Formal linguistic theory
This area deals with language structure and meaning, with the goal of constructing theoretical models to explain how humans acquire, produce, and comprehend language. Research focuses on the study of the sounds of human language (phonetics and phonology), the structure of words (morphology), the structure of sentences (syntax), and meaning (semantics), using natural language data, speaker intuitions, and experimental methods. Students may choose a specific area within formal linguistics theory to focus on.
Second language acquisition
This area offers a curriculum that treats the theoretical linguistic bases for learning languages. Students may concentrate on the acquisition of specific languages, such as French, Spanish, or German. For students who are interested primarily in teaching English as a second language or in high-school foreign language education, the Department of Language and Literacy Education in the College of Education offers M.E.d and Ph.D. degrees in these areas.
Language variation and change
This area represents two interconnected areas. Languages inevitably change over time and these changes are a source of synchronic variation. The existence of linguistic variants often leads to social valuation of specific features, and these valuations or other social factors (such as language contact) can themselves drive linguistic change. The study of language variation focuses on contemporary and historical patterns of language change, including changes in progress, social factors related to variation, and empirical research methods for the investigation of language in use.
Historical Indo-European linguistics
This area investigates change over a greater depth of time; it involves both the methodology for comparison and reconstruction of historical languages and an intense, hermeneutic approach to studying ancient languages individually. Students can acquire a close familiarity with the sounds, grammar, and vocabulary of languages like ancient Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Classical Armenian, Gothic, Old English, Old Church Slavic, and others.