MA Linguistics

The MA in Linguistics program is interdisciplinary, combining research methods from the humanities and the social, natural, and mathematical sciences.

Program Overview

Our department covers a broad range of research topics, with substantial coverage of phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. We approach these topics from several different research traditions and backgrounds, with particular strengths in formal-theoretical linguistics, experimental and field linguistics, acquisition, and computational approaches to the study of communicative behaviour.

The Department is strongly committed to the study of Languages of the Americas, with particular focus on First Nations Languages of Canada, in the areas of documentation and theoretical research. Additionally, we have a long history of work on African languages as well as ongoing research on languages within the Indo-European, Japonic, Sino-Tibetan, Korean, and Uralic families.

Program Requirements

The MA in Linguistics can be earned in two ways: a thesis option and a non-thesis option. Each path has a specific set of course requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to complete the program. If you are unsure about which option is right for you, you will have until April 30 before making a final decision. If you wish to select the non-thesis option, you must send a written request to the Graduate Advisor.

Thesis Option Requirements

Students interested in linguistic research are strongly encouraged to enroll in the program for an MA with thesis. You must complete coursework under the following requirements:

  • Breadth requirement (9 credits): A minimum of nine credits from the following courses or equivalents:
    • LING 508: Phonetic Theory and Analysis (3 credits)
    • LING 510: Phonological Theory and Analysis (3 credits)
    • LING 520: Syntactic Theory and Analysis (3 credits)
    • LING 525: Semantic Theory and Analysis (3 credits)
  • Methods requirement (6 credits): A minimum of six credits from the following courses: 
    • LING 531: Field Methods in LInguistics I (3 credits)
    • Either LING 532, LING 518, or an appropriate methods-related course within in Linguistics or in a different department
  • Thesis Requirement (6 credits): LING 549C: Master’s Thesis
  • Remaining 9 credits: The remaining nine credits must be chosen with approval from the supervisory committee; courses may be from Linguistics or another appropriate department.

First-year graduate students who do not have sufficient background for the first-year graduate courses are expected to take the appropriate undergraduate courses prior to registration in the graduate course.

Until their MA thesis prospectus has been approved, all MA students are expected to maintain a regular, active, physical presence in the Department. This can include participation in lab/project/reading groups, attending colloquia, research seminars or other ad hoc departmental events, meetings with their supervisor, committee members or other researchers in relevant areas. Certain circumstances may necessitate a student’s absence during some of this period (e.g. for field work); such absences should be discussed with the supervisory committee. At all stages of the program, a student and their supervisor should be in regular contact and communication. At the thesis/dissertation stage, such contact should happen at least once a month (again, barring extenuating circumstances), either through in-person meetings, videoconferencing, or communication/reporting over email.

In order to graduate, students must have a sound knowledge of one language other than English. They must fulfill this language requirement by the time of their thesis prospectus submission.

The language to fulfill this requirement is expected to be chosen on the basis of its relevance for the student’s research program, in consultation and by approval of the student’s supervisory committee. Relevance can be determined by a variety of factors such as the following:

  • The language is the object of the student’s research, or is closely related to the language of research; for example, where a student’s research focuses on Yoruba, knowledge of Yoruba could fulfill the requirement, or where the student’s research is on one Salish language, knowledge of another could fulfill the requirement.
  • There is a significant and relevant linguistic literature in the language; for example, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, and Russian could fulfill the requirement.
  • The language serves as a medium for conducting linguistic research relevant to the student’s program of research; for example, Hausa could fulfill the language requirement for a student conducting research on a language of northern Nigeria.

Students may fulfill the language requirements in various ways:

  • Certain departments at UBC periodically schedule reading knowledge examinations. This exam evaluates a student’s language competence based on the translation of a text (approximately 1000 words) relating to the student’s field of study. A minimum second class standing (B- or better) must be obtained on this exam in order to satisfy the Foreign Language Requirement. For further information on such examinations, contact the appropriate departments.
  • If you speak a language natively, your native proficiency can be accepted by the supervisory committee.
  • If you have completed a program of post-secondary language study (a minimum of 12 credits or equivalent). A minimum second class standing (B- or better) must be obtained for these credits in order to satisfy the Foreign Language Requirement.
  • For other languages, it may be necessary to establish an ad hoc mechanism for conducting an evaluation of the student’s knowledge. In such cases, the student should make a written request to their supervisory committee, including a proposal for how such an examination can take place, and including a proposal for a qualified examiner. Students considering this option should be aware that the requirements (including the required level of competence in the language and how to demonstrate it) may vary extensively from case to case, depending on the norms of the language community involved.

A Research Supervisor is appointed for a student before the beginning of their first year in the program. The Graduate Advisor and the Research Supervisor, in consultation with the incoming student, will establish a three-member Temporary Supervisory Committee no later than the end of the first week of the first term. Prior to registration for the second year, the Temporary Supervisory Committee shall be dissolved and a new Supervisory Committee shall be established. A MA Supervisory Committee consists minimally of the Research Supervisor and two additional members. Normally the members of the supervisory committee are from the Department of Linguistics; if the students committee includes members from outside the Department of Linguistics, a majority must be departmental members.

Establishing a Research Supervisor is the joint responsibility of the student and the Graduate Advisor. Both new and continuing MA students will have a meeting with their Supervisory Committee during the last week of August or in early September. At this meeting students can discuss their course work and other aspects of their program. Incoming students are requested to bring with them copies of the calendars of course offerings from the institutions they previously attended (other than UBC). At the end of April or the beginning of May, all students will meet with their Supervisory Committee to discuss the year’s progress and to plan further work. Any changes in a graduate student’s program must be approved by the Supervisory Committee. The Graduate Advisor, in advising students, makes every effort to ensure that they have satisfied all the requirements for the degree — language requirements, course work, etc. However, it is ultimately every student’s responsibility to ensure that at the time he/she applies for the degree he/she has met all the requirements. Separate records of a student’s program and progress are kept by the Faculty of Graduate Studies; these records are obtained from information provided by the Graduate Advisor and are used to determine a student’s ultimate eligibility for graduation.

  • General summary: Most students choose to write a thesis. An acceptable thesis may minimally be a short paper (20-30 pages) presenting some original research, the results presented in a form suitable to be submitted to a journal. Alternatively, the thesis may be a longer but less original essay; this should be 50-80 pages long, with a maximum of 100 pages. The topics and supervisor should be chosen as soon as the student has decided upon his/her area of specialization, no later than registration week of the second year of the program. The student must submit a prospectus no later than October 30 of the second year of the M.A. program. The content of a thesis prospectus should be along the lines of an NSERC Discovery Grant or a SSHRC Standard Research grant; it should have the following components:
    • Summary page (Max: ½ page)
    • Detailed description (Max: 3 pages)
    • Bibliography
    • Budget (if there will be costs associated with completing the thesis research
    • Budget justification

The prospectus is approved by the supervisory committee. Once approved, the prospectus is filed in the Department Reading Room and circulated electronically to the Department. The completed thesis must be read and approved by the supervisory committee, which will conduct an oral examination on the completed thesis. Students will be encouraged to present a version of their paper at a departmental colloquium or at a regional, national, or international meeting.

  • Supervision: As soon as the student’s supervisory committee is formed, the student and his/her committee will meet to arrange procedures for organizing the thesis and to establish procedures the committee will follow in reading and approving the thesis. Preliminary drafts, either of individual chapters or of the whole thesis, should be submitted as the student proceeds. The thesis committee should assess the thesis at two stages — when the topic is proposed, and before the thesis reaches final typing. With respect to criticism and subsequent revisions, it is up to the student and the supervisor to check the procedures and deadlines of both the department and the university.
  • Thesis preparation: Theses should be prepared in accordance with the thesis formatting regulations available on the Faculty of Graduate Studies website. Typescripts which do not meet the standards specified may be rejected. Documentation should follow the style guide of The Canadian Journal of Linguistics, Language or the American Psychological Association.
  • Number of copies: The candidate should prepare a minimum of five copies of the thesis: one for himself/herself, one for the supervisor, one for delivery to the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and two to be retained by the Linguistics Department (one for filing and one for the Reading Room). Normally a student will also provide a copy to each member of his/her supervisory committee.
  • Oral examination: A final oral on the thesis may be held at any time of the year, provided the supervisory committee can be assembled. The final oral examination will not be held until the student has fulfilled all the other requirements for the degree.
  • Distance exemption: A student residing more than 500 miles from the university when he/she submits his/her thesis may request exemption from the oral. Where substantial revisions to the thesis are not required, such a request may be granted at the discretion of both the examining committee and the Graduate Advisor.

Non-Thesis Option Requirements

Students interested in linguistic research are strongly encouraged to enroll in the program for an MA with thesis. You must complete a minimum of 30 credits of coursework under the following requirements:

  • 24 credits must be at the 500 level or above.
  • The other 6 credits must be at the 300 level or above.
  • Complete a graduating essay.

For specific course requirements, please contact the Graduate Advisor.

A Graduating Essay differs from a thesis both in the scope and in the degree of originality expected. A typical Graduating Essay is a minimum of 15 pages in length. The Essay should go beyond the formal course work of the program but, where appropriate, may originate in formal courses. The Essay is not required to contain original results, but should be a finished product demonstrating reasonable mastery and sophistication in its area.

The completed and approved Essay should be deposited in the Departmental office, and the Faculty of Graduate Studies will be so advised.

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