Universiteit Leiden

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Linguistics (BA)

Programme structure

In the first year, the Linguistics programme will give you a sound basis for specialisation, while training your academic competences. In the second year, you will choose one of our four specialisations. While focusing on this track in your second and third year, you may also choose electives outside of your specialisation if you wish.


Proto-Indo-European was spoken more than five thousand years ago by people who probably lived north of the Black Sea. Languages such as Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin originate from this ancient language, as do Dutch, English, French and Russian. Yet the Indo-Europeans did not leave behind any written sources. In Comparative Indo-European Linguistics, we try to reconstruct the language of the Indo-Europeans by learning, analysing, and comparing many different languages. In this specialisation you will acquire the basics of several languages, such as Hittite, Gothic, Sanskrit, Ancient Greek and Lithuanian.

All languages have a grammatical structure, but of the roughly six thousand languages in the world, only about five hundred have been documented to a reasonable extent. Thousands of languages are still waiting for an eager linguist to discover and document their structure before they disappear in oblivion. If these languages get described, education can be set up so that people can learn to read and write their own language. Language description is also important because each newly described language teaches us about variation in language. Descriptive Linguistics focuses on this important and highly relevant aspect of the linguistic field.

Language is a system, and this system is what we study in linguistics. In the Language and Cognition specialisation, we explore language models that try to explain how language is represented in the brain, how children develop language systems, and how brain damage can affect these systems. This specialisation touches on numerous research fields such as psychology, neuroscience, and computer science. In this specialisation you will learn to develop and conduct language experiments, while working in one of our four language laboratories: the Babylab, EEG lab, Phonetics lab, or the Eye-tracking lab.

Among humans, language is used to inform, entertain or convince. In other words, language use is functional – but how does this work? Language can also be used to construct an identity. Which principles and rules do people apply when they use language in these ways? In the specialisation Language in Use / Taal in gebruik, which is partly taught in Dutch, you will explore questions such as: What are the effects of language use? How do we strategically use language to achieve a certain goal? What is the link between language and identity? In this track you will expand your knowledge about the persuasive power of language and how language and society mutually influence each other.

Some of the courses

Most of us are not surprised to hear a teenager say a popular slang word, but what if a fifty-year old does? Consciously and subconsciously, we use language to show that we belong to a certain group. In this course, you will explore how language functions as a social phenomenon.

Language consists of sounds (or signs). While sounds themselves do not possess a specific meaning, they do convey meaning: we acquire language through the sounds that belong to it. Phonology is about the sound systems of different languages: the units of sound and how they influence each other.

In this course, you study the variations in language use in the world’s languages, particularly in non-Western languages. You will study such issues as the variety of forms of address and ways to say good-bye, while also analysing the function of proverbs and wordplay.

Of the 6000 languages in the world, only about 500 have been documented. To transcribe the words of an undocumented language you need an alphabet that can accommodate every language sound in the world. In this interesting and fun course, you learn to name, recognise, and produce foreign sounds that you did not even know existed.

What is your choice of electives?

Leiden University’s Bachelor’s in Linguistics programme offers you the freedom to tailor the programme to match your interests. From your second semester on, you can select electives that fit one of the four specialisations. During your second year, you will choose a specialisation, while you also can follow electives from within another discipline or specialisation. During your third year your choices expand even further: you can choose between studying a minor, doing an internship, studying abroad, or creating a package of electives from other programmes or specialisations. The choice is yours!

Detailed programme

Below you can find an overview of the curriculum. For a detailed description of the courses, see the Prospectus. Please note that this guide applies to the current academic year, which means that the curriculum for next year may slightly differ.

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