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MA Comparative Syntax and Semantics

Explore structure and meaning in language and communication

Year of entry: 2023 (September)


1 year full-time,
2 years part-time

Start date

September 2023 (semester dates)

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in the UK for the quality of our Linguistics research

according to the Times Higher Education’s ranking of the latest REF results (2021).

in the Russell Group for Linguistics academic support

according to the latest National Student Survey (2022).

in the UK for Linguistics

according to the latest QS World Rankings by subject (2022).

Develop your own areas of interest and expertise in generative syntax and/or formal semantics and their interfaces (with phonology or pragmatics).

Gain practical training in the techniques and methods associated with this field. The course takes a cross-linguistic perspective, allowing you to expand your knowledge of the theory of comparative syntax and semantics and giving you access to a large pool of empirical knowledge on the languages of the world.
With the guidance of world-class tutors and the support of a vibrant research community you will be able to perform original research in formal and comparative syntax and semantics.
This course is suitable for you if you have a prior background in syntax and semantics.



Course content

You'll study taught modules and complete your dissertation. 

You'll be able to discuss cutting edge research in core issues in syntactic and semantic theory as well as the interplay of syntax and semantics on the one hand and the lexicon, phonology and pragmatics on the other. You'll deal with complex sets of data and will develop a theoretically informed understanding of the challenges and issues that they raise. 
You'll also advance your skills in presentation, teamwork and research management.


You'll take a research module which brings you the benefit of our academics' combined expertise in a range of linguistics research skills. You'll cover research design and writing skills in linguistics, develop and present research plans, and learn how to communicate your research to others.

Our modules may change to reflect the latest academic thinking and expertise of our staff.
Our course structures are changing in September 2023. Find out more about how this course may be affected.


In the summer and over the vacation you'll prepare and complete your dissertation of between 12,500 and 15,000 words, supervised by a member of staff. You'll submit your dissertation in September. 

Topics have ranged from:

  • Mass Plurality in Latin
  • Approaches to Extraposition in English, Spanish and Icelandic
  • The Degree Modification of Multidimensional Predicates
  • Case, Telicity and Plurality in Finnish
  • Clause-initial Negation in Iquito

More MA dissertation topics

The York approach

Every course at York is built on a distinctive set of learning outcomes. These will give you a clear understanding of what you will be able to accomplish at the end of the course and help you explain what you can offer employers. Our academics identify the knowledge, skills, and experiences you'll need upon graduation and then design the course to get you there.

Students who complete this course will be able to:

  • Approach with confidence intricate, complex and unfamiliar syntactic and semantic phenomena from a comparative and crosslinguistic perspective, discern and analyse relevant patterns in the data, and convey their significance effectively and with appropriate technical conventions.
  • Select and deploy appropriate research methods acquired through the study of formal syntax and semantics of various unrelated languages and gain a global understanding of syntactic and semantic processes.
  • Propose creative and principled solutions to comparative syntactic and semantic problems, within a formal theoretical framework, and contribute them effectively to written reports, and other media.
  • Communicate clearly and effectively at an appropriate level for different audiences the nature and relevance of comparative syntactic and semantic questions and controversies and the pivotal significance of meaning, structure and crosslinguistic investigation for the understanding of human cognition and human nature more generally.
  • Demonstrate advanced reasoning and critical perspectives on linguistic and cultural diversity by synthesising and critically engaging with arguments from a variety of standpoints
  • Use specialist software and databases in order to carry out formal comparative research on large sets of languages.
  • Create detailed and persuasive, academically and ethically informed, project proposals, and initiate, develop and complete a substantial independent research project.
  • Manage their own development as researchers and professionals, demonstrating the ability to reflect on their own practice and on feedback received, and seeking assistance where appropriate.

Fees and funding

Annual tuition fees for 2023/24

Students on a Student Visa (formerly Tier 4 Visa) are not currently permitted to study part-time at York.

Fees information

UK (home) or international fees? The level of fee that you will be asked to pay depends on whether you're classed as a UK (home) or international student. Check your fee status.

Find out more information about tuition fees and how to pay them.

Funding information

Discover your funding options to help with tuition fees and living costs.

We'll confirm more funding opportunities for students joining us in 2023/24 throughout the year.

If you've successfully completed an undergraduate degree at York you could be eligible for a 10% Masters fee discount.

Funding opportunities

Find out more about funding specific to Language and Linguistic Science.

Living costs

You can use our living costs guide to help plan your budget. It covers additional costs that are not included in your tuition fee such as expenses for accommodation and study materials.

Teaching and assessment

You’ll work with world‐leading academics who’ll challenge you to think independently and excel in all that you do. Our approach to teaching will provide you with the knowledge, opportunities, and support you need to grow and succeed in a global workplace.

Teaching format

You'll be taught with a mixture of lectures, seminars, workshops and practical training. You'll have approximately three contact hours a week for each module. For some modules you’ll complete collaborative group work outside your classes. You’ll be set essential reading, and will complete weekly assigned exercises.

A Research Training module runs throughout the year to support your development in academic skills as a linguist.

All modules offer developmental assessments that do not contribute to your final mark. These provide a chance to practice your skills and gain useful feedback on your progress and understanding, before you take the final assessments. A member of the teaching staff will act as your supervisor throughout the degree, to help guide your studies and monitor progress.


All of our modules have Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) websites where all crucial materials—reading lists, handouts, discussion boards—are accessible.

Our own departmental e-Lab gives you access to a variety of resources, including specialist linguistics software, corpora of different varieties, and online language-learning materials. 

Teaching location

You will be based in the Department of Language and Linguistic Science on Campus West. Most of your contact hours will be in or close to Vanbrugh College, with some additional teaching in other locations on Campus West.

About our campus

Our beautiful green campus offers a student-friendly setting in which to live and study, within easy reach of the action in the city centre. It's easy to get around campus - everything is within walking or pedalling distance, or you can always use the fast and frequent bus service.

Assessment and feedback

You'll submit written assignments, usually a 5,000 word essay or equivalent for each module. You will complete a dissertation of up to 15,000 words.

For the Research Training module you'll take one examination, and write a methodological critique of a linguistics research paper. 

Humanities Research Centre

Careers and skills

Effective communication, critical thinking and project management skills are central to most careers. The study of linguistics at York equips you with these skills and others, which translate readily into any work context.

Our graduates have an excellent record of pursuing fulfilling paths after graduation. Their work spans advertising, teaching English as a foreign language, IT, accountancy, broadcasting, clinical and forensic linguistics, retail management, and other careers.

Apart from your knowledge of linguistics, you will leave with the confidence and skills that come from successfully completing a demanding course and participating fully in university life.

Career opportunities

  • Linguist
  • Clinical and forensic linguist
  • Marketing executive
  • Journalist
  • English teacher
  • Content developer

Transferable skills

  • The capacity to analyse data and evaluate competing interpretations of evidence
  • Development of a hypothesis from the predictions of a theory or model
  • The ability to design a research project and present data
  • Reflective independent learning and time management
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills
  • Problem solving
  • Intercultural awareness

Entry requirements

If you've not met our English language requirements

You may be eligible for one of our pre-sessional English language courses. These courses will provide you with the level of English needed to meet the conditions of your offer.

The length of course you need to take depends on your current English language test scores and how much you need to improve to reach our English language requirements.

After you've accepted your offer to study at York, we'll confirm which pre-sessional course you should apply to via You@York.


You can apply and send all your documentation electronically through our online system. You don’t need to complete your application all at once: you can start it, save it and finish it later.

Next steps

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Department of Language and Linguistic Science

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