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A Discussion was held in the Newton Room of the Pitt Building, Trumpington Street. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Cliff was presiding, with the Senior Proctor, the Junior Proctor, two Pro-Proctors, the Registrary's deputy, and five other persons present.
The following Report was discussed:
Report of the Faculty Board of Modern and Medieval languages, dated 18 February 2008, on a new Linguistics Tripos (Reporter, 2007-08, p. 734).
Professor F. J. NOLAN:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it is just over eleven years since I spoke, then, as again now, as Head of the Linguistics Department, at a Discussion on setting up a Part II in Linguistics. Since then the Linguistics Part II has successfully provided the opportunity for those interested in linguistics to specialize in it in their last year or last two years as Cambridge undergraduates. Students have switched to Linguistics from Triposes as diverse as Classics, Education, Natural Sciences, and Mathematics, as well as Modern and Medieval Languages. Whilst the Linguistics Part II has succeeded in what it set out to do, it has not solved a growing dilemma. The dilemma arises when school students attending the MML Open Day ask 'Can I come to Cambridge to do Linguistics?' We would like to answer 'yes'; whereas in practice our answers have to be complex and hedged, along the lines of 'Sort of, but you have to do something else first.' The answer at several other leading universities is a straightforward 'yes', and as a result Cambridge risks losing excellent students.
The numbers interested in taking linguistics are rising, in part because of the uptake of English Language A-level, which provides a substantial introduction to some areas of linguistics. This option has proved popular, particularly in maintained schools, and would be one useful preparation for studying linguistics, both for those who have had the opportunity to combine English Language with a modern foreign language, and for those whose schools have not been able to provide A-level languages. We observe, however, that the scope of linguistics is broad, ranging from the physics and psychology of speech through grammar to the philosophy of language. We would therefore welcome students from outside the language-related subject areas, including the sciences, provided they have a demonstrable interest in the nature of language and languages. We would expect relatively modest numbers to be accepted into Part I, at least in the early stages, our target being between 10 and 20 per year. I understand this fits in with a slight projected increase in the number of students within the School of Arts and Humanities.
The proposed Linguistics Tripos, on which the views of other Faculties have been sought, will consist of a one-year Part I, providing a foundation in linguistics, and a two-year Part II divided into a Part IIA and a Part IIB. Part II will allow a similar wide range of sub-areas of study to be combined as in the present Linguistics Part II. It will remain possible, as at present, for students to switch from another Tripos into Linguistics for their last one or two years.
In 1997, I described the proposal for a Part II in Linguistics as lying 'towards the conservative end of a range of possibilities, in recognition of the need to stay comfortably within the limits of what can be provided given the Department's existing resources.'1 In the intervening decade we have shown that the Part II was safely within our capabilities. Today, the proposal in the Report can be implemented without extra resources. In part this is because it allows us to rationalize our provision: introductory courses which have been taught in Part II will comprise the Part I (and a subset will be taken by those switching into Linguistics after Part I in another subject).
The proposed Linguistics Tripos could be seen as the culmination of half a century of development. In 1958 John Trim was appointed to a Lectureship in phonetics. Subsequently, in the mid 1960s, he established the Department of Linguistics and became its first Director. Another milestone was the creation of a Chair in Linguistics, first held by Peter Matthews from 1980 to 2001, and now by Ian Roberts. In terms of course provision, linguistics was for many years available only as one or more papers within the Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos, and then, crucially, in 1998 it became available as a Part II. This proposal completes the establishment of linguistics as a Tripos subject in Cambridge, and will mean that our educational provision (which includes a long-established M.Phil. in Linguistics) will match the breadth and acknowledged quality of the linguistics research carried out in Cambridge within and beyond the Department of Linguistics.
1 Reporter, 1996-97, p. 389
Professor P. J. FORD:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the recent reforms of the Social and Political Sciences Tripos, including a renaming of the course and a revamping of the content, were partly motivated by the need to respond to changes in the pattern of subjects taught at A-level, and the consequent course choices made by sixth-formers. They were born of a realization that, unless we in Cambridge stay in touch with developments in the school curriculum and are willing to present our courses and adapt what we offer in a way which will appeal to university applicants, we are in danger of failing to attract some of the best candidates in the country by appearing not to offer courses they wish to study. The proposal to introduce a new Part I in Linguistics, so that Cambridge undergraduates can take up this important and varied discipline in their first year, is a significant contribution to the updating of our courses. The new course will appeal - as we have just heard from Professor Nolan - to those who have been inspired to think about language in an analytical and scientific way by A-level English Language, as well as perhaps Psychology; and for the sadly increasing number of sixth-formers who are in no position to take two, or even one, A-level language, it will provide an immediate pathway into the subject which would otherwise be denied them in Cambridge. In doing so, it will follow the logical developments which have taken place in other areas of study in Cambridge, such as Art History. There will still be those who wish to combine a study of linguistics with that of modern languages, and the MML Tripos will continue to provide a route for them to follow. But for those who wish to devote themselves to linguistics from the start, the present proposal will offer the possibility of doing so, while contributing to the overall updating and, dare I say, rebranding of our courses.
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Cambridge University Reporter 04 June 2008
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