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Postgraduate study in DTAL

Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics


The MPhil in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics

Course code MLM5

Outline of the MPhil

The course integrates study of linguistic theory, broadly understood, and applied linguistics, in a single programme. It provides great variety and flexibility of content, with subject-specific training and the opportunity for diverse intellectual interactions. These can occur across the wide range of research specialisms represented in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (TAL) and beyond - especially elsewhere in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages (MML). Thus, students can explore theoretical and descriptive linguistics (e.g. the syntactic organization, or sound structure and phonetics, of different languages, or the principles that govern the historical development of languages); they can study how linguistics and phonetics can be applied to areas such as language acquisition, language processing, data mining of language corpora, or forensics; and they can choose to look at linguistics from the point of view of a specific language or language family (e.g. Italian linguistics, Germanic linguistics, etc.). Those who wish to focus their study in a particular language area can select courses that constitute a 'Pathway' in that area, such as Celtic Linguistics or English Linguistics. Most students will pursue the MPhil through the combined route, involving assessed essays as well as a thesis, but some may wish to be considered for the thesis-only route.

The combined route is intended for students who wish to extend and deepen their existing knowledge of the language sciences and their application. It often serves as a bridge between undergraduate study and doctoral research, but is also suitable as a self-contained one-year course of study. The structure of the combined route aims to promote breadth of knowledge in linguistics and depth in selected areas.

The thesis-only route is for students whose knowledge of linguistics is already substantial, and who already know the area they wish to research for their thesis. To be eligible for consideration for the thesis-only route to the MPhil, a student will need (a) a broad foundation in linguistics, with depth in at least some subfields, and (b) a clear idea of the area in which the thesis will be written. Students taking this route will follow some elements of the MPhil programme as described below under ‘Course structure and examination’, but formal assessment is by a 30,000 word thesis alone submitted in June. Progress will be monitored through the year by work submitted according to a schedule specified by TAL. 


Applications for the MPhil course (either route) are welcomed from those who have or expect to obtain a good undergraduate degree (a first, or at least a high 2.1, in the UK system, or the equivalent elsewhere). Many students move straight into the MPhil after their first degree, but others come to it after a number of years away from formal study, sometimes in teaching posts related to languages, but also in other careers. Students taking the MPhil are expected have spent some time studying linguistics or related subjects at undergraduate level; but, occasionally, exceptions may be considered. Non-native English speakers must have passed an English Language Proficiency test at the required level. The following examinations with minimum scores are accepted: IELTS 7.5 (min 7 in each unit), TOEFL internet based test 110 (min 25 for each section - Listening, Writing, Reading and Speaking). No other English language examinations are accepted.

Candidates are advised to apply in well advance of the funding deadlines listed on the Graduate Office 'Applying to MML' page. You will have to submit a sample of writing in English of approximately 3,000 words.

Course structure and examination

The MPhil programme (combined route) is structured progressively to form a bridge between undergraduate study and possible further research. Its balance changes through the year so that in the first two months (Michaelmas Term - October to December) there is instruction through lectures, whilst by the last three months students are carrying out independent research full-time.

All students are required to follow a course in 'Research Methods' and a statistics course to acquire skills needed for research and 'transferable' skills. Beyond that, each student will follow his or her own 'Study Plan', which allows the individual interests, needs, and strengths of the student to be met. At the start of the course the student, with advice if needed from the Director of the MPhil and subject specialists, draws up a Study Plan for the Michaelmas and Lent Terms (October to March) which is approved by the Department. This will include the selection of a minimum of four introductory taught courses to be followed in Michaelmas, and participation in a minimum of two research seminars in Lent Term. Usually the Lent Term seminars chosen build on courses which have been followed in Michaelmas.

Assessment essays written in Michaelmas and over the Christmas vacation will be based on the Michaelmas taught courses. One of the Lent research seminars will normally relate to the thesis, and the other is assessed by an oral presentation (which provides an opportunity to develop communication skills). By default, the Course Director will initially act as supervisor, but once a thesis topic has been chosen in Lent Term, a subject specialist will be appointed. From Easter until June, students can concentrate full time on the thesis.

The course structure allows great flexibility in combining areas and approaches. It provides for tailored combinations of work in any of the areas of theoretical, applied, and descriptive linguistics, ranging for instance from formal semantics to experimental phonetics and phonology, from language acquisition to computational linguistics, and from Welsh syntax to the history of linguistics in France. A piece of work may have as its focus the development of an argument in linguistic theory, the description of some aspect of a language or its use, the psycholinguistic testing of alternative linguistic analyses, the application of linguistic theory to the history of a language or languages, the acoustic description of sound systems, and so on. The various pieces of work may relate to any language or combination of languages subject to adequate advice and facilities being available for the topic in question. Some students may wish to specialise and opt for a 'Pathway'relating to a particular language or language family.

The thesis demands independent study under the guidance of the supervisor and will involve a substantial piece of original research. A proposed title and summary for the 20,000 word thesis, formulated in discussion with the supervisor, must be submitted in mid-February, and this will be subject to approval by the Department of Linguistics, the supervisor, and the Faculty's Degree Committee. Because seminars finish at the end of Lent term, students can then devote themselves full time to research for the thesis during the Easter vacation and the Easter Term (April to June). The thesis is submitted on the seventh Thursday of Easter Full Term, and about two to three weeks later there may be an oral examination on the thesis at the discretion of the examiners.

Applicants may find it useful to look at the staff research interests, and at those of others in the Faculty with interests in linguistics, to find out more about potential supervisors in their fields of interest.

Most of the following Lent Term research seminars will be available in any given year (a minimum of 2 students is required for the seminar to run):

The thesis will normally be based on one of these seminars. In addition students will give an oral presentation on the topic of a second seminar at the end of Lent Term. The presentation should aim at the general audience rather than subject specialists. The presentation will be assessed on the content by the subject specialist and on presentation by two other members of the Faculty.

The following language-specific pathways will normally be available:

  • Celtic
  • English
  • Germanic
  • Romance
  • French
  • Hispanic
  • Italian
  • Slavonic

To fulfil a pathway, a student must write the MPhil thesis and at least two of the essays on a topic which is clearly within the language area chosen. The choice of courses attended in Michaelmas and Lent Terms will reflect that pathway. Following a pathway in 'language X' will allow the student to opt, if he or she wishes, for the informal designation of the degree as 'MPhil in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (X)', where 'X' might be 'Slavonic' or 'French'). (Formally, however, the University merely awards the degree of MPhil.)

The regulations for the MPhil in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics - combined route

The scheme of examination for the one-year course of study in Linguistics for the degree of Master of Philosophy shall consist of:

(a) a thesis not exceeding 20,000 words in length, including footnotes, but excluding tables, appendices, and bibliography, on a subject approved by the Degree Committee for the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages;

(b) four essays of which three shall be no more than 2,000 words in length, and one shall be no more than 4,000 words in length, each including footnotes, but excluding tables, appendices, and bibliography, on subjects either approved or prescribed by the Degree Committee;

(c) an oral presentation on the topic of the second seminar in Lent Term.

The examination shall include an oral examination on the thesis and on the general field of knowledge in which it falls, and, at the discretion of the Examiners, on the essays submitted by the candidate; save that the Examiners may, at their discretion, waive the requirement for an oral examination.


The regulations for the MPhil in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics - thesis-only route (MPhil by Research) 

The scheme of examination for the one-year course of study in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics for the degree of Master of Philosophy shall consist of:

a thesis of not more than 30,000 words in length, including footnotes, but excluding tables, appendices, and bibliography, on a topic approved by the Degree Committee not later than the end of the Full Michaelmas Term preceding the examination.

The examination shall include an oral examination on the thesis and on the general field of knowledge within which it falls. The thesis shall provide evidence to satisfy the Examiners that the candidate can design and carry out investigations, assess and interpret the results obtained, and place the work in the wider perspective of the subject.