Linguistics differs in studying languages from other fields such as English, French and so on, by concentrating on theoretical parts that are shared by all languages.

I wonder when was the first time that linguistics departments were established in major universities, i.e. what time linguistics was considered as a separate field from other individual languages. Were (most) linguistics departments set up in 1950s after Chomsky's work?

  • Are you excluding Philology departments?
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 13, 2019 at 18:49
  • 1
    No, Philology is not considered. Only linguistics or theoretical linguistics
    – E Zhang
    Mar 13, 2019 at 18:59

3 Answers 3


Oh, before Chomsky. I have a vague recollection that Leonard Bloomfield helped establish an early department with "linguistics" in its name, but I can't find that. However, note "linguistics" in the titles of some of his professorships, e.g. "Professor of German and Linguistics at the Ohio State University, 1921-1927" (Leonard Bloomfield).

I found it. In 1901 the first department of linguistics was established at the U. of California, History of Berkeley Linguistics.

  • 3
    – Nardog
    Mar 13, 2019 at 22:43
  • @Nardog, Thanks for the reference to this discussion on Language Log. However, I don't find it at all persuasive. Pullum and others argue that whether the department is called a department of linguistics is irrelevant. But it's not at all irrelevant! That is the question that is being asked.
    – Greg Lee
    May 4, 2019 at 14:33
  • Neither do I. I just put the link for further reference.
    – Nardog
    May 4, 2019 at 14:58

Of course, there were linguistics departments before Chomsky all over the world.

Harvard U: 1941

St. Petersburg U (Russia): since 1932 known as the Department of General Linguistics; goes back to 1863, originally known as the Department of Indo-European Comparative Studies.



I think Ferdinand de Saussure started teaching general linguistics in Geneva circa 1892. Before that, he taught Gothic and Old German in Paris starting in 1881.

  • 4
    One teacher is not a department however. Linguistics was taught in classics, literature, and philosophy departments before being given its own departments.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 14, 2019 at 8:26
  • 2
    Do you mean that a linguist is not a linguist, because his/her academic environment does not explicitly include a linguistics department?? This does not seem reasonable.
    – user23769
    Mar 14, 2019 at 14:34
  • 1
    @ArnaudFournet, It would not be reasonable, but no one said that, or implied it.
    – Greg Lee
    May 4, 2019 at 14:38
  • I think a better way to define it would be: Which university first issued degrees in linguistics?
    – Nardog
    May 4, 2019 at 16:55

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