The Department offers the MA degree in linguistics, which trains suitable candidates in the theoretical and empirical methods of linguistic research, as well as an MA degree with a concentration in Hispanic Linguistics.  The Department offers solid coverage in the core areas of the discipline in its teaching and research: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics, alongside language acquisition and development, historical linguistics, and contact linguistics. The Department’s special strength obtains from the interdisciplinary nature of its work, which is grounded in but transcends the core, specifically to engage cognitive science, computational and quantitative linguistic analysis, and the revitalization and documentation of endangered languages.

The following information is intended for both prospective and enrolled students, to familiarize them with requirements and practices of the Department and the Graduate School. This guide should be used along with the information on graduate study in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Catalog and the Graduate School Handbook.

Master of Arts – Degree requirements

A form for tracking progress in the graduate program can be found at

*New for applicants in 2018-19*:

We are now accepting applications for a joint MA/PhD program in Hispanic Linguistics, which is jointly administered by the Department of Linguistics and the Department of Romance Studies. (Flyer

This is a 5-year program in which students work towards an MA in Linguistics with concentration in Hispanic Linguistics, and subsequently a PhD in Romance Studies with concentration in Hispanic Linguistics.

Required languages: Spanish with familiarity with two other relevant languages (e.g. Catalan, Guarani, Basque, Portuguese).

More information can be found here.


How to Apply

Applicants to the dual degree program should indicate their intention in the on-line application system by choosing “MA” and “Linguistics” from the drop-down menus, choosing “Yes” in answer to the question “Are you applying for a dual degree?”, and then entering “Romance Studies” into the “Indicate second program” blank.

Applicants should simultaneously apply for the PhD in Romance Studies through the same on-line system, again noting that they are applying for a dual degree, and entering “Linguistics” in the “indicate second program” blank.

Questions can be directed to the Director of Graduate Admissions, Prof. Elliott Moreton (

The department regrets that it can no longer admit students for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in linguistics (outside of the Hispanic Linguistics track). No exceptions can be made. Degree requirements for legacy PhD students can be found here.


Equal Opportunity
Waiver and Transfer of Courses
Financial Aid and Funding
Advising and Registration
Other Items of Interest
Questions and Requests for Further Information
Degree requirements


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is committed to the principle of equal opportunity. It is the policy of this University not to discriminate on the basis of age, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, disability, or sexual orientation with regard to its students, employees, or applicants for admission or employment. Any complaints alleging failure of this institution to follow this policy should be brought to the attention of the department chair or to the office of Mark W. Merritt, Vice Chancellor and General Counsel, telephone (919) 962-1219, email:



Applying to the Program

The Graduate School’s Admissions page contains the most up-to-date admissions information and application instructions. Applicants can also proceed directly to to create an application and to check the status of an existing application.

Applicants should note the requirement of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Aptitude Test (Verbal, Quantitative, Analytical), transcripts from each university attended, and at least three letters of recommendation. The Graduate School also requires the TOEFL examination of all international applicants except those from countries where English is the official language of instruction (see the instructions for international applicants on the Graduate School website for details).  The Department asks applicants also to submit a brief (1-2 page) statement of purpose/career goals. There is no special form for this statement. A short sample of written work (such as a course term paper on any topic) is also welcome, particularly from foreign applicants. Submission of longer works is not recommended.

Since admission decisions are based on all of these factors, it is important that applicants arrange for taking the GRE exam and for sending the transcripts and recommendations promptly. The deadline for applications for fall term admission is the preceding December 13th. While the Department will consider applicants for admission until May 12th, those who wish to be considered for any kind of financial aid must have their applications complete by the December 13 deadline.

Spring Admission
Because of the scheduling of required courses, the Department does not normally admit students for the spring semester. Exceptions are made only for those with considerable prior training in linguistics, who should contact the Director of Graduate Studies in advance of application regarding their specific case.



Waiver of Required Courses
Students who have done equivalent work elsewhere may request waiver of one or more required courses. During the first semester here, students should present a written request for such a waiver to the Director of Graduate Studies. The decision on a waiver request rests with the faculty member teaching the relevant course, who will expect students to present evidence that they have covered equivalent materials.

NOTE: Approval of a waiver merely relieves students of taking a particular required course (for which an elective course may then be substituted); it does not confer transfer credit, on which see immediately below.

Transfer of course credit
Approval of transfer of course credit for work done at other graduate institutions is made by the Graduate School upon the recommendation of the Department. A maximum of 6 credits may be transferred for the MA degree. During their first semester here, students seeking transfer credit should submit a written request to the Director of Graduate Studies, who will forward the request to the appropriate faculty members for review. Students will be expected to provide enough information on the content of courses taken to give a basis for a decision. Students will receive written notification of the decision, which will also be placed in their file. Official approval of transfer credit takes place only after the (final) oral examination.

While the procedures for requesting waiver of a required course and transfer of course credit are similar (and they may be made at the same time), they are different matters, and students should talk with the Director of Graduate Studies to be sure that they understand what they wish to request.



The cost of attending graduate school includes tuition, fees, and health insurance, for which students are billed directly. It also includes indirect costs such as room, board, books and supplies, travel, loan fees, and personal expenses. View the estimated cost of attending a graduate or professional program at UNC-CH for the current year. Unfortunately, funding for first-year graduate students is somewhat limited. Some graduate students are self-funded (at least in the first year) while others matriculate with external funding. But there are funding opportunities, which are described below. Financial aid in the form of assistantships is ordinarily limited to two years for MA candidates

Residency.  The difference between out-of-state and in-state tuition rates is substantial.  Out-of-state graduate students will want to lay down the groundwork to establish North Carolina as their domicile (true, fixed, and permanent home) immediately upon arrival in Chapel Hill and apply for in-state residency status for tuition purposes as soon as they are eligible. Basically, the burden is on the student to demonstrate that he/she has established and maintained a domicile in North Carolina at least twelve months before the first day of classes. The Graduate School provides detailed information on establishing North Carolina residency.

Merit Assistantships. Students approved for admission are eligible to be nominated for merit assistantships, which are service awards made by the Graduate School to first-year students on a competitive basis. The application for admission itself constitutes a request to be considered for nomination; no separate application is necessary. (Ordinarily, the Department is permitted to make one or two nominations and has for the most part been successful in obtaining awards for its top admittees.)  Merit assistantships are for one academic year (nine months).  They provide a stipend (currently $14,000 at the master’s level), full tuition and fees, and health insurance.

Teaching Assistantships.  Teaching assistantships provide stipends between $5,700 and $7,850 per semester, depending on role (recitation leader, instructor of record), the number of contact hours, and instructor experience. Additionally, teaching assistants receive full tuition and health insurance (although University-wide they are responsible for student fees). Tuition support consists of tuition remission, which covers the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition, and a separate benefit that covers the in-state portion. Because funding for tuition remission (through the Graduate School) is extremely tight, graduate students are expected to apply for in-state residency status as soon as they are eligible.

Teaching assistantships in linguistics.  Admittees with sufficient backgrounds in linguistics and strong academic records may be considered for a teaching assistantship (as recitation leader) in their first year. Otherwise, teaching assistantships are awarded in the second year of study on a competitive basis. The criteria for selection include academic merit, prior teaching performance (or readiness, as applicable), and progress to degree. Satisfactory performance in the classroom constitutes a prerequisite for reappointment.

Teaching assistantships in other departments. Students with competence in a foreign language may be qualified to receive a teaching assistantship in that language. Over the years, linguistics graduate students have taught Spanish, German, French, and occasionally Arabic and Chinese. Qualified students are urged to write directly to the chair and/or director of language instruction in the relevant department (Romance Studies, Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, Asian Studies), indicating that they have applied to the graduate program in linguistics and describing their language competence. It is important that applicants realize that they are necessarily competing with the language departments’ own graduate students. They should therefore reach out to these units as early as possible and present as much evidence for their language proficiency as they can (taking the relevant GRE language exam is recommended). Expressions of interest from qualified individuals may in fact be welcome, as the Spanish and German programs, in particular, have had to look outside their departments in order to staff elementary and intermediate language classes. Linguistics students holding a foreign language teaching assistantship may be required to take at least one course on methodology in the sponsoring department.

Teaching assistantships in the Writing Center. Second-year graduate student will want to know that The Writing Center appoints graduate students as writing coaches and undergraduate tutors. Applications are typically due in late February or early March for the following academic year.

It is helpful for students applying for teaching assistantships in other departments to inform the Director of Graduate Studies of this fact.

Research Assistantships. A limited number of research assistantships may become available on an ad hoc basis, with varying degrees of compensation and time commitment.

Loans and Work-Study. Financial aid in the form of need-based loans or grants is through the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid. Students who would like to apply for financial aid should be sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The priority deadline is March 1 for the following academic year. Students should not wait for admission decisions before applying for aid. Students who apply after March 1 will receive assistance only if resources permit. FAFSA is used by US citizens and eligible noncitizens (permanent residents) to apply for financial aid from federal and state governments. Colleges and universities also use the information submitted on the FAFSA for computing need-based awards. International students are not eligible for the US government aid programs. However, many institutions will ask international students to submit a FAFSA so that they may use the data for assessing financial need.  Check with the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid. Also see Loan Account Services.



Newly Admitted Students
The Graduate School has published an extensive list of instructions for newly admitted students that explain what to do immediately upon acceptance of an offer of admission, what to do prior to arrival in Chapel Hill, and what to do upon arrival in Chapel Hill.

The Director of Graduate Studies serves as advisor to first-year students. Incoming students should contact the Director of Graduate Studies at once to arrange for a consultation prior to registration for courses. At the beginning of their second year students will choose a faculty member as advisor. All students are expected to inform the Director of Graduate Studies briefly of the courses for which they register. The student’s academic advisor may, but need not, be the same as the thesis director. In some circumstances it may be appropriate for a student to have a faculty member from outside the Department as academic advisor or thesis director. In such cases students must consult with the Director of Graduate Studies before asking outside faculty to serve in these roles.

Registration for courses is accomplished through the ConnectCarolina campus portal. Students can also use ConnectCarolina to review financial aid, pay tuition and fees, order official transcripts, etc.

Continuing students begin registration for courses in early November for the following spring term and in early April for the following fall term. Students should receive an enrollment appointment by email that specifies the date and time at which their actual registration will be open. (Students can also log in to their ConnectCarolina Student Center to ascertain their enrollment appointment date and time. Go here for details.) Students will have the opportunity to adjust their schedules, if necessary, throughout the registration period until classes are starting. Students should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies or their academic advisor prior to registration. Consultation should also precede any subsequent schedule changes.

Summer School
The UNC-CH Summer School offers two sessions of about five and a half weeks each from mid May through July, and a so-called “Maymester” of three weeks. Due to the small size of the linguistics MA program, it is not practical to offer regular graduate courses through the Summer School (the funding of which is receipts-based). Occasionally, a student may be able to persuade a faculty member present in Chapel Hill to sponsor a directed readings course during the summer; and enrollment for thesis credit is always possible. Students may also find it possible to fulfill the foreign language requirement by taking a summer course.



Resources and Enrichment
The University Library is well supplied with linguistics publications and allied material, and nearby Duke University has robust holdings in cognitive science in its library system. Computer time is available for qualified projects. The UNC-CH Department of Statistics and Operations Research has a Statistical Consulting Center that offers free statistical consulting for graduate students, faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and research staff. Visiting lecturers provide perspectives and insight into current work as augmentation of regular course offerings. The linguistics program at North Carolina State University in Raleigh focuses on the dialects of American English and sociolinguistics and hosts the North Carolina Language and Life Project. The relationship between the UNC-CH and NCSU linguistics programs is complementary and collegial.

Linguistics Graduate Student Association
The Linguistics Graduate Student Organization sponsors the annual Spring Colloquium at which both faculty and students present papers (see here for recent programs), as well as other events through the year. It also elects a nonvoting student representative who attends meetings of the linguistics faculty and a delegate to the Senate of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation.

Student Life
The Graduate School provides copious information on graduate student life at UNC-CH, including such topics as establishing North Carolina residency, resources for incoming and current graduate students, information for international students, diversity and student success, professional development, and the Graduate Student Center. Accessibility Resources and Service, a part of the Division of Student Affairs, works with departments throughout the University to assure that its programs and facilities are accessible to every student.

Employment Outlook
The Linguistic Society of America offers information on career opportunities with a linguistics degree.  For a list of currently available positions in linguistics see Since the employment outlook in higher education in general and linguistics in particular is predictably mixed, students are justifiably concerned about their prospects for finding employment after successful completion of their degrees. The following figures may therefore be of interest. Our 13 PhD graduates in 2004-2015 have been employed as full-time language or linguistics faculty members at tertiary institutions (6), fixed-term linguistics faculty members (4), linguistics postdoc and subsequently researcher at the Center for Applied Linguistics (1), and university administrators (2). Our MA graduates in the period 2011-2017 have gone on to advanced graduate study in linguistics (12), graduate study in language-speech pathology (2), graduate study in nonrelated fields (2), teaching English as a second language (3), foreign language teaching in secondary education (1), employment in the field of translation (1), self-employment as language tutor (1), academic counseling at an overseas tertiary institution (1), and occupations with no direct linguistic applications (2 in computer programming, 2 other).



For general questions about the Graduate School’s admissions process, please email or call (919) 966-2611.  If you have program-specific questions, then please contact the Director of Graduate Studies.