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Forensic Linguist: Salary, Education Requirements and Career Info

Dec 09, 2019

Learn about how to become a forensic linguist. Get information on forensic linguistics jobs, the average forensic linguist salary, and the educational requirements.

What Is a Forensic Linguist?

A forensic linguist is a language analyst who uses their skills to help solve crimes, assist in legal defense/prosecution cases, and apply language as it relates to the law in general. Their work is usually devoted to understanding spoken and written language. Forensic linguists study dialect, grammar, sentence-construction, phonetics, and other linguistic areas to determine authenticity and ensure correct interpretation.

Forensic Linguist Salary and Career Info

Below is an overview of essential information on forensic linguistics jobs, from the average salary and job outlook to the required education.

Job Type Forensic Linguist
Education Master of Forensic Linguistics; Ph.D. in Linguistics
Average Salary (2019)** $68,340 (as of Nov 2019)
Job Outlook (2018-2028)* 4-6% (for social scientists)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **PayScale.com

Forensic Linguist Salary

According to PayScale.com, the average salary in 2019 for linguists is $68,340. But salary can greatly differ due to things such as experience level, location, and skills.

  • Experience Level. PayScale.com reports an average salary of $51,594 for entry-level linguists, while linguists late in their career earn an average salary of $109,500.
  • Location. Linguists working in Augusta, Georgia, have the lowest reported salary, with $55,998 being the average. The location with the highest reported salary is Washington, D.C., where linguists earn an average of $78,289.
  • Skills. Many linguists have foreign language skills, and these skills can affect their salary. Linguists with Chinese or Mandarin language skills earn an average salary of $84,473, while linguists with Spanish language skills earn an average salary of $58,443.

Forensic Linguist Job Description

Forensic linguists analyze written and auditory documents, and observe speech, to verify authenticity when solving crimes or going through criminal cases. This might take a variety of forms, such as studying a suicide letter or ransom note to determine if it was really written by the supposed author or examining the speech patterns of a defendant to conclude if they are being truthful. Another example is listening to an audio recording to verify if the voice belongs to a criminal or defendant.

Forensic linguists typically provide their services to law enforcement, government agencies, or law firms. The FBI employs language analysts to help with foreign affairs and national security. This includes translating written and auditory documents, analyzing interviews with foreign suspects or dignitaries, and providing cultural expertise. Forensic linguists are typically contracted for their services; they don't normally work with law enforcement or other officials as part of a team.

Other Types of Forensic Linguistics Jobs

Not all forensic linguists deal with solving crimes. Some forensic linguists work with law firms for nonviolent cases, such as copyright infringement, defamation, and trademark. They analyze the language used in legal documents to verify the intent and ensure it is being interpreted correctly. This is especially useful for cases involving a breach of contract. Linguists also ensure the law is being correctly interpreted to defendants, such as when their rights are being read to them. Overall, forensic linguists ensure the law is correctly applied and understood when it comes to speech.

An additional career option is to pursue research or academic positions. Those with a Ph.D. in Linguistics can become postsecondary professors and may conduct research alongside their teaching. Another teaching option is an adult ESL teacher since many linguists are proficient in at least one foreign language.

How to Become a Forensic Linguist

While there is no clear-cut path to becoming a forensic linguist, many of these professionals have at least a master's degree in forensic linguistics. Since forensic linguists often deal with legal documents and interpretation, it may be beneficial to take legal courses in addition to a degree program. Read on to learn more about forensic linguistics education options.

Forensic Linguist Education

A forensic linguist's education might begin with a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics. These programs typically last 4 years and teach students foundational concepts of language analysis. Common courses include phonetics, sociolinguistics, and syntax.

The next step is a 2-year Master of Arts in Forensic Linguistics. This will be where the education gets more focused on applying linguistics to the law and criminal cases. Students learn concepts such as author profiling and forensic law and legal ethics. Depending on the school, a bachelor's degree in any field may qualify an individual for admission to a graduate program.

The last step is a Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics. There are very few doctorate degrees in forensic linguistics. However, a Ph.D. program usually gives an individual the chance to complete a dissertation in an area of their choosing, so forensic linguistics research can be done. Ph.D. programs can last up to 6 years and students are required to have proficiency in a foreign language by the end of the program.

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