Master of Arts in Language Documentation (LDD)

The Department of Linguistics offers a new MA in the theory and practice of language documentation and description focusing on courses that provide training in linguistics and in the practice, methodology and technology of LDD. Language documentation encompasses a group of activities centered on the collection of naturally occurring as well as experimentally elicited primary data, such as audio and video recordings and written language data; language description uses this and other sources of data to analyze linguistic structures that underlie language and cognitive categories.

The enterprise of LDD is important in our understanding of the human language capacity in its diverse forms, by creating records of languages that may soon be extinct. Its importance is heightened by the loss of linguistic diversity worldwide, which represents a tremendous and irreplaceable loss of human knowledge.

Language documentation and description efforts can provide the foundation for language grammars, dictionary projects, education and language revitalization materials, and the building of large language corpora, as well as in related fields such as ethnomusiclogy and ethnobotany and allied field such as computational linguistics. Emerging technologies provide new tools for the analysis of complex language data. Our program aims to provide students with the preparation needed to embark on language documentation and description projects, to develop skills transferable to other fields where the collection and analysis of complex language data and working in small language communities may be relevant. Some of these fields may include law and human rights, community activists, health organizations, Google and translation work on minority language groups, NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations), Indigenous Rights activists, museums among many others. Language is fundamental to human communication and cognition, as is the diversity it encompasses.

Program Requirements

The Language Documentation and Description MA program (LDD) is a 32-credit program designed to be completed in two years, as either a traditional or research-focused degree program.

Students pursuing a traditional MA in Linguistics program will complete 32 credit hours of coursework during the first three semesters and write their MA essay in the final semester. 

Students engaged in a research-focused MA in Linguistics will complete: 

  • Twelve credits of coursework during the first semester
  • Eight credits of coursework and four credits of research in the second semester
  • Four credits of coursework and four credits of research in the third semester
  • A master's thesis during the final semester

A research-focused MA in Linguistics is especially ideal for students planning to pursue subsequent PhD-level training.


LING 110: Introduction to Linguistic Analysis.

Students with limited background may take this as a “bridging” course that does not count towards the degree.

Core Courses: 12 Credits

Choose three of the following core courses:

  • LING 410: Introduction to Language Sound Systems (Fall)
  • LING 420: Introduction to Grammatical Systems (Spring)
  • LING 425: Introduction to Semantic Analysis (Fall)
  • LING 426: Morphology (Fall)

Track Courses: 12 Credits

  • LING 470: Two Suitcases and a Microphone (Fall)
  • LING 471: Field Methods in Linguistic Description 1 (Spring)
  • LING 472: Field Methods in Linguistic Description 2 (Fall)

Advanced Electives: 8 Credits

Offered yearly:

  • LING 427: Topics in Phonetics and Phonology
  • LING 450: Data Science for Linguistics
  • LING 465: Formal Semantics, or LING 466: Introduction to Pragmatics
  • LING 460: Syntactic Theory, or LING 461: Phrase Structure Grammar, or LING 462: Experimental Syntax

Offered in alternate years:

  • LING 404: History of Linguistic Thought
  • LING 405: Historical Linguistics
  • LING 428: Lexical Semantics
  • LING 440: Language Variation and Change
  • LING 468: Computational Semantics
  • LING 501: Linguistics Graduate Proseminar

Students entering program with stronger background will substitute appropriate advanced electives for core courses.

Course Changes for Research-Focused Students

Two or three of the core courses will be replaced by the relevant advanced courses (e.g., 427 for 410, 460/461/462 for 420, 465/466/468 for 425, etc.), and then instead of an additional eight credits of advanced electives, students would take eight credits of research.

Both traditional and research-focused students will complete the three track courses.