Forensic Linguistics Graduate Program Options

Learn about the study of forensic linguistics at the master's and doctoral degree levels. Read on to find out about prerequisite education, required courses and career options for graduates.

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Essential Information

Forensic linguists aid in legal cases by using specialized software and language statistics to analyze written or spoken documents. There are no graduate programs in forensic linguistics, but students who want to work in this growing field might choose to pursue a master's or doctoral program in linguistics, while completing elective courses in forensic linguistics. Many graduate programs offer flexibility, allowing students with an interest in forensic linguistics to choose courses that will aid them in this field.

Students applying to a master's program need a bachelor's degree in linguistics or a similar area. Core courses usually cover topics such as phonology, syntax and sociolinguistics. Students can often choose electives related to forensic linguistics, including the study of crimes related to language, such as perjury.

In a doctoral program, students generally need a bachelor's degree in linguistics; they may be able to earn a master's degree as part of their doctoral studies. There are a few required courses, usually covering topics such as neurolinguistics and linguistic theories. Students usually choose an area in which to focus their studies and research, and the program culminates in a dissertation.


Master's Degree in Linguistics

A graduate-level linguistics program teaches students to analyze sounds (phonology), words (morphology), sentences (syntax) and texts. This knowledge can be used in a number of fields, including foreign language education, translation and forensic linguistics. Master's degree programs in linguistics typically offer several concentrations, such as applied linguistics or sociolinguistics, which often includes a course in forensic linguistics.

Education Prerequisites

A master's program in linguistics generally requires that applicants hold a bachelor's degree with a major in linguistics or a related field. A minimum grade point average of 2.5 is often expected, as well as completion of several upper-level linguistics courses.

Program Coursework

Master's programs in linguistics include basic courses in subjects like phonology, syntax, discourse analysis and sociolinguistics. Forensic linguistic courses, which might be offered as electives, teach how basic linguistics areas can supply critical evidence in civil cases and criminal investigations. These courses also might cover language used in police and suspect situations, as well as language crimes, such as plagiary, perjury and bribery.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't provide specific occupational information for forensic linguists. However, the BLS cites linguistics as a subfield of anthropology, which boasts excellent employment prospects in the coming years. In fact, the number of jobs for anthropologists and archaeologists was expected to grow by 21% in the decade spanning 2010-2020 (www.bls.gov). Anthropologists and archaeologists earned a median salary of $57,420 as of May 2012, according to the BLS.

Continuing Education

Several professional associations offer continuing education (CE) courses in linguistics or have annual or biennial conferences, some of which offer CE credits. Courses may be offered on site or online.

Professionals associations specifically for forensic linguists include the International Language and Law Association (ILLA), the International Association of Forensic Linguists (IAFL) and the International Association for Forensic Phonetics and Acoustics (IAFPA). None of these groups offer certifications or continuing education courses, but each has a regularly scheduled conference.

There also are associations for all forensic science professionals. The one of particular interest to forensic linguists is the American Board of Recorded Evidence (ABRE), which offers diplomate status to those who've completed two specific courses and at least one certification from the American College of Forensic Examiners International (ACFEI).


Doctorate in Linguistics

Programs for a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Linguistics tend to focus on research in a variety of interrelated linguistic areas. In addition to forensic linguistics, these may include language description and documentation, cognitive linguistics and typology. Programs that offer a concentration usually require that half of a student's coursework be in his or her concentration. Close interaction with faculty is key to most doctorate programs in linguistics.

Education Prerequisites

Commonly, only a bachelor's degree is required for application to a Ph.D. in Linguistics program; a master's degree may be earned as a student progresses through the program. Some doctoral programs require that the applicant's bachelor's or master's degree is in linguistics. Those without that expectation still require background coursework in linguistics or linguistic-related courses, such as anthropology or foreign languages.

Program Coursework

Courses included in Ph.D. linguistics programs might teach basic linguistic theories, historical linguistics, natural language processing and neurolinguistics. Courses specific to forensic linguistics cover working with English and non-English sets of written or spoken language data. They also address using linguistic techniques for analyzing crimes or other situations where language documents are involved. Some programs set aside the last two years of a 5-year program for research and dissertation.

Popular Careers

Many forensic linguists work as private consultants, often while also teaching at a university. Others might work for lawyers or law enforcement agencies, while some forensic linguists focus on research and writing.

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