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MA Sociolinguistics

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  • Work with internationally renowned scholars - our books dominate the reading lists at other universities.

Course options

Duration: 1 year
Start month(s): October
Location: Colchester Campus
Based in: Language and Linguistics
Fee (Home/EU): £5,950
Fee (International): £14,950

Duration: 2 years
Start month(s): October
Location: Colchester Campus
Based in: Language and Linguistics
Fee (Home/EU): £2,975
Fee (International): £7,475

Course enquiries

Telephone 01206 872719

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About the course

In what way does society influence the way that we use language? And conversely, how far does the way we use language influence society? Can language use impact the class system? Sexism? Mental health?

On our MA Sociolinguistics, you address questions like these through exploration of the stylistic, cognitive and functional aspects of language variation and change. We familiarise you with the foundations of contemporary sociolinguistics, including:

  • Language variation and change
  • Ethnography of speaking
  • Multilingualism
  • Discourse

We additionally offer modules in some of the most prominent sub-disciplines in linguistics such as variation theory, socio-pragmatics, conversation analysis, language contact, language and gender, and language rights.

You also gain first-hand experience of interview, questionnaire and observation data and learn quantitative and qualitative methodologies for coding and analysing sociolinguistic interview and questionnaire data.

We are one of the largest and most prestigious language and linguistics departments in the world, a place where talented students become part of an academic community in which the majority of research is rated ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’, placing us firmly within the top 10 departments in the UK and among the top 150 departments on the planet (QS World University Rankings).

If you want a global outlook, are interested in human communication, and want to study for a degree with real-world practical value in a world-class department, welcome to Essex.

Our expert staff

Our staff are internationally renowned. Their books dominate the reading lists at other universities. We maintain excellent student-staff ratios, and we integrate language learning with linguistics wherever there is synergy.

In sociolinguistics, Peter Patrick, Rebecca Clift, Enam Al Wer and Vineeta Chand all work on different aspects of how language varies, and investigate which factors cause such variation. Peter is also involved in language rights, and offers expert opinions in asylum cases where language is used to determine origin.

Specialist facilities

  • Our Languages for All programme offers you the opportunity to study an additional language alongside your course at no extra cost
  • Meet other language enthusiasts through our student-run Linguistics Society
  • Our ‘Visual World’ Experimental Lab records response times and eye movements when individuals are presented with pictures and videos
  • Our Eye-Tracking Lab monitors eye movement of individuals performing tasks
  • Our Psycholinguistics Lab measures how long it takes individuals to react to words, texts and sounds
  • Our Linguistics Lab has specialist equipment to analyse sound
  • An exciting programme of research seminars and other events
  • Our Albert Sloman Library houses a strong collection of books, journals, electronic resources and major archives

Your future

Our course can lead to careers in areas such as academic research, publishing, journalism, administration, public service and teaching. You develop key employability skills including research design, data analysis, thinking analytically, report writing and public speaking.

We work with the University’s Employability and Careers Centre to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities.

Within our Department of Language and Linguistics, we also offer supervision for PhD and MPhil. We offer supervision in areas including language acquisition, language learning and language teaching, culture and communication, psycholinguistics, language disorders, sociolinguistics, and theoretical and descriptive linguistics.

One Masters not enough for you?

We offer a number of postgraduate taught double degrees with our international partners. You work for two Masters degrees, one at Essex and another at a prestigious university across the globe, gaining them both in a shorter time than studying them separately. This unique opportunity gives you a competitive edge when applying for jobs or prepares you for PhD study.

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Example structure

Postgraduate study is the chance to take your education to the next level. The combination of compulsory and optional modules means our courses help you develop extensive knowledge in your chosen discipline, whilst providing plenty of freedom to pursue your own interests. Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field, therefore to ensure your course is as relevant and up-to-date as possible your core module structure may be subject to change.

For many of our courses you’ll have a wide range of optional modules to choose from – those listed in this example structure are, in many instances, just a selection of those available. Our Programme Specification gives more detail about the structure available to our current postgraduate students, including details of all optional modules.

Year 1

How do linguistic theories interact with sociolinguistic data and theories? And how do these concepts complement each other? Explore sociolinguistic findings and theories around the social and linguistic constraints on variation. Examine current sociolinguistic debates regarding language variation and change.

How do qualitative and quantitative approaches to sociolinguistic research differ? How do you design a questionnaire? What are the problems in eliciting and recording natural speech? Understand the primary methods for sociolinguistic research. Gain experience in performing research tasks, using methods that can be applied to existing and new approaches.

How do you use qualitative and quantitative methodologies to code and analyse sociolinguistic data? What software programs can assist with this? Understand the primary data collection and analysis methods for sociolinguistic research. Gain preparation for fieldwork and data collection, including transcription, data analysis and presentation of your research and findings.

What interests you? Write a 16,000-word dissertation on a research topic of your choosing, with supervision from our expert staff. Gain research planning, organisational and project management skills while increasing your knowledge of the subject. Build your research abilities for future employment or a PhD.

Can sounds be analysed in terms of their constituent components of voicing, place and manner of articulation? Which features of sound are relevant for distinguishing word meanings? Is there a set of universal constraints on the way that sounds are related to mental representations? Acquire a solid understanding of phonological analysis, and apply that understanding to new data in a variety of languages.

What is language? How should language be investigated? What is the relation between language and mind? Explore the broad topics around linguistics. Discuss and evaluate new and existing theories around issues in contemporary mainstream linguistics.

Why might speakers of English interpret “It’s hot in here” spoken in a crowded meeting room as a request to open the window? What unconscious inference do we draw about the poor from a statement like “She is poor but honest”? Find out how Relevance Theory, a general theory of pragmatics, explains phenomena like these and others that arise when speakers use language in discourse.

How do children develop phonologically? And how does this change if they have delayed or disordered speech? Examine how phonological theories have been applied to first language data. Apply the knowledge you gain to sample data sets of child speech.

Want to work as a language teacher? Or conduct second language vocabulary research? Study how second language vocabulary can be taught, assessed and researched. Examine the latest research on how second language learners use vocabulary. Learn how to examine the vocabulary knowledge of EFL learners.

Want to conduct research on a psychological aspect of language learning or teaching? Understand the key concepts and methodologies used to examine psychological factors involved in language learning and teaching. Analyse the methods available to study the psychology of language learning, then undertake your own research project.

How does language vary across North America? And what language conflicts exist? Examine the sociolinguistic history of North America. Study the theories behind language variation, contact, attitudes and conflict across the continent. Understand recent language policies and nativist movements.

What are the main differences between regional English accents? Why was it controversial to speak non-standard English on TV? Study the wide variety in the English language, looking at how it is spoken in the UK, North America and the Southern hemisphere. Conduct your own research on English variation.

What are the linguistic differentiations of women and men? Critically evaluate sociolinguistic explanations of sex differences in linguistic behaviour and language use. Understand how this research impacts on sociolinguistic theory, methodology and practice. Conduct your own research into gender differentiation.

Why do speakers of English initially think that sentences like “The horse raced past the barn fell” are ungrammatical? Why are sentences like “The mouse the cat chased stole the cheese” more difficult to understand than “The mouse stole the cheese and the cat chased the mouse”? Learn about the principles of sentence and discourse processing that guide language understanding. Conduct experiments testing how speakers respond to structurally different types of sentences.

How do you undertake research with multilingual children? How does this change if these children have language impairments? Study empirical research methods and results on multilingualism and language impairment. Examine theoretical models and evaluate the effectiveness of research. Understand the implications this research has on clinical practice and teaching.

What types of word structure are there in the world’s languages? Study the principal descriptive and theoretical questions in morphology. Analyse morphological phenomena in a variety of languages and understand differences in competing approaches to morphology.

Which human rights are linguistic in nature? How do language rights qualify as human rights? What conflicts occur around language? Examine language issues in human rights. Understand the sociolinguistic approach to language use and speaker identity. Evaluate the latest and most important topics in language rights.

What do you know about semantics? Wish to understand this key component of modern linguistics? Study formal semantics, working on examples and exercises that use logic in the analysis of natural language semantics. Examine the main topics on word and sentence meaning in contemporary semantics.

Why should we use computers in the language classroom? When is their use appropriate? And how do you best use them? Study computer-assisted language learning (CALL), so that you understand the arguments for and against. Create CALL tasks using available tools and become familiar with a range of CALL resources.

Can you say things that you don’t necessarily mean? What is the role of intention in language use? Examine metaphor and irony, looking at linguistic and literary treatments of the concepts. Understand how linguistic resources may be applied to text analysis and evaluate the most appropriate tools for these tasks.

How do you select literature for a language class? What are the distinctive features of literature for classroom use? What practical activities can language teachers undertake using literature? Learn to incorporate literature into the language classroom. Examine novels, poetry and drama, and understand how to use drama in the classroom.

What are the similarities between first and second language acquisition? And what are the differences? How does this change between child and adult second language acquisition? Study the key concepts around language acquisition. Evaluate, compare and contrast the main theories and empirical research.

What analytical tools can you use to solve grammatical problems? How is English grammar an object of intellectual inquiry? Develop your understanding of key areas of English grammar, focusing on the verbal system. Build your skills in evaluation and problem-solving through your study of the syntax of English.

How do you respond to learner questions about language? What do you understand about the nature of language? Build the linguistic vocabulary and analytical tools needed to talk about the English language effectively and accurately in second language learner classrooms.

What psychological factors impact on second language learning? Study the range of cognitive variables that are relevant to the field of second language learning. Undertake your own piece of research, building your practical knowledge of the theoretical issues and gaining useful experience for future MA projects and research.

How do you raise and control sentences? What is the importance of precise and explicit descriptions? Study the main phenomena of syntax and understand the key concepts developed by syntacticians. Learn to analyse a range of English sentence types. Examine unresolved research issues in the subject matter.

Wish to undertake psycholinguistic experiments? Work as a group on designing and preparing your own psycholinguistic research. As a team, collect and organise your experimental data. Use descriptive and inferential statistics to analyse your findings. Produce your own report that discusses your theoretical and methodological outcomes.

What teaching materials should you use? How does this change when you are teaching young learners? And what about adult learners? Develop a critical approach in deciding which course books or other available materials are most appropriate for a specific class or particular context.

What are research methods? What are the differences between quantitative and qualitative research? Learn more about the research tools available for studying applied linguistics and TEFL. Examine each available research method in-depth. Build your understanding, while preparing for your MA dissertation or other future research projects.

What is Optimality Theory? Why is it regarded as superior to other phonological theories? Gain an understanding of this influential theory, and apply it to the analysis of phonological data in a variety of languages.

What analytical tools can you use to solve grammatical problems? How is English grammar an object of intellectual inquiry? Develop your understanding of key areas of English grammar, focusing on the nominal system. Build your skills in evaluation and problem-solving through your study of the syntax of English.

How important is empirical data in syntactic theorising? What are the norms of syntactic argumentation? Examine one of three contemporary syntactic theories – Lexical Functional Grammar, Head Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, and Minimalism. Build your knowledge of the core topics behind the theory.

How do you teach someone to speak? And how do you teach someone to listen? Understand the cognitive aspects and learning strategies for speaking and listening. Evaluate approaches to teaching listening and speaking in the classroom. Examine the available materials, approaches to test learners and the design of appropriate materials.

How important is age when learning another language? Study the role that age plays in bilingual development. Examine second language acquisition in both naturalistic and classroom settings, alongside first and second language attrition. Explore current theories on bilingual development, evaluating the empirical evidence and learning implications from such research.

What are the main differences in how the English language is spoken outside England? Study the wide variety in the English language, looking at how it is spoken in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, North America and the Southern hemisphere. Conduct your own research on this variation.

Are you ready for your dissertation? What qualitative research methods are suitable for your research? Learn more about the qualitative research methods and statistical techniques that you could use for your MA dissertation or other future research projects.

Do you want to explore in some depth a research question that has emerged from one of your modules? Are you keen to do some independent research? Survey the existing literature on a topic that has intrigued you. Prepare the ground for your MA dissertation, under the watchful eye of a supervisor.

Want to write lesson plans for different lesson types? Keen to make use of classroom resources and teaching aids? Understand the principles of teaching before embarking on classroom-based practice. Examine key topics like choosing materials, lesson planning, and classroom management. Learn to work as a member of a teaching team.


  • Teaching methods include lectures, demonstrations and learning by teaching others
  • We run a weekly departmental seminar, attended by both staff and students


  • Your eight one-term modules are assessed by coursework and you are also assessed on your dissertation


  • Your 16,000-word dissertation allows you to focus in-depth on your chosen topic from April onwards
  • Close supervision by a member of staff within our Department

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UK entry requirements

A degree with an overall 2:1.

International and EU entry requirements

We accept a wide range of qualifications from applicants studying in the EU and other countries. Email for further details about the qualifications we accept. Include information in your email about the high school qualifications you have already completed or are currently taking.

IELTS entry requirements

IELTS 6.5 overall with a minimum component score of 5.5 except for 6.0 in writing

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Visit us

Open days

We host an Open Evening for those interested in postgraduate study with us. Here you’ll be able to discuss our courses with academics, tour the Campus and accommodation and get the answers to all your questions about studying at Essex. Find out more and book your place online.

We also hold several Open Days throughout the year so that you can visit our Colchester Campus and find out more. These Open Days are geared towards undergraduate applicants but whilst you won’t get specific information on your course, you’ll still be able to tour our Campus, meet our students and get a feel for life at Essex. You can get more information and book a place online.

If our dates don’t work for you then don’t worry, you can always book a campus and accommodation tour on a weekday to suit you. Just email to get booked in.

Virtual tours

If you live too far away to come to Essex (or have a busy lifestyle), no problem. Our 360 degree virtual tour allows you to explore the Colchester Campus from the comfort of your home. Check out our accommodation options, facilities and social spaces.


Our staff travel the world to speak to people about the courses on offer at Essex. We have a comprehensive list online so take a look and see if we’ll be near you in the future.


You can apply for our postgraduate courses online. You’ll need to provide us with your academic qualifications, as well as supporting documents such as transcripts, English language qualifications and certificates. You can find a list of necessary documents online, but please note we won’t be able to process your application until we have everything we need.

There is no application deadline but we recommend that you apply before 1 July for our taught courses starting in October. We aim to respond to applications within two weeks. If we are able to offer you a place, you will be contacted via email.

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Although great care is taken in compiling our course details, they are intended for the general guidance of prospective students only. The University reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of programmes, courses and other services, to discontinue programmes, courses and other services and to merge or combine programmes or courses, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University.

The full procedures, rules and regulations of the University are set out in the Charter, Statues and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.