Goal, contents and structure

Why do languages change? Why does your mobile device suggest funny completions for words you are typing? How did it happen that Finnish is spoken mostly in Finland, but its linguistic relatives are scattered over a larger area? How can you study a language that does not have a standard orthography? Why can you sometimes tell where other people come from just by their accent? Why do some people stick to their dialect, but others give it up when they move to the city? Should you try to support language diversity? Can we save languages that are spoken by a very small number of people? How can computer-synthesised speech be made to sound more human? Why do some languages seem so much more difficult to learn – are they inherently more complex?

The Master's Programme Linguistic Diversity in the Digital Age will provide you with an understanding of the nature and diversity of human language and with the theoretical tools for working with language material. If you are interested in languages but are unable to decide which of them you want to study, this Master's programme offers several fields of specialisation. One of them might be just perfect for you.

During your studies, you will:

  • Gain an in-depth understanding of the basic structure of language, its subsystems (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics) and their interrelationships
  • Learn the fundamentals of linguistic analysis and language description
  • Familiarise yourself with linguistic concepts, theories, descriptive models and the associated research methods
  • Learn how language is related to cognition, speech and interaction as well as to social structures, culture and society
  • Learn to use various methods and technical tools in order to manage and analyse language data
  • Gain a good understanding of linguistic variation and diversity: what is common to the world's languages and how they differ, how language changes over time, how languages influence each another, how individuals cope with multilingual situations and how communities speaking endangered languages can be supported.

After completing your studies, you will be able to work independently in various fields that require multidisciplinary expertise in linguistic sciences. You will have the theoretical knowledge and skills that are required for postgraduate studies in doctoral programmes in language studies.

Linguistic Diversity in the Digital Age is an integrated international programme that offers you a comprehensive view of all subfields of the science of language. As a student in the programme you will be able to choose among four specialist options:

  1. General Linguistics
  2. Phonetics
  3. Language Technology
  4. Diversity Linguistics

General Linguistics gives you comprehensive in-depth training in a wide range of theoretical and methodological approaches to language structure and language in use. Special emphasis is put on language typology in a global perspective as well as the documentation and description of endangered and previously undocumented and under-documented forms of speech. 

Phonetics will introduce you to the tools for working with the articulatory, acoustic and perceptional aspects of human speech from a multidisciplinary perspective. At the more advanced level, you will become acquainted with the methods of experimental phonetics. 

Language Technology combines linguistics with digital technology in an interdisciplinary approach with close links to computer science. The focus areas include natural language processing (NLP) for morphologically rich languages, cross-lingual NLP and language technology in the humanities.

Diversity Linguistics encompasses all aspects of linguistic diversity in time and space, including historical linguistics as well as the extralinguistic context of languages: ethnicities, cultures and environ­ments. The areal foci in Diversity Linguistics are Eurasia and Africa.  

These four study tracks interact at all levels. There is a study module common to all students in the programme regardless of the specialist option they choose. The integration of these four perspectives into one programme is unique - no similar programme exists anywhere else.

In the context of “Humanities”, the programme has the closest relationship to natural sciences, and many subfields of the programme involve methods directly linked to laboratory sciences, including digital technology and neurosciences.

The teaching in the programme includes lectures and seminars, practical exercise sessions, reading circles, fieldwork excursions, as well as work practice (internship). The broad spectrum of teaching methods guarantees optimal support for your learning processes. 

The Master’s Programme Linguistic diversity in the Digital Age includes four specialist options. After completing the module common to all students in the programme, you will choose one of them, but in your elective studies you can include courses from the other specialist options as well as from other Master’s Programmes.

General linguistics

General linguistics supports a broad range of theoretical and methodological approaches to language. Our focus is on language description and typology in a global perspective. In language description, we emphasise the documentation and grammatical description of endangered and previously under-documented languages. Typological research examines patterns of cross-linguistic variation in order to understand the general regularities governing the structure and functioning of human language.


Phonetics is the science of speech. Speech can be investigated as a motor-cognitive ability or skill, as an acoustic signal, or as a perceptual phenomenon. The training as a phonetician involves a broad range of fields, both applied and research-oriented. Phonetic research is often multidisciplinary, combining general phonetics with speech technology, acoustics, linguistics, language technology, language education, psychology and neuroscience.

Language technology

Recent technological innovations have had an important impact on the study of language. Language technology offers technical tools and methods with which natural language ‑ speech and writing ‑ is processed by a computer. Some well-known applications of language technology are automatic spelling and grammar checking, speech recognition, speech synthesis, and machine translation.

Read more about language technology teaching and research at the University of Helsinki!

Diversity linguistics

Diversity linguistics investigates the diversity of human language by looking at languages and speaker communities through time and space. Like general linguists, diversity linguists are interested in the complexity of human language, and they use similar typological and descriptive approaches. A specific feature of diversity linguistics is that it combines language description with historical-comparative linguistics, linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics and cultural history. This enables you to describe the language history of a given region or society, and to analyse a language grammatically. It fosters understanding of linguistic diversity and its maintenance under various conditions.

The scope of the Master of Arts degree is 120 credits (ECTS), to be completed in two years of full-time studies. The degree contains the following studies:

  • Studies common to all students in the programme (30 credits)
  • Advanced studies in your specialist option (at least 60 credits)
  • Other studies (up to 30 credits)

All students in the programme take the same courses during the autumn semester of their first year. Then you will focus on your specialist option (general linguistics, phonetics, language technology, or diversity linguistics). This block of studies consists of courses (at least 30 credits) and your Master's thesis (30 credits).

Additionally, you can choose other studies: modules offered either by the other specialist options within this Master's programme or by other programmes within the University of Helsinki. The size of such optional study modules is typically 15, 25 or 30 credits. Courses offered by other universities can also be included here.

The studies in your own specialist option as well as the other studies can also include study abroad (e.g. student exchange) and work practice or other working life oriented study units. Working life and career development perspectives are integrated in many of the courses.

At the beginning of your Master’s studies, you will prepare your first personal study plan (PSP), with support from the staff of the Master's programme. You will also receive guidance from the Faculty. 

Your studies culminate in writing your Master’s thesis, an independent scientific study with the scope of 30 credits. You will be guided through the writing process in a thesis seminar during your second year of studies.

The aim of the Master’s thesis is to develop your basic skills for conducting research. The most important of them include the ability to seek information independently, analyse and assess existing information critically, and produce and apply information independently. In addition, writing your Master’s thesis develops your project management skills and your mastery of an extensive body of knowledge.

As a rule, you will write your thesis in English, though students with Finnish or Swedish as their administrational language can write their thesis in these languages.

Upon completing your Master’s thesis, you will:

  • Be ready to work in a systematic way and able to understand large concepts
  • Have the ability to define and discuss your chosen research problem
  • Have mastered the theories and research methods required in your work
  • Have demonstrated familiarity with your thesis topic and the literature in the field
  • Be able to analyse material and communicate your results scientifically