History of the Linguistics Department

The Department of Linguistics was established at the University of New Mexico in 1973. However, language and linguistics have been at the heart of UNM’s history since 1889. Because of the  long-running significance of Spanish and English in New Mexico, three out of six of the early UNM faculty were language professors. Before the Department of Linguistics was officially established, linguistic courses were taught in other departments including Anthropology, Spanish and Education among others.

The second stage of the development of our department was led by Bernard Spolsky, who created an interdisciplinary “Program in Linguistics and Language Pedagogy.” Spolsky also directed the Navajo Reading Study Project beginning in 1969, which enabled the creation of Navajo language courses and developed materials for Navajo literacy programs. The Navajo Reading Study Project also included a Teacher Training Project for Navajo bilingual teachers.

In 1988, both the Navajo and Sign Language programs were officially integrated into the Linguistics Department from other departments. Now, our department has over fifty graduate students, seventeen core faculty members, six professors emeriti, four adjunct faculty members, and many more associated faculty in other departments. Our students and faculty are committed to the scientific study of language, and with such bright minds collaborating across disciplines our future looks bright. 


Bills, Garland. 1989. “Linguistics at the University of New Mexico, 1889-1989: A brief history.

Spolsky, Bernard. 1973. “The teaching of Linguistics at the University of New Mexico: A case study.