Linguists study the underlying principles of human languages. They are interested in understanding how children learn their native language without much instruction before they enter school and how people speak and understand sentences they have never heard before. Linguists also study language change through time. Some linguists study how damage at different locations in the brain causes different types of linguistic problems.

Rather than attempting to learn many languages, linguists search for the organizational principles of the world’s languages.

The description of formal patterns of human language has a number of applications. Linguistics is linked with anthropology and other social sciences in studying how language use relates to culture, region, class, and gender. It is connected to psychology, speech, and hearing in studying how children learn language, how speakers process and interpret language, and how injuries and disorders affect both production and perception of speech.

Linguists and computer scientists are discovering ways of identifying and representing sentence structures as part of knowledge and reasoning processes.

Linguistics also has important ties with instruction in foreign languages and English as a Second Language (ESL).

Why Iowa?

Iowa’s linguistics department has an outstanding national reputation. It enjoys the advantages of a liberal arts college atmosphere as well as instruction from nationally and internationally distinguished scholars. Class size is small, and students may participate in faculty research projects.

As a linguistics major, you'll have the option to choose an emphasis in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). If you're interested in earning a master's degree in linguistics, you may apply to a joint degree program in which you'll earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in a total of five years.

Admission Requirements

Students interested in this major need to meet the requirements for admission to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


Linguistics - Teaching English as a Second Language
  Honors Courses
  Four-Year Graduation Plan
Admission Process

Careers and Outcomes

Iowa graduates have a 95 percent job/grad school placement rate within six months of graduation. Our  Pomerantz Career Center  offers multiple resources to help students find internships and jobs. 

Linguistics majors have found work teaching English as a second language overseas. Unique teaching opportunities worth exploring include those with the Peace Corps and Teach For America.

A number of companies, such as Microsoft, Xerox, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and other high-tech firms, regularly hire employees with linguistics degrees. Opportunities also exist for government work, for example, as a special agent linguist for the FBI.

Some graduates choose to pursue advanced study in linguistics or other disciplines. A master’s degree with TESL emphasis qualifies graduates to teach English as a second language in the United States or overseas. Graduates with bachelor’s degrees in linguistics may be admitted to certain graduate programs without additional academic preparation, such as anthropology, English literature, foreign language specializations, law, library science, philosophy, psychology, and sociology.

Student Opportunities

In addition to more than 500  student organizations, Iowa students choose from more than 100  study abroad  programs and multiple  undergraduate research opportunities.


The University of Iowa provides a variety of scholarships to eligible undergraduate students through the Iowa Scholarship Portal. Scholarships are available to first-year, transfer, and currently enrolled students. For additional details on scholarships for your program of study, check directly with the department or college. 

The Office of Admissions and the Office of Student Financial Aid are great resources for students seeking scholarships.


The BA degree program in linguistics is well rounded and encourages students to combine linguistics with interests in language, anthropology, computer science, speech pathology, and other areas.

All linguistics majors complete these courses:

  • Introduction to Linguistics
  • Articulatory & Acoustic Phonetics
  • Syntactic Analysis
  • Phonological Analysis
  • A course in language history or in an old language

Several elective courses in linguistics also are required and should be chosen in consultation with your adviser.

Students also must complete the requirements of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences GE CLAS Core

See Linguistics in the UI General Catalog to learn more about the major or minor and graduating with honors.

Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) Emphasis Option

As part of the major in linguistics, students may complete an emphasis in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). The TESL emphasis can prepare students to teach English to non-native speakers abroad. It also is excellent preparation for graduate work in second language acquisition. See TESL Emphasis in the UI General Catalog to learn about required course work. 

Joint BA/MA in Linguistics

The Department of Linguistics offers a joint bachelor's/master's degree program that enables qualified linguistics students to receive a Master of Arts (MA) degree in linguistics with TESL focus with only one year of study beyond the BA degree. To be eligible, students must be University of Iowa undergraduates majoring in linguistics, must complete at least 80 semester hours of undergraduate work (typically by the end of their fifth semester), and must have a grade-point average of at least 3.50 when they submit their application for admission to the joint program.