Linguistics (includes American Sign Language and Navajo Language)

Linguistics is the study of language itself - the features languages share, how they differ, and how language evolves over time. Our department's approach to linguistic theory is primarily cognitive-functional, focusing on language structure and its interaction with language use - the form and function of language. Our students develop awareness of the nature of language and its role in human society, knowledge of theories of language and how theories relate to data, and skills in analyzing linguistic data. The department offers a range of general linguistics courses and courses in applied linguistics, psycholinguistics, and sociolinguistics. Some emphasis in these courses is placed upon the role of language in culture and society, particularly in the Southwest, and upon the educational applications of the language sciences. 

The UNM Department of Linguistics is the only degree-granting linguistics program in one of the most multilingual and multicultural states in the U.S. As such, it bears particular responsibilities both to the field of linguistics and to the residents of the region it serves. We have two primary concerns: teaching and research on language structure and use, and service to society on language-related issues. The department strengths in cognitive-functional linguistics, typology (structural features of language), language documentation, and language variation are all highly relevant to the cultural and linguistic diversity of the state, and lay the groundwork for guiding the university’s student population to a nuanced understanding of language, identity and power.

We are particularly concerned with the study of regional languages (especially Navajo, varieties of Spanish, and indigenous languages of the Americas) and signed languages (American Sign Language, in particular). We are committed to applying linguistics to social concerns, including minority language maintenance and empowerment of minority communities. Thus, the department not only studies and teaches about the structure and use of language, but also encourages faculty and student involvement as advocates and participants in outreach to the linguistic communities we research.

Additionally, our department partners with Latin American Studies to provide instruction on Indigenous Languages of the Americas, such as K’iche’ Maya, Nahuatl, Quechua and Quichua.

Our students interests are varied, and include Cognitive Linguistics, Health Disparities & Health Discourse, Hispanic Linguistics, Language Contact, Language Documentation & Fieldwork, Navajo Linguistics, Phonetics, Psycholinguistics, Signed Language Linguistics, Sociolinguistics, Sociophonetics, and Typology. 

Students interested in Linguistics often wonder what types of careers to pursue with a degree in this field.
Why Major in Linguistics?
What kinds of jobs can I get?

We offer a B.A. degree in Linguistics, a B.S. degree in Signed Language Interpreting, and minors in Linguistics, Navajo Language, and American Sign Language. There is also a Shared Credit B.A. and M.A. in Linguistics, and a Departmental Honors Thesis program for students who wish to work one one one with a faculty member to develop an original research project, which is great preparation for graduate school in linguistics or any other field.

Signed Language Interpreting

This is a small program and requires an application in the Spring semester. You do not apply at the time of first-year or transfer admissions, but once you are already a student and have completed the pre-requisites. FAQs

There is a minor in American Sign Language available to all students that does not require admission to the Signed Language Interpreting program.

The Signed Language Interpreting Program at UNM is accredited by The Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education (CCIE). Our students come from varied backgrounds but are drawn together by their interest in the language and culture of the deaf community and the communication needs of deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

We provide a learning environment that is respectful of Deaf culture and that facilitates student’s development of competencies in American Sign Language and English. We supply an array of language models in the classroom by implementing technology to access videos of Deaf signers and encouraging interaction with the local deaf community. The program values interaction with and feedback from Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing stakeholders.

Admission to the program is made on the basis of the student's previous experiences related to signed language and deaf people, as well as the student's career goals and grade point average. This screening process results in a highly motivated and dedicated group of students. The small size of the program — approximately 15 new students are accepted each year — ensures that each student receives considerable individual attention. Students in the program work closely with a faculty advisor to create a course of study that works for them. 

Incoming students devote the first two years to signed language studies and the acquisition of American Sign Language. The last two years focus on interpreting, transliterating, and cultural studies.

Navajo Language and Linguistics  

The Navajo Language Program is devoted to providing instruction that focuses on sustaining and promoting the use of Diné Bizaad. We promote the incorporation of culture into language instruction as they contain a knowledge system and values unique to the Diné identity. We nurture the diversity of knowledge dissemination at UNM.

Since 1970, the Navajo language has been taught at the University of New Mexico. From the first 40 students enrolled in beginning Navajo in 1970, the program has grown to offer a minor in Navajo and advanced language studies with a concentration in Native Languages of the Southwest in the Linguistics master’s degree program. Courses in the Navajo Program in the Department of Linguistics at UNM include Elementary, Intermediate, and Advanced Navajo, Basic Medical Navajo, Advanced Reading, and Navajo Linguistics. 

Housed in the Department of Linguistics and supported through the years by the New Mexico state legislature and various grants, the Navajo (Diné) Program has made major contributions to the study of Navajo, bilingual teacher training and the publication of Navajo Literacy materials. The four and a half decades of dedicated effort have enabled the successes of generations of students, many of whom come to the program from the historic Navajo colleges to continue work on their four-year degrees. 

Shared Credit B.A. and M.A. in Linguistics

Work toward your M.A. while completing your B.A. in Linguistics! The basic idea is that you take some graduate courses in Linguistics while you are still an undergraduate. As long as you are enrolled as an undergraduate, you will pay undergraduate tuition, which is cheaper than graduate tuition. You also remain eligible for financial aid as an undergraduate. You can potentially save money two ways – by taking fewer courses overall, and by paying undergraduate tuition for graduate courses.

This is a great opportunity for those who want to explore graduate school before committing to a program and taking out loans. Additionally, you build on the support networks you fostered as an undergraduate.

Undergraduate Program

Departmental Honors

UNM Catalog

Programs of Study


  • B.A. Linguistics
  • B.S. Signed Language Interpreting
  • Linguistics
  • Navajo Language and Linguistics
  • American Sign Language
Shared Undergraduate/Graduate Credit Programs Available: 
  • B.A. and M.A. in Linguistics

Contact Information

Undergraduate Academic Advisor(s): 
Advisor office locations vary. Please click on your advisor's name below to learn more.
Advising Email:
Department Email:
Department Location:
Humanities (Bldg 81), Suite 526

Department/Program Website