Students’ interest in language results in growing Linguistics program

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John Levis will escape Iowa’s chill for Texas’ warm rays this November.

Levis, a professor of applied linguistics, has been awarded a Big 12 Faculty Fellowship, which he will use to collaborate with fellow linguistics faculty at the University of Texas at Austin. During the two-week fellowship this fall, Levis will learn how aspects of the University of Texas’ linguistics program could be implemented at Iowa State.

“Right now, our program is broad but not very deep,” Levis said. “We need to provide students with courses that aren’t just the basics. We need classes that allow students to put their knowledge to work.”


The opportunity to collaborate with other Big 12 faculty in Austin could provide Levis with new ways to grow ISU’s linguistics program. Levis said nearly everyone has some degree of interest in language. This fellowship will shed light on how to potentially intensify the program so those with an interest can learn beyond the fundamentals.

“We need a stronger, more rigorous program,” he said. “We want to provide another way to look at, and analyze, language. This fellowship should shed some light on how to achieve that.”

Iowa State’s linguistics program has been around for about 35 years. In 2006, about 12 students majored in linguistics. Today, there are nearly 100 students who major in the program.

Part of this growth can be credited to the development of first-year courses, an improvement led by Distinguished Professor Carol Chapelle. Previously, linguistics courses began at the 200 level, meaning the subject wasn’t picking up many new students. Today’s 100-level courses allow first-year students to enroll, while also encouraging sophomores and upperclassmen to give linguistics a try. These 100-level courses have grown from being capped at 45 students per class to 55. And they’ll continue to grow.

“It was a minor change with a major impact,” Levis said.

New light shed by faculty in Austin could open doors to more minor changes with big impacts. For example, ISU’s linguistics program currently focuses on applied linguistics only. A small shift in courses could create more opportunities for undergrads who are interested in theoretical linguistics. Collaboration with other departments on campus, such as psychology, could strengthen offerings in speech and language pathology.

“Our program needs to grow as students’ interest in linguistics continues to grow,” Levis said. “As we continue to adjust our courses, students will gain a new enthusiasm for our languages.”

The Big 12 Faculty Fellowship Program is a collaborative effort between universities that form the Big 12 Athletic Conference. The program provides selected faculty members an opportunity to spend time at member universities, learning from and exchanging ideas with researchers in their field.

About Liberal Arts and Sciences The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a world-class learning and research community. Iowa State’s most academically diverse college, LAS educates students to become global citizens, providing rigorous academic programs in the sciences, humanities and social sciences within a supportive personalized learning environment. College faculty design new materials, unravel biological structures, care for the environment, and explore social and behavioral issues. From fundamental research to technology transfer and artistic expression, the college supports people in its community and around the world.

NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University Contacts: John Levis, Linguistics, (515) 294-7524, Jess Guess, Liberal Arts and Sciences Communications, (515) 294-9906,