Dalhousie linguistics program a thing of the past

Dalhousie's suspension of the undergraduate linguistics program in 2013 means the school's former linguistics students are now full-time at SMU.


Linguistics students at Dalhousie no longer have use for language labs, like this one in the McCain Arts and Science Building. Dalhousie cut its linguistics program last year. Photo: Jake Saltzman

The number of undergraduate students in arts and social sciences programs at Dalhousie is dropping, according to the university’s latest enrolment statistics.

One of the programs within the arts and social sciences faculty, linguistics, has dropped off entirely.

Due to university-wide budget cuts, Dalhousie suspended its linguistics major last year. With a letter of permission from the school registrar, Dal students can still take linguistics courses — just not at Dal. Saint Mary’s University offers undergraduate major and honours programs in linguistics to students at other universities, including Dal and MSVU, both of which have lost their linguistics programs in the last ten years.

In 1997, Dal, SMU and MSVU entered into a linguistics pilot program called the Halifax Interuniversity Program in Linguistics. As part of the program, students could work towards a bachelor of arts degree in linguistics by taking classes at any of the three schools.

“In the late ‘90s, there was a lot of pressure for schools to collaborate,” says Elissa Asp, co-ordinator of the linguistics program at SMU.

“I think there was really only room for one linguistics program in Halifax — not three.”

Asp says SMU’s history of hiring a diverse faculty of cross-appointed professors sustains the program. Saint Mary’s linguistics department currently employs five full-time faculty, all of whom are cross-appointed — meaning they specialize in at least one other area of study.

15-year experiment ends with disappointment

Raymond Mopoho, Dalhousie’s last linguistics program co-ordinator, says the program stopped being sustainable when the number of faculty — 15 in 1997- was cut in half by 2013.

“Student interest hasn’t declined,” says Mopoho, an associate professor of French and international development studies. “But in order for (other) departments to survive, they had to offer more and more courses not related to linguistics.”

Source: Dalhousie University

What began as a collaborative effort between schools to offer a wider range of classes eventually became a way of sending Dal and MSVU students to SMU for their classes and then back to Dal and MSVU for their degrees.

With adequate funding and a full-time faculty and program co-ordinator, SMU continues to offer classes similar to the ones Dal was forced to cut.

“Basically we were offering and advertising a program here that wasn’t sustainable,” says Mopoho.

“Students would come for linguistics and take their classes elsewhere. It wasn’t viable.”

Another problem Mopoho says contributed to Dalhousie losing its linguistic program was the departure of former associate dean Donna Rogers in 2013.

In 2012, says Mopoho, Rogers pooled together all of the university’s remaining linguistics students (about 15) and put together a plan to keep them at Dal. Rogers approved students’ requests to cross-list certain classes in other subjects with linguistics. When Rogers left Dal to become vice-principal and academic dean at Brescia University College, students had to return to SMU for linguistics classes.

Asp and Mopoho also say SMU is wise to offer first-year and introductory level linguistics classes in English rather than just French. Dalhousie did not offer linguistics classes in English when the school offered it as a major.

“Linguistics is not like geography or psychology or sociology; students don’t come to university and say they want to be a linguist,” says Asp.

“Few students come to university knowing what a linguist is. Offering students introductory classes in English allows more students to learn.”

Asp says introductory linguistics classes at SMU usually fill out at about 45 students. Currently, she says, 11 linguistics majors are enrolled in the program’s fourth-year seminar.

All 11 are full-time at SMU.