Course Guide


Introducing your Student Reps

Conal Lowe

Hi! I'm Conal, the JCR Access Officer for Queens' College and I am in my second year studying Linguistics (which is the study of language as a concept if you're confused!). The Access Officer is in charge of outreach initiatives across a specific college. I helped organise and manage the annual Queens' Roadshow in which groups of undergraduate students travel to schools in one of our link area (Kent, Bradford, and Havering) to deliver access talks to students about not just Cambridge but university more generally. It is my job to make sure any prospective students have access to any important information about university life and overall to be a welcoming face for incoming or prospective students!

Lily Goulder

Hi I'm Lily from Hull! I'm currently in my first year studying Linguistics at Gonville and Caius College (Caius for short!). My role as Access Officer is to be a bridge between our Outreach and Access staff here at Caius and the student body. I encourage students to get involved in Access Events, like open days and promotional videos. It's really important to me to make sure people from all backgrounds feel they'd be welcome and could succeed at Caius, especially those who may otherwise have barriers.

Key Facts

Average offer: A*AA

3 years

Available at all colleges except St Catharine's

Key subjects for admission: None mandatory

Written assessment if interviewed

No inclusive prayer space :(


Why did you want to study Linguistics?


I know it's a bit of a cliché, but I do think I was kind of born to study linguistics. Ever since I was a very young child, I've really enjoyed learning about other languages and even creating some of my own. One thing that drew me to linguistics specifically (as opposed to a true languages degree) was that I didn't want to shoehorn myself into one specific language. I have tried learning really any language that you can think of and I usually get distracted by another one very quickly (I don't have any language GCSE or A Level because of this!). More than loving any specific language, I am so fascinated with the structure of language as a concept. I was really interested in etymology as a teenager and I still always have Wiktionary open when I encounter a strange word. Linguistics just made a lot of sense for me. I was also always someone who could never fully commit to humanities or sciences. This is really exemplified with how the two most common A Level options for a linguistics degree are a language and maths (both with 70% of students choosing them). Linguistics is a surprisingly varied subject; it provides options to go down a more historical route or you could study computer science and natural language processing. There is so much option to pick and choose more humanity- or science-based courses and that ability to keep my options open really appealed to me. It's a good subject for indecisive people.


I studied English Language at A level and was introduced to studying the way people speak in a more analytical way. I love how linguistics combines a broad range science and humanities elements. You get to do everything from learning the neuroscience of language processing to translating Old English texts to analysing differences in English accents across the world.

How is the Linguistics course structured?


Each year, you have 4 papers (modules) that you study all throughout all three terms. In first year, you have no choice as everyone is coming in from very different exposure to linguistics as there is no A Level for it. The first year aims to give a solid foundation and touches on most areas of linguistics at some point. Throughout first year, you will write about 4 1500-word essays each term supplemented with worksheets. The linguistics department has their own guide to writing essays. The writing style is generally on the more factual, straight-forward side; it is more important to build a solid, evidence-led argument than to use fancy words. The worksheets vary in content from analysing a specific psychological study to doing a deep-dive into the structure of some given sentences.   In second and third year, you get given a long list of papers you can choose from. Some of these are offered by the linguistics department and others are papers from other courses (e.g., MML, Classics, ASNaC, AMES). In second year, you can pick any 4 of these papers you want. In third year, you pick 2 remaining papers from the same list - your other options for third year are a dissertation and a broad paper on linguistic theory. Unlike first year, both second and third year ultimately count towards your final grade (weighted 30-70% respectively). In second year, you are expected to write around 9 and 16 essays for Michaelmas and Lent term, respectively. This depends on what papers you do as papers from other departments are likely to work different. Also, generally you have less worksheets but this is also dependent on your papers. Many papers also have practical sessions; these are sometimes baked into lectures. The workload for third year is similar but with fewer supervision essays to allow time for dissertation writing. From personal experience, the essays you will have to write can again be very varied: I've written about DeepFake algorithms the same week I had to read through rhyme schemes in the Qur'an. The course, especially in second and third year, is really what you make of it.


In first year, everybody studies the same 4 modules (Sounds and Words, Structures and Meanings, Language, Brain and Society and History and Varieties of English). The work tends to be a mix of essays and problem sheets. In second and third year, you pick from a selection of different modules. This can even include borrowing papers from Modern Languages or Classics.

What is the faculty building like?


In all honesty, the Raised Faculty Building (RFB for short) is a bit of a labyrinth. It houses MML, Linguistics, and Philosophy and is a very strange shape. I would advise scouting out supervisions rooms before hand just to make sure you know where you're going.   In reality, you won't spend too much time in the faculty building as most of it is just supervision rooms; lectures generally happen in one of the lecture blocks that are not subject-specific. The linguistics section within the RFB is very small as well and essentially everything you need is within that one corridor. It does have a phonetics lab which is definitely a highlight.   A lot of the building is dominated by the MMLL (Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics) and Philosophy libraries. I cannot speak for the Philosophy library but I can say I do really like the MMLL library. It is deceptively large and features any linguistics book you could think of. The atmosphere is generally very laidback; you can ask for blankets and just sit reading on a beanbag if you want. Despite this, it is still a very quiet and pleasant place to work.


Linguistics is in the department of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics (MMLL). We are based in the Raised Faculty Building on the Sidgewick Site. The library is one of the most welcoming in Cambridge, with free blankets to keep cosy and tea and biscuits every week.

What is the workload like?


Linguistics is structured like many other humanities degrees in that a lot of the time in the week is meant to be for independent study/reading. Generally, you will have 4 lectures and anywhere from 2 to 4 supervisions a week. For some papers (e.g., phonetics) you may also have practical sessions throughout the week. The rest of the time is your own to do with as you please. As there is a lot of downtime between mandatory hours, it is up to the student to organise their own time to make sure they are on top of any work they have.


For first year, we have one lecture and one supervision for each module a week. This equals 8 hours of contact. We can also have practical sessions for some subjects.

What about your course would you change?


The linguistics department always recommends studying a language alongside your degree (or at least have learnt a language at some point). Knowing multiple languages definitely can help with your studies although it is not necessary. We can take papers from other degrees but only when they are explicitly linguistics related. There is no option to borrow language papers from other degrees. This means you have to either self-study or pay your own money for a teacher. Although most colleges will at least partially fund language classes, it would be so much easier if language papers were standard options for us to choose at least in second and/or third year.   On a similar note, it would be nice if we had a choice to do a year abroad. Many colleges have travel grants that they can give you if you want to go to another country but it would be so much better for the department to run years abroad for any linguists who want to have more contact with a particular language.


I would like to have more contact hours in a week. It is nice to have a more flexible schedule to tackle the workload in a personal way. However, I like a structured timetable, so the amount of free-time can be a bit daunting!

A typical timetable

First year timetable

1st year          
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
11am Lecture (History & Varieties of English)   Lecture (Language, Brain & Society)    
12pm   Supervision   Lecture (Sounds and Words)  
2pm     Lecture (Structures and Meanings)   Supervision
3pm   Lecture (Linguistic Theory)      
5pm Supervision   Supervision    


Have more questions? Talk to an academic rep

Academic Reps are the voice of students in faculties, departments and schools. Reps have the power to enact changes to education, individually based on their priorities and collectively, working with other representatives across the University. Their responsibilities include taking students’ ideas and concerns to faculty and department boards, relaying important information from those boards back to students, and organising with their peers to foster a subject community.