Master's programs

MA Evolutionary Linguistics

The interdisciplinary MA program of the Department of Comparative Linguistics approaches language as a central cognitive faculty that sets humans apart from other animals. The program’s leading questions are: What are the biological and social conditions  that led to the emergence of language in our species and to the way it is transmitted over generations? What allows children to acquire any of the world’s languages? How does linguistic diversity evolve and how do linguistic structures spread across space and time? How do people from different cultural traditions use language and what impact can language have on cognition? How is language perceived, processed, and produced in the brain? What distinguishes human language from the communication systems of other species?

Further information

Course of studies

The Department of Comparative Linguistics of the University of Zurich offers a broad range of courses, which are tightly linked to current research conducted at the department. Core research topics that relate to the MA program are: (1) theglobal diversity and distribution of linguistic phenomena; (2) explanations of such distributions based on biological, psychological, historical, and geographical aspects; (3) the ontogeny of language and language processing in various socio-cultural and linguistic contexts; (4) the phylogenetic origin of language through comparisons with similar phenomena across other taxa, (5) quantitative analyses and modeling of language change, language ontogeny, and language processing.

Students can complete the program as their major or minor. After the first courses, which introduce the central questions, insights, and methods of interdisciplinary research on language evolution, students then take courses from each of the three core fields: language ontogeny, historical dynamics of language, and origins of language. All areas allow students to apply their knowledge in research projects early on. Furthermore, the Master’s degree can be followed up by a PhD that is based on in-depth research.

Career prospects

As with most other university degrees, the study of evolutionary linguistics does not lead to a specific profession. The main areas of interest for graduates is research. However, there are many other possibilities outside of academia, since in many areas of society and industry, expertise and interest in language(s), experience with quantitative analyses, and the ability to conduct independent work are sought-after skills. The interdisciplinarity of the program makes it possible to work in various language-related areas, e.g. translation, PR consulting, or advertising. Depending on personal interests and other skills acquired during their studies (e.g. studying a non-European language or further computational skills acquired in the minor) there are also possibilities of working in areas such as development work or natural language processing.


MA in Linguistics with specialization in Descriptive Linguistics

General information on this MA program can be found on the homepage for the mono-master program in Linguistics. For further information on the specialization in Descriptive Linguistics, click on the button below.

Further information

Students are made familiar with methods of linguistic data acquisition (e.g. field research) and acquire knowledge in the automatic processing and statistical analysis of large corpora and databases. They learn basic programming skills with a focus on linguistic data processing.

Graduates of the MA program are familiar with language structures and patterns and their geographical and genealogical distribution and are able to put new findings in typological perspective. They are able to deduct general patterns from language data and are well equipped to write descriptive accounts of languages and languages families or areas, based on their personal experience and published sources.

Graduates know how to structure, monitor, and document descriptive linguistic fieldwork, including data collection, data storage and metadata management. They are familiar with standard ethical issues and procedures.

Graduates is prepared to participate in research projects and are able to read and write research papers in linguistics. Degree holders are qualified to join a PhD program on university level.

MA in Linguistics with specialization in Indo-European Linguistics

General information on this MA program can be found on the homepage for the mono-master program in Linguistics.

Further information

Graduates are specialised in the focus area Indo-European Studies. They 
have a broad linguistic and philological knowledge of mostly ancient 
Indo-European languages. They have the skills to deal with questions 
related to the literary, historical, cultural, and social context of 
text production, transmission, reception, and language use. They are 
experts in historical linguistics, are familiar with the mechanisms of 
language evolution, and are able to apply up-to-date qualitative and 
quantitative methods for reconstructing ancestor states of a language 

Graduates are also familiar with methods of linguistic data acquisition 
(e.g. written records, elicitation) and have acquired knowledge in the 
automatic processing and statistical analysis of large corpora and 
databases. They have obtained basic programming skills with a focus on 
linguistic data processing.

Graduates are prepared to participate in research projects and are able 
to read and evaluate research papers in linguistics. They are qualified 
to join a PhD program on university level.

MA in Linguistics with specialization in Psycholinguistics

General information on this MA program can be found on the homepage for the mono-master program in Linguistics.

Further information

The MA program Linguistics with a specialization in Psycholinguistics focuses on the psychological foundations of human language. The goal is to find answers to the following questions:

  • What enables infants to learn any of the approximately 7000 human languages in their first years of life?
  • How is language processed in the brain?
  • What role do grammatical structures play in learning and processing?
  • What is the role of linguistic and cultural diversity for learning and processing?

As a preparation for independent research students will receive a solid introduction to psycholinguistic theories and methods. They will learn how to conduct research independently in close collaboration with their supervisors. The program offers the possibility for students to actively participate in ongoing research projects on first language development and language processing, both in at the University of Zurich and in various field locations around the globe.