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. Other concentrations exist in applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. Both master's and doctoral degree programs in linguistics are available, and typically cover topics like phonology, syntax, neurolinguistics, and linguistic theories.
Two-year master's programs require students to have a bachelor's degree in a relevant field with a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.5 or higher, as well as having completed several upper-level linguistics courses before enrolling. Five-year doctorates specify a background in linguistics coursework, with a bachelor's or master's in a relevant field. Some doctorate programs give students the option to earn their master's at the same time.
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.
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
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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 4% in the decade spanning 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Anthropologists and archaeologists earned a median annual salary of $61,220 as of May 2015, 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 have completed two specific courses and at least one certification from the American College of Forensic Examiners International (ACFEI).
The most common forms of graduate education for those wishing to learn about forensic linguistics are general master's and doctoral degrees in linguistics. Many graduate programs offer flexibility, allowing students to specialize in forensic linguistics, join various organizations, and earn different professional credentials after graduation.