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Degree Overview: Graduate Degree Programs in Forensic Linguistics

Majors Overview June 18, 2015

This article talks about graduate degree programs in forensic linguistics and their education requirements, coursework, career choices, job and wage outlook, and continuing education choices.

Graduate Programs in Forensic Linguistics

The analysis of spoken or written documents through the use of specialized software and language statistics enables forensic linguists to offer help in legal cases. Graduate programs in forensic linguistics are not available at any school; students who seek careers in this growing field could enroll in a master’s or doctoral program in linguistics, with elective courses offered in forensic linguistics. Many programs are flexible and allow students interested in forensic linguistics to opt for courses that will be useful in this field.

Admission criteria typically require incoming students to hold a bachelor’s degree in linguistics or a similar field. Core coursework typically includes topic areas such as syntax, phonology, and sociolinguistics. Electives related to forensic linguistics are available at schools; these include study of perjury and other crimes related to language.

Holders of a bachelor’s degree in linguistics can enroll in a doctoral program; they can earn a master’s degree as part of the curriculum of the doctoral studies. Some courses are compulsory, including topic areas such as linguistic theories and neurolinguistics. Students usually choose a focus area of study, and research and a dissertation marks the culmination of the program.

Master’s Programs in Linguistics

Students enrolled in a graduate-level linguistics program are taught about analyzing words (morphology), sounds (phonology), texts and sentences (syntax). They can use this knowledge in numerous fields, such as translation, foreign language education, and forensic linguistics. Several concentrations are typically available through master’s degree programs in linguistics; these often cover sociolinguistics (including a course in forensic linguistics) or applied linguistics.

Education Requirements

Applicants to master’s program in linguistics are required to hold a bachelor’s degree in linguistics or a related major. They are also expected to have a minimum grade point average of 2.5, in addition to completing many higher-level linguistics courses.


Program coursework covers fundamental instruction in subject areas such as syntax, phonology, sociolinguistics and discourse analysis. In forensic linguistic courses, which schools might offer as electives, students learn how critical evidence in criminal investigations and civil cases can be supplied by basic linguistics areas. Language used in suspect and police situations may also be covered, in addition to language crimes, such as perjury, plagiary, and bribery.

Job and Wage Outlook

Over the 2012 – 2022 decade, a job growth of 19% has been predicted for anthropologists and archeologists (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). In May 2012, these professionals brought in an average annual wage of $57,420 (BLS).

Continuing Education Choices

Continuing education (CE) courses in linguistics are offered by many professional associations, who also hold biennial or annual conferences, in some of which, CE credits are available. They may offer courses in online and on-site formats.

There are a few professional associations specifically devised for forensic linguists. These associations include the International Association for Forensic Phonetics and Acoustics (IAFPA), the International Association of Forensic Linguists (IAFL) and the International Language and Law Association (ILLA). While a regularly scheduled conference is available through these groups, no certification or continued education option is offered by any of them.

Forensic science professionals can also seek membership to associations such as the American Board of Recorded Evidence (ABRE). The association offers diplomate status to individuals who hold at least one of the American College of Forensic Examiners International’s (ACFEI) certifications and have completed two specific classes.

Doctorate Programs in Linguistics

The primary focus of a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Linguistics is on research in various interrelated linguistic areas. Apart from forensic linguistics, typology, cognitive linguistics, and language, description and documentation may be included. Students enrolled in programs that offer a concentration are usually required to ensure that half of their coursework is in their chosen concentration. Most doctorate programs in linguistics require students to interact closely with faculty.

Education Requirements

Typically, admission criteria require incoming students to hold only a bachelor’s degree; students may simultaneously earn a master’s degree while progressing through the program. In some doctoral programs, enrollees are required to hold bachelor’s or master’s degree in linguistics. Commonly, enrollees are required to complete background coursework in linguistic-related courses such as foreign languages, anthropology or linguistics.


Coursework may cover historical linguistics, basic linguistic theories, neurolinguistics and natural language processing. Forensic linguistics-specific classes cover working with non-English and English sets of spoken or written data. The use of linguistic techniques to analyze crimes or other situations that involve language documents is also in the coursework. The final two years of a 5-year program are set aside for research and dissertation in some programs.

Career Choices

Forensic linguists often seek occupations as private consultants, while simultaneously engaged in university-level teaching jobs. They may also seek employment with law enforcement agencies or lawyers, or pursue jobs related to writing and research.

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