Pinker bemoans Sussex's closing of linguistics

April 9, 2009

Steven Pinker, the internationally renowned expert in language and cognition, has asked the vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex to reconsider his decision to close undergraduate linguistics courses.

Professor Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard University, has told Sussex's Michael Farthing that the closure was "a step backwards that will ultimately reduce the productivity and status of the university".

Kersti Borjars, president of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain, has also expressed concern about the process that led to the closure of the linguistics BA.

"We understand this decision has been preceded by limited staff consultation, no student consultation and will not go through any committee structure. The decision to announce the changes only a couple of days after a senate meeting would appear intended at limiting discussion," Professor Borjars writes to Professor Farthing.

Professor Borjars adds: "Apart from our concern about the process, we fail to see the argument for this decision." He continues: "The department currently has expertise not just in Germanic languages more broadly, but also in Hausa, Bantu and African languages ... this kind of expertise, once gone, will be difficult to build up."

Sussex said it is investing in areas of strength, and would "refocus" its linguistics programmes, which were simply not sustainable in their current configuration. A new School of English will provide, from August, teaching across English literature, language and drama.

The University of Strathclyde is cutting seven posts in its modern languages department, including two chairs. A spokesman said the university will create two new centres "to enhance its areas of strength and develop a flexible new approach. The department will become a Centre for Translation and Intercultural Studies, and a Language Learning Centre."

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