Forensic linguists aid in legal cases by using specialized software and language statistics to analyze written or spoken documents. Because there are no graduate programs dedicated solely to forensic linguistics, students interested in this area of study might instead choose a graduate degree in linguistics, while taking courses to appropriately focus on forensics. Both master's and doctoral degree programs in linguistics are available, and typically cover topics like phonology, syntax, sociolinguistics, neurolinguistics, and linguistic theories.
- Program Levels in Linguistics: Master's and doctoral degrees
- Prerequisites: Master's degree programs require a bachelor's degree in a related field, a minimum GPA of at least 2.5, and completion of several upper-level linguistics courses; Doctoral programs require background coursework in linguistics, and a bachelor's or master's degree in a related field
- Program Length: Doctoral programs may span 5 years and may offer the option of earning a master's degree as a student progresses through the program
- Some Areas of Concentration: Forensic linguistics, applied linguistics, and sociolinguistics
Master's Degree in Linguistics
A graduate-level linguistics program teaches students to analyze sounds (phonology), words (morphology), sentences (syntax) and texts. This knowledge can be used in a number of fields, including foreign language education, translation and forensic linguistics. Master's degree programs in linguistics typically offer several concentrations, such as applied linguistics or sociolinguistics, which often includes a course in forensic linguistics. Forensic linguistic courses, which might be offered as electives, teach how basic linguistics areas can supply critical evidence in civil cases and criminal investigations. These courses also might cover language used in police and suspect situations, as well as language crimes, such as plagiary, perjury and bribery. Coursework may include:
- Discourse analysis
- Forensic linguistics
Doctorate in Linguistics
Programs for a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Linguistics tend to focus on research in a variety of interrelated linguistic areas. In addition to forensic linguistics, these may include language description and documentation, cognitive linguistics and typology. Courses specific to forensic linguistics cover working with English and non-English sets of written or spoken language data. They also address using linguistic techniques for analyzing crimes or other situations where language documents are involved. Programs that offer a concentration usually require that half of a student's coursework be in his or her concentration, and some programs set aside the last two years of a 5-year program for research and dissertation. Common courses may include the following:
- Basic linguistic theories
- Historical linguistics
- Natural language processing
- Forensic linguistics
Popular Career Options
Many forensic linguists work as private consultants, often while also teaching at a university. Others might work for lawyers or law enforcement agencies, while some forensic linguists focus on research and writing.
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't provide specific occupational information for forensic linguists. However, the BLS cites linguistics as a subfield of anthropology, which boasts excellent employment prospects in the coming years. In fact, the number of jobs for anthropologists and archaeologists was expected to grow by 19% in the decade spanning 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). Anthropologists and archaeologists earned a median salary of $59,280 as of May 2014, according to the BLS.
Several professional associations offer continuing education (CE) courses in linguistics or have annual or biennial conferences, some of which offer CE credits. Courses may be offered on site or online.
Professionals associations specifically for forensic linguists include the International Language and Law Association (ILLA), the International Association of Forensic Linguists (IAFL) and the International Association for Forensic Phonetics and Acoustics (IAFPA). None of these groups offer certifications or continuing education courses, but each has a regularly scheduled conference.
There also are associations for all forensic science professionals. The one of particular interest to forensic linguists is the American Board of Recorded Evidence (ABRE), which offers Diplomate status to those who've completed two specific courses and at least one certification from the American College of Forensic Examiners International (ACFEI).