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The Graduate Program

Master of Arts in Linguistics

Why get an MA in Linguistics?

An MA in Linguistics can help boost your chances of getting into a top-tier Ph.D. program in Linguistics, such as UMass, UCLA, Stanford, UT Austin, and Speech and Hearing Sciences at the UNC School of Medicine. The degree may also make you more hirable, and also hirable with a higher salary. Your career fields include publication, translation, software development, computational linguistics, naming consultation, lexicography, data analysis, et cetera.


Students apply to the MA program by completing an application form through the UNC Graduate School.


The MA degree is typically completed in two years. Students must successfully complete 30 credit hours of MA-level course work, including 3 hours of thesis credit. Students complete either a Master’s thesis or a non-thesis research project under the guidance of a faculty advisor.

Questions about the MA program can be directed to Professor Elliott Moreton, Director of Graduate Studies and Graduate Admission.


We offer support to qualified applicants in the form of TAships and RAships on a competitive basis.

Degree Requirements

Degree programs must satisfy the general requirements of The Graduate School. In addition, the student must fulfill the following curriculum requirements for the master of arts degree:

Course Requirements
LING 520Linguistic Phonetics3
LING 523Phonological Theory I3
LING 530Syntactic Theory I3
One Course from Among:
LING 525Introduction to Historical and Comparative Linguistics3
LING 528Language Acquisition I 3
LING 537Semantic Theory I 3
Five elective courses in linguistics or related areas,
as approved by the student’s academic advisor
Thesis credit or thesis substitute3
Total Hours 30

Note: You are expected to complete your non-elective courses during your first year. Doing so, qualifies you to take your comprehensive exam and to be considered for a linguistics teaching assistantship by your third semester. We strongly discourage deviations.

Foreign Language Requirements

Reading knowledge of one foreign language, a requirement than can be met in one of three ways:

    1. By passing the Graduate Student Foreign Language Test, given each November and April by the Departments of Romance Languages and Germanic Languages


    1. Where available, by passing the reading courses for graduate students numbered 601 and 602. Note that these courses do not earn graduate credit. Also, should you have some prior experience, you may find it doable to meet this requirement by enrolling directly in and passing 602, bypassing 601.


  1. Should neither of the above options be available, students may arrange to have their competence certified by a qualified faculty member, usually through an informal examination.

Comprehensive Examination

During the semester following completion of the non-elective courses, which should be the Fall term of the second year, your will form an Examining Committee of three faculty members in the department. It is expected that this committee will also serve as your MA thesis committee. You will submit a prospectus of the MA thesis, as described below. The oral examination will assess your mastery of topics from the first year sequence of coursework and gauge the merits of your prospectus.


Your Master’s thesis, normally 50-100 pages in length, must be approved by a committee of the Thesis Director plus two other faculty members at the oral comprehensive exam. You will form your Thesis Committee with the advice of your advisor, who may also be your thesis director.

At the comprehensive oral exam for the MA, the department requires that you submit a prospectus of your thesis. This prospectus should state clearly what topic will be investigated, how the investigation will be carried out –written research, field work, experiment, et cetera– along with a preliminary bibliography. The prospectus should first be discussed with your Thesis Director. You are then required to submit a ‘clean’ version to all three committee members and set up a meeting with your Examining Committee. You are also expected to consult your Thesis Director regularly during the actual writing of your thesis. Formal requirements regarding the format and submission of the MA thesis are found in the Thesis and Dissertation Guide, published by the Graduate School. –Please consider this as essential reading.

Research Paper Option

The research paper is a report of original research that is of sufficient quality that it can be published or presented in a public scholarly forum. The research paper is to be written with the guidance of a faculty supervisor. The student should find at least two faculty sponsors, at least one of whom must be a member of the Linguistics Department, and at least one of whom must be the faculty supervisor, who agree to read the research paper for content and style. The student will submit a proposal for the research paper at the M.A. comprehensive oral exam. The research paper is then to be written during one semester, while the student is registered for LING 992, thesis substitute, with the faculty supervisor. The research that the paper describes must also be presented by the student in a public scholarly forum in order to fulfill the final oral examination requirement.

The faculty sponsors should communicate to the director of graduate studies their approval of the paper. The requirement is satisfied when both faculty members have accepted the same version of the paper and have certified that the research has been presented in a public scholarly forum. The faculty sponsors should communicate this to the director of graduate studies, along with a printed version of the paper. The DGS will communicate the outcome to The Graduate School using the Report of Approved Substitute form.

Important Degree Deadlines

Each year the Graduate School sets deadlines for graduation in a given term. There are two sets of dates to be aware of:

    1. In order to graduate, you must obtain an Application to Graduate. This application must be submitted in advance, typically July for August graduation, February for May graduation, and October for December graduation. Official dates will be posted on the Registrar’s Calendar. You will not be able to graduate without having submitted your Application to Graduate.


  1. The final electronic version of your thesis must be submitted, following these guidelines by the Graduate School, before you will be allowed to graduate.

Link to full requirements

A form for tracking your progress in the program can be found here.