MIT Indigenous Language Initiative


Language Loss

History of MIT Department

Recent Dissertations

Proposed Requirements

Advisory Board

Endangered Language Resource Center


The Ken Hale Memorial Master’s Program


Download Complete Program Proposal



The students

The program would initially be open to two Master's (SM) students per year. These students could be from any indigenous group, from any part of the world. Ideally, a given community would send more than one student at a time; this would help both to reduce culture shock and to distribute the overwhelming burden of work involved in future language revival programs.

In addition, two (or more) Ph.D. students would work with the SM students on their projects, contributing language research, tutoring, and providing assistance as needed. These students would be funded as TAs. Through this work, Ph.D. students would gain experience with fieldwork and endangered language revitalization, areas in which many of our students have already expressed an interest.


Entrance Requirements

(1) A native speaker’s knowledge of an indigenous or endangered language OR commitment to learning it as a second language (i.e. have shown a commitment to the community in the area of language revitalization)

(2) Demonstrated ability and interest in scholarly and practical work in or out of the community (or both) relating to the language. Preference will be given not only to individuals who are able to demonstrate their capabilities to us but also to individuals who have demonstrated their ability in concrete ways recognized as valuable within their home communities.

In some cases admission will require a liberal interpretation of the provision that candidates for graduate work at MIT must have a B.A. degree or its equivalent. The ideal candidates will have, within their communities, achieved a level of learning and competence corresponding to a college degree in the Angloamerican framework, if not in fact beyond that level. If we were to restrict our attention to persons holding the B.A., then we would defeat the very purpose of the program -- namely, to engage the most talented and capable potential indigenous language scholars. The conferral of a degree upon successful trainees will greatly facilitate both their eventual hiring and their employment in serious language-related educational work within their home communities. The importance of this latter consideration was very evident to Ken Hale and others in past efforts to train native speaker linguists.


Program requirements

The Master’s will be a two-year program, with the following requirements:


Introduction to Linguistics (24.900)

Tutorial in Linguistics and Related Fields (independent study) (24.921)

Taken for two semesters in the first year
Tailored to the particular needs and interests of the students. (For example, if the student is working with a language that is no longer spoken at all, the contents of this course may focus on working with archive material and reconstruction. If the student is working instead with an endangered language, the course may focus more on teaching methods and ways to encourage current community use of the language.)

Language Acquisition and Pedagogy

Course targeted at future teachers/language learning experts
Includes units on first and second language acquisition
Includes units on teaching methods (i.e. creating a syllabus, evaluation methods, structuring a course)

plus any two of:
Introduction to Phonology (24.961)
Introduction to Syntax (24.901)
Introduction to Semantics (24.970)

Master’s thesis

Students will produce a Master’s thesis in their second year, generally a sketch grammar of their language or an in-depth investigation of some grammatical issue in their language. Where such a grammar already exists, the thesis may be an in-depth investigation of some linguistic aspect of the language. Supervision of the thesis will be done by the student’s advisor, generally the faculty person in charge of the tutorial for that student.


Student support

With funds from outside sources, the Indigenous Language Initiative will offer full fellowships to all students, including tuition, healthcare, and a stipend for living expenses.


Outcome of the program

The program can be viewed as an apprenticeship whose end product is a person familiar enough with the concepts and methodology of linguistics to work effectively with other professionals in the field as well as a person capable of doing significant scholarly and practical work on his or her own language.

In order to help graduates of the program be able to continue their language work after graduation, the Master’s program will include the goals of:

  • Finding and establishing connections with funding sources while students are still at MIT
  • Training in fundraising techniques to ensure that graduates have the skills to apply for new grants after leaving


Physical Location

Since it may be difficult for many potential students to be physically located at MIT continuously over the course of two years, requirements on physical locations for the program are flexible. The MIT Department of Linguistics will work with students to determine optimal coursework schedules based on the students’ individual needs.

For students in New England or within driving distance to MIT, for example, it may be possible for the Department of Linguistics to schedule class meetings so that students can spend two nights a week in Boston and the rest of their time in their home community (e.g. travel to MIT Tuesday, classes Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, travel home Thursday evening). After the first year of participation in the program, since students will mainly be conducting independent research for their theses, it may be possible for them to come to MIT only one or two days a week to meet with their advisors and research groups.

Another possibility is to offer some courses online, allowing students to earn course credit without having to be physically at MIT for all of their coursework. This will not be possible for all courses. Students will have to spend at least some amount of time physically at MIT and in classes, but online coursework would significantly reduce the amount of time away from their communities, should that be a problem for them.



The application deadline is January 2nd for the following September.

Candidates should follow the regular application process for admission into the linguistics department graduate program, which can be found here.

In addition, one letter of recommendation should be submitted that expresses the support of the candidate's home community.

For more information, contact the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at or 617-253-4141.


Financial Aid

The department has limited funds for the support of graduate students, and is committed to distributing this support as equitably as possible to students in good standing who are in need of financial assistance. Consequently, applicants are strongly urged to make extensive efforts to find some outside source of support. Applicants should contact foundations and agencies such as the International Fulbright Commission , the National Science Foundation , the Jacob K Javits Fellowship Program , the American Association of University Women , and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (for Canadians), for information about fellowships and grants. Links to scholarship-providing organizations specifically targeted at Native American students can be found on our links page.