Master’s Program

The Master of Arts degree provides an excellent background for more advanced work in linguistics or fields related to linguistics and the language sciences; for pursuit of studies in education, bilingualism, or literacy; or for clinical programs such as communication disorders. In addition, students who are planning a career in the linguistic study and teaching of their native language and in shaping the language policies in their countries of origin can benefit from interaction with the African Studies Center and the Department of Romance Studies, as well as the School of Education.

In consultation with an advisor, master’s degree students select a sequence of courses providing both depth and breadth in their area of specialization. Students may also become involved in applied projects offering opportunities for research and practice, in association with local institutions such as schools, clinics, and hospitals.


Applicants must have met the requirements for a bachelor’s degree. That degree may be in any related field, but the student must have completed the equivalent of one of Boston University’s introductory classes in linguistics (CLA LX 250, SED LS 565, or CAS EN 511). Students who have not previously had an introductory linguistics course must pass an examination or make up the deficiency through course work prior to entry or during the first semester. (Introductory linguistics courses will not be counted toward the master’s degree requirements.)

Course Requirements

Candidates for the MA degree in Applied Linguistics are required to complete a minimum of eight graduate-level semester courses (32 credits) or the equivalent.

Core Requirements: Each student must take four core courses that provide an introduction to language structure, linguistic theory, and one major area of linguistics beyond these:

1.              CAS LX 510: Phonetics

2.              CAS LX 522: Syntax I

3.              One course in language structure and linguistic theory, e.g.:

CAS LX 502: Semantics

CAS LX 500: Topics (Pragmatics, Focus, etc.)

CAS LX 513: Phonology

CAS LX 504: Pragmatics

CAS LX 521: Morphology

SED LS 726: Discourse Analysis

4.              One course that provides an introduction to a major area of applied linguistics, broadly construed (usually this will be taken from the following four courses, but other courses may be approved for this purpose by the advisor):

SED LS 566: Language Acquisition

SED LS 750 Cognitive Development and Language

GRS LX 700: Language Acquisition and Linguistic Theory

CAS AN 521: Sociolinguistics

GRS PS 828: Psycholinguistics

CAS LX 535: Historical Linguistics

SAR CD 531: Introduction to Speech and Language Disorders


Specialization Requirements: Each student will construct a specialization sequence of four courses (some possible courses are listed in ‘Electives’ section 5.)  The specialization sequence provides students with the opportunity to develop sophisticated knowledge of the theories and methods of one area of linguistics.

The four-course specialization sequence is to be designed in consultation with the faculty advisor.  Possible specialization sequences are described below, but students should note that it is not necessary to specialize in one of these.  MA students and their advisors often compose unique specialization sequences that meet their needs or interests, as indicated in the ‘Individualized Specialization’ option below.


1. Language Acquisition and Development Includes the study of first and/or second language learning within the theoretical frameworks provided by linguistics and psychology; may emphasize linguistic, cognitive, social or educational implications.
2. Neurolinguistics and Language Disorders Features the study of neuro-psychological and neurological substrates of language and language disorders; may include adult and child language dis-orders; may emphasize  clinical or theoretical implications.
3. Language Structure and Linguistic Theory Students may specialize in the study of a particular language or language family (e.g., African languages, Romance languages or American Sign Language), viewed within current linguistic theory, or students may focus on linguistic theory  exclusively.
4. Bilingualism and Language Teaching Includes study of linguistic theory and methods of language teaching and learning; may include adult and child language learners in formal educational settings; may emphasize bilingual education, or English and other languages taught as a second language.
5. Sign Language Includes the study of the linguistic structure and acquisition of American Sign Language and signed languages in general.  Research may also address crosslinguistic comparisons of different signed languages or comparisons between signed and spoken languages.
6. Individualized Specialization Students may design their own programs of study in consultation with an advisor.  Examples include focus on language and literacy teaching in developing countries, language in mass communication, natural language understanding, discourse analysis, pragmatics, and others.


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

Language Requirement

Each student who has not previously completed at least two years of study or the equivalent in one foreign language at the undergraduate level must make up the deficiency through course work or examination.

Final MA Project

Students will complete a significant research project relevant to their field of specialization. This may be a publishable paper or a project designed to show mastery of some aspect of the specialization area. Planning of the final project will be done in consultation with the advisor. The project or paper will be evaluated by the advisor and at least two other members of the faculty of Boston University, at least one of whom will be affiliated with the Program in Applied Linguistics.

Completion of Degree

The program shall be completed within three years after the first registration for study leading to the master’s degree. Students normally register for no more than four courses per semester, but must register for at least 1 course each semester until course requirements have been fulfilled (or a leave of absence has been granted).