Department History


The Department began as an interdepartmental program in 1960. For the first two years only an MA was offered. A doctoral program was approved and implemented in 1962 and a bachelor’s program in 1965. In 1963, the Center for Research in Languages and Linguistics was founded. The Center provided a reading room, administrative services, and a sense of unity for the fledgling linguistics program. The members of the first class of doctoral students founded the Graduate Linguistics Circle, the organization of graduate students which continues to this day to provide vitality to the Department.

On July 1, 1966, the Department of Linguistics officially came into being and the Center was phased out. It was through the Center that the 1966 Linguistic Institute was organized and administered.

The physical life of the Department began with the administrative office and the Reading Room in the Graduate School of Management (now called Public Policy), the Phonetics Laboratory in Rolfe Hall, the African language section in Royce Hall, and faculty offices scattered about the campus. In 1973 the Department moved to its first consolidated quarters on the second floor of Campbell Hall, with the Phonetics Laboratory expanding to occupy space both in Rolfe and the basement of Campbell. The Department occupied these “temporary” quarters for the next 18 years, finally moving in its twenty-fifth year of existence into entirely renovated quarters, with all offices, laboratories, and communal areas in contiguous space on the second and third floors of Campbell Hall.

From its earliest days the Department has been recognized as one of the most distinguished in the world in most areas of theoretical linguistics as well as in fieldwork, in phonetics, and in experimental and computational linguistics.

By now, several hundred people have received the Ph.D. degree from the department.  They teach in academic programs, and work in linguistics-related business enterprises, across the United States and around the world.

In more recent developments the Department has seen a tremendous upsurge in undergraduate interest in our teaching, with over 500 linguistics department majors, probably the largest in the world by student count. With the growth we are once more spilled over into two buildings, with extra office space in adjacent Rolfe Hall.

In 2016, the department celebrated its 50th year with a happy and widely-attended celebration.

Faculty of the Founding Generation

William Bright (1928-2006) taught at UCLA from 1959 to 1988. He was a distinguished scholar of languages both of India and North America and for many years was editor of the journal Language

Victoria Fromkin (1923-2000) was one of the department’s own first Ph.D.’s, noted for her work in phonetics, phonology, and psycholinguistics.  She began teaching in the department in 1965, and served as Dean/Vice Chancellor of the UCLA Graduate Division from 1979 to 1989.

Harry Hoijer (1904-1976), a student of Edward Sapir, was a distinguished anthopologist and linguist, specializing in Athapaskan languages.  He was chair of the Linguistics Program from 1959 to 1963.

Peter Ladefoged (1925-2006) came to the UCLA department in 1963.  He served as regular teaching faculty until 1991 and was a Research Linguist/Emeritus Professor from 1991 to 2006.  He achieved great eminence in the field of phonetics.  For material about Peter Ladefoged, see the department’s page Remembering Peter Ladefoged.

Paul Schachter (1929 – 2012) was one of the program’s earliest Ph.D.’s, and became a noted authority on syntactic theory and on Philippine languages.  He taught in the department from the mid 1960’s to the early 1990’s, serving as chair during the mid 1980’s.

Robert Stockwell (1925-2012) was the founding chair of the department.  He taught in the department from 1956 to 1994 and was for many years its Chair.


Noted Former Faculty

Theo Vennemann taught at UCLA in the 1970’s as its first phonologist; much of his famous work on the Syllable Contact Law was done here.

Russell Schuh (1941-2016) had a long and distinguished career in the department as an Africanist, a fieldworker, and a great innovator in undergraduate education.  For memories of Schuh by those who know him, visit this page.

Donca Steriade, now at MIT, did much of her most notable work while at UCLA, notably her work in phonetically-based phonology, the P-map, and lexical conservatism.