Linguistics is devoted to the scientific study of language. The central goal of the discipline is to provide a theoretical account of the human cognitive capacity that underlies language production and comprehension. A linguistic explanation of how sound pairs with meaning is given in terms of a class of structures, which are the mental representations of phonetic, phonological, morphological, syntactic, and semantic detail. Linguistics also undertakes to explain how these cognitive structures develop and are utilized both individually and interactively.

As one of the world's leading programs, the Linguistics department at USC is at the forefront of scientific progress in the study of language. Research areas represented in the department include syntax, phonology, phonetics, semantics, morphology, sociolinguistics, first and second language acquisition, language processing, and language change. The department is also involved in a web of interdisciplinary relations with other fields, among which are Psychology, Philosophy, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Neuroscience.

Research Foci

Language Areas

While the program centers on the theoretical study of language, it encourages the detailed examination and analysis of particular languages and corpora. The faculty have expertise in particular language areas, such as East Asian languages, Romance and Hispanic languages, Semitic languages, Slavic languages, and Germanic languages. Together with a strong core of graduate students in these areas and in collaboration with the language departments, the Linguistics department is now one of the foremost centers for the study of comparative linguistics. Linguistics collaborates with other academic units such as the Department of Spanish and Portuguese; the Department of East Asian Languages and Culture;and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. In conjunction with the Spanish department, the Linguistics department offers a Ph.D. in Linguistics with a specialization in Hispanic Linguistics. In conjunction with the Department of Slavic Languages and Culture, the Linguistics department offers a Ph.D. in Linguistics with a specialization in Slavic Linguistics.

Interdisciplinary Research

The Linguistics department fosters and encourages interdisciplinary research within all areas that touch upon language and linguistics. One area of particular cooperation is that of Psycholinguistics and Cognitive Neurosciences, which brings together faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students from Psychology, Linguistics, Computer Science, and Neurosciences. Another area that brings together the Department of Linguistics and the School of Philosophy in an initiative to develop a preeminent program in semantics and the philosophy of language. Finally, our M.Sc. degree program in Computational Linguistics involves an ongoing collaboration with the Computer Science Department and the Information Sciences Institute at USC.


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60-Second Seminar: Elsi Kaiser

Dr. Elsi Kaiser works with undergraduate student Evangeline Alva '14 on an eye-tracking experiment in her psycholinguistics lab.

Video by Mira Zimet
  • Chair: Andrew Simpson
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