Computational Linguistics Graduate Programs

Jul 10, 2018

This article covers available options for graduate degrees in computational linguistics, including master's and PhD programs. Topics covered include career options, admissions requirements and general coursework.

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Graduate programs in computational linguistics prepare students to create computer models of languages, using known rules of grammar, syntax, and phonology. Graduate training allows computational linguists to write precise computer programs that perform advanced language analysis.

Types of Degrees

Master's of Science and PhD programs are available in this field. A Master of Science usually takes about two years to complete and prepares students to move on to a career in the field. Some of these courses offer the option to participate in an internship of about two to three months in lieu of the standard thesis.

Some schools also offer a computational linguistics PhD, or a general linguistics PhD with a track or emphasis in computational linguistics. Most PhD programs in this field can take around four to five years to complete, but this can be reduced somewhat with advanced standing or transfer credits from previous linguistics coursework.

Those interested in a computational linguistics PhD can take either a direct program, or a general linguistics program with a computational linguistics track. The coursework may vary depending on the nature of the program. A computational linguistics program will likely focus more directly on elements specific to the field, such as machine learning and language annotation.


Students in a Master of Science program can expect core coursework consisting of a mix of linguistics and natural language processing classes. Elective courses generally consist of standard offerings from linguistics and computational linguistics curricula. Some common class examples include:

Phonology and Morphology

Phonology and morphology courses break both spoken and written text down to their smallest component units. Phonology covers sounds, while morphology covers word formation in writing. Between these courses students will learn how to determine the meaning of each part of a word and use the International Phonetic Alphabet to express all types of sounds used in language in writing.


Sociolinguistics courses explore how social elements influence language. This includes things like regional dialects, social class, subcultures and protocols. Students learn how to define, document and understand speech communities and sociolects.

Machine Learning and Speech Technology

Theoretical principles and practical procedures are covered in these courses, such as neural networks, linguistic modeling and speech analysis. Students ultimately learn to both design and use speech analysis and machine learning software.

Information Extraction

Information extraction is the process of scanning text for particular names or concepts and discerning the relationships between them. Modern information extraction makes use of machine learning techniques to accomplish this. Concepts covered in these courses include text mining, opinion analysis and syntactic parsing.

Natural Language Processing

Natural language processing covers how computers and AI analyze and process human language. Course material includes shallow and deep processing methods and statistical methods for use in language processing. Students will master concepts such as morphological analysis and part-of-speech tagging.

Admissions Requirements

Graduate applicants in this field will need a bachelor's degree from an accredited school, though the specific discipline it is in may not matter. Though programs may not require students to have any prior computer science coursework, schools may ask that the student demonstrate that they have a good working knowledge of a commonly used programming language (such as Java or C++). Knowledge of a scripting language (such as Python or Perl) is also recommended by some programs. Master's programs may also require the student have completed some prior coursework in linguistics and/or statistics and probability.

Other documentation that Master of Science programs may ask for includes academic recommendations, a sample of previous related academic work and a statement of purpose. Some schools may have the student take a skills questionnaire to document their programming and linguistics knowledge.

Schools may also ask for certain minimum GRE scores, or that students from foreign countries demonstrate their English proficiency by taking the TOEFL test.

A graduate degree in computational linguistics can lead to advanced positions in the research and development of emerging language technology. A master's of science is sufficient to pursue a career in this field, but PhD options are also available.

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