This is content from the Catalog 2019–2020 back issue. Please visit the current catalog for current information.

Coordinator: Scott Saft , Ph.D.


Linguistics is the scientific study of language, examining it both as an abstract system and in its psychological and sociocultural contexts. Linguistics focuses on how the human mind structures, processes, and acquires language and on how language is an integral part of the cultural patterns of human interaction. With the central role played by language in the social world, linguistics is situated at the intellectual intersection of the humanities and the sciences, including the social, biological, and behavioral sciences. Accordingly, students receive broad training that cuts across and breaks down traditional boundaries between disciplines.


The mission of the B.A. program in Linguistics is to provide students with the fundamental skills to analyze the structure of language, its place in the mind, and its role in society. Located amidst one of the most developed efforts in indigenous language revitalization in the world, the program seeks to support multilingual education and promote international cooperation while preparing students for graduate study in linguistics as well as for careers in fields such as education, marketing, publishing, and translation.

Student Learning Outcomes

The Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics provides students with a broad introduction to the field. Upon successful completion of their degree, students will be able to:

  1. Explain the major academic theories of language with a focus on what they say about the relationship between language and human beings.
  2. Through the study of phonetics and phonology, demonstrate knowledge of how sound patterns work and analyze phonological data.
  3. Through the study of morphology and syntax, describe the structure of words and sentences and analyze morphological and syntactic data.
  4. Demonstrate basic knowledge of the semantic and pragmatic properties of languages and analyze semantic and pragmatic data.
  5. Through the study of discourse analysis, analyze data to explain how language works in discourse.
  6. Identify structural and cultural features of languages relevant in the Hawaiʻi Pan Pacific such as Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, English, and Hawaiʻi Creole English.
  7. Explain the relationship among language, culture, and society and critically evaluate how language plays a central role in social and political issues such as gender and racial discrimination, immigration attitudes and laws, and educational policies.
  8. Locate and utilize reliable scholarly information in academic journals and books as a part of engaging in academic linguistic research and write a cohesive research paper of approximately four thousands words on a pertinent linguistic topic that is organized succinctly with at least an introduction, body, and conclusion and that includes foot/endnotes and citations.
  9. Employ audiovisual materials and appropriate technology such as PowerPoint as part of a succinctly organized ten-minute presentation of linguistic research findings to an audience.
  10. Demonstrate a working knowledge of two languages other than English.

Prospects for Linguistics Graduates

Students majoring in Linguistics will develop skills that will be valuable in many fields including:

  • computer programming
  • artificial intelligence
  • elementary education, as a teacher or counselor
  • secondary education as a teacher, professor, administrator
  • teaching English as a second language either in the United States or abroad
  • translation and interpretation
  • language documentation of and fieldwork on indigenous and minority languages
  • foreign language teaching
  • publishing, as a technical writer or a journalist
  • standardized testing
  • lexicography (constructing and working on dictionaries)
  • language consultant, assisting in such fields as law and medicine
  • speech therapy
  • foreign service, as a diplomat or embassy administrator
  • other governmental work, such as the FBI, CIA, etc.

Graduates from the UH Hilo Linguistics Program have continued on to earn graduate degrees in linguistics at the master’s and doctoral level, as well as in other areas of specialization related to language and language teaching.

Contributions to the UH Hilo General Education Program

Linguistics is an important component of a liberal arts education. The Linguistics Program recommends Linguistics 102: Introduction to Linguistics to students wishing to choose a linguistics course to fulfill part of their General Education requirements. A background in linguistics will be useful for majors in anthropology, English, foreign languages, Japanese Studies, Hawaiian Studies, psychology, and communication, as well as for students seeking licensure or certificates in education, Hawaiian, and Teaching English as a Second Language.

Special Aspects of the Program

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo is one of only a few colleges and universities in the United States to offer a bachelor of arts in linguistics. Students learn about linguistics in a unique educational environment that is greatly influenced by the cultures and languages of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Asia. The Linguistics Program features a broad range of courses in both theoretical and applied linguistics, including courses related to language learning and teaching. The program also provides interested students with specialized courses in Hawaiian and Japanese linguistics, as well as in the linguistics of indigenous languages in different parts of the world.