Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence with Linguistics as a Subsidiary Area

New ICT degrees at the University of Malta
CSAI with Linguistics as a Subsidiary Area


Many are aware that the newly created Faculty of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is offering a new BSc ICT honours degree that replaces the four-year BSc IT (Hons). The new degree lasts three years and offers a flexible range of study programmes that allow students to target their particular interests and aspirations within the very broad area encompassed by ICT.

The study programmes currently available are: ICT; Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (CSAI); Computer Information Systems (CIS); and Communications and Computer Engineering (CCE). Some of these include the option to study a subsidiary area.

This article focuses on CSAI with Linguistics as a subsidiary area. Study of a subsidiary area means that about 20% of the total effort required for the degree is devoted to that area.

Language and Computers

Whichever way you look at it, human language is truly fundamental. It is the basis for interaction and communication between humans and hence mediates most of our daily activities, transcending cultural, geographical, intellectual, thematic and stylistic boundaries. It is the basis for knowledge, since the written form of language is, and has remained, the medium through which most of human knowledge is stored. What has changed, however, is language technology, and with it, the way in which humans communicate using language, and the way they relate to knowledge stored in linguistic form. The impact of computer-based technologies and the cycle of evolution towards new forms of interaction and community is without precedent. Many would claim that the cultural and intellectual revolution precipitated by the printing press has been far surpassed by recent internetworking and interaction technologies that are rooted in both computer science and artificial intelligence.

It is often forgotten that the relationship between language and computers is about as old as computers themselves. Shortly after their invention in the late 1940s, one of the first application areas envisaged for computers was machine translation, in particular between Russian and English (a hardly surprising combination at that time). Since then, many other language-related problems have come to the forefront of research and development in computer science. Examples include the design of interactive chatting robots or "chatbots" that can carry out natural conversations and answer questions, algorithms for automatic text classification, that can distinguish real mail from spam, or for web data mining, that can extract knowledge from the internet, as well as for spoken language technology, which adds the dimension of speech to man/machine interaction. There are also problems in areas such as Bioinformatics, which, whilst not concerned directly with human language, nevertheless employ linguistic concepts and techniques for the analysis and classification of genes.

Language and communication technologies currently occupy a central position in research and education in Europe. They are key enabling technologies for numerous applications related to the information society, including multilingual document production and management, intelligent web search and semantic web, voice control of electronic equipment, automated dialogue, and language learning. The market is growing rapidly, although it is recognised that there is a shortage of qualified researchers and developers that is slowing down the speed of innovation in Europe.
The main aim of the subsidiary area option in Linguistics is to provide CSAI students with a core understanding of the way language works, as well as with a coherent framework of concepts and terminology for describing it. The course introduces the analysis of language at various levels: sound structure; word formation; sentence and phrase structure, meaning and patterns of usage. A wide range of linguistic phenomena from different languages are used as data and in illustration. These phenomena are taken both from languages we are familiar with in the local context, such as Maltese, English and Italian, and from relatively unfamiliar languages like Aztec, Czech, West Greenlandic and Vietnamese.

The knowledge taught within the subsidiary area not only provides students with a solid basis for Human Language Technologies as offered within the CSAI area of study but offers a glimpse into the world of Linguistics that will prove invaluable to those wishing to pursue a professional career in any of the rapidly growing fields involving language and computer technology.

For more information about the ICT degree programmes, please visit the Faculty of ICT web site at For general information about the Institute of Linguistics, visit