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Computational Linguistics

Degree: Master of Arts
Application required: access-restricted
Course commences: winter semester / summer semester
Standard course duration: 4 semesters
Format options: full-time only
Language requirements: English (on application)
Language of instruction: English
Other features: postgraduate / consecutive  


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.

Course structure

The M.A. course in Computational Linguistics can be taken as a main (major) or subsidiary (minor) subject. Both formats involve modules from the sectors Theoretical Computational Linguistics (study of abstract formalisms and theories), Applied Computational Linguistics (looking at applications like machine translation, etc.), Formal Linguistics (linguistic theories of grammar, etc.) and Applied Linguistics (using computer-linguistic methods and techniques for linguistic research, etc.).

The M.A. course takes 4 semesters. Throughout its duration, students attend a computer-linguistic colloquium in which visiting scholars (German and international) discuss their work. The colloquium is also the forum in which advanced M.A. students report on progress with their M.A. theses.

For more detailed information on the M.A. course, go to the website of the Institute of Computational Linguistics.

Subsidiary (minor) subject

The course requires 20 CP to be acquired in a subsidiary (minor) subject. Here is a list of all the subsidiary subjects available.

The M.A. in Computational Linguistics can also be studied as a subsidiary (minor) subject accounting for 20 CP.

Formal requirements


Access to the course is restricted. The current Admission Regulations are available here.

Prospective students from Germany

Prospective students from Germany can enrol without prior application at the Central University Administration building by the beginning of the lecture period. To matriculate, they are required to show a written statement of admission issued by the representative of the Master’s programme they wish to attend, confirming that the requirements set out in the Admission Regulations have been met. Please apply to the Institute of Computational Linguistics for further information on how to proceed.

International prospective students

Prospective students from other countries must apply in writing, so that their previous academic record can be verified. The deadline for international applicants is 15 June for the winter semester and 15 November for the summer semester. Applications must be addressed directly to the International Relations Office. Please use the M.A. application form here and enclose the necessary documents.

Further information

Current information on procedure

Study and examination regulations

You can find the current examination regulation here.

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

Academic advisor

Sariya Karimova
Office 120, Im Neuenheimer Feld 325
Fridays 2 pm – 3 pm
phone: +49 (0)6221 543682

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


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


Office 109a, INF 325
phone: +49 (0)6221 543245; +49 (0)6221 543567
fax: +49 (0)6221 543242


Student representation

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

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Latest Revision: 2018-06-27
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