NEW - MA in Linguistics

Please note: Henceforth, we will no longer be accepting new students into our Applied Linguistics graduate program. Prospective MA students are invited to apply to our new MA program in Linguistics.

The MA in Linguistics is designed to provide students with a solid foundational knowledge of the traditional core areas of linguistic analysis, as well as a deeper specialization in a chosen subfield or interface area. Our goal is to help students reach a level of preparation suitable for pursuit of more advanced work in linguistics, or in allied fields with a commitment to the study of language. Many students who complete the MA degree will go on to PhD programs in these areas, while others will instead pursue careers in fields such as speech and language technologies, education, among others. We have particular strength in the areas of theoretical syntax and semantics, experimental phonetics and phonology, and language acquisition. Additional areas of focus include language documentation and field linguistics, language change and variation, pragmatics and information status, prosody, Romance linguistics, and sign language linguistics.

The MA program is designed to be completed in one year, though students wishing to complete a major independent research project, akin to a thesis or capstone project, may wish to consider spending three or four semesters in the program instead.

Prior Background

Entering students are expected to have already completed introductory classes in:

  • Phonetics/phonology (e.g., CAS LX 301)
  • Syntax (e.g., CAS LX 321)
  • Semantics/pragmatics (e.g., CAS LX 331)

Students who do not have a sufficient background in linguistics must complete additional coursework to fulfill those prerequisites prior to entry or during the first year. Note that GRS LX 601 Phonetics, 621 Syntax, and 631 Semantics will not be counted toward the MA course requirements.

Graduate Admissions

For information about submitting an application for the MA in Linguistics, see

For admission in Fall 2021, the application deadline is February 3, 2021.

Please note that the GRE exam is no longer required of applicants to the Linguistics graduate programs.

Graduate Student Handbook

This has a large amount of useful information:

Learning Goals

Students graduating with an MA in Linguistics are expected to demonstrate:

    1. The ability to think critically about fundamental issues in the study of language structure, universals, variation, change, acquisition, and social dimensions of language use, and a sophisticated command of several core areas of linguistic analysis.

    2. The ability to analyze the empirical patterns found in sets of language data, and to construct well-reasoned linguistic analyses by formulating, testing, and refining hypotheses. 

    3. The ability to formulate a testable research question, grounded in the prior literature, to carry out the relevant research, analyze the findings, and construct argumentation to support the conclusions.

Course Requirements

The MA in Linguistics requires 32 credits (8 4-credit courses). Students entering the program without the necessary background to take these courses may be required to take prerequisite courses. Prerequisite courses will not be counted as credit towards the degree.

Course requirements are as follows:

1. Three required core courses

  • GRS LX 703 Phonological Analysis
  • GRS LX 722 Intermediate Syntax: Modeling Syntactic Knowledge
  • GRS LX 732 Intermediate Semantics: The Grammatical Construction of Meaning

2. Three additional Linguistics courses

  • GRS LX 611 Morphology: Introduction to the Structures and Shapes of Words
  • GRS LX 617 Having and Being across Languages
  • GRS LX 627 Focus
  • GRS LX 628 Questions
  • GRS LX 642 Language, Race, and Gender
  • GRS LX 645 Languages in Contact: The High Stakes of Grammatical Border-Crossing
  • GRS LX 649 Bilingualism
  • GRS LX 650 Crosslinguistic Approaches to Acquisition
  • GRS LX 655 Second Language Acquisition
  • GRS LX 659 Interrupted Acquisition & Language Attrition
  • GRS LX 660 Historical and Comparative Linguistics
  • GRS LX 664 Linguistics of English
  • GRS LX 665 Variation in Dialects of English
  • GRS LX 668 Structure of African Languages
  • GRS LX 669 Structure of Creole Languages
  • GRS LX 670 Romance Linguistics
  • GRS LX 673 French Phonology (conducted in French)
  • GRS LX 674 French Syntax (conducted in French)
  • GRS LX 676 Topics in French Linguistics (conducted in French)
  • GRS LX 681 Spanish in the US (conducted in Spanish)
  • GRS LX 683 Sounds of Spanish (conducted in Spanish)
  • GRS LX 684 Structure of Spanish (conducted in Spanish)
  • GRS LX 686 Topics in Spanish Linguistics (conducted in Spanish)
  • GRS LX 690 Topics in Linguistics
  • GRS LX 691 Linguistic Field Methods
  • GRS LX 705 Prosody
  • GRS LX 722 Advanced Syntax: Issues in Modern Syntactic Theory
  • GRS LX 733 Intermediate Pragmatics: Meaning in Context
  • GRS LX 738 Discourse Analysis
  • GRS LX 753 Acquisition of Phonology
  • GRS LX 754 Acquisition of Syntax
  • GRS LX 790 Intermediate Topics in Linguistics
  • GRS LX 795 Quantitative Methods in Linguistics

3. Two other graduate courses selected in consultation with an advisor, one of which may be directed research.

For descriptions of the courses listed above, as well as a list of additional electives offered through other departments or colleges at Boston University, see


In consultation with their academic advisor, students will select the courses to fulfill the above requirements based on their desired area of specialization. Thus students have the opportunity to develop sophisticated knowledge of the theories and methods of one area of linguistics. Possible areas of specialization include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Experimental phonetics and phonology
  • Theoretical syntax and semantics
  • Pragmatics and information status
  • Prosody
  • Language change and variation
  • Romance linguistics
  • Sign language linguistics
  • Language acquisition
  • Language documentation and field linguistics

Transfer of credits

Students may receive transfer credit for up to two courses (8 credits), in accordance with the policies and practices of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. If a student has taken the equivalent of any of the core courses, it may be waived. In this case, the student may substitute another course for the course already taken, but unless the credits are transferred, there will be no reduction in the 32 credits required for the MA.

Language Requirement

All students pursuing an MA in Linguistics are required to demonstrate graduate-level reading proficiency in a foreign language prior to completion of the degree. Language proficiency can be demonstrated either through a language examination, successful completion of a non-credit graduate-level foreign language reading course offered by Boston University, or the equivalent of two years of undergraduate study of the language at Boston University.

Master’s students are required to demonstrate competence in a language other than their native language. This requirement may be fulfilled in one of three ways, listed below.

    1. The student may present a transcript that indicates that he or she successfully completed two years of a foreign language as an undergraduate.

    2. The student may pass a language exam administered by faculty in the appropriate language program, or by a faculty member in the Linguistics Program. (One option is to pass the final exam of a qualifying course.)

    3. The student may count English as the examination language if he or she is a native speaker of a language other than English and has passed the TOEFL at a level adequate for admission to the program.

If you are in a position to satisfy the language requirement in one of the above three ways, contact the Program Administrator (PA) to have this requirement officially entered into your records and/or to schedule a language exam. The exam requires you to translate a passage concerning language or linguistics. You are allotted one hour and allowed use of a dictionary. Students are advised to schedule this exam early in their graduate career in case they do not pass the first time. Exams are generally graded and returned to the Linguistics office within two to three weeks after the exam has been taken.


If you conduct research that involves human subjects, please see the important information on this page:


Degree Completion

The Master’s Program should be completed within three years after the first registration for study leading to the Master’s degree. A ‘Petition for Extension of Time to Complete MA Requirements’ is available from the Graduate School if a student finds that he or she cannot complete the Master’s degree in this time frame. Students normally register for no more than four courses per semester, but must register for at least one course each semester until course requirements have been fulfilled (unless a leave of absence has been granted).

Procedures to Apply for Graduation

An intent to graduate form must be filled out online by the stated GRS deadline. See


Master’s candidates are not required to participate in the commencement ceremonies in May, but those whose official graduation dates are in January or May (as well as those who anticipate completion in time for graduation in September) are welcome to do so. There are commencement ceremonies held specifically for BA and MA recipients in Linguistics. If you wish to participate in the graduation ceremonies in May, please inform the Linguistics program administrator by no later than March 31.

Important Policies and Procedures of the Graduate School

Please be sure to familiarize yourself with the very important information available here: See especially

Printable (pdf) brochure

For two printable brochures, click here: