Frequently Asked Questions about undergraduate study

This page addresses common questions. Many of these questions are answered elsewhere in our webpage, but not all. The questions are organized into these categories:

The major

  • I like learning languages. Should I major in Linguistics?

    If you have a facility for languages, then Linguistics might be a good major for you. However, it's important for you to realize that Linguistics is the scientific study of language, not the study of languages. This means that the focus of the program is on building detailed theoretical models of the mental computations involved in knowing, using, and learning a (first/native) language.

    Majors in Linguistics can choose the "Language Track", which includes significant study of a second language, but everyone in the major needs to do the Linguistics Core, which covers fundamental topics in the science of linguistics such as phonology, syntax, and semantics. See the requirements above.

  • How long will it take to do a major in Linguistics?

    We expect it to take a minimum of five semesters. It is unlikely that it would be possible to squeeze a Linguistics major into two years (because of how the classes are sequenced, possible course conflicts or possible difficulty getting into some of the intro courses). Please take this into account when you are deciding whether or not to choose Linguistics as a major.

  • Is there a minimum grade I need in order for a course to count for the major?

    Following College policy, a course requires a grade of C- or better to count for the major. Note that the same grade requirement holds of prerequisite courses. For example, you must attain a C- or better in Ling240 in order to take any further courses in linguistics.

  • On the Language Track, can my language be English?

    Well, technically yes. The caveat is that you need to be able to take enough credits in the relevant courses (courses that focus on the English language itself—such as grammar courses—and not literature courses, for example). So far, we have found that this is difficult or impossible to pull off with just the course offerings here on campus. But if you study abraod and are able to take 15 credits on Old or Middle English (for example), then you could do it.

  • On the Language Track, can I split my credits among several different languages?

    No. All 15 credits must be on the same language. Of course, if you're into being multilingual, nothing stops you from fulfilling the requirements for a single language and also taking classes in other languages.

  • On the Grammars and Cognition Track, what courses in other departments are "approved" as HESP/PSYCH/PHIL/CMSC/etc. electives?

    Unfortunately for convenience, there is no official and exhaustive list. Fortunately for flexibility, the undergraduate advisor has some discretion here, which means that you can propose a course and argue that it's relevant, e.g. by presenting its syllabus. Based on a quick perusal in Testudo, here are some courses in philosophy and psychology that are likely to meet with our approval. (Note, though, that you must check for approval. Don't assume a course is approved just because it appears on the list.)

Requirements, prerequisites, and permissions

  • Can I skip a prerequisite, and still take the class I want? Or can I perhaps take both courses at the same time?

    Generally, no. Prerequisites are listed as prerequisites for a reason. However, if you think that your special circumstances warrant skipping a prerequisite, you can check with an advisor and with the person who will be teaching the class that requires the prerequisite. (If the catalogue says “Staff” is teaching the course, you can ask one of the advisors who is teaching the course.)

  • But the system lets me register for a course even though I haven't taken the prerequisite! So that means I don't need to take the prerequisite, right?

    Wrong. The University's registration system is not smart enough to lock you out of a course just because you don't have the prerequisites. See the answer to the previous question. It is your responsibility to either ensure that you have met the prerequisites for classes you take, or to get permission of the instructor to waive those prerequisites.

  • Can my advisor give me permission to take more than 15 credits next semester?

    No. To get permission to take over 15 credits, you will need to see one of the advisors in ARHU in the Student Affairs Office in the Francis Scott Key Bldg.

  • Can I take a graduate-level class?

    This is between you, the professor of the class, and ARHU. ARHU's policy is the following: "Students (usually Junior or Senior standing) need permission from the professor offering the graduate level class.... You need a letter from the professor, on letterhead, giving you permission to register for their graduate level class. Bring the letter to the ARHU Office of Student Affairs, 1120 Francis Scott Key Hall."

  • Can I use Hon 218L as a substitute for Ling 240?

    Yes. The courses are not identical, but they are close enough. Talk to your ling advisor about the differences if you are at all concerned.

  • Ling240 (Language and Mind) is a prerequisite for Ling311 (Syntax), but can I take them at the same time?

    No. Department policy is that a student must complete Ling240 (with a C- or better) prior to taking any other of the Linguistics core courses. This is necessary because it is the gateway to the major and an important prerequisite.

    Note that if you barely scrape by Ling240 with a C- or if the course was difficult for you or if you are not enjoying the material in the course, you should rethink being a linguistics major and come to talk to me about it. The material gets more technical in the advanced classes -- so if Ling240 wasn't "your thing", Ling311 and Ling321 will be worse!

    On the flip side, if you take Ling240 and find that you love solving phonology problems and drawing tree structures and thinking scientifically about language, then a linguistics major may be just the thing for you!

  • Can I use HON218L in place of Ling240 whenever Ling240 is required as a prerequisite for a Linguistics course?


  • I need to graduate next semester, but the course I need is not being offered! What do I do now?

    Anyone who has been at UMD for more than a semester can tell you that even though a course is on the books, it might or might not be offered in any given year. It is your responsibility to make sure that your plans are taking into account the possibility that one or more courses might not be offered at the time you expect to take them. This is one of the reasons that it's useful to meet with your ling advisor regularly. We can usually give you an idea of when courses will be offered, so that you will have a realistic picture about this. Still, we can't control course conflicts that may arise at the last minute. So, it's best not to leave too many requirements for your last semester.

    We would also recommend making sure to meet with me the semester BEFORE you are planning to graduate, as you are registering, just to double check that everything is in place.

    That said, if you find you're in a bind, talk to us. We'll do my best to help you figure it out.

The minor

  • I have taken Ling 240 already (perhaps before deciding to minor in Linguistics). Should I still take Ling 200?

    No. If you've already taken Ling 240, it would not make sense for you to go back to a prior introductory course. Instead, take a different Linguistics course and we will substitute it for Ling200 in your minor requirements. See the note above.

  • I haven't taken any linguistics courses at all yet, but I'm really serious about wanting to minor in it. Should I start with Ling 200 or Ling 240?

    We would advise you to start with Ling 240. As discussed in the previous question/answer, you can then substitute a different course in place of Ling 200. Again, see this note. Since Ling 240 is the gateway course for the major, taking it before declaring a minor gives you the best sense of linguistics at Maryland, and of whether minoring is a good option for you. Therefore, you should start with Ling 240 and substitute an upper level elective for Ling 200 as discussed above.

  • Can I use HESP 120 (Introduction to Linguistics) as a substitute for Ling 200?


  • Can I use Hon 218L as a substitute for Ling 240?


Transfer credit

  • Where can I find general information for transfer students?

    The University Web page for transfer students is available at It's very thorough: there are over 80 items with many links to key campus Web pages. The pages cover the period of "first look at UM" through the end of the first semester, and topics include admissions, credit, international student, housing, financial aid, and student affairs items.

  • Can I use to satisfy a Linguistics requirement?

    If the course is already listed in the Transfer Equivalency Database as being equivalent to one of our required courses, then the answer is yes. If it's not listed, then I'll first need to know whether or not the Transfer Credit Center has assigned transfer credit for the course -- their FAQ has useful information.

    Much of the time, decisions about transfers and Linguistics requirements are a matter of judgment. You can help me evaluate your previous courses (and improve your chances) by providing me with as much information as possible -- preferably a full course description including the syllabus and what textbooks were used.

    If courses were taken many years ago, the transfer credit FAQ includes a note worth thinking about: "If you are in a major that requires a solid foundation in recent developments ... it may be to your advantage to repeat the introductory level courses, even though you will lose transfer credit."

Studying abroad

  • Where can I find general information about Study Abroad?

    See the University's Study Abroad Web site, or send them mail. Also, take a look at the President's Promise Initiative, a "virtual library" of special undergraduate experiences that includes international experiences as well as internships, living-learning programs, and much else.

  • Can I use to satisfy a Linguistics requirement?

    First, see if the course is already listed in the Transfer Equivalency Database as being equivalent to one of our required courses. If it is, then the answer is yes.

    If not, then I'll first need to know whether or not the Transfer Credit Center has assigned (or will assign) transfer credit for the course – their FAQ has useful information. Assuming they do, the question of Linguistics requirements credit is likely to be a matter of judgment on my part. You can help me evaluate your courses (and improve your chances) by providing me with as much information as possible – preferably a full course description including the syllabus and what textbooks were used.

    It's usually the case that you won't have the syllabus, etc. in advance. For that reason, there's usually no way for me to guarantee in advance that a course abroad will satisfy a Linguistics requirement. If you want, tell me what you know about the course and I'll give you my best guess based on the information I have; it's not a promise but it's the best I can do.