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Hamilton adds linguistics minor

By Shannon O’Brien ’15

February 20, 2014

Students fascinated by how we make sounds, where words come from, and how we interact with one another through language can finally put an academic title to their interests. While courses in language etymology and sociolinguistics have been offered for several years, the College only recently announced that linguistics has officially been added as aminor.

From about the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, Hamilton had both a Linguistics minor and major. With only Professor of Anthropology Bonnie Urciuoli teaching the courses in the department, there were not enough courses available to support the major and minor, leading to the elimination of the Linguistics Department. Although the linguistics major and minor disappeared, linguistics courses and student interest in linguistics remained. Professor Urciuoli’s courses moved to the Anthropology Department, and she has continued to teach the same linguistics-based courses in her 26 years at Hamilton.

While Professor Urciuoli’s courses became part of the Anthropology Department, the call for a linguistics minor was initiated by Associate Professor of Japanese Masaaki Kamiya, who had taken note of the continued student interest in linguistics. Professor Kamiya began to consider collaborating with Professor Urciuoli and Associate Professor of Anthropology Chaise LaDousa to recreate the linguistics minor. In the Japanese Studies Department, Professor Kamiya teaches formal linguistics courses, and Professors Urciuoli and LaDousa have been teaching linguistic anthropology for several years now.

Urciuoli stated, “course offerings have been stable enough to go ahead and propose the minor,” and many students had been taking enough linguistics classes to constitute an unofficial minor already. In the fall, the professors sent out a survey to about 115 students who had taken Professor Urciuoli’s introductory courses, and close to 40 students responded that they would be interested in minoring in linguistics if it were offered.

With the significant number of positive survey responses and students who could already qualify for a linguistics minor, the time seemed ripe to acknowledge student interest in linguistics. “We decided that a minor would allow students to have such coursework recognized on their transcripts as fitting into a coherent field,” Professors Kamiya, LaDousa and Urciuoli explained.

The implementation of a linguistics minor will not alter the Anthropology Department in any way, as Professors LaDousa and Urciuoli will continue to teach the linguistics courses that they have been teaching for years. The linguistics minor simply offers students the opportunity to pursue an interest in linguistics with the pay-off of graduating with a formal minor in the subject.

Other small liberal arts colleges such as Swarthmore and Reed have linguistics departments with majors, and Middlebury offers a linguistics minor. Because Hamilton has no strictly linguistics-focused faculty member, there is not a possibility for the minor to become a major any time soon, especially because of current economic circumstances.

Professors Kamiya, LaDousa and Urciuoli collectively voiced that the creation of a linguistics minor demonstrates that “the institution recognizes the value of that field and legitimates student interest in that field.” The return of the linguistics minor reinforces the importance of and emphasis on language and writing at Hamilton. In her final comments about the implementation of linguistics as a minor, Urciuoli articulated the importance of the new minor, remarking, “Like any field of study in a liberal arts college, its value lies in its capacity to further understand the world in which one lives.”

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