Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2020/2021

M.A. Honours in English Language and English Literature

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 and English Literature
UCAS code: Q300
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): English and Literature
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 and English/Scottish Literature. 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. English Language is a subject which is both historical and descriptive, and  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. 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.

Students who combine English Language with English Literature will gain a foundational understanding of both subjects.  The Literature programme aims to develop the critical, analytic, linguistic and creative skills of students by engaging with a broad range of texts and a variety of approaches to reading. By enhancing the literary and critical faculties of individual students, the programme prepares them to contribute to a society in which an understanding of texts of all kinds is crucially important. Students can also study Scots language which has its own rich linguistic and literary tradition.

Educational aims of programme

The programme aims to develop:

  • knowledge of all aspects of the linguistic history and structure of English
  • skills in interpretation and judgement 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
  • the relevance of linguistic theoretical concepts and methods to the study of English
  • students’ knowledge and understanding of the history of literary development in English and Scottish Literature from the fourteenth century to the present, by ensuring that all students study a range of texts from the following periods: renaissance; romantic; modern; medieval; eighteenth-century; Victorian; contemporary (post-1945)
  • an understanding of the distinctiveness of Scottish Literature and its relationship to a broader anglophone traditions
  • an understanding of the significance of literary form, both specific (e.g. comedy, tragedy) and general (e.g. conceptions of narrative, poetic structure)
  • the enabling of students to recognise and evaluate the social, historical and intellectual contexts by which Scottish literary texts are shaped.
  • the engaging of students in the theoretical debates about literature in order that they can reflect critically on the processes of reading

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

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 cultural contexts of all major periods of anglophone literature from the late middle ages to the present, and a detailed knowledge of a specific topic or set of texts within each period
  • the ways in which language is used in literary texts and deployed in critical discourse
  • a wide variety of literary genres, and a critical understanding of their formal structures
  • the significance of issues such as class, nation and gender in the production and understanding of literary texts
  • the significance of historical and cultural contexts to our understanding of literary work

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

Throughout the course of the programme, students acquire key research 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
  • assess critically the presuppositions and methods of familiar ways of thinking within and out with English Language and English/Scottish Literature
  • recognise aesthetic value and other forms of historical and cultural value.
  • recognize how language is used to convey meaning, and a sense of how meaning is language-dependent.
  • understand the rhetoric of their intellectual discipline, its forms and its history.
  • identify what is significant/important in a large body of material, to locate salient points in individual texts and in large bodies of texts
  • prioritise and to make different kinds of critical discriminations.
  • examine self-reflexively the intellectual practices that they are using
  • articulate sustained critical arguments about literature, both orally and in writing
  • analyse problems, compare and evaluate different views and formulate independent and well argued hypotheses
  • plan, undertake, and (in a scholarly and literate fashion) report on a piece of self-initiated research

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
  • 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

  • the confidence to rely on one’s own intellectual capacities
  • the ability to motivate oneself, to plan one’s own work, and to set one’s own goals and deadlines
  • ability to apply philosophical skills and techniques to issues arising out with subject area
  • the ability to work autonomously
  • time and priority management skills
  • distinguish relevant from irrelevant considerations in argument
  • construct clearly organized arguments
  • be sensitive to ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings
  • understand and appreciate the significance of new ideas;
  • 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
  • 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

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.

Further information on the content and organisation of individual courses is available in specific course handbooks and on information sheets. See http://www.englit.ed.ac.uk/undergraduate/

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 40 credits in their other Honours subject and a further 40 credits in an outside subject. In year 2 all Combined Honours students   take a minimum of two 20-credit modules in LEL; these modules are selected to as to particularly suit the Combined Honours degree in question. 40 or more further credits come from the other Honours subject, and any remaining credits come from 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:

Combine Honours students typically divide their credits fairly evenly between their two subjects (although a certain amount of specialization in one of the two is usually possible). The Dissertation (see below) may be written in either subject and Combined Honours students often choose innovative interdisciplinary topics

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 our 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 124760
Year 226740
Year 316840
Year 413870

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 close analysis of data sets or texts 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 our 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 144056
Year 253245
Year 325075
Year 418082

Career opportunities

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. We 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)
  • the University has excellent library and computing facilities, and within the city there are many other library resources
  • 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 which our students participate in 
  • English Language has been established at the University of Edinburgh for over fifty years.
  • The University has the oldest English Literature department in the world, and Edinburgh itself has an excellent tradition of literature; in 2004 it was named UNESCO’s first World City of Literature.
  • the English/Scottish Literature department hosts several creative writing magazines and sponsor at least one dramatic production each session, produced and performed by students, plus there is a Writer in Residence is at hand for consultation. The department also runs the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes in fiction and biography, which are among Britain’s most respected literary awards