We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary!


Mar 31, 2014 Bookmark and Share

Lorch Hall

On Saturday April 5, the Department will celebrate MLing50, a commemoration of the fifty years we’ve been a department.  We’ll celebrate with tours of our current home in Lorch Hall, including our four active laboratories. At 2pm, Dean Susan Gelman will kick off the celebration.  We’ll enjoy talks from several distinguished alumni, including David Lightfoot (Georgetown University), Jessica Rett (UCLA), and Lauren Squires (OSU).  These talks will be followed by a panel discussion by alumni who’ve taken career paths outside of academy.  The panel will include Shang Kong, Keli Licata, Emma Schroder, and Katherine Young.  Following the panel discussion, we’ll continue our fellowship with one another with a reception.  All activities (other than the tours) will be in held in the Michigan Union. We look forward to seeing you there!

If you’ve wondered about the department’s path over the last 50 years (and before), the following is a synopsis from our departmental history.

Linguistics has been present in some form at the University of Michigan for well over a century. At their June 1897 meeting, the Board of Regents unanimously approved the establishment of a Chair of English Philology and General Linguistics and approved the appointment of Professor George Hempl as the first occupant of this chair.  During the first few decades of the twentieth century, linguistics did not exist as a separate formal entity at the University. But Michigan played an important role in the development of linguistics as a separate field of study in the United States. The Linguistic Society of America was founded in 1924, and counted three Michigan faculty among its founding members.  

In December 1929, the Regents approved the creation of the “Laboratory of General Linguistics and Speech”, and thereby inaugurated a long and storied history of phonetic research at the University of Michigan. The current instantiation of this laboratory, now known as the “Phonetics Laboratory”, is one of the most modern and technologically best-equipped phonetics research facilities in any linguistics department, and it continues the rich tradition in fundamental speech research started in 1929.

The next pivotal moment in the history of linguistics at the University of Michigan came in 1945 when the Board of Regents approved the creation of a “Committee on Program in Linguistics”. This committee, composed of linguists drawn from several language departments, was tasked with the creation of graduate degrees (both Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy) in linguistics. This made the University of Michigan one of the very first institutions in the United States where one could earn graduate qualification in Linguistics.

In 1961, the Regents approved the creation of the new Department of Linguistics.  Although the Department was changed to a program in 1985, it was reinstated as a Department in 2002 and since that time Michigan Linguistics has regained its proper place as one the most prestigious linguistics departments in the United States.

The undergraduate program of the Linguistics Department has seen significant growth and progress over the past decade. The number of students majoring in linguistics has grown from around 40 in 2004 to well over 120 in 2013. During a recent external review of our Department, our undergraduate program was described as “among the best in the United States” by the panel of external reviewers.

The graduate program has experienced comparable progress. We have one of the highest selectivity rates in the University, and accept only about 10% of all the applications that we receive for our PhD program. The quality of our program and of our students is also reflected in the success that our students experience upon graduation.  In recent years, our graduates have secured tenure-track positions at prominent universities in the United States and abroad.

Our faculty continue to be leaders in the field and in the University of Michigan. In recent years, Professor Sally Thomason has been president of the Linguistic Society of America (2009). Marlyse Baptista has been president of the Society of Pigdin and Creole Linguistics (2011-2013). Many of our faculty serve, or have served, on the editorial boards or as editors of major linguistics journals (Language, Journal of Phonetics, Syntax, Phonology, Linguistic Inquiry, Language and Society, etc.). Two of our faculty members, Sam Epstein and Robin Queen, have been named Arthur F. Thurnau Professors, the Universities highest recognition for undergraduate teaching. Several of our faculty members have been awarded Collegiate Professorships, the highest honor that the College of Literature, Science and the Arts can bestow upon a member of the faculty: Lesley Milroy, the Hans Kurath Collegiate Professor (awarded 2000); Sarah Thomason, the William J. Gedney Collegiate Professor (awarded 2001); and Patrice Beddor, the John C. Catford Collegiate Professor of Linguistics (awarded 2011).