether spoken or signed. It addresses the structure and organization of languages, their variety, and the commonalities underlying their apparent differences, stressing links to child language development, neurolinguistics, and language variation. It also gives careful attention to how insights are gained in these domains.

We provide a foundation for students planning careers in ASL/English interpreting, Deaf services, and clinical disciplines (e.g., speech-language pathology, audiology).  Our major also provides an entry point for careers in language-related technologies (e.g., query analysis, machine translation, speech recognition), and ESL, among diverse others. These foci serve specific employment needs identified at the local, state and national level.

Practical application and community involvement apply and extend the student's knowledge of the field, and help to compile a record of achievement, enhancing employability and opportunities for graduate education. Students participate in faculty-driven, often grant-funded, research programs. In addition, service learning and internship experiences are threaded throughout the curriculum. Examples of projects where students have played central roles include the annual Maine Deaf Film Festival, a state-wide program providing sighted guides to deaf/blind people, ESL tutoring in the community, research on child language, and the development of automated language analysis tools for a start-up company.