President Suzzallo's message
President Suzzallo's message about the special location of the University of Washington

“The University of Washington is the farthest West of the American Universities.  It looks over the waters which unite the East and the West and is neighborly with the peoples and institutions of Asia.  It lies on the seam of the garment of world civilization, where the oldest and the newest cultures meet.  Its location charges it with a special intellectual responsibility–to interpret the Orient and the Occident to each other.  By the discharge of this simple duty it enlarges common understanding, the one solid ground for our hope of world cooperation and peace.”

— Henry Suzzallo (1875-1933)
President of the University of Washington, 1915-26
“The President's Message,” Tyee (1926)

The Department of Asian Languages and Literature offers instruction in the principal languages and literatures of Asia, including East, Southeast, Central, and South Asia. Emphasis is placed on the roles of these languages within the cultures they serve as well as on linguistic, textual, and literary analysis. The department offers undergraduate degrees in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and South Asian languages and literature, and graduate degree programs in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, South Asian, and Buddhist Studies.

For more information you can view the Asian Languages & Literature Fact Sheet (PDF)

History of the Department

The Department of Asian Languages and Literature was created in 1969. However, the teaching of Asian languages, literatures, and cultures has a much longer history at the University of Washington. As far back as the last decade of the 19th century, the university offered a program of studies in "ancient languages," in which a course of instruction in Sanskrit was offered along with those in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. In 1909, the University's Board of Regents voted to establish the Department of Oriental History, Literature, and Institutions, placing at its head the well-known Asianist, the Reverend Herbert H. Gowen (1864-1960).

Beginning in 1949, instructional programs in Asian languages were housed in the Department of Far Eastern and Slavic Languages and Literature. This department was reorganized in 1969 into two separate and autonomous entities, the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature and the Department of Asian Languages and Literature.

Over the last century, the early Sanskrit offerings were gradually supplemented by additional Asian language programs:

  • Chinese (1926)
  • Japanese (1928)
  • Korean (1944)
  • Mongolian (early 1950's)
  • Tibetan (1952)
  • Hindi and Tamil (1967)
  • Thai (1967)
  • Vietnamese (1981)
  • Indonesian (1991)

A program in Turkic languages was established in Asian Languages and Literature in the early 1960's, but was transferred to the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization in 1986.