Graduate programs in the Department of Linguistics emphasize theory and research. Students interested in non-university careers also may take courses in applied linguistics and other fields as an option in the M.A. program.

The University of Iowa Department of Linguistics has particular strengths in phonology, syntax, and second language acquisition (SLA).

The phonology curriculum emphasizes current theoretical perspectives, including optimality theory, and the collection, description, and interpretation of novel phonological and phonetic data. Courses feature extensive work in data analysis and problem solving, focusing on construction and evaluation of phonological theories, particularly in light of new empirical data.

The syntax curriculum includes the dual emphases of empirical and theoretical perspectives. It offers a variety of foundational courses that build analytic and argumentation skills, as well as specialized coursework on current issues in syntactic theory. The courses consist of intensive work in problem solving. They combine discovery and description of new linguistic data with exploration of the implications of such facts in testing and constructing syntactic theories.

The curriculum in second language acquisition includes courses that provide an overview and analysis of current SLA research. Work focuses on experimental research investigating the influence of the first language, environmental and contextual factors, and related topics.

Learning Outcomes

The master’s degree in linguistics is intended for two different student groups. The M.A. with the Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) focus is intended for students who wish to work as TESL professionals at the college or community college level. The M.A. degree targets students who want to pursue a Ph.D. in linguistics or are interested in linguistics-related professional areas. Unless otherwise stated, the student learning outcomes are for both the M.A. degree and the M.A. degree with a TESL focus.

Students are expected to:

  • be familiar with the basics of theoretical linguistic approaches to phonology and syntax, be able to analyze linguistic data using formal theoretical linguistics approaches, and be familiar with the basics of applied phonetics and approaches to multilingual language acquisition research;
  • be familiar with the basics of empirical research in linguistics and be able to use appropriate software and methods to understand original research;
  • be able to write a formal research paper in syntax and phonology demonstrating a critical evaluation of a particular problem or issue they have investigated;
  • be familiar with the basics of multilingual language acquisition from a theoretical and empirical perspective;
  • formulate a research project by the end of their third semester if they have articulated the goal of continuing to a Ph.D. program in linguistics;
  • possibly explore course options in areas related to their professional development if they are not planning on continuing to a Ph.D. program in linguistics; and
  • be able to teach English as a second language (ESL) to adult learners and understand the theory and practice behind ESL teaching and evaluation if they are TESL trained.

The Master of Arts program in linguistics requires a minimum of 37 s.h. of graduate credit. A student's advisor must approve all courses that count toward the degree. Students must maintain a cumulative g.p.a. of at least 2.75.

A student with a linguistics background may waive up to 6 s.h. of coursework if the department determines that the student completed comparable work before enrolling in the program.

Core Courses

All M.A. students complete the following set of required core courses in phonetics, phonology, syntax, and language acquisition (total of 22 s.h.).

All of these:
LING:3005Articulatory and Acoustic Phonetics3
LING:5000Proseminar: Morphosyntax1
LING:5010Introduction to Syntax3
LING:5020Introduction to Phonology3
LING:6010Syntactic Theory3
LING:6020Phonological Theory3
LING:6080Topics in Second Language Acquisition3
One of these:
LING:6040Linguistic Structures3
LING:6050Language Universals Linguistic Typology3


Students also complete 15 s.h. of Department of Linguistics coursework, which may include a 9 s.h. focus (e.g., teaching English as a second language).

Applicants to the M.A. program in linguistics must complete an application form, submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test scores, and have three letters of recommendation sent to the Department of Linguistics. Applications for admission should be submitted as early as possible for the following academic year.

Applicants whose first language is not English must submit official test scores to verify English proficiency. Applicants can verify English proficiency by submitting official test scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

Applicants must meet the admission requirements of the Graduate College; see the Manual of Rules and Regulations on the Graduate College website.

Applications should be received by January 15 for the following academic year in order to have priority in consideration for financial aid. Applications received after January 15 are considered for remaining aid. Early submission of an application is strongly encouraged.

Applications for awards are considered only for students whose application for admission is complete.

A master’s degree with teaching English as a second language (TESL) emphasis qualifies graduates to teach English as a second language in the United States or overseas. Unique teaching opportunities worth exploring include those with the Peace Corps and Teach For America.

A number of companies, such as Microsoft, Xerox, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and other high-tech firms, regularly hire employees with linguistics degrees. Opportunities also exist for government work, for example, as a special agent linguist for the FBI.

The Pomerantz Career Center offers multiple resources to help students find internships and jobs.

Sample Plan of Study

Sample plans represent one way to complete a program of study. Actual course selection and sequence will vary and should be discussed with an academic advisor. For additional sample plans, see MyUI.

Linguistics, M.A.

Plan of Study Grid (Manual)
Academic Career
Any SemesterHours
37 s.h. must be graduate level coursework; all coursework including up to a maximum of 6 s.h. of graduate transfer credits require approval. More information is included in the General Catalog and on department website. a
First Year
LING:3005 Articulatory and Acoustic Phonetics 3
LING:5000 Proseminar: Morphosyntax 1
LING:5010 Introduction to Syntax 3
Elective or Focus course b 3
LING:5020 Introduction to Phonology 3
LING:6010 Syntactic Theory 3
Elective or Focus course b 3
Second Year
LING:6020 Phonological Theory 3
LING:6080 Topics in Second Language Acquisition 3
Elective or Focus course b 3
Language Universals Linguistic Typology
or Linguistic Structures
Elective or Focus course b 3
Elective or Focus course b 3
 Total Hours37
Students must complete specific requirements in the University of Iowa Graduate College after program admission. Refer to the Graduate College website and the Manual of Rules and Regulations for more information.
Complete 15 s.h. which may include a 9 s.h. focus. Work with faculty advisor to determine coursework and sequence.