Earning a Linguistics Degree: Guide to a Master's Degrees in Linguistics

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Defined as the scientific study of language, linguistics encompasses a large number of specific disciplines such as phonetics (the study of human speech sounds), phonology (the study of the organization of speech sounds in a language), morphology (the study of the internal structure of words), syntax (the study of word order of a language, semantics (the study of meaning in a language), and pragmatics (the study of language from the point of view of language users). Other specific areas of study in linguistics include sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, historical linguistics, etymology, and comparative linguistics. The following sections discuss the required courses, average completion time, top schools, and career outlook for students interested in earning a linguistics degree at the master’s level.

Required Courses

The courses required for a master’s degree in linguistics vary depending on the specific program. However, most schools require that all students take classes in the major subfields of linguistics including phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Other typically required courses include sociolinguistics and the teaching of language.

Average Completion Time

Full-time students can complete a linguistics master’s degree in as little as one year (two semesters) while part-time students usually take two years (four semesters) to finish the degree. However, most programs allow students a maximum of five years (ten semesters) to complete the necessary coursework as well as any theses and comprehensive exams required for the degree. Note, however, that some schools have longer program requirements.

Top Linguistics Schools

New York University

New York University, which is accredited by The Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association, offers a master of arts in linguistics to students who plan on pursuing a PhD in linguistics at the school. All students must complete a minimum of thirty-two points of approved courses including four basic required courses. Students must also be reasonably proficient in a foreign language and will write an article-quality paper that demonstrates an ability to perform original research. Students who earn an MA must then pursue a PhD in linguistics.

University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania, which is also accredited by The Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association, offers an MA in linguistics. The course requirements for this degree are eleven approved semester courses including two semesters each of phonology and syntax. All students must also complete a thesis and an oral examination based on the topic of the thesis. Unlike many other linguistics programs, this degree takes a minimum of three semesters to complete. Students who earn a master’s degree can then be considered for admission into the PhD program.

Georgetown University

Georgetown University is accredited by The Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association and offers six master’s degree options for linguistics: Master of Arts with a concentration in Language and Communication (M.L.C.), Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language (M.A.T.), Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language (M.A.T./BLE), Master of Science (M.S.), Accelerated M.L.C., and Accelerated M.A.T. All graduate students are urged to develop a primary research expertise including applied linguistics, computation linguistics, sociolinguistics, and theoretical linguistics. Students who complete a master’s degree in linguistics can then apply for admission into the PhD program.

University of California, Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley—which is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges—offers an MA in linguistics that all students enrolled in the program must complete. Students may choose one of two degree options: (1) twenty-five semester units plus a thesis or (2) thirty semester units. Both degree routes require the completion of a comprehensive examination. Students who successfully complete the master’s degree are encouraged to apply for the PhD in linguistics program.

University of Chicago

The University of Chicago, which is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, also offers a linguistics master’s degree to students who plan on pursuing a PhD in linguistics at the school. Students in the PhD program will be awarded an MA in linguistics after successfully completing of nine graduate courses, satisfying one scholarly language requirement, satisfying the non-Indo European requirement, and successfully completing an MA paper.

Career Outlook

Earning a master’s degree in linguistics opens up many career possibilities for graduates. Some of the job opportunities for students who earn this degree include teaching at the university level, developing curricula and other teaching materials, teaching English as a second language, teaching a foreign language, working as a translator or interpreter, working in the publishing industry, becoming a professional language consultant, and working for the government. The salary outlook for graduates with a linguistics master’s degree varies by career and location.

For students interested in language, earning a linguistics degree at the master’s level is a recommended plan of study.