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 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 and education, among others.

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 3-4 semesters in the program instead.

Learning Goals

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

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is not required to apply.

Entering students are expected to have completed introductory classes in:

  • phonetics/phonology (e.g., GRS LX 601)
  • syntax (e.g., GRS LX 621)
  • semantics/pragmatics (e.g., GRS LX 631)

Students who do not have sufficient background in linguistics must complete additional coursework to fulfill the above prerequisites prior to entry or during the first year. Note: if completed at BU, GRS LX 601, 621, and 631 will not count toward the MA course requirements.

Admissions & Funding

The deadline for application to enter the program in Fall 2023 is February 1, 2023Information about the graduate admissions process (including the application process and requirements) is available at the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GRS) website:

For further information about funding, please consult the “Financial Aid” section of the GRS website above.

Course Requirements

The MA requires successful completion of 32 credits at the graduate level, including three core courses: 

  • GRS LX 703 Phonological Analysis
  • GRS LX 722 Intermediate Syntax
  • GRS LX 732 Intermediate Semantics

Three additional linguistics courses should be taken at the graduate level, e.g.:

  • GRS LX 600-level courses (e.g., 611, 617, 627, 628, 642, 645, 649, 650, 655, 659, 660, 665, 668, 669, 670, 673, 674, 676, 681, 683, 684, 686, 690, 691)
  • GRS LX 700-level courses (e.g., 705, 722, 733, 738, 753, 754, 790, 795)

Two other graduate courses (one of which may be directed research) will be selected in consultation with an advisor.

Language Requirement

The MA requires demonstration of graduate-level reading proficiency in a foreign language (which may be English, for non-native speakers) prior to completion of the degree. This requirement may be fulfilled with:

  • a transcript indicating successful completion of 2 years of a foreign language as an undergraduate
  • a language exam administered by faculty in the appropriate language program or in Linguistics (which may include the final exam of a qualifying course)
  • English, if the student is a native speaker of a language other than English and has passed the TOEFL at a level adequate for admission to the program

To schedule a language exam (one hour, which requires translation of a passage concerning language or linguistics using a dictionary), students should contact the Department Administrator, ideally 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 2-3 weeks.

Once the requirement has been fulfilled, students should submit the Language Requirement Form (see Graduate Resources) to the Department Administrator.


In consultation with their advisor, students will select 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 GRS. 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; however, unless the credits are formally transferred, there will be no reduction in the 32 credits required for the MA.


Students are encouraged to pursue research during their program. Note that most research involving human subjects requires review and approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of BU. Consult the “IRB Application Guide” (see  Graduate Resources) and work closely with your advisor to prepare required materials.


The MA degree should be completed within three years after the first registration for study leading to the degree. If a student finds that they cannot complete the degree in this time frame, a “Petition for Extension of Time to Complete MA Requirements” is available from GRS (see Graduate Resources). 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).

To apply for graduation, an “Intent to Graduate” form (see Graduate Resources) must be filled out online by the stated GRS deadline. Master’s candidates are not required to participate in the departmental or university-wide 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. If you wish to participate in the department’s May commencement ceremonies, please inform the Linguistics Department Administrator by March 31.


Director of Graduate Studies

Co-Directors of Graduate Admissions