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Linguistics infographic - c. 33 admitted per year at Cambridge, no specific subject requirements, c. 1 admitted per year at Pembroke


Language is central to our human nature, and linguistics is the systematic study of human language. On the face of it there is huge variation among the world’s languages, and linguists not only describe the diverse characteristics of individual languages but also seek to discover the deeper properties which all languages share. These common properties may give us an insight into the structure of the human mind; developing these insights is at the heart of the study of linguistics.

Linguistics at Pembroke

We warmly welcome applications to read for the Linguistics Tripos. We anticipate admitting one student to read Linguistics, to join our active and supportive subject communities in Modern and Medieval Languages, Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic, and English. Among Pembroke’s Fellows with particular interests in aspects of linguistics are Dr Torsten Meissner, University Senior Lecturer in Greek Philology, Dr Renaud Gagne, University Lecturer in Classics, Professor Chris Young, Professor of Modern and Medieval German Studies, and Dr Mina Gorji, University Lecturer in English. 


Applicants can expect a subject interview, to be conducted by our Director of Studies and a general interview, both held in College. The subject interview aims to test your ability to think creatively and logically about language, to work out the structure of examples of language, and to establish your motivation for the subject and degree of engagement with it. It may also contain questions on a brief paper given to each applicant to read on the day. The general interview is intended to give us a fuller sense of your aptitude for your chosen course, the maturity of your approach towards academic work, and your linguistic and other interests.  Applicants will be asked to submit two school essays prior to interview.  As at other colleges, applicants will be asked to complete a University-wide pre-interview Admissions Assessment. The registration deadline for the assessment is 15th October, further details can be found on the University of Cambridge website.  

What we are looking for

The main requirement for studying Linguistics is a lively curiosity about the nature of language. Perhaps you’ve been struck by a language that puts its verbs in a different position in the sentence, or wondered why languages change (making Chaucer hard to understand, for instance), or been puzzled that automatic speech recognition software gets a perfectly clear word wrong. Maybe you’ve been excited to learn that languages as diverse as Welsh and Hindi have a common ancestor or you’ve realised that an utterance such as ‘it’s cold in here’ may mean more than the words (i.e. ‘please close the window!’). If you’ve found yourself asking ‘why?’ or ‘how?’ in relation to language, then Linguistics is for you. Because Linguistics is interdisciplinary we don’t require specific A level subjects, and welcome applicants whose profile is science-oriented as well as arts-centred. Some formal study of language, either through learning languages or through English Language A level, does however serve as a good preparation.

Further Information

After your degree

Linguistics graduates, like other arts graduates, find employment in a wide range of professions. The fact that linguistics provides a broad interdisciplinary training, developing the ability to analyse quantitative data, construct abstract (grammatical) models, and test alternative hypotheses, means that Linguistics graduates emerge with the transferable skills that are greatly sought after by employers. Linguistics also provides a particularly good preparation for further vocational training in fields such as speech therapy; teaching (especially of languages); speech and language technology (developing and improving computer-based applications such as speech recognition and translation software); and even forensic linguistics (in cases where authorship or voice identity may be at issue). Familiarity with the range and essence of human languages is also a huge advantage in careers where rapid learning of unfamiliar languages may be involved, such as the Diplomatic Service.