Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2020/2021

Honours in Linguistics and Social Anthropology

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 and Social Anthropology
UCAS code: QL16
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s):


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. 

Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh has an excellent reputation for research and receives funding from the Department for International Development for its research activity. Social Anthropology is the study of human conduct and thought. Societies around the world vary enormously socially, culturally and politically.  The study of these variations, and the common humanity that underlies them, is at the heart of social anthropology. There are close links between social anthropology and sociology, human geography, development studies, history and philosophy.

Students who study both Social Anthropology and Linguistics will gain a foundational understanding of both, together with a deeper understanding in those areas where the two subjects overlap.

Educational aims of programme

The programme aims to develop:

  • the ability to propose, test and apply theories of language structure, acquisition and use
  • the ability to form and test scientific hypotheses about linguistic phenomena
  • use of specialist equipment and software for phonetic analysis
  • the skill to describe synchronic and diachronic phenomena and processes in language
  • substantive knowledge of how language functions in interaction between individuals and in society
  • a curriculum supported and informed by a rich and active research culture
  • the ability to understand, evaluate and use a range of theoretical frameworks in the study of linguistics and social anthropology
  • the evaluation of issues and problems, specifically where it concerns linguistic issues, in the contemporary world
  • the ability to apply key generic skills in critical thinking, research, oral and written articulation of information and argument
  • students skills for progression to a wide variety of careers or to further academic study

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 structures of language and the extent of cross linguistic variation.
  • different means of encoding meaning in language and use, and the interaction between structural levels
  • the role of language in different social and cultural contexts, institutions, processes and ideas
  • different theoretical, conceptual , and key methodological approaches used in sociolinguistic and social anthropological analysis
  • the social and historical processes that influence language

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
  • retrieve, sift and select information
  • gather, handle , organise, analyse and assess data
  • analyze problems, compare and evaluate different views and formulate independent and well argued hypotheses
  • judge the value and relevance of empirical evidence and theoretical argument and interpretation in social science
  • 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 and social anthropological 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
  • identifying and exploring social networks

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.

Assessment - The modes of assessment used are diverse, reflecting the range of intellectual skills acquired. They range from timed tests, take-home assignments, lab work, and library work to degree exams. As students progress through the programme, their assessment usually shifts to more student-centred modes in keeping with the emphasis on their own self-development.

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 or Social Anthropology 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 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 222780
Year 316840
Year 410900

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 162632
Year 227073
Year 3251758
Year 426272

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.

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

Social anthropology hosts a lively series of seminar and lectures events each semester

Further information about Linguistics can be found at http://www.ling.ed.ac.uk and on Social Anthropology at http://www.san.ed.ac.uk/