Trinity Western University

Master of Arts in Linguistics

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Program Overview

Trinity Western University is committed to training leaders in professional, academic and mission fields. The MA Linguistics degree program prepares students to contribute and lead in the field of linguistics with a foundation in both theoretical and applied linguistics.

This two-year (39 semester hour) graduate academic program is strongly oriented towards linguistic field work. It prepares students to integrate scholarship with service to language communities worldwide, analyzing and describing the linguistic structures of languages and putting previously unwritten languages into writing. Graduates are also prepared to publish research findings in academic journals, pursue ongoing professional development, enter doctoral programs, and integrate their faith with their work. While most graduate linguistics programs emphasize theory, this program emphasizes practical linguistic analysis in the development of language programs in roles such as language revitalization, orthography development, literacy program development, and translation.

The support and involvement of the Canada Institute of Linguistics enhances this degree program, providing one of the finest field oriented programs in North America and a faculty rich in field experience and expertise.

Program Objectives

Graduates of the TWU MA in Linguistics program will be able to:

  1. analyze a language that is not well documented;
  2. understand the implications of linguistic analysis for various applications such as the development of orthographies, literacy materials, pedagogical grammars, and dictionaries;
  3. critically read and understand scientific literature in their field;
  4. prepare research findings for publication in professional journals;
  5. qualify for entrance into doctoral studies in linguistics;
  6. be able to address issues in their field from Christian perspectives; and,
  7. continue their professional development in the field of linguistics.

Degree Program Requirements

Thesis and Non-thesis Options

The program has two options: thesis and non-thesis. Students who pursue the thesis option must complete 33 sem. hrs. of linguistics coursework taken at the 500 or 600 level, write a thesis (6 sem. hrs.) and defend it successfully. Students who pursue the non-thesis option must complete 39 sem. hrs. of linguistics coursework taken at the 500 or 600 level and receive a grade of  P (Pass) on written Comprehensive Exams.

Core Requirements

The MA Linguistics program has core course requirements of 15 semester hours. These five courses cover the main areas of linguistics that are necessary for students preparing for field work in linguistics. Survey of Linguistic Theories gives students a broad overview of linguistic theory, Syntax and Semantics and Advanced Phonology prepare students for field work in two of the most fundamental areas of linguistics, and Field Methods and Advanced Field Methods focus on teaching students how to gather linguistic data, manage their data electronically, analyze the data, and write descriptions of their data and analyses.


The program has two streams, analytical and applied. Within each stream, students take at least 12 semester hours (four courses) within their chosen stream. In the case of the analytical stream, the courses develop skills that are necessary for field workers who wish to focus mainly on linguistic analysis. In the case of the applied stream, the courses develop skills that are necessary for field workers who plan to work mainly in the areas of literacy development and translation.

MALING Analytic Stream Planning Worksheet

MALING Applied Stream Planning Worksheet


The program also offers elective courses (6 sem. hrs. for thesis students and 12 sem. hrs. for non-thesis students). The purpose of these courses is to offer students the opportunity to round out their training in their own areas of interest.


Students who wish to subsequently pursue doctoral studies in linguistics will be advised to take the thesis option. The thesis represents a serious work of understanding regarding a body of previously unanalyzed data or a development or extension of linguistic theory that significantly advances a new understanding of previously analysed data. If the former option is pursued, the student extends linguistic understanding by virtue of applying previously advanced theory to new data; the latter option involves changing (aspects of) a theory in order to cause a greater body of known data to be explained than previous work did. Students writing a thesis are expected to work closely with their thesis supervisor. Through this, they learn the value of advances made as the linguistics community works together, but they are also expected to demonstrate both initiative and ingenuity in regard to pursuing their own individual scholarly goals.

After completion of two semesters of (full-time) study or its equivalent in part-time study, each student will consult with the program advisor and work towards selecting a faculty member who will eventually serve as the chair of that student's thesis committee. The thesis committee will be comprised of the chair person and at least two other members of the program faculty. In exceptional circumstances, one of the committee members may be a qualified scholar from outside of the program faculty.

The committee chair person is responsible for overseeing the development of the research proposal; for advising throughout the research program, the analysis, and the composition of the thesis; and for the scheduling and the agenda of the oral thesis defence. He/she is also responsible to oversee any revisions necessary until the final copies required by the Trinity Western University School of Graduate Studies are received.

The thesis committee is responsible for approving the thesis proposal and for conducting and approving the oral defense. The oral defense includes a brief presentation of the thesis by the candidate that includes a statement as to why the study is important. Members of the committee then question the candidate concerning different aspects of the thesis. This might include aspects of the thesis that they want more clarification on or find questionable or perhaps troubling. It can also include discussion of aspects of the thesis that they find interesting or for which they want to suggest further avenues worthy of future research. Following the question and discussion period, the candidate will leave the room and the committee will discuss the quality of the thesis and the candidate’s oral defense. The candidate will then be called back in and informed of the committee’s conclusions. The oral defense will be at least one hour in length but not more than two hours.

Comprehensive Examinations (for non-thesis students)

The purpose of the comprehensive examinations is to help pull together a student’s knowledge of the whole field and allow him/her the opportunity to integrate their knowledge in one subject area with their knowledge in a different subject area. The exams consist of nine questions written in one two-hour and one three-hour block taken within a period of one week in the middle of the student’s final semester of studies. Four of the questions cover core course material, four cover material in the student’s chosen stream of studies and electives, and one is integrative in nature.

The Examinations will be set and evaluated by members of the linguistics department. A candidate who fails one question of the Exams is permitted to rewrite another question in that domain if he/she wishes to complete the program. A candidate who fails more than one question, however, must rewrite the exams if he/she wishes to complete the program. A student who fails one or more questions of the Exams a second time will not be permitted to rewrite.

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