Linguistics and English Language

MSc Evolution of Language & Cognition

Investigate the origins and evolution of human language


What is it that makes us human? How did our brains evolve? What are the origins of human language? Why do we think the way we do? What are the mechanisms of biological, cultural and linguistic evolution? These questions, which are at the heart of the recent renaissance in the scientific study of the origins and evolution of human language, will be tackled by students on this interdisciplinary postgraduate programme.

Programme content and structure

Full programme structure

This programme offers a range of courses covering the key concepts and methodologies in the evolution of language and cognition. The five Core Modules (which all students will normally take) are:

  • Foundations of Evolution (10 credits) 
  • Origins and Evolution of Language (20 credits) 
  • Current Issues in Language Evolution (10 credits) 
  • Simulating Language (20 credits) 
  • Language Evolution in the Lab (10 credits)

In addition to these core courses you can chose further courses, according to your interests and chosen research focus. This can include courses introducing you to the foundations of linguistics or experimental psychology, or advanced courses in a variety of areas, including language acquisition, language change, pragmatics of human communication, psycholinguistics, the neuroscience of language, and evolutionary psychology.

Learning outcomes and careers

The Evolution of Language and Cognition is a unique and fascinating interdisciplinary programme which focuses on the treatment of language as a dynamic evolving system, bringing together origins, acquisition and change. Building on a first degree in psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, or a cognate discipline, the programme provides you with a broad introduction to the field of language and cognitive evolution, and allows you to tailor your studies to your own interests, by combining a wide range of courses in the area of language and cognition.

Who is this programme for?

This programme is primarily suited to those with a background in Psychology or Linguistics, although applications are welcome from any of the fields that this programme covers, such as Cognitive Science more generally, Anthropology, Biology or Computer Science.

Why study language evolution at Edinburgh?

World-leading research. As a student on this programme, you will become part of the world-leading Centre for Language Evolution (CLE) here in Edinburgh. The CLE is at the cutting edge of current research into the origins and evolution of human language, and is the biggest research group in the world in this area.

Centre for Language Evolution (CLE)

Your work at the centre of our research. You will be involved first-hand with the CLE’s ongoing research effort. Your dissertation project (undertaken as part of the Masters) will enable you to make your own contribution to our understanding of the evolution of language and cognition.

Travel to world-class international conferences. We encourage our students to attend the foremost conferences in language and cognition during the course of the programme, and the University contributes to their expenses. In previous years our students have attended international conferences in Japan and The Netherlands, and closer to home in St Andrews, Durham, and Oxford.

Master classes by guest experts. The programme includes lectures by visiting UK-based and international researchers, meaning that your study will be inspired by the people at the cutting edge of research in this area. Previous years have featured master classes by Dr Nic Fay (University of Western Australia), Dr Dan Dediu (MPI Nijmegen), Dr Gary Lupyan (Wisconsin-Madison), Dr Fiona Jordan (Bristol) and Dr Katie Slocombe (York).

Lecturers with eminent research profiles. You will be taught by academics currently carrying out highly regarded research in this field.

Gain a rare interdisciplinary view of issues in natural language, not generally available in other MSc taught programmes.

World leading facilities. Millions of pounds have been invested in Linguistics and English Language to purchase the best equipment available across UK universities.

Teaching and assessment

The programme involves two semesters of taught courses followed by a dissertation project in which the student carries out their own original research.

Facilities and resources

Students can avail themselves of the resources (including study space, libraries, and computer labs) available within the school of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, as well as in the university more broadly.

Labs and facilities

Student support

In addition to the student support offered to all students in the school of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, your Programme Director or Supervisor will be able to provide you with academic advice and guidance specific to your programme of study.

Staff profiles

    Research interests
Jennifer Culbertson profile pic

Programme Director

Dr Jennifer Culbertson

My research focuses on understanding how languages are shaped by learning and use. More specifically, I am interested in how typological universals (differences in the frequency of linguistic patterns across the world's languages) arise from properties of our cognitive system.


Simon Kirby
Professor Simon Kirby

Origins and evolution of language; cultural evolution; bridging scientific and artistic practice

Kenny Smith

Dr Kenny Smith

Evolution of communication, human language and the human capacity for language.

Find out more

Fees, funding and how to apply