The Department of Language and Linguistics grew out of the longstanding provision of language teaching by UMIST and its predecessor bodies.
By the late 1950s, these arrangements were formalised with the creation of a modern languages department. This was still essentially a "service" department, providing language teaching (French, German, Russian) and translation services to staff and students. In the late 1960s, as UMIST's curriculum expanded, it was decided that this department should have an academic role. The department taught languages courses for the Combined Studies degree from 1964/5, and to these were added the new subject area of European studies (mainly European history, government and politics). These changes in role were in part a response to the abolition of Ordinance III in 1968, whereby Faculty of Technology students were required to pass a test in technical translation as a condition of graduation.
In 1970, the department was renamed the Department of European Studies and Modern Languages, and it moved to a location in the Maths and Social Sciences tower on the souther part of the UMIST campus. The historian Alan Milward (1935-2010) was appointed as professor of European Studies in 1971, and in 1972 a second chair for languages was established, with Juan Sager as incumbent. Sager, a pioneer of the application of computerisation to language teaching and linguistics, was to play a major role in the Department's later development.
The Department continued to grow through the 1970s. In the early 1980s up to 70 undergraduates studied courses offered by the Department, including the honours degree in European studies and modern languages, and the long-established joint degree in maths and modern languages. It was also contributed to the teaching of the M.A. in European Community Studies, in conjunction with other departments within the University of Manchester. In 1975/6 the Combined Studies option was ended, and in 1976, a new degree of advanced language studies was introduced. In the 1979/80 session, a Centre for Computational Linguistics was established, which was at the heart of the department's research work over the next twenty five years. This reflected the Department's growing specialism in the application of computer technologies and artificial intelligence to languages and linguistics.
The 1980s saw an increasing divergence between the Department's interests in European Studies and linguistics and languages. In 1985, the two parts of the Department were decoupled into separate departments; in the early 1990s, UMIST ceased to offer European Studies.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the Department of Languages and Linguistics (as it was now known), consolidated its reputation in the expanding fields of computational linguistics and machine translation. It was involved with sponsored research on the EUROTRA project (funded by the European Community), and an Alvey project on English-Japanese translation. A masters degree in machine translation was introduced in 1986. J. Tsujii, an expert in computational linguistics, was appointed to a new chair in 1988, and he succeeded Sager as head of department in 1991. New senior staff appointed in the 1990s included Harold Somers, Allan Ramsay and Mona Baker.
In the 1990s, the department focussed its research work on natural language processing and computer assisted language learning, within the broader fields of artificial intelligence and cognitive science. This was reflected in the Department's change of name to Language Engineering in 1995. The Department worked closely with the Department of Computation (later Informatics), and, by this date, the majority of its research students were engaged in work connected to artificial intelligence. Undergraduate teaching also reflected these priorities: computational linguistics was the largest of the single honours degrees, and there were also degrees in computation and modern languages, applied German and applied French [some teaching of Japanese was also undertaken]. By the 1990s, postgraduate courses included masters in computer-assisted language learning, machine translation and translation studies. A second research centre, the Centre for Translation and Intercultural Studies was developed in the 1990s under Mona Baker.
In 2002, the department's name reverted to Languages and Linguistics. It ceased to offer undergraduate teaching in 2000/1, and in the following year responsibility for language teaching was transferred to the University of Manchester's Language Teaching Centre.
Following the creation of the new University of Manchester in 2004, the some areas of the Department's responsibility were transferred to the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures, and others to the School of Informatics (itself dissolved in 2007).