Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2018/2019

MA Honours in English Language

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. This information is created when new programmes are established and is only updated periodically as programmes are formally reviewed. It is therefore only accurate on the date of last revision.
Awarding institution: The University of Edinburgh
Teaching institution: The University of Edinburgh
Programme accredited by: n/a
Final award: MA (Hons)
Programme title: English Language
UCAS code: Q302
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): English
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Head of School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences
Date of production/revision: April 2011

External summary

The programme offers a comprehensively broad and challengingly deep training in the academic study of the English language. It aims to develop serious academic interest in and specialist knowledge of all well-understood aspects of the English language both historically and currently, and at all relevant levels of structure and analysis. In so doing, it offers opportunities to develop intellectual and methodological capacities in rigorous, exact and strongly-theorised analysis.

In so doing, it offers opportunities to develop intellectual and methodological capacities in rigorous, exact and strongly-theorised analysis. English language is a subject which is both historical and descriptive, and both text-focused and theoretical. In these several respects, the subject can be seen as encompassing and reflecting the traditions of both philology and linguistic theory. The University of Edinburgh’s linguistics and phonetics equipment, for use experimentally and in fieldwork, is among the best in the world.  Students can also study Scots language which has its own rich linguistic and literary tradition.

Educational aims of programme

The programme aims to develop:

  • the relevance of linguistic theoretical concepts and methods to the study of English; such a training equips students with professionally exploitable knowledge and skills but also gives them a specialist understanding of, and interest in, their native language historically and currently
  • knowledge of all aspects of the linguistic history and structure of English
  • skills in interpretation and judgment when presented with primary textual data
  • understanding of the formal, analytic and symbolic procedures appropriate to the linguistic analysis of English
  • awareness of variation and variety in English both in time and space, and in society at large
  • transferable skills of use in virtually every area of employment, including everything requisite for fostering independent critical thinking, self-directed research and sustained analytical activity

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

On completion of the programme, students will have acquired a good knowledge and understanding of:

  • the phonological description of the basic reference accents of present-day English
  • the fundamental syntactic and morphological structures of present-day standard British English
  • textual and stylistic variety in present-day written English
  • sociolinguistic variation in urban forms of present-day English and Scots
  • the main periods of historical development in English
  • literary and social connections of linguistic material from the Modern English period

Students may choose to develop further their basic knowledge with additional introductory studies of:

  • Old English and Middle English
  • types and causes of historical developments in English phonology, morphology, and syntax
  • regional British and Overseas varieties of English
  • language in use and context

On this basis, students at senior levels should acquire detailed knowledge and understanding of:

  • syntactic and phonological theory in relation to English, and skill in analysing syntactic, phonological, and morphological structures in English
  • facts and phenomena of central significance in the scholarship of English phonology, morphology, and syntax, both descriptively and theoretically
  • the main periods in the linguistic history of English (Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, Late Modern English)
  • the main changes in the morphological, phonological, and syntactic structure of the language in its most significant varieties
  • textual and source materials for the historical reconstruction of the linguistic systems of earlier English
  • the relation of historical data to general models for synchronic and diachronic description, particularly in  phonology and syntax
  • regional variation, and social and textual variety, in selected periods and types of earlier English
  • the history and current position of Scots and of Scottish English
  • socially based and pragmatic variation and change (in phonology, morphology, and syntax) in English and Scots
  • current research and emerging issues, at the very forefront of the subject, in all the above areas
  • the phonological description of the basic reference accents of present-day English
  • the fundamental syntactic and morphological structures of present-day standard British English
  • textual and stylistic variety in present-day written English
  • sociolinguistic variation in urban forms of present-day English and Scots
  • the main periods of historical development in English
literary and social connections of linguistic material from the Modern English period

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in research and enquiry

Throughout the course of the programme, students acquire key philosophical abilities, including the ability to:

  • analyse a text and reconstruct its arguments, to find its premises, and the inferences drawn from them
  • be able to distinguish between validity and soundness, and to assess arguments for both
  • distinguish relevant from irrelevant considerations in argument
  • look for counter-examples to general claims
  • use examples appropriately in support of general claims
  • construct clearly organized arguments
  • make careful distinctions
  • be sensitive to ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings
  • understand and appreciate the significance of new ideas
  • assess critically the presuppositions and methods of familiar ways of thinking within and out with English Language
  • relate data to theory, and critically assessing the validity of theoretical claims in the scholarly literature
  • recognise and solving problems analytically
  • understand and applying phonemic, phonetic, and syntactic representations of linguistic form
  • understand the value of precise and rigorous analytical statements, and of applying, evaluating, and manipulating symbolic representations
  • recognise the problematic and difficult character of truth, explanation, and ‘facts’
  • investigating the process of interpretation and reconstruction

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal and intellectual autonomy

  • analytical thinking skills—the abilities to understand difficult pieces of text, to reconstruct arguments and views, to assimilate and explain difficult ideas.
  • critical thinking skills—the abilities to draw conclusions from positions or bodies of data, to question arguments and (wherever appropriate) to show their flaws, to generate alternative ideas and new solutions to problems
  • independent thinking skills—the abilities to approach a problem with an open mind and to address problems with an original approach, and the confidence to rely on one’s own intellectual capacities
  • independent working skills—the ability to motivate oneself, to plan one’s own work, and to set one’s own goals and deadlines
  • assimilate and apply concepts of linguistic analysis
  • develop an informed appreciation of popular notions concerning English and its standards
  • assimilate a body of fact and lore concerning English likely to be relevant to the teaching of English at all levels and in all settings

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

Students should acquire skills that can be used in a wide variety of intellectual contexts and forms of employment. These include

  • written communication skills — students should be able to construct a lengthy, coherent piece of prose that constitutes a well-structured argument or investigation
  • oral communication skills — students should be able to explain their ideas to others in a discussion and in a more formal presentation.
  • being able to take part in a debate, keeping to the goal of the discussion, maintaining the thread of argument, to be able to argue their point forcefully and to disagree with others while showing respect for their opinions and without causing or taking offence.
  • being able to present a longer argument to an audience with confidence, to use aids such as handouts, overheads properly

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal effectiveness

  • be able to distinguish between validity and soundness, and to assess arguments for both;
  • distinguish relevant from irrelevant considerations in argument;
  • look for counter-examples to general claims;
  • use examples appropriately in support of general claims;
  • construct clearly organized arguments;
  • make careful distinctions;
  • be sensitive to ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings;
  • understand and appreciate the significance of new ideas;
  • to assess critically the presuppositions and methods of familiar ways of thinking within and out with English Language
  • retrieve, sift, and select information
  • gather, handle, organise, analyse, and assess data
  • plan, undertake, and (in a scholarly and literate fashion) report on a piece of self initiated research

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

Students should acquire skills that can be used in a wide variety of intellectual contexts and forms of employment. These include

  • computing skills — the ability to use computers for word-processing, information storage and for retrieving information from the world wide web literate e.g. word-processing, powerpoint, statistical packages, graphics packages and databases
  • use of libraries—the ability to use libraries for the recovery of information, and related research skills, including the ability to discriminate between different sources of information, suggested readings, and so on
  • comprehend and use data effectively

Programme structure and features

Full details of the degree programme and structure can be seen at <http://www.drps.ed.ac.uk>

Courses are taught through a combination of lectures and tutorials. Optional courses in Years 3 and 4 are taught through seminars.

Progression Requirements – Students are normally expected to have gained 120 credits at the end of Year

Alternative Exit Points – students who do not progress into Honours may graduate after three years of full-time study, or a longer prescribed period of part-time study, with a B.A. in Humanities and Social Science.

Teaching and learning methods and strategies

Year 1 and 2:

Teaching in the pre-Honours years is organized in such a way that in year 1 students take the year-long 40-credit course LEL1 (alongside two outside subject courses); in year 2 all Single Honours students (Single Honours in Linguistics, in English Language, and in Linguistics and English Language) take a minimum of four 20-credit modules, accompanied by 40 credits in an outside subject.

In line with standard practice in the College, LEL1 as well as most of the second-year modules comprise three lectures per week, supplemented by one weekly hour of small-group tutorial work.  The lectures serve to deliver all ‘new’ knowledge. In tutorials, students engage in the discussion of lecture contents as well as working with exercise material and the analysis of data sets provided by lecturers specifically so as to accompany the lecture course and consolidate the knowledge acquired there. One second-year module (LEL2c), which is specifically devoted to empirical work in the subject, has an additional interactive class hour every week.

Years 3 and 4:

Honours courses run for one semester and typically comprise three plenary hours per week over 9 weeks. Teaching at this level aims to be interactive at all times. Additional tutorials are offered occasionally in courses which have attracted large numbers of students. Typically normal teaching is suspended during week 6, for independent course-research in semester 1 and ‘Innovative Learning Week’ in semester 2. The Honours Dissertation plays a prominent role in LEL’s teaching and learning activities: this major project of independent research is aided by a research training course during semester 1 of fourth year.

The main resource used in LEL’s teaching is the university library, whose holdings in the subject areas of Linguistics and English Language are probably unrivalled in the UK. The Library also provides online access to journal articles and a fast-growing number of books.  At Honours, the resources of the National Library of Scotland (the country’s only copyright library) iare available for specific research projects.

Teaching and learning workload

You will learn through a mixture of scheduled teaching and independent study. Some programmes also offer work placements.

At Edinburgh we use a range of teaching and learning methods including lectures, tutorials, practical laboratory sessions, technical workshops and studio critiques.

The typical workload for a student on this programme is outlined in the table below, however the actual time you spend on each type of activity will depend on what courses you choose to study.

The typical workload for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearTime in scheduled teaching (%)Time in independant study (%)Time on placement (%)
Year 122780
Year 224760
Year 311890
Year 412880

Assessment methods and strategies

Years 1 and 2:

Assessment at the pre-Honours level is both formative and summative, comprising a mixture of coursework and end-of-course exam work. Coursework, for which detailed feedback is provided, ranges from essay work to the analysis of data sets and ‘take-home exams’ as appropriate to the course content.

Years 3 and 4:

Honours courses are assessed through a mixture of coursework and semester-end exams, often weighted at 50:50.  Coursework often takes the form of formal essays but may also comprise reviews of the research literature, empirical investigations or analyses of sets of data. Some courses are assessed through coursework alone (for example where that coursework comprises a major empirical research project); but we no longer have courses assessed by exam only. This variation in LEL’s methods of assessment at Honours is appropriate to the broad range of course contents, as well enabling students to realise their personal assessment preferences in their course choices.

Assessment method balance

You will be assessed through a variety of methods. These might include written or practical exams or coursework such as essays, projects, group work or presentations.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme are outlined below, however the balance between written exams, practical exams and coursework will vary depending on what courses you choose to study.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearAssessment by written exams (%)Assessment by practical exams (%)Assessment by coursework (%)
Year 128468
Year 245352
Year 318082
Year 48092

Career opportunities

LEL’s Honours degrees serve as direct paths towards subsequent professional training for example in speech and language therapy, language teaching, journalism and such like. More generally our degrees impart a variety of transferable skills which result in graduate employability across a wide spectrum of professions. Such skills include not only a deep awareness of the intricacies of verbal and nonverbal communication but also specific training in problem solving, empirical investigation, work with (modern and historical) texts of various sorts, report writing etc. LEL maintains a close working relationship with the University’s Careers Service, as well as with its alumni across a variety of professions and aims to prepare its student well for their subsequent lives outwith academia.

Other items

  • all students are assigned a Director of Studies on admission to the degree programme, who oversees the course of the student’s degree programme, offers advice on academic matters (including degree-progression)
  • student opinion is actively sought through participation in Staff-Student Liaison Committees, through the election of class- and tutorial-representatives, and by the wide circulation and review of detailed student questionnaires each semester
  • the subject area participates in programmes which can permit a student to study abroad as part of the four-year degree programme through its Erasmus partners; the University has further exchange schemes  in which our students can participate
  • a very active English Language student society that attracts high profile speakers