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The interdisciplinary MA program of the Department of Comparative Language Science 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?
The Department of Comparative Language Science 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) the global 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.
As with most other university degrees, the study of Evolutionary Language Science does not lead to a specific profession. The main area 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.
Assistant Professor Simon Townsend introduces the study program (then still "MA Evolutionary Linguistics") at the Master Info Event in Spring 2021.
MA Student Thomas Huber talks about the study program (then still "MA Evolutionary Linguistics") at the Master Info Event in Spring 2021.