Is there a language requirement for Anthropology?

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This post will explore bachelor’s and master’s degree requirements in anthropology and its step-sibling, archaeology. Scholars consider the latter to be a sub-specialty of anthropology. And address the question – why specific languages are part of the curriculum and their application to the professions of anthropology and archaeology.

Bachelor’s Degree

Colorado State University offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology that has a minimum of 120 credits for graduation. The program includes several courses in archaeology and anthropology. Examples are:

  • Archaeology of North America
  • Archaeology of Cultural and Resource Management
  • Mediterranean Archaeology
  • Forensic Anthropology
  • Quantifying Anthropology
  • Anthropology of Human Rights

There is no language requirement to apply for this degree, nor is there a foreign language in the coursework. There are 36 credits of electives, which a student could choose a language approved by his/her academic advisor.

RELATED: How Do I Become a Forensic Anthropologist?

The Bachelor of Science in Anthropology at the University of Alaska Anchorage requires six credits from numerous subjects listed in the Humanities section. These hours are part of the university’s General Requirements for all Baccalaureate degrees. Most of the choices are foreign languages and Tlingit, spoken by the Tlingit people of southeastern Alaska and northern British Columbia. Examples of foreign languages are Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish. Students can avoid these options by selecting History, Theater, Philosophy, or English Literature.

The Department of Anthropology at the University of Washington- Seattle allows a student to choose either a Bachelor of Arts or Science in 5 specialties:

  • Medical Anthropology
  • Human Evolutionary Biology
  • Anthropology of Globalization
  • Anthropology Sciences
  • Indigenous Archaeology

As you scroll through the courses for each of these, you’ll see that none have a language requirement. Therefore, if the undergraduate level is the limit of your college education, studying a foreign language is unnecessary. On the other hand, those pursuing a master’s degree with aspirations for fieldwork outside North America may want to take a language course.

Master’s Degree

There are exceptions to the language requirement without the opportunity for fieldwork. The University of California-Berkeley offers a Master of Arts in Folklore. Presented by the Department of Anthropology, the classes focus on theories of traditionality and modernity in cultures. Students must translate a language, of their choice, from an academic text into English.

If you Google for graduate programs in anthropology, there are lists of online and best value schools with most silent on the need for a language. The M.A. in Anthropology with a concentration in Archaeology at Texas State University, for example, has classes in the Archaeology of Mexico and The Incas. Spanish is not required.


The Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology at the University of Michigan is a world leader in anthropological archaeology research. Prospective doctoral students must demonstrate proficiency in two ancient languages (ancient Greek and Latin) and two modern languages (German, Italian, French, or Modern Greek).

The Ph.D. in Anthropology at Brown University offers three concentrations:

  • Socio-Cultural Anthropology:  sub-specialties in medical anthropology, war & violence, human trafficking, and transnationalism
  • Anthropological Archaeology:  Focuses on colonial New England, American Southwest, and ancient Maya
  • Linguistic Anthropology:  Analysis of linguistic forms, ideologies, and methodologies in the social life of language

None of the above references the need for a second language. Since the areas of study for all three involve South America, fluency in Spanish may boost your chance of acceptance. Brown states that of the roughly 120 applicants, typically, only 8 receive offers of admission.

What influences language?

As mentioned above, you can skirt the requirement for learning a second language. On the other hand, it is advantageous to specialize in classical archaeology in an anthropology graduate program. The area targets past societies in the Mediterranean region, particularly Rome and Greece. It may also extend to the Middle East ancient civilizations of Egypt, Israel, and Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq and eastern Syria). If you intend to conduct fieldwork in these regions, reading Latin, ancient Greece and/or Hebrew is extremely helpful. Ancient Greek morphed into Modern Greek with the current Greek alphabet by the early 4th century BCE. Some scholars believe that if you are literate in Modern Greek should have the ability to read ancient Greek. Conversely, there are no similarities between Latin and Italian.

Therefore, the more advanced the degree and the field of study, the greater the need to consider learning Latin and Greek. As the Roman Empire spread, as did the Latin language. Its success is due to the adoption as the language of politics, farmers, and the military. If your fieldwork takes you into the distant past, Greek is better. The first known written form dates to 1600 BCE – known then as Mycenaean Greek. The language died around 1100 BCE, with the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization.

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