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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

MA in Linguistics: Structure and modules

The department contacts incoming students during the summer to determine module choices and to distribute preparatory reading lists. Incoming students will also be provided with information regarding accommodation, enrolment and other practical matters.

Programme Structure

The MA programme consists of 180 credits of coursework and original research. Students take 45 credits of compulsory modules (see below), 75 credits of option modules, and complete a 60-credit dissertation. Full-time students register for 60 credits per semester and complete their dissertations in the summer; part-time students register for 30 credits per semester over two years and complete their dissertations over the summer of their second year of enrolment. Option modules offered vary from year to year (see below for an indicative list).

Compulsory Modules

All students on all pathways take the following two compulsory modules:

Trends in Linguistics Research (Sem A)

The primary aim of this module is to provide incoming MA students with an advanced introduction to the range of research theories and methodologies in Linguistics through a detailed overview of the research programmes and expertise of all Linguistics permanent staff. This will ensure that all MA students have an opportunity to interact with all staff, and become familiar with the full range of research that is conducted in the department. This will allow students to (a) start to become familiar with postgraduate level research in Linguistics through hands-on exposure to real ongoing projects in all major areas of the field; (b) make informed choices about the kinds of topics they wish to pursue further in the second semester and in their dissertation work, and (c) begin establishing relationships with potential supervisors from the beginning of their degrees.

Indicative Reading List (the readings for this module will vary from year to year, and reflect the current research output of the members of staff in the department at the time. Examples of potential readings include:)

  • Harbour, D, Watkins, L and Adger, D (in press) Information structure, discourse structure, and noun phrase position in Kiowâ. International Journal of American Linguistics.
  • Cheshire, J., Kerswill, P., Fox, S. and Torgersen, E. (2011) Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural London English. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15: 151-196.
  • Borer, Hagit. (2004). "The grammar machine". In Artemis, A., E. Anagnostopoulou, and M. Everaert (eds) The Unaccusativity Puzzle: Explorations of the Syntax-Lexicon Interface. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Cotter, C. (2011). "Diversity awareness and the role of language in cultural representations in news stories." Journal of Pragmatics 43(7): 1890-1899. Special issue: Towards a Linguistics of News Production.
  • Elbourne, P (2010) . On bishop sentences. Natural Language Semantics vol. 18, (1) 65-78.
  • Harbour, D. (2011) Valence and atomic number. Linguistic Inquiry 42:4
  • de Leeuw, E., Opitz, C., & Lubińska, D. (2013). The Dynamics of First Language Attrition across the Lifespan. International Journal of Bilingualism.
  • Levon, E. 2011. Teasing apart to bring together: Gender and sexuality in variationist research. American Speech 86: 69-84.
  • Sharma, D. (2011) 'Cognitive and social factors in dialect shift: Gradual change in London Asian speech' Language Variation and Change.
  • Stockall, L. and Morris, J. (2012) Equivalent masked priming with irregularly and regularly inflected primes. Brain and Language.

Dissertation Proseminar (Sem B)

Research at postgraduate level places special demands on the developing researcher, for which appropriate training is needed. The two primary goals of this module are to prepare students for the practical challenges of postgraduate research (including the development of a research question/agenda, advanced library research, ethics and practical dimensions of research collection, outlining and writing a dissertation, abstract-writing, oral presentation, and other related skills) and to initiate students into specialised research in their chosen dissertation area. The first part of the module (before reading week) will cover core, generic postgraduate training for all students on the MA, taught through group sessions. The second part of the module (after reading week) will require students to apply this knowledge (as well as knowledge from core modules in Semester 1) to their chosen area of research by pursuing independent reading and research towards their potential dissertation topics (to be completed during the summer term), taught through individual meetings with supervisors.

Students on the General pathway take both Concepts and Consequences in Grammatical Theory and Sociolinguistic Theory as compulsory modules, while students on the Formal and Sociolinguistics pathways take one or the other.

Concepts and Consequences in Grammatical Theory (Sem A)

Empirical results in a broad range of languages have now made the understanding of the basic building blocks of syntactic theory fundamental to any advanced work in linguistics, not only in syntax and semantics, but within any area of linguistics. This module will familiarize students with the basic elements of syntactic construction, serving at the same time as an introduction for students with less background, and as a critical overview, for those more advanced. Emphasis will be put on the development of argumentation skills and the ability to undertake independent analysis of linguistic data, as well as on the development of critical thinking in evaluating competing approaches to the same paradigms.

Indicative Reading List:

  • Adger, D. (2003) Core Syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Borer, H. (2003) Exo-skeletal vs. endo-skeletal explanations: Syntactic projections and the lexicon. In Moore, J. & Polinsky, M. (eds.) The nature of explanation in linguistic theory, 31-67.Stanford: CSLI Publications.
  • Chomsky, N. (1959) A review of B.F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior. Language 35: 26-58.
  • Longobardi, G. (1994) Reference and proper names: A theory of N-movement in syntax and logical form. Linguistic Inquiry 25: 609-65.
  • Marantz, A. (1997) No escape from syntax: Don't try morphological analysis in the privacy of your own lexicon. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 4(2): 201-25.
  • McCloskey, J. (1997) Subjecthood and subject positions. In Haegeman, L. (ed.) Elements of grammar, 197-235. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
  • Pollock, J.-Y. (1989) Verb movement, Universal Grammar and the structure of IP. Linguistic Inquiry 20: 365-424.

Sociolinguistic Theory (Sem A)

The field of sociolinguistics has seen the parallel development of a number of theories of how language relates to, and is embedded in, society. Some of these developments have been mutually reinforcing or complementary, while others have raised questions and debates over the nature of social variation in language. This course reviews the major 'lineages' of thinking in sociolinguistics, covering theories that have formed the foundation of both quantitative and qualitative approaches sociolinguistics. With a focus on the former, the course will require students to read classic texts from early sociolinguistic theory (developed in William Labov's early work and parallel strands of thought from the same period) and then trace the development of distinct 'waves' of thinking and analysis in subsequent decades. On the qualitative side, the course will cover selected classic works from social theory, and literary and cultural theory that have been influential in sociolinguists' thinking about social structure and variation (e.g. Bourdieu, Bakhtin). Overall, the course will provide students with an advanced foundational knowledge of major developments in sociolinguistic thought over the past half century.

Indicative Reading List:

  • Bakhtin, M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Bourdieu, P. (1977). The Economics of Linguistic Exchanges. Social Science Information XVI (6): 645-668.
  • Chambers, J. (2009) Sociolinguistic Theory, 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Eckert, P. (2000) Linguistic variation as social practice. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Labov, W. (1972) Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Labov, W. (1994) Principles of Linguistic Change: Internal Factors. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Labov, W. (2001) Principles of Linguistic Change: Social Factors. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Milroy, L (1980) Language and Social Networks. Oxford: Blackwell.

Option Modules

A number of different option modules are offered every year.

Options to choose from may include:

  • Advanced Syntax
  • Beyond Language: Multimodality in Theory and Practice
  • Ethnography of Communication
  • Extensional Semantics
  • From Morpheme to Meaning
  • Health Communication
  • Multilingualism and Bilingualism
  • Research Methods in Sociolinguistics
  • Research Practicum
  • Sex, Gender and Language
  • Sociophonetics
  • Unfamiliar Languages

For details, including timetables, of modules offered in a particular year, see QMUL Online Module Directory. When viewing the directory, you can filter results by School (School of Languages, Linguistics & Film), level (MA = level 7) and code (Linguistics = LIN). You’ll be given detailed advice on which modules to choose when you register for your course.


A wide variety of assessment techniques will be used, tailored to the learning outcomes of the different modules. These will include poster presentations, technical exercises, critiques of theoretical and methodological proposals in the literature, research reports and essays and extended written analyses of data.

In addition to coursework, students are assessed on a 10,000-12,000 word dissertation. The dissertation is normally an original research project on a linguistic topic that has been agreed with an academic advisor from the department. The dissertation is written over the summer and submitted by the end of August.

For details of entry requirements, funding options, and how to apply, please visit: MA Linguistics.

For further information about administrative issues, contact the postgraduate administrator, Sharon Bernor (; +44 (0)20 7882 8332).

For further information about the academic content of the course, contact Dr Hazel Pearson (; +44 (0)20 7882 6637).

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