Home > Courses >

Computational Linguistics

Degree Bachelor of Arts
Application not required
Course commences winter semester / summer semester
Standard course duration 6 semesters
Focus options 100%; 75%; 50%; 25%
Language requirements

100%/75%/50%: knowledge of English for Computational Linguistics plus one other classical or modern foreign language

25%: English

Language of instruction German and English

The Computational Linguistics course has successfully negotiated the University of Heidelberg accreditation process. Accreditation document


Faculty of Modern Languages


Course outline

Computational Linguistics is an interdisciplinary subject. We investigate how natural language can be automatically processed and interpreted by means of formal modelling and algorithmic and statistical procedures. The emphasis is equally strong on research/theory – investigating the formal (mathematical and logical) properties of natural language and implementing them to come up with efficient algorithms – and on application.

Many examples of existing and potential applications of Computational Linguistics can be found in modern society:

  • support in translating texts from one language to another or completely automatic translation (machine translation)
  • automatic management of large databases containing information in language form and the retrieval of information from such databases, e.g. via automatic production of summaries and abstracts (summarisation) or the location of specific information in a large number of academic publications (e-science)
  • location of information in heterogeneous data sources (Internet, large structured databases, corporate portals, etc.)
  • automatic question-answering on the basis of large databases or information in language form on the World Wide Web
  • language-learning and correction programmes for foreign-language learners (vocabulary trainers and other practice programmes) and spelling and grammar correction programmes for native speakers in text editors
  • linguistic interaction with computers or artificial intelligence (AI) systems in the field of robotics, virtual worlds or computer-aided medical care.

Alongside these practical applications, Computational Linguistics is also concerned with a variety of research issues deriving from various aspects of the formal and algorithmic perspective on the language phenomenon. While the structural principles underlying the languages of the world have many features in common, there are many other such principles that differ from one language to the next. The automatic processing systems employed in computational linguistics must be able to represent, recognise and process these commonalities and divergences. Accordingly, one major research issue in Computational Linguistics and whether, and if so to what extent, the languages of the world can be modelled on the basis of a uniform grammar formalism and efficiently processed via computer-linguistic algorithms. Inquiry into the cognitive adequacy of such formalisms can be undertaken by means of language-psychological experiments. One main concern of theoretical Computational Linguistics is to identify the formal descriptive constructs and/or algorithms capable of representing and processing various aspects of the language system. As a science in the formal sense of the term, Computational Linguistics has a strong empirical bias. The formalisation and implementation of computer-linguistic models and their application to language data mean that the predictions they make can be empirically verified and evaluated.

The applications of Computational Linguistics and its relation to neighbouring disciplines are largely a function of the nature of language and the way it operates. The main purpose of language is to interact and to communicate content. Like human language use, machine language processing is challenged by the barriers inherent in the diversity of natural languages. In its concern with the description of language processing all the way up to the representation of the knowledge involved, Computational Linguistics has many points of contact with Artificial Intelligence, the cognitive sciences and psychology.

Computational Linguistics combines scientifically motivated research into the language phenomenon with precise formal modelling and its implementation in algorithmic and statistical processes. At the same time, it is at pains to achieve empirical verification of its theories and procedures by means of experimental methods, i.e. by the use of practicable “programmes” for the investigation of real-life language data in controlled or real-life applications.

Aptitude for the course

As an interdisciplinary subject, Computational Linguistics calls for knowledge in both computer science and linguistics. On top of that, it requires the ability to combine these skills to solve theoretical and practical problems arising in machine language processing. Accordingly, the course at Heidelberg University encompasses three field of study:

  • computer science and practical programming
  • theoretical and empirical foundations of formal statistical language modelling
  • algorithmic computer linguistics (the core area of theoretical and applied Computational Linguistics)

Students will be assessed in all three of these fields. Computer science and linguistics are the prerequisites, while algorithmic representation of linguistic data is the core concern of Computational Linguistics proper.

Interest in language, on the one hand, and computer science and mathematics on the other is a good basis for students contemplating a degree in Computational Linguistics. The study programme calls for the relatively rare combination of scholarly sensitivity and a gift for mathematics and the natural sciences. Students with no interest in one or the other of these fields will be better advised to opt for a degree in computer science or modern languages.

In Computational Linguistics, theory and practice are closely related, with theoretical insights needing to be implemented in the form of workable programmes. Accordingly, the subject also involves engineering skills to a certain extent. The distinguishing feature of Computational Linguistics is the conversion of (non-formalised) linguistic descriptions into algorithms (“algorithmisation”). Anyone can find out how to use a computer and empirical linguisticians are concerned with the nature of language. By contrast, the computational linguist is called upon to create algorithms or statistical models in order to obtain the desired results. This is why the activities of a computational linguist involve learning, research and invention. Patience is crucial. Programming is highly time-consuming, it can take hours for a programme to run error-free. Also, empirical experiments may not always produce the desired outcome. And as Computational Linguistics is an exact science, the results usually have to be taken at face value, with no latitude for “interpretation”. If things do not work out as hoped, the only option is to improve or re-evaluate the theory, the algorithm or the procedure – or all three.

Course content and structure

The subject is interdisciplinary, accordingly the content of the course is divided into three fields, covering the foundations of computer science, linguistics and computational linguistics. Course content is explained in detail in the module overviews for the Bachelor and Master courses in Computational Linguistics (valid as of winter semester 2007/2008). Detailed information on individual modules can be found on the website of the Institute of Computational Linguistics (

The following is a brief overview of the major components of the B.A. course:

Theoretical Computational Linguistics

  • automata theory
  • graph theory
  • inference methods
  • linguistic representations
  • machine learning
  • formal languages and grammars
  • statistical language processing
  • algorithmic language-processing methods
  • other related topics

Applied Computational Linguistics

  • information extraction
  • information retrieval
  • machine translation
  • question-answering systems
  • voice portals
  • learning systems
  • natural language understanding
  • artificial intelligence and knowledge representation
  • phonetics
  • language recognition and speech synthesis
  • special topics in  algorithmic processing
  • other related topics

Formal Linguistics

  • linguistic theories of grammar
  • special topics in formal syntax, semantics, discourse and dialogue semantics, pragmatics, morphology and phonology

Applied Linguistics

  • language-learning systems
  • induction, acquisition and formal representation of linguistic resources
  • cognitive linguistics
  • contrastive linguistics
  • corpus linguistics

In theory, B.A. degree-programme subjects can be freely combined with one another, as long as there are coursers available for them. Click here for a list of B.A. courses and the focus options available for them. If you have any questions about subject compatibility, please consult the academic advisors indicated below.

Research environment for Computational Linguistics at Heidelberg University

Heidelberg University has three humanities Faculties with a research focus on various interesting aspects of linguistics. For example, one of the main emphases of linguistic scholarship in Heidelberg is on lexicography, an area with a range of potential applications that are of interest for Computational Linguistics. There is also a natural affinity between Computational Linguistics and Computer Science. Heidelberg University boasts a (still relatively “young”) Institute of Computer Science, while computer science also plays a major role in a number of subjects that draw upon its services for their own purposes, e.g. Computational Linguistics, Health Informatics, Business Informatics or Computational Biology. The overarching, cross-Faculty significance of Computer Science in its applied form is most clearly embodied in the Interdisciplinary Centre for Scientific Computing (IWR) at which scholars and scientists from various disciplines join forces in multilateral research projects. The Centre offers students of all subjects a wide variety of courses and is equipped with the latest computers. The main focus is on parallel computing. There is also close cooperation between the Centre and a non-university research institution specialising in information technology, the Klaus Tschira Foundation’s Heidelberg Institute of Theoretical Studies (HITS) with its research departments on computational linguistics, bioinformatics, etc.

Formal requirements


Admission to the course is not restricted. Click here for information on enrolment.

International applicants

There are special regulations for international applicants. For more information, apply to the International Relations Office of Heidelberg University (Seminarstraße 2).

Subject combinations

The possible subject combinations are listed in the Catalogue of Subjects.

Study and examination regulations

Module Handbook

Please click here to find the latest Module Handbook.

Examinations board

Issues arising in connection with examinations, credit transfer and academic credential recognition are dealt with by the relevant examinations board/office. For more information, consult the academic advisor(s) indicated below.


Tuition fees at Heidelberg University are payable at the beginning of each semester.


Courses at the University of Heidelberg are continually evaluated by the University’s own quality development monitor heiQUALITY and are normally accredited every 6 years.

Click here for more information on heiQUALITY in studies and teaching.

The Computational Linguistics course has successfully negotiated the Heidelberg University accreditation process.

Accreditation documentAdobe

M.A. course

Heidelberg University offers a consecutive M.A. course in Computational Linguistics.


Academic advisor

Julius Steen
Office 123a, Im Neuenheimer Feld 325
Phone: (+49)6221 54-3456
Wednesday, 10:30-11:30 a.m. (prior notification requested)

Eva Mujdricza-Maydt
Office 122, Im Neuenheimer Feld 325
Phone: (+49)6221 54-3483
Thursday 11-12 a.m. (prior notification requested)




Institute of Computational Linguistics
Im Neuenheimer Feld 325
D-69120 Heidelberg


Office 109a, Im Neuenheimer Feld 325
phone: +49 (0)6221 543245 or 543567
fax: +49 (0)6221 543242

Student representation

Institute of Computational Linguistics
Im Neuenheimer Feld 325
D-69120 Heidelberg



Editor:: Email
Latest Revision: 2018-07-10
zum Seitenanfang/up