The opening paragraphs of several assessment plans clearly summarize what the department and disciplines strive to do. In fact, they did it so well, that we want to take courses from them.


Linguistics, as it is construed at Carleton, is the study of the human language faculty, surely the most central capacity of those which constitute human nature. The discipline is driven by two fundamental questions. First, what is it that people know that allows them to deftly use the stupendously complicated systems that underlie human languages? Second, how is this capacity acquired, both ontogenetically and phylogenetically? To put this in a less technical way, we ask, what happens to individual humans, over the first few years of their lives, that allows them to gain complete mastery over systems of knowledge that are so complex that they continue to defy complete and accurate explicit description, and to do so at a time when other sorts of elaborate cognitive and social skills are quite out of reach? We also ask, what happened over the millions of years from the dawn of the primitive replicator to emergence of modern humans that makes our brains capable of a skill that, adaptive though it is, appears to elude all other species with whom we share the planet?

These are extraordinarily complicated questions, and as in every other intellectually sophisticated discipline, we find that there are a great number of specializations, which both characterize the subject matters constituent of the field as we understand it, but also serve as useful initial descriptions of the expertise of individual linguists. We might give a first approximation list of the various aspects of the human faculty we’re trying to describe, which we might call the “core”:

  • semantics, the meaning of words and sentences
  • syntax, well-formedness conditions on sequences of words
  • morphology, the shape and structure of words
  • phonology, the sound pattern for languages
  • phonetics, the production and perception of the linguistic signal

Of course, there is much more we are interested in. We want to know about the acquisition of each of these components, how they change over time, how the capacities to acquire and use them arose in the species, how they are deployed in social and artistic contexts, how they are realized in the human brain, how they are managed in signed languages, how writing systems work, what all of this tells us about human nature, and much more.


Mathematics embodies the spirit of the liberal arts. Mathematics is an art, a pure science, a language and an analytical tool for the natural and social science, a means of exploring philosophical questions, and a beautiful edifice that is a tribute to human creativity. The study of mathematics develops habits of mind including precision, logical thinking, focusing on essential features of a problem, exacting analysis and rigorous synthesis. A Carleton math major will develop these habits. She will learn to see the creative and technical aspects of mathematics. She will learn to communicate mathematically and come to appreciate the role that mathematics plays, and has played in science, philosophy, economics and art. This development will be fostered by her achievement of  . . . specific learning goals.