Language is a system of communication, a medium for personal thought, and a marker of socio-cultural identity. All human groups have at least one language; and the language of a group is an important window into its culture. Linguistics is the study of language, not any particular language, but human language in general. Although linguists may specialize in the study of a single language or group of languages, the aim is to come to a general understanding of language as a human phenomenon.
In North America, linguistics has developed as part of anthropology. Like socio-cultural anthropologists, linguists usually conduct long periods of fieldwork living with people who speak the language they are studying. In addition to insights into the nature of language, the products of this research often include grammars and dictionaries for languages that would otherwise remain unknown. Some linguists also become involved in developing writing systems for unwritten languages, recording oral literature, and consulting with officials on language policy.
Besides anthropology, linguists are also found associated with departments of sociology, psychology, philosophy, modern and classical languages, and computer science. McMaster offers linguistic programs both in the Department of Anthropology and in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics. In the Department of Anthropology, students can specialize in linguistics as a sub-discipline of anthropology. Here, the emphasis is on theoretical linguistics, covering all main branches of the field, along with intensive exposure to a broad range of languages, both European and non-European. The resulting B.A. will prepare students for graduate work either in pure theoretical linguistics, or in language-oriented anthropology. Most of the linguistics courses offered in the Department of Anthropology are cross-listed with the Department of Modern Languages.
1st-year courses include:
- 1AA3 - Introduction to Anthropology: Sex, Food, and Death. This
course examines major issues in Anthropology in contemporary and past
societies from archaeological, biological, cultural, and linguistic
perspectives. It will focus on sex, food, illness, death, and related
- 1AB3 - Introduction to Anthropology: Identity, Race, and Power. This course examines major issues in Anthropology in contemporary and past societies from archaeological, biological, cultural, and linguistic perspectives. It will focus on identity, power, migration, race, and related themes.
2nd-year courses include:
- 2L3-Phonetics, which provides a study of the sounds of language and human articulatory capabilities; and
- 2LP3-Phonology, which is a study of the patterns of distinctive sounds in the world's languages.
A 3rd-year course is:
- 3II3-Semantics, in which patterns of meaning of language are examined.
A 4th-year course is:
- 4LB3-Structure of a Language, which is an in depth examination of a language, usually one from the Caucasus.