Forensic Linguistics Degree and Training Program Info

Linguistics programs offer language study that covers the social contexts of language. Forensic linguistics is a sub-specialty of sociolinguistics, and programs in this specialty exist at the graduate degree and non-degree levels.

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Essential Information

Interested students can earn a master's degree or a professional certificate in forensic linguistics. Master's degree programs take two years to complete and include comprehensive coursework in the field. A certificate program might draw individuals who already work in law enforcement and who want to investigate cases through the use of linguistics. Typically lasting a few weeks, certificate programs teach criminal profiling and forensic assessment techniques. Doctoral programs are also available for students who aspire to teach in universities or conduct scholarly research.

In order to apply to any of these programs, students need to have completed prior linguistics coursework, as well as classes in related areas such as language discourse and critical thinking. Specific field training in legal and criminal settings may also be required.

Master of Arts in Forensic Linguistics

Programs at this level define linguistic science theories that apply to the analysis of legal issues. Students focus on the core linguistic skills of syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, dialectology, phonology, morphology, and discourse analysis. They also receive training in the practical applications, including legal investigations, trials, analysis of contracts and statutes. Forensic linguistic programs have applications beyond the legal and criminal justice fields in areas such as authorship analysis, historical authentication and sociological analysis. Coursework is frequently combined with internships and workshops drawn from public and private sector venues associated with law enforcement and forensic science. Classes may include:

  • Phonology and dialectology
  • Syntactical structures and morphologies
  • Reference, logic, and semantics
  • Sociolinguists
  • Applications of forensic linguistics
  • Linguistics in fieldwork

Certificate Programs in Forensic Linguistics

Certificate programs are available through a few colleges and universities and offer training in the essential concepts, practical knowledge and skills that support investigative work using linguistics. Some programs offer coursework in investigative techniques that can be applied to areas such as criminal investigation, terrorist threat assessment, risk management, private investigation and corporate security. Other programs focus on the linguistic forensics techniques used in past landmark criminal cases. Programs can often be used for professional continuing education credits. Students come from a wide array of law enforcement fields, including military intelligence, retail security, law enforcement and private investigation. Coursework generally focuses on the relationship between language and forensics, and may include:

  • Societal aspects of language
  • Forensic assessments in linguistics
  • Criminal profiling
  • Communication in threat assessment
  • Regionalism in language

Popular Career Options

Forensic linguists have acquired many skills that can prove applicable to a wide variety of careers, including translator or interpreter if they choose to add a second language. Other possible careers include:

  • Computer speech recognition specialist
  • Legal consultant
  • Forensic bench scientist
  • Criminologist
  • FBI or Secret Service agent

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects 29% employment growth for interpreters and translators during the 2014-2024 decade, and it also reported a median annual wage of $44,190 for these professionals in May 2015 ( Forensic science technicians are expected to have 27% growth during the 2014-2024 decade, and they earned a median annual wage of $56,320 in May 2015. The BLS expects little or no change in employment growth for sociologists, including those specializing in criminology, from 2014-2024. The median annual wage in May 2015 was $73,760 for sociologists.

Continuing Education

Advisors frequently ask enrolling master's candidates to discuss their future academic and career goals so that they can be adequately prepared for doctoral studies of linguistics. A Ph.D. in this field is often required for those interested in entering academia or research careers in sociolinguistics or forensic linguistics.

Master's degree programs give students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the study of linguistic forensics. For law enforcement professionals looking for a brief introduction to the field, a graduate certificate program is often sufficient.

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