Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2020/2021

MA Honours in Linguistics

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: Linguistics
UCAS code: Q100
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Linguistics
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Head of School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences
Date of production/revision: April 2011

External summary

The University of Edinburgh has a long history of the subject of Linguistics and is the only university in Scotland to offer an MA Linguistics. The teaching staff has an excellent reputation for research in this area.

Linguistics is concerned with learning more about how language is acquired, produced, and understood; how language functions in interaction between individuals and in society; what its abstract structure is and how it is represented in the brain; and how language changes over time. Students of this programme gain the ability to identify and clearly describe the systematicity underlying complex surface-level systems.

Educational aims of programme

In the course of the programme, students will develop the skills to:

  • propose, test and apply theories of language structure, acquisition and use
  • form and test scientific hypotheses about linguistic phenomena
  • use specialist equipment and software for phonetic analysis
  • describe synchronic and diachronic phenomena and processes in language
  • acquire 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:

  • invariance and variability (synchronic and diachronic) in all levels of language structure
  • differences between folk and linguistic theories of language
  • the major syntactic structures of language and the extent of cross linguistic variation.
  • how linguistic meaning can be characterised; how the meaning of large units is composed  
  • description and analysis of speech articulation and acoustics, and the theoretical relationship between phonetics and phonology
  • different means of encoding meaning in language and use, and the interaction between structural levels

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
  • make careful distinctions
  • retrieve, sift and select information
  • gather, handle , organise, analyse and assess data
  • 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

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 linguistic 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

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
  • 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>

Material is presented through a combination of lectures, prescribed readings and students’ own library and bibliographic research. Understanding of knowledge is fostered in tutorials (years 1 & 2); in subsequent years there is increased emphasis on students initiating reading programmes and giving class presentations.

All courses are evaluated by students through end-of-course questionnaires. In addition, students elect class representatives in all years and these representatives provide academic staff with on-going feedback throughout the year on successful and problem areas of courses.

Progression Requirements – Students are normally expected to have gained 120 credits at the end of each 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.  Students who successfully complete the B.A. in AHSS can apply to take an M.A. in Linguistics after two additional years of study.

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.

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.

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.
  • student support services include a  PPLS dedicated Student Support Officer, the Advice Place (run by the Students’ Association), the Student Counselling Service, Chaplaincy Centre, the Disability Office, Accommodation Services, International Office, Student Employment Service and the University Careers Service
  • all students are encouraged to take the opportunity to study abroad in their third year. Consultation with staff before leaving helps advise them on the most appropriate courses to take whilst away
  •  Linguistics have very proactive student society that attract a range of high profile speakers
  • students in the programme have access to the subject area’s excellent computing and lab facilities. Their studies are supported by very good holdings in all areas of linguistics in the University’s main library and excellent access to international reference databases
  • more information about the subject area can be found at http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk