Forensic Linguist: Salary, Education Requirements and Career Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a forensic linguist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and necessary skills to find out if this is the career for you.

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Forensic linguists work with the FBI and court systems. They often hold a Ph.D in linguistics and have specialized skills in communication and language analysis. The job market for a forensic linguist is expected to shrink through the year 2024.

Essential Information

Forensic linguists examine vocal and written evidence to assist legal professionals in determining the veracity and precise meaning of evidence. A forensic linguist also ensures that an individual involved in any dispute or legal proceeding has a clear understanding of the issues. Many of these professionals hold a Ph.D. in linguistics.

Required Education Ph.D. in linguistics
Other Requirements Knowledge of legal procedures
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Decline of 2% for social scientists and related workers, including linguists*
Median Salary (2016) $61,989 for all linguists**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics **PayScale.com

Salary

Forensic linguists primarily work as consultants. PayScale.com listed a salary range of $39,322 to $97,269 annually for linguists as of October 2016. The same month, PayScale.com indicated that the median annual salary earned by linguists was $61,989. Individuals with one to five years of experience earned between $55,000-$66,000 annually, per the same source.

Education Requirements

Although the level of education necessary for this position may vary, many forensic linguists have a Ph.D. in linguistics, the scientific analysis of language. It's recommended that forensic linguists take courses in sociology, psychology, and human behavior in addition to linguistics. Studies in criminal law as well as computer science are also beneficial.

Courses are available in specific forensic linguist tools and techniques. The Institute for Linguistic Evidence offers many such programs and some universities offer specialized seminars and single-semester classes.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Comparative Literature
  • Language Translation
  • Linguistics

Career Information

Law Enforcement

Forensic linguists aren't a part of the regular staff of a criminal investigation. The FBI, for example, hires forensic linguists only on an on-call basis. However, law enforcement agencies consult them regularly.

These forensic linguists work to ascertain such things as the intent of a communication, the level of language competency shown by someone being questioned and the voice match of someone who may have tried to disguise his or her identity. They also work with forensic document investigators to trace document authorship through language usage. Forensic linguists are frequently called upon to present their findings in court.

Corporate Law

Contract law is the milieu of the forensic linguist in the corporate world. Is the wording of a contract clear enough for both parties? Does the contract precisely state the agreed upon terms? Forensic linguists answer such questions, and they are also called in on trademark disputes and similar issues.

Research

These are generally positions filled by those with doctorates in linguistics. Some of the research facilities are located at colleges and universities around the world. A great deal of research work is aimed toward finding ways for people being tried under foreign judicial systems to better understand the process. On a national level, forensic linguist researchers study a variety of subjects, such as new ways to determine the value of evidence and the legitimacy of authorship.

Forensic linguists often work in corporate law, law enforcement, on call for the FBI and in research. Most have Ph.Ds and specialized skills in language and communication, with educational backgrounds in sociology, psychology and human behavior. Forensic linguists with experience made between $55,000 and $66,000 in 2016.

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