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The Carletonian

Linguistics Department morphing into a permanent major

<r will mark the 25th anniversary of the start of the Carleton Linguistics program. Started in 1986 with Professor Mike Flynn, who taught under the heading of the philosophy and psychology departments, linguistics has evolved into an independent course of study. Today, with three professors in dependable teaching positions, the department is in "a strong position to be a regular major and regular department," said Flynn.

Currently, students must petition to declare linguistics as their major; they must prove they will be able to complete a full course of study in the discipline with the courses available. Flynn said that since linguistics has not always had enough courses offered, some students pair linguistics with other studies, such as biology or psychology, declaring a joint major. However, over the years 20 to 30 students have gotten approval and pursued linguistics as a special major.

Because staffing has been unreliable over the years, the department has drawn on the expertise of short-term visiting professors; linguistics has only recently been in an advantageous position to apply for status as a permanent major. As a result of student interest over the years, Flynn has been permitted to hire one-year visitors, with eight teaching at Carleton over the last decade.

A crucial juncture arose four years ago, when the linguistics department launched a national search for a two-year position. Assistant Professor Catherine Fortin, now on the tenure track at Carleton, was hired and according to Flynn did a spectacular job. Since her hiring, Flynn said the popularity of the linguistics program has increased significantly.
Another recent search concluded with Cherlon Ussery for the third professorship in the Carleton linguistics program, now in a temporary position as a Scholar-in-Residence Fellow. Flynn applauds Ussery as a superb teacher and researcher.  During the quest for additional faculty, Flynn commended President Oden and the Carleton Administration as being very enthusiastic and helpful.

As the first step, Flynn and the linguistics department had to “build the major,” outlining a plan of courses offered through 2014 and requirements that these classes would fulfill. Now that the Education and Curriculum Committee (ECC) has recommended linguistics for a permanent position, the department must go before the faculty as a whole to present their proposal and hold votes in both March and April this year.

Though the department is relatively small, with seven current majors plus nine potential sophomores to declare linguistics as their major this spring, linguistics is hoping to reach out even more to prospective students who already “come to our [linguistics] classes.” In the works is a small outreach program to contact people with expressed interest since, according to Flynn, an increasing number of students come to Carleton interested in linguistics.

When looking at the post-Carleton paths of alumni, Flynn points out that it’s “not the main goal of the program to train for linguistics grad school–we want an education applicable to lots of areas.” Alumni take on diverse disciplines, such as law, medicine, and business.

Assistant Professor Catherine Fortin indicated the importance of the new colloquium series coordinated by her department. With two talks per term, Fortin hopes it will “broaden the profile” of the linguistics program, featuring Professor Jeff Ondich of the Carleton Mathematics and Computer Science Department on May 7th as well as a guest from the University of Minnesota, Benjamin Munson who will be delivering a talk on April 16th.

Another plan in development is a spring 2012 Off-Campus Studies program in Japan for students with Linguistics experience. Flynn said that it is “designed and [the linguistics department] has started the process of getting it approved.” Considering Fortin’s experience with Indonesian and Ussery’s expertise in Icelandic, there’s a promising future for an eclectic array of OCS linguistics programs.

Above all, Flynn emphasized that the linguistics department offers a “high quality experience where students use creativity and skills to build something they’re proud of that they can express to others and write about it in a clear, compelling way.”

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