MSc Forensic Linguistics 

Why choose this course?

  • Only current MSc available in Forensic Linguistics by distance learning
  • The Centre for Forensic Linguistics offers a unique blend of academic and applied experience
  • Special entry route for practitioners with no previous experience of linguistics.

Normally a good UK Honours Degree (minimum upper second class) in English Language, Linguistics or a related discipline, or an overseas degree recognised by Aston University, plus two references.

Those without a relevant prior qualification in linguistics will normally need a good UK Honours Degree (minimum upper second class) or an overseas degree recognised by Aston University, plus two references. These students must begin by taking the Introduction to Linguistics module. 

Students whose native language is not English will also need to obtain an IELTS score of 6.5 overall, with a minimum of 7 in writing and minimum of 6 in speaking, listening and reading.

Duration: Part-time, 2-3 years. Up to a maximum of 5 years may be possible in some circumstances and with the payment of a continuation fee.

Start date(s): October

Intake: Approximately 10 per year

Fees for 2014/2015*: UK/EU and Overseas: £7,900  (£2000 continuation fee per year applicable after three years on the programme)

*These figures have not been confirmed, but they are expected to be approximately as stated.

Apply for this course online

The MSc in Forensic Linguistics builds on Aston’s world-renowned expertise in this exciting area. It will provide you with knowledge and understanding of the whole field of forensic linguistics, from analysing the language of the legal process, to understanding how linguistic analysis can be used as a vital investigative tool. You will gain plenty of hands-on experience of analysing language data from real-life legal contexts. We use teaching materials from genuine cases, including from the Centre for Forensic Linguistics’ own case files, ensuring that you will gain the best possible insight into the field and ensuring that the programme is relevant, up to date, and based on the realities of professional practice.

Sample module options: The following module descriptions are indications only - the modules on offer and the content of the modules is subject to change.

Core modules:

This module is designed for students coming to the programme without prior qualifications or experience in linguistic analysis. It introduces students to the basics of language analysis, equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary to progress through the rest of the programme. Students will be advised as to whether or not this module will be compulsory for them.

This module provides a general introduction to forensic linguistics, covering the major topics in the field. This will give students a solid grounding in all the key areas, including courtroom discourse, police interviews, language as evidence, the role of the linguist as expert witness, and language and disadvantage in the legal process. This foundation module provides a springboard for the subsequent elective modules, giving students a flavour of the wide variety of topic areas available.

This module introduces students to context-based understanding of written and spoken discourse. It is compulsory for any student wishing to complete the full MSc in Forensic Linguistics. We look at a variety of approaches to text analysis, such as genre and register, patterns and signals, ethnography of communication, conversation analysis and pragmatics. These approaches are then applied to the analysis of spoken and written discourse in a variety of contexts, including non-forensic contexts. The module enables students to develop their skills in analysing discourse, raising their understanding and awareness so that they will feel more confident about collecting and analysing spoken and written data as well as approaching difficult or unfamiliar texts. 

This module provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary to design and implement successful research projects of their own. It is compulsory for any student wishing to complete the full MSc in Forensic Linguistics and provides an excellent foundation for completion of the dissertation. Topics covered include research ethics, data collection, qualitative and quantitative research traditions, and conducting a literature review. These are of course essential study skills for all postgraduate students, and this module will therefore be of benefit to all students at any stage of the programme.

Elective modules:

This module provides students with an introduction to forensic linguistic investigation and the forms of evidence such a practitioner might be expected to give.  It provides students with an overview of the range of possible linguistic evidence and encourages them to explore what should not as well as should be provided as evidence by a linguist.  It encourages students to consider the needs of the police and of the courts in report writing and the role of the linguist in giving evidence as an expert witness. Examples from real cases are used throughout.

As the name suggests, this module takes an in-depth look at spoken text in legal contexts. Some of the most important parts of the legal process depend on spoken interaction, from initial encounters between police officers and members of the public, to the interviewing of witnesses and suspects, to courtroom interaction. We analyse all of these types of interaction, along with the language of legal professionals (‘police-speak’, and ‘talking like a lawyer’), the language of offenders and treatment, and a wider consideration of differences between legal and lay paradigms of communication. 

This module examines the role of written text in the legal system. We begin by considering the extent to which written legal text governs all our lives, regardless of whether we’ve ever read it or indeed know where to find it. We examine contracts, product warnings, insurance and other consumer documents, as well as legislation and other formal legal texts such as jury instructions. Key themes are problems of comprehensibility and disputed meaning, especially where lay people come into contact with legal text. Other topics include plagiarism and legal language as genre.

This module provides students with an introduction to forms of language disadvantage in forensic and legal contexts.  Contexts include the point of arrest, during investigative interview and in courtroom interactions.  Forms of disadvantage considered include being a non-native speaker, being deaf or partially deaf and requiring sign-interpretation, being a child or vulnerable adult.   Strategies to overcome disadvantage include legal interpretation and translation (including signing), intermediaries and other special measures designed to protect the linguistically and psychologically vulnerable.

The MSc in Forensic Linguistics is an online distance learning course which can be completed from anywhere in the world, with no requirement to attend our Birmingham campus. All materials have been specifically designed for distance learning, and modules typically involve a series of online presentations given by leading FL academics, supported by additional written material. Once enrolled in a module, you are free to move through the material in your own time and at your own pace (within an overall maximum of one year from enrolment), meaning that study can easily be fitted around other commitments. Students are provided with small consolidation tasks to complete throughout each module, and discussion boards through which you can interact with others working through the same materials. Full lecturer support is provided. 

Assessment involves the submission of written work, for which guidance is provided. There are no exams. A typical assignment would be a 4000-word academic analysis of data collected by the student.

The course is for students interested in a career in research in this important and growing area, or those whose existing careers would be advanced by specialised training. This course offers career development opportunities for both linguistic researchers and professionals within the legal process. The course is also an excellent foundation for studies at PhD level.
You will have access to:
  • Our Virtual Learning Environment – Blackboard – to support your studies, including Blackboard discussion groups
  • The University Library, including over 25,000 books and a wide range of electronic journals.  The library has special provision in place to help part time and distance learning students access their resources: http://www.aston.ac.uk/library/additional-information-for/distance-learners/
  • University wide facilities such as the Careers Service, Students’ Advice Centre, Students’ Jobshop, Counselling Service, Sports Facilities, and Chaplaincy.

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